Mammoth Mountain and Nearby Hot Springs
Mammoth Mountain Resort hosted the Kamikaze Bike Games this weekend, which included Cross Country, Downhill, Dual Slalom, and Enduro races, as well as a trick contest and some stuff for kids. I’ve been getting back on the mountain bike a bit finally as summer winds down, so I thought Mammoth would be a perfect opportunity to get back on the trail. On paper I came down to support all my buds that were racing Sunday’s Enduro event, but let’s be real – there are about a dozen hot springs within 30 minutes of Mammoth. The mountain biking was just a ruse for a hot springs adventure!
To begin, Mammoth Mountain itself was awesome. I’m used to having to earn all my downhill turns, but at a ski resort like Mammoth, one gets the luxury of getting whisked up to the very top of the mountain via gondola. The weather was perfect, the views were spectacular, and the terrain was challenging as hell. The top of the mountain was decomposed granite, which resembled 8″ deep kitty litter in some of the more treacherous spots. Mid-mountain and below had some rolling XC style trails (“Downtown”) others with berms and logs (“Flow”), and there were some impressive park sections too. The wooden ramps and jumps on “Velocity” had me alternating between giddy laughter and pure fear-filled hysterics. Overall, I think it’s a great place to visit for any skill level, but if you are going to get on the blue squares or higher, I would rent a full-face helmet. I picked one up for $20 a day down in town, and it made me feel a lot safer and more confident.
After a long day of shuttling runs, and amazingly keeping my bike rubber side down, I set off to find some of the hot springs in nearby Long Valley. The first one I aimed for was called the “Hot Tub.” About 7 miles south on 395 from the Mammoth Lakes turnoff (203), there is a turnoff for Benton Crossing Road. From there, you head about a mile down and take the first graded left fork. Pass one small dirt road on the right but take the next right after that – and voila, you’ve found the aptly named Hot Tub. I was able to get there in my van without any difficulty at all.
The spring itself is built up with concrete and has a great view of the eastern Sierras and the mountains south of Convict Lake. There was a very nice Swiss couple with a wee baby hanging out in the spring when I arrived, as well as a gruff bearded guy heating up a can of beans about 20 feet down the road. He apparently is the self-proclaimed caretaker of the spring, and he does a fine job – it had recently been drained and scrubbed, and the spring itself was as nice as any hot tub I’ve ever been in. I would estimate the water to be 100F, but it can be adjusted with the inlet pipe. The bearded guy wanted nothing to do with me – he assumed I was some yuppie from L.A., but I informed him that I was from Reno and had nothing but sagebrush pollen and hot springs water in my veins, just like him. He was not impressed. But the Swiss family totally was, and they were really nice.
Sorry for the rather narrow photos, I didn’t want to disturb the family in the spring (and don’t worry, I toted all my trash out with me).
I soaked for a few minutes and discussed how badass Swiss champion cyclist Fabian Cancellara is (with the Swiss gentleman in the tub) before heading to another spring. There are several springs out in the area, but I only had enough daylight to see one more. A little further down the road from the Hot Tub (1 mile), there is a fork before a lone tree, and I headed right there. Another 1/2 mile down, there were about 5 cars parked, so I figured I had found Shepherd’s Hot Springs. It was a bit crowded there, but it was another nice pool built up with concrete and an inlet pipe. The water was warmer too, maybe 103F or so, and there was a group of 3 rock climber guys in their mid-20s soaking when I arrived. I hopped in and quickly discovered why they were splashing water on themselves frequently: a cloud of mosquitoes hovering above the water. I could only handle the mosquitoes for 15 minutes or so, but I bet it would be a spectacular place to camp in the winter when the flying bloodsuckers are dormant.
As it got dark, I decided I’d better head back to Mammoth Lakes where I was camping for the night (by the way, Shady Rest Campground at the edge of town in Mammoth is a great place to stay for $22 a night). There are a number of springs I wasn’t able to visit including the Crab Cooker, which is intermittently full but neat to observe, and Hot Creek, which has been closed by the BLM for a few years due to safety hazards, but I’ll have to save those for another trip.
Thanks for reading, and have fun if you make it out to Mammoth – be sure to pick up all your trash and be polite (yeah ok, thanks dad). Unlike a lot of the Northern Nevada hot springs I’m used to, these ones get a ton of traffic, and it only takes a few jerks to ruin them for everyone.