Nevada’s delicious backcountry
I poke my toe into the warm water. Feels perfect, like a natural outdoor hot tub—in the middle of nowhere Nevada, elevation around 6,000 feet. The mineral-rich water carries the pungent odor of rust and eggs. Makeshift hot tubs have been built here, a stone’s throw from an abandoned mine, where natural hot springs bubble from beneath. The water’s a dangerously hot 140 degrees Fahrenheit when it reaches the surface. The human-made tubs are cooler, though still wonderfully warm on a cool morning.
At one of a half-dozen tubs, created from a steel circle, water trickles in through a pipe resting along the ring’s edge. A hand-lettered sign warns that the pipe should remain in its exact location so that only one-third of its scalding contents end up in the tub.
A more natural, aesthetically pleasing spa sits atop a hill near a patch of grass watered by the trickling spring. The spa, a mud hole lined with flat rocks piled into seats, could seat eight or 10 people. A wooden platform built over the spa provides space to undress. Nearby, trash cans are stuffed with beer bottles.
Adjacent to the warm party spa is a steaming pond—with yellow caution signs. A pipe runs underground from the hot pond to the perfectly warm one. Clumps of algae float on the surface. We climb in and soak in the warm, healing waters. Two thousand years ago, Romans traveled to the edge of their empire to build fountains and a temple to the hybrid goddess Sulis Minerva in the hot springs of Bath, now in the United Kingdom.
Nevadans don’t have to travel far. We can be renewed here under the bright worshipful sky in places like this one close to the state’s dead center.
Nevadans are often coy about giving directions to favorite places. If it hadn’t been for Ana at the Chevron station in Austin, we probably wouldn’t have found these hot springs, a short detour off Highway 50.
“You turn left and left again when the road forks,” she tells my teens and I, who are on a road trip across central Nevada. “Don’t try to find it in the dark.”
Ana’s English isn’t perfect, but she loves living in Austin. She calls it a paradise. And the hot springs are “delicious,” Ana says.
My teens weren’t eager to explored unmarked roads in search of vague points of interest. They consider what wonders a hot spring might possess and seem noncommittal about the visit. As we drive near the site, the road becomes a sprawling web of dirt paths with muddy ruts. A camper is parked near one hill. We crest a hill and see a loving couple immersed in a tub. They wave.
We find the large rock-lined spa and climb in. A truck pulls up and two men get out, a retiree from Santa Clara, Calif., and his younger friend, who are driving east. The two men eschew interstate highways, preferring lonely Highway 50. The retiree says he never misses a side trip here to the hot springs.
“It would seem wrong,” he says, climbing into the pond.
We chat, then the teens and I hop out of the pool, dry off and pile into the car to try out another tub. We find one, slide in and soak.
“This is pretty cool,” my son says, scanning the vast expanse of desert around him.
I dip my face under water for about as long as I can hold my breath.
I emerge and wipe water from my eyes.
“Now I’m going to live forever,” I say.