Cali Road Trip Part 1: Durango to Deep Creek Hot Springs

Though we had just returned from our Central American adventures in February- come August we had wanderlust again. And friends and family to visit. And miles to put on our new cherry red Chrysler leBaron. We left from Durango, Colorado and it was a few hours drive to the four corners. We impulsively pulled over and paid five bucks a piece to visit the monument since we had never been there together. I convinced Scott to wait in line with me for a photo opp and ten minutes later it was my turn. I did a head stand and all the awkward tourists on family vacations started clapping and cheering.

We crossed into my birth-state Arizona and made a pit stop at the Glen Canyon Dam to stare in awe at the natural beauty and man made monstrosities. Then back on the road, through Utah to Zion National Park. As we approached the park our car started to screech, we convinced ourselves it was just dust on the brakes, cracked some cold drinks, and powered on. We bought a parks pass for 80 bucks that will get us both into any National park for a year- otherwise it would have been 30 bucks to get into ZNP. We put the cameras away so we could fully immerse ourselves in the beauty of Zion. If you want to see how cool it is you gotta go check it out for yourself. All the camp spots in the park were booked so after a free bus tour and a mellow hike we hit the road at dark; the cars screeching became loud and obvious. We pulled off down a dirt road near Rockville and set up our tent in front of the car. Then we turned on some quiet music, rolled the top of the LeBaron down, kicked back our seats and stared at shooting stars until our eyelids lost their will.

The next day was Sunday… The car was definitely in need of a mechanic shop and we were scared they would all be closed out in BFE Utah. Lucky as always we called around and found a place in St George that was open on Sundays, they could have our brakes and rotors done in an hour for sixty bucks if we brought the parts- The place was called “Ron’s” Shell. If you are ever through there and need help, this guy is the man. We walked around St. George and read about all sorts of Mormon history… super weird/interesting place. True to his word, Ron had us on our way in an hour. He showed us our old brake pads and rotors…the worn pads had cracked in half and the rotors had 1/8 inch divets worn into them. Lessons were learned. We enjoyed a safer, quieter ride to Nevada and pulled over at the state line for more headstands. When we hit Vegas we used a smart phone to hunt down at an In-N-Out for lunch, the deprived Colorado kids we are. Glad we did, because the “3 hour drive” from Vegas to Barstow was a painful circus of 5 mph traffic jams. Impatient drivers sped around the long lines in the safety medians and dusty shoulders. Cops circled like bouncers…trying to maintain some sense of lawfulness and sanity on the 115 degree asphalt, the only direct road from Vegas to Cali. Luckily Scott and I really enjoy each others company… we patiently putted along; listening to music, smoking, telling jokes and goofing around. Traffic eased up near Baker, California. We stopped for *some of the best doughnuts we have ever had* at a swelteringly hot 24 hour bakery called “Starlight Doughnuts”. An hour later we neared our destination for the night: Bowen Ranch, aka Deep Creek Hot Springs.

A long and winding dirt road from Apple Valley California will take you to Bowen Ranch, one of the easiest ways to access Deep Creek Hot Springs. Big signs will make it clear you have arrived, and the rules are posted: Don’t show up after dark, camping is 10 bucks per person, no glass. The dirt road creeps up to a shack with an electric gate blocking the way to the springs and as a loud buzzer announces your arrival a friendly man approaches the screen door, his skin as brown and weathered as an old leather saddle. He traded us a twenty dollar bill for a map and a garbage bag, pointed us to the best camp site and advised us to not risk the hike in the dark that evening. We pulled into a nice camp spot, set up the tent, sliced up some steak with some onions and cooked it in tin foil over a campfire. This was gobbled up hot with some corn tortillas and hot sauce, and I started to get ready to hike to the springs. Scott said maybe we should wait till morning, I called him old and told him eight years ago this wouldn’t even have been a question. Off to the trail head. Along the way we ran into a van full of teenagers; “wanna hike with us?” a scruffy and drunk looking boy yelled out the window- “Yes!” I yelled back. They said they knew the way and had done the hike many times before, and we hung around for about half an hour as they stumbled down one wrong path after another. Disheartened and very over hanging out with a gaggle of teens, we decided to get some rest and head to the springs at sunrise. We walked back by the light of the moon, the crunching of gravel under our feet and the song of crickets a mesmerizing symphony until : a CraCk!, a HiSs, a rAtTLe and an overwhelming sense of danger broke the reverie. We flipped our headlamps on to find a large rattle snake posed aggressively just a few feet from where I had been walking. “Oh Fuck!” I yelled, and we carefully scurried back to camp, adrenaline coursing through our veins. Back at camp we watched the stars from our tent until our heart beats slowed and we fell asleep.

We woke before the sun rose and this time successfully found the trail head- Scott was right, this was much easier and safer in the light. The pre-dawn air was crisp, a vast contrast to the 100+ degree daytime temperatures in this part of the California desert. The trail was steep in some parts, but we made it to the creek in less than an hour. A large warmish pond was surrounded by small hot pools. Our young friends were still passed out, lying in sleeping bags or piles of blankets, bottles and cans surrounding their site- evidence of the fun they had last night. We snuck into a mid sized hot pool tucked behind some rocks and relaxed. The springs were very impressive, the water crystal clear and soothing. We were so happy we made it and got to experience something so special tucked away in the desert. During the day this may not have been so enjoyable, but our time there in the early morning was perfect. We left as the kids began to stir, the hike back was uphill but actually went quicker since we knew where we were going. I stopped to take some pictures of some strange fuzzy insects which I later identified as velvet ants, a type of wasp with a painful sting. We were out by 8am and on the road to the second leg of our journey: L.A. and the Pacific Coast Highway.

Days 1&2: 13 hours

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