I know its Friday, but this is my Travel Tip Thursday post. I didn’t get it finished last night. I’m sure I have photos somewhere of the desert around Tocopa Springs, I seem to remember photographing the marsh area to the west of the spring, but I haven’t found them (and didn’t have time to look for them). The photo is from a mining camp on the east side of Death Valley that I took in 2000 and digitally copied.
Deep in the Mojave Desert, east of highway 127 and about half-way between the towns of Baker, California (with the world's largest thermometer rising above Interstate 15) and Death Valley Junction (home of the Armargosa Opera House) is Tocopa Hot Springs. My first visit to Tocopa Hot Springs was on December 30, 1994. Clinton was President and the Republicans had just taken over Congress and were talking about a Contract on America. After Christmas, we’d gone to San Diego and planned to come back to Utah through Death Valley. Our reservations at Furnace Creek started on the 31st so with a tent and sleeping bags in the car, we wandered around the desert looking for adventure and a place to spend the night. We ended up at Tocopa Hot Springs, which I found delightful. The water is hot and laden with minerals. The pool was open all night (they close it for a couple hours around mid-day for cleaning). The area is barren, but there were plenty of campers in tents and RVs, across the road from the bathhouse.
I’ve been back to Tocopa Hot Springs on two other occasions, stopping there after trips of exploring mining camps around Death Valley. The springs had been a familiar hang-out for prospectors and miners needing a break. They’d make their way out of the hills and recuperate in the steaming waters. On each occasion that I happened to be nearby, I stop and enjoyed a soak in the pools. Some believe the minerals have healing powers. I can’t attest to that, but I do know that an hour sitting in a corner of a pool, breathing in the moist steam as my body cooked. The experience was relaxing enough to draw me back again and again.
The pools are segregated, one for men and another for women. There are three pools, at least on the men’s side, and they’re housed within a cinderblock building. Because the minerals in the water which can leach out the dye in a bathing suit, one must bath in the nude. It’s not a pretty sight, but the water makes up for it.
In their heyday, the springs were a stop along the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, which ran along the mostly dry Amargosa River. The tracks are long gone, but the railroad bed is still there and one can hike along it. The Tecopa Springs is not far from the Old Spanish Trail, and long before the miners, weary travelers from Santa Fe to California stopped to soak and rest. And before them, it was the Paiutes, who named the spring Tecopa which supposedly means “wildcat.” Today, the springs are off the beaten path, a few miles east of the main highway that brings people into the east side of Death Valley. Not far away from Tocopa, in a secluded canyon, is a true oasis, the China Ranch Date Ranch. Their dates are wonderful and they have a store with baked goods and other items made from dates harvested from their trees.
I haven’t been to the Spings in nearly a decade. The last time I was in Death Valley, in 2005, I came in from the west and didn’t get that far south. When I was visiting, the pool was maintained by Inyo County as a county park, but from looking up the springs on the internet, it seems that they have since been “privatized.” Someone is now trying to create a resort and make a buck out of the springs. So I have no idea what you’ll find today, but if you make the trip, let me know… By the way, my comment earlier about the Contract on America had to do with the government shut-down that occurred around the next New Years Eve. I had planned a similar trip out across Joshua Tree National Park and the southern deserts, but the government shut down closed national parks and monuments and the trip had to be scrapped.