Nature the AmbivalentPosted: October 16, 2009
I realized I need to stop personifying Nature; the Chicago Police Department can be benevolent or malevolent, but Nature will always do her own thing.
We started the day off by driving to Mammoth Lakes in search of the Devils Postpile, but the roads leading to the monument were not plowed. The gate was still open, but I was not up for a day-long hike in the snow. All around town, Mammoth Lakes businesses were preparing for the opening of the ski lifts. This is the earliest the ski resort has opened since 1994. At least all that snow was working for someone.
Having abandoned that particular detour, we decided to visit Wild Willie’s hot springs. After a few wrong turns, we happened upon Hot Creek, a “river” that runs through Long Valley Caldera. Only in this part of the country can you take a wrong turn en route to a geological wonder only to run into another geological wonder. This 10 x 18 mile depression was formed over 760,000 years ago during a volcanic explosion that knocked 50 cubic miles of molten rock from beneath the earth’s surface into the air. Today, the caldera is far from stable, with geysers erupting, the earth moving, and the water temperature reaching a scalding temperature unpredictably. When you’re hanging out in the Travertine Springs, it’s easy to think that these “hot tubs” were made just for humans, but at Hot Creek it’s these same inviting small pools that will kill you. Warning signs are posted every where you look, and include pleasant tidbits like: “fourteen people have died or been seriously burned while countless others have been injured since 1968 and arsenic levels in the water may rise to dangerous levels suddenly”. Basically, no swimming. We did see some steaming rocks though, and I got a short driving lesson on the way back to the highway (don’t ask me to go over 25 miles per hour. I can’t do it!).
Once we found it, Wild Willy’s Hot Springs was thankfully tamer than Hot Creek, and was located off a long, rough dirt road. Wild Willie’s has just one pool, and the bottom of the pool is harder and rockier than the clay bottom of Travertine Springs. Wild Willy’s was also warmer, at least on the day we went. The water that flows into Wild Willy’s
travels down a small waterfall and the sound is louder and more soothing than Travertine’s. The spring is located in the middle of a meadow so cow dung was everywhere, but the hot spring has a pathway that resembles a narrow boardwalk. The pool itself has hard edges with indents for bottles and cans. All these little details convinced me again of nature’s benevolence, and the dangers at Long Valley Caldera were forgotten. The pool I was bathing in was made just for that very purpose, right? It seemed so until I spotted what I like to call a proverbial hot spring shark: clumps of mucous-y algae, moss and other green stuff floating in Willie’s water. It looked like God hocked a loogey directly into the hot spring. Any sort of movement knocks the goo off the wall, and after some getting in and out to take photos, pee, and get some drinks, there were giant slimy green and brown “jellyfish” just waiting to latch onto our arms and legs when we came to a rest. When one such “jellyfish” grew larger than a pizza, it was time for me to leave.
On the drive back to June Lake, we checked up on that deer carcass, and it’s amazing what California ravens can do in 24 hours. The entire torso was picked clean, while the head and legs were still intact (I was going to post a photo but it’s pretty gnarly). The deer still had her eyes in her sockets. The smell wasn’t too bad unless you stood 10 feet downwind. I was clever enough to pick some sage and hold it to my nose. Sage grows abundantly out here and makes about a quarter of the scrub in the lowlands, and by lowlands I mean about 7,000 feet. The sage worked so well in masking the scent that I had to wonder… no, it was just a happy coincidence.