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The essential guide to area hot springs

RGJ Staff  |  REN

Pools of hot, thermal waters dot Northern Nevada's landscape.

"It's an amazing geological phenomenon, to me," said Matt Bischoff, author of "Touring California and Nevada Hot Springs." "Nevada is unique in the fact that it has so many hot springs."

Bischoff said in his book that the Washoe and Paiute tribes used the hot springs as campsites, villages and sacred places.

Early settlers in the 1850s claimed many of the thermal springs near the western Great Basin's Carson Range and built bathhouses and resorts, state historian Guy Rocha wrote in his essay "The Court of First Resort: Getting Into Hot Water."

People still love to get into the hot water, which can have varying amounts or elements such as of lithium, boron, fluoride and chlorine, and soak.

Because the Bureau of Land Management has been sued and had to pay damages for incidences when people entered pools that were too hot, spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said they urge people to stay out of hot springs on public lands.

Lisa Shevenell, director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy at the University of Nevada, Reno, said she has soaked in the area's hot springs and suggests people use their common sense and check the water temperature before getting in.

Here are some hot springs that are worth checking out:

Sierra Hot Springs

This resort and retreat center is on 680 acres just east of the town of Sierraville, about 57 miles west of Reno. It's a breathtaking location in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada that has a sandy-bottomed meditation pool, a hotter pool in a geodesic dome and several private baths.

This nonprofit center is owned by the Heart Consciousness Church in California and also offers massage, yoga, workshops and other treatments. There is a lodge on the property with five rooms and five beds in a dormitory space. At least one person in a party must purchase a membership of $5 for the month to use the facilities. The fee is $15 for a three-hour soak or $20 for all day. Clothing is optional at the pools.

Black Rock Desert

There are numerous hot springs on the perimeter of the Black Rock Desert, which is about 120 miles north of Reno and just north of Gerlach.

While on expedition from 1843-44, John Freemont described the springs as "the most extraordinary locality of hot springs we had met during the journey."

Because these hot springs are in remote locations and some only accessible by crossing the playa, Bischoff said to bring plenty of water, a basic automotive tool kit, first aid supplies and warm clothing. After driving through a sandstorm on the playa, I would add a GPS to that list.

Here are a few to check out:

Trego Hot Springs

This hot spring is about 20 miles north of Gerlach. It is a large, warm pool about 100 degrees at the source and 95 degrees in the pool. Aside from the Western Pacific Railroad that passes by several times, it also is a good place to camp.

Double Hot Spring

Bischoff called these hot springs along the Lassen Applegate Emigrant trail, approximately 35 miles north of Gerlach, "fantastic." Measuring near 200 degrees, the springs themselves are too hot to enter. However, water is piped into a circular trough, which is good spot to bathe.

Since it is about 25 miles across the playa, make sure you know the weather forecast and have four-wheel drive.

Soldier Meadows

This is a spring-fed wetland located about 60 miles north of Gerlach. It's near Fort McGarry, which was an army post in the early 1860s. There are several ponds in the area that are good for soaking, ranging from 90 to 105 degrees.

Fly Geyser

This spectacular site isn't really a geyser but a well-drilled in the early 20th century that hit artesian hot water. Mineral deposits from the water caused the formation of towers that look like three fish spouting water. The rich green and brown colors are caused by hydrophilic algae.

The springs are on a privately owned ranch, but the Friends of Black Rock High Rock offers several tours each year.

Hot springs tips and etiquette:

  • Don't get into water without first testing how hot it is.
  • When in doubt, stay out.
  • Respect private property, and don't trespass to get to a hot springs.
  • If you find other people at your hot springs destination, ask if you can join them.
  • If nudity offends you, you might not want to visit places where clothing is optional.
  • Tell someone where you're going and when you plan on returning.
  • Take your trash out; pick up any other trash you find.
  • Make sure your vehicle can make a long, bumpy trip.

Source: "Touring California and Nevada Hot Springs" by Matt Bischoff