The gifts of nature – Buckeye Hot Springs, CA

After departing from Bodie, I stopped at the nearest active settlement: Bridgeport, CA. Bridgeport is a cool little town. There is not much going on, but Lenny (who I was meeting to backpack with in the Hoover Wilderness a few days later) recommended that I stop for a burger at The Barn. I was so hungry after a long day of driving and walking, I got a burger and then walked around the corner for a milkshake at Jolly Kone. Needless to say I didn’t need to make dinner after that.

Part of the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest is located just west of Bridgeport, so I decided to venture into the forest and try to find a campsite. I only had to drive about 15 minutes from Bridgeport before finding a good supply of campsites just inside the national forest. Driving up the eastern side of the Sierras outside of Bridgeport, there is a creek called Buckeye Creek that is a popular camping and fishing spot. I was about a mile from the official campsite, when I noticed several cars and RVs pulled off to the right side of the road. I decided to pull in and found out that you can camp in this area for up to 2 weeks completely free. There were a few open spots so I pulled over the makeshift pineneedle driveway and parked just along the edge of the hill and set up camp. This spot also featured cell phone reception, an added bonus.

Buckeye Campground

Down the hill I could hear Buckeye Creek flowing. I made my way down the hill to retrieve some water. As I approached the creek, I noticed people sitting in the creek on the other side. The water was ice cold. How could people be sitting in that chilly water so comfortably? The answer: I had stumbled upon a hot spring, which was located directly down the hill and across the creek from my campsite. The only problem was getting across the creek. I decided I would check it out the following day as I planned on remaining at camp in preparation for the backpacking trip. I also needed to perform some maintenance on my car after traversing the country over 3000 miles.

Besides an oil change and backpacking gear reorganization, the following day was full of relaxation. The conditions around Buckeye Creek were ideal. It was in the mid 70s, no humidity, and somehow, no mosquitos! After lunch I ventured down to the creek again and found a large tree to use as a creek crossing to the hot spring.

The creek crossing. Later I found out there is an easier crossing downstream.

After working my way downstream a little, I made it to the hot spring. There were a few people there, but it wasn’t as crowded as the previous day. It was my first time at a hot spring, and I asked the rookie question to the people there: “how does this work?” To which one guy replied somewhat sarcastically, “you just…get in”.

Hot spring dripping into the pools and Buckeye Creek on the right

I learned that the water comes out of the Buckeye Spring at about 140F. It drips down the hill about 20 feet into the rock-lined pools (I’m sure constructed by previous bathers).

The first pool feels like bath water; maybe 100F after the hot spring water drips off the rocks and is mixed with a bit of the cold creek water. The first pool then drains into a second pool which is about 80F as more creek water is mixed in. I sat in the first pool for about 30 minutes while chatting with the other bathers. It is a little awkward sitting in a natural hot tub with strangers, but everyone in the pool had been to a hot spring before and they were perfectly comfortable. I guess I had to adjust to hot spring culture.

Anyway, the spring water that drips off of the rocks cools down a bit to about 120F as it is exposed to the air. You can stand under it for a natural hot shower. Since there were no facilities at my campsite, I made the most of the opportunity and washed off in the hot spring. This was a true gift of nature. I needed to freshen up before a 5 day hike in the wilderness, and the hot spring beats a sponge bath by a long shot.

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