Friday, August 08, 2008
Soaking in Spencer Hot Springs
As one of the most active geothermal regions, Nevada is blessed with dozens of natural warm and hot springs. Throughout the state you can find small pools of warm and hot water, some of which are safe enough for a soothing soak.
However, always check with local folks or refer to a good hot spring guidebook before dipping into one of these holes because some are scalding hot.
One of the more accessible of these natural hot tubs is Spencer Hot Springs, a geothermal swimming hole located about 20 miles southeast of Austin in the northern part of the Big Smoky Valley.
Spencer Hot Springs isn’t much to look at—a crude pool dug in the ground with a partial wooden deck. The pool is surrounded by chalky alkali ground covered with sagebrush and assorted grasses.
Hot water pours from a rusted pipe to a smaller pool above the main dipping pool. A faucet between the two allows soakers to regulate the heat of the water in the lower pool. Another pipe sends overflow water to a swampy area below the pool.
Since the setting is so rustic, don’t expect any amenities at Spencer. This is no resort spa—it’s just you and the hot water. Additionally, always test the heat of the water before climbing into the pool to make sure you can tolerate the heat.
And since many of Nevada's hot springs pools are located in far off places, carry a few survival essentials such as an inflated spare tire (we had a flat tire right after visiting Spencer a couple of years ago!) as well as sufficient gas, water, matches and a sleeping bag or blankets (just in case you have car trouble and can’t drive out).
Interestingly, there are hot springs fans that travel around the West, moving from pool to pool. A couple of years ago, I stopped at Spencer and discovered a retired couple from England camping in their RV at the site.
After awhile, a second RV pulled up, driven by a long-haired, bearded man. As he climbed out of his vehicle, he recognized the older couple. It turns out that they had met at a hot springs in Mexico the previous year.
One of the best things about soaking in Spencer, however, is that most of the time you’re the only person there. You can sit back in the pool, relax in the warm water and enjoy a magnificent view of the wide, open Big Smoky Valley. And it’s free.
To reach Spencer Hot Springs, travel about 14 miles east of Austin on U.S. 50 to the point where it intersects with State Route 376 (the road to Tonopah). Turn south on 376, then after about a tenth of a mile, take an immediate left onto a dirt road (marked by an historical marker for Toquima Cave).
Travel six miles on the dirt road, then turn left onto another dirt road and head toward a small rise. Spencer Hot Springs is located on the eastside of the mound.
Two of the best sources of information about regional hot springs "Hot Springs of Nevada" by George Williams III and "Touring Nevada and California Hot Springs" by Matt Bischoff. Both are available from Amazon books.