Gorgeous Convict Lake lined with aspen yellow

Gorgeous Convict Lake lined with aspen yellow

So, the past few days we’ve been back in one of our favorite areas of 395, the high mountains and thin air of Mammoth Lakes. This is a spot we’ve visited many times before, yet we keep finding new and cool things to do here. We’ve already hiked many trails, explored geological craziness and watched the sunsrise at Mono Lake (all “must do” things in the area), but this time around I had something else in mind.

Hanging w/ the Watson's at our new boondocking spot

Hanging w/ the Watson’s at our new spot

Our first order of business was finding somewhere to camp. Thanks to the fools in the Federal Government our favorite NFS campground in the area (Oh Ridge!) was shut down, but thanks to other friends (specifically The Nealy’s) we scored a rather fine, albeit not really “beast friendly” boondocking spot just south of town. It took a few years off my life to squeeze our big girl in here, but once tucked in we both had to admit we really liked it. By the time we got here, The Nealy’s had moved on, but we snagged a day with Watson’s Wander before they (too) fled the coup.

Why is everyone in such a rush to leave such a gorgeous spot?

All wrapped up to fight the  chill

All wrapped up to fight the chill

We got our answer the first night we spent alone on the plains. Temps dropped to a balmy 18 °F (-8 °C) and we woke up to the inviting sight of frost inside the RV windows (I kid you not). This is about as cold as we’ve gotten in the RV and just about the limit of what we can take. Thankfully it’s not our first rodeo in the mountains. A couple of years ago we dropped to similar temps camping right up the road at Convict Lake and that taught us everything we wanted to know about chill-shrinking batteries & cold-temp dry camping (needless to say, we no longer turn on the bay heater at night…duh!).

So, why are YOU here, you fools?

THIS is why we brave the cold! Fall colors, baby!

THIS is why we brave the cold! Fall colors, baby!

Well, there’s a reason to our madness. Despite our fondness for flip-flop temps, there’s one big reason to brave the cold in fall up here and it has everything to do with Aspen tress and cascades of gorgeous yellow fall colors. This is the time of year the tress shed their chlorophyll and reveal their true shades. It’s a short-lived theater (a few weeks at the most) but OH…MY…GOD it is amazing!! We were worried we’d missed the peak by just a few weeks, but turns out there’s still some fabulous color up by Convict Lake, an old-time favorite of ours and (handily) just a few miles from our boondocking spot. I took the opportunity to meet-up with an old Nepal hiking buddy of mine and we all three walked the 3-mile loop and gawked at the colors. Well worth a few chilly nights.

And the other little thing you had in mind?

Hanging at Wild Willy's, one of the larger pools in the area. Pretty sweet view, eh?

Hanging at Wild Willy’s, one of the larger pools in the area. Pretty sweet view, eh?

Through the grapevine I’d heard of hidden hot springs in the area just south of Mammoth Lakes. There are (supposedly) free and scenic pools scattered all over the BLM area right behind the airport (around Benton Crossing Road & Whitmore Tubs Road) with  intriguing names like Wild Willy’s, Pulkey’s Pool and Hilltop. Some are large, some small…all accessible clothed or (should you so wish) au naturelle, as nature intended. This seemed the perfect antidote to chilly nights and I was determined to find them. We set-out in the car with wishy-washy directions that I’d scrounged off secret spots on the internet and just started driving the back roads.


We found 4 hidden pools, some just bath-tub size, but a few of which were large enough for 5-10 people or more. Many are fed with valves so you can adjust temps as desired. Oh, and I’m sure you’re dying to know if we went in our birthday suits or not? Well, let’s just say some we did, some we didn’t (and ONE of the pictures below has a naked man in it…let’s see how many internet hits that one gets me tee hee)

Despite all this allure the weather at 7,100 ft is just too fickle and last night dropped to a new record of 11 °F (-12°C). These kinds of temps are beyond what our little chicken-bones (especially mine) can take. Besides, at those levels cat stickiness is infinite which makes it difficult to do much of anything except shiver under the covers with fur-balls velcro’d to your belly. So, this AM we raised our jacks and headed ~40 miles and 2,700 feet lower in altitude to another great boondocking spot. Much, much warmer and still just as lovely views out the window. We’ll see ya there.

58 Responses to Fall Colors & Hidden Hot Springs (Oh, And A Naked Man Pic…) – Mammoth Lakes, CA

  1. You are really pretty good at discovering hidden gems especially with Paul’s contented smile.
    Great to see the Sierras again thru your lens.

  2. Sam says:

    Could you print off a few reams of your frost photo? I’d like to use it as my Xmas wrapping paper.
    P.S. LOVED the naked man pic… (hahahah)

    • libertatemamo says:

      LOL…yeah, that pic is perfect for wrapping paper. Couldn’t quite believe the frost crystals were growing INSIDE the RV until I scratched my nail across the window. That’s just not right!

  3. Sam says:

    Oh, and I should tell you that you’ve inspired me to go “poo-free” – after reading your shampoo post ages ago…

    • libertatemamo says:

      Whoo hooo! How very exciting. Do let me know how it works out for you. It’s so lovely that you’re still following our little blog all these years later from across the other side of the world :)

  4. RJRVtravels says:

    We can relate – we were in Mono Lake last night. Took the June Lake loop yesterday – spectacular. Today, we traveled down to Tanemaha County Park (same one RV Sue is at).

    This is our first trip on 395 – Wow!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Glad you’re enjoying the ride down 395. Never been to Tanemaha Campground. Might come by to check it out sometime this week. If I see ya there I’ll knock on your door.

      • RJRVtravels says:

        The campground is OK – some really nice views but now that the Government is back in Biz we will have lots more options. RV Sue, Bridget and Spike came over last evening.

  5. Lauren Brown says:

    Great seeing both of you on Monday and enjoying the colors around Convict Lake. Today we took a hike up McGee Canyon and were pleased to see that there was still some great color up there. I’m going to go searching for those hidden pools you found. We definitely need to add a knowledge of their location to the local lore we continue to collect. Lauren and Susan

    • libertatemamo says:

      It was lovely to see you as usual Lauren! Thanks for coming on the hike & for the delicious lunch. We are now Loony Bin Coffee fans!

  6. Yep, our last morning at the Hot Creek site, Deas woke up at 4 am and it was 15 degrees, and we had frost on the inside of the windows. He stormed into the bedroom and yelled “We’re leaving TODAY!” Of course we were running low on water too, but the cold sealed the deal for us. And I laughed at your comment about getting the beast in there – we definitely got a little scratched up by the sagebrush driving in/out – I was wondering how your rig would do in there. Glad it all worked out but still so sorry we missed you!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yeah, when that temp hits the teens it’s time to get moving! Our RV’s aren’t really made for that kind of weather. The biggest issue we had w/ the site at Hot Creek was making that turn. We don’t mind a few pin-stripes on the side, but the turn at the end was really too tight for us (we’re almost 7 feet longer than you guys). Took around an hour and 40 maneuvers to get her around, and we came within an inch of bottoming out. But I admit the view was lovely!

      • Yikes!!! I was worried it might be a little tight for your rig but figured you could judge that better than I could. I got stressed out just hearing you say “an hour and 40 maneuvers” – I would have downed a whole bottle of wine after that!

        • libertatemamo says:

          We were both pretty shaky after we were done LOL. I knew it was going to be tight when I looked at it, but it ended up being even tighter than I thought. Didn’t do much the rest of the day. Nina

  7. flyfishnevada says:

    Sorry we missed you guys on your way through. Hate to say it but we’ll take Jamiaca over random RVer’s any day ;) We’ve got snow on the peaks and it’s getting a might chilly at night. Looks like it’s nearing winter up in the Sierras. The days are nice and will be for a while but the nights…that’s a different story. Take care and safe travels.

  8. SparkyZ says:

    Ah, fond memories of 18 degrees and shrinking batteries. Thank God the generator started. Are you headed for the Alabama Hills area? And how come we didn’t find the hot springs 2 years ago???

    • libertatemamo says:

      Didn’t know about the hot springs 2 years ago, would you believe it. Even old dogs like me learn new things along the way :)
      May head to Alabama Hills next week sometime. We’re now settled north of Bishop and love our new spot…plus temps are perfect here. So will probably linger a while before moving on.

  9. Rayleen and Robert says:

    We really enjoy your blogs and beautiful pictures we did workamping in June Lake for a summer in 2005. Loved the area so much to see lots of great hiking even though we were there for the summer we still didn’t see everything we did find the Hot Springs in the summer you see more than one naked man and quite a few naked women as well. The day we left Sept. 28th we stopped in Mammouth to do some banking and it started to snow we couldn’t get down the Mt. fast enough

    • libertatemamo says:

      June Lake is a fabulous area!! I absolutely love the campground there plus all the hiking, sightseeing and such. But the weather sure can be fickle, just like you saw in Sept.

  10. That Hot Creek site looks awfully familiar…
    It was getting into the low 30s when we were there, which was a bit too cold for us. Can’t imagine the teens! It’s getting down into the mid 40s in the Alabama Hills, which isn’t too bad.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Just spent around 20 mins reading around on your blog. How did I miss that you guys were just in the very same spot?! I’m thinking the Nealy’s found it from your blog originally, so I guess kudos goes to you. We’re definitely following you down 395 step by step.

      • I think Jim and Gayle were actually in a spot a little further down the road – past the Hot Creek Geologic site. At least from the coordinates they sent me and the pictures I don’t think it was the same site. I was looking for theirs but just happened to find the other one first so took it!

        • libertatemamo says:

          Either way it was a lovely find. We were very happy there once we finally squeezed in :) Thanks for sharing it with us. Nina

  11. Rowanova says:

    Awesome autumn photos and scenery, thanks.

    And don’t stop being naughty with the hot springs, either. ;-)

  12. I totally understand why you suffered at night with those temps. What fun the days were for you two. I love the hot springs you found. So cool (or hot) haha!

    Hoping you have finally warmed your bones!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I was actually impressed the springs were warm enough to keep the chill out, but they really were. So happy we found them!

  13. Lisa says:

    Criminy that’s cold!

  14. Janna says:

    Hey, we have to travel out of Montana in the winter and we never been below 14 degrees–geez you guys were brave!! Yep, our colors were beautiful here too until they became blanketed with snow!!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Seriously? You’ve never been below 14. That’s amazing. I always see your snowy pics from up there and figure it’s GOT to be colder than where we are. Just goes to show…

  15. Tamara says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! I love Mammoth Lakes with all my heart and soul, having visited it almost annually for close to 40 years. We’ve never been there other than summer or winter, though, and I loved seeing it in it’s fall splendor through your talented photographer’s eye.

    We did the hot springs many years ago with our daughters. I remember a sign warning that scalding hot water could surface at any time. That put a thrill on things for sure!

    • libertatemamo says:

      This is definitely becoming a firm favorite drive of ours. Only 4 years RVing and we’ve done this trip 3 times!!
      About the scalding water, some of the hot springs have actually closed in the area for that very reason. Hot Creek Geological area used to be a very popular site, but is now shut down because of overly hot waters.

  16. Beautiful Photos but you cant go wrong in that area !!! Love it. Was there last week for 3 nights . Thinking of going back next week about tues. wed. if the colors are still holding up. Which hotsprings are you at? Is it Travertine?

    • libertatemamo says:

      We were in the hot springs that are sprinkled around Benton Crossing Road/Whitmore Tubs Road. None of them are marked or have official signs. You just drive around the back roads until you spot them.

  17. Upriverdavid says:

    10/31/2002..Halloween!..Challis Hot Springs..8*..Got out of the pools, hung my suit on the back of our rig..Went inside grabbed a cold ale..Came back outside, and my suit was as stiff as a board…It’s all in the mind eh??
    I hope to visit the pools you just left ..Guess I’ll have to wait till after the new year. I’ll save this for directions..

    • libertatemamo says:

      Now THAT is chilly! I’ve had clothes “stiffen” outside before, but last time that happened I was at ~18,000 feet in the Nepalese mountains LOL!

  18. geogypsy2u says:

    I love the idea of soaking in hot water, but those night temps are Way too cold.

  19. Hanna says:

    Great story, Nina. Love the hot springs :-) and your pictures…

  20. Hot Springs are one of the many reasons we have loved living in Truth or Consequences NM! Riverbend Hot Springs and Blackstone Hot Springs (ask for the “wet room”) are two of my favorites! They aren’t quite as wild as yours, but clothing is optional in the private pools. Chuck and I are also headed to warmer winters, headed to Florida today. If you ever end up along the Forgotten Coast of Florida… Apalachicola Florida…. get in touch and let us show you this quaint fishing village!

    • libertatemamo says:

      We loved our time in TOC when we traveled through New Mexico a few years back. At some point we’re definitely going back.
      We DID also stay at the Forgotten Coast when we did our east coast/FL tour in winter 2010/11. It ended up being our absolute favorite part of the state. Apalachicola is a LOVELY old-style FL town. Probably didn’t see all the secret spots that you guys know there, so if we do make it back we’ll definitely check in w/ you.

  21. Leigh says:

    AWESOME! Love the hot springs. Beautiful photos (as always).

  22. Jil says:

    Fabulous fotos….great blog….

  23. LuAnn says:

    OMG, your photos are stunning Nina! I am pretty sure I would not want to brave those kinds of temps, having ice crystals on the inside of our windows in the morning, but when I look at your photos, it may very well be worth braving it. I cannot believe you found hidden hot springs. For a gal who says she is directionally challenged, you certainly find all the good spots. ;)

    • libertatemamo says:

      You are so right about my directional problems LOL, but for whatever strange reason I’m a really good trail finder. I may not have any clue where I’m going, but I can always find a way to go somewhere interesting. Paul is baffled by it all. Nina

  24. Bob Wells says:

    As always, a wonderful post! 395 is also one of my favorite drives on the planet, especially Convict lake.

    You do know which photo would have brought you even more website hits don’t you? I’m sure you do!! I

    Thanks for your hard work on the blog!

  25. Kathy Webb says:

    GORGEOUS PICS WITH BRIGHT BLUE SKIES! BUT….those are very very cold temps to withstand!! Glad you found some place warmer but scenic!

  26. Kat says:

    You have helped us in so many ways starting full-timing..millenicom, now looking at your phone plan. BUT next question..we have a blog and have submitted to Hitchitch twice with no reply at all. What could we be doing wrong? Guess we are being a pain Nina..any advice would be appreciated.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Sorry, can’t answer your question since I don’t really know the people there. Glad you like the blog!

  27. […] ← Fall Colors & Hidden Hot Springs (Oh, And A Naked Man Pic…) – Mammoth Lakes,&… […]

  28. […] last week’s freezing stay in Mammoth Lakes we escaped to lower altitudes and much (much) warmer weather in Bishop, CA. Thanks to the […]

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