Tecopa Hot Springs has easily become one of my favorite domestic hidden gems. Located in the barren-looking town of Tecopa, California, the unseen, earthy hot spot (literally hot!) is often overlooked as visitors drive past it on their way to Death Valley National Park, just 10 miles southeast. But despite its bleak appearance, the dreary city actually boasts an underrated, quiet getaway from life's busyness, with outstanding and breathtaking natural sights to behold while dipping into its invigorating natural hot springs.
When pulling up to the small Inyo County city (population around just 200 people!), there's mystery that alludes to the area's atmosphere that's well worth unraveling. Despite the shabby looking motels, scattered trailer homes, and desolate outlook, its small size actually highlights the welcoming community that built up Tecopa and all that it's worth knowing for. So here's why this place is so special.
Tecopa Hot Springs
A friend in Las Vegas, Nevada, just 80 miles east of the area, took me to the hot springs in Tecopa when I visited him; I had never experienced one prior. As we embarked on the hour and a half long drive, we passed through the resplendent Nopah Range. We left right before the sun had set in perfect timing, so that our journey could be accompanied by the sky's stunning colors washing over the soft mountains. The mini road trip was so beautiful and peaceful as we reveled in the gorgeous color gradient that sat on the rocky horizon. I became so comfortably lost in my fixation with how hues of blue, purple, pink, orange, and yellow danced around the mountain peaks, that I didn't realize how the sky had grown progressively darker. By that time, night had fallen, and we had arrived at our destination.
After we parked, we took a quick walk just off the two-lane highway to a spot looming between the mountains, where pools had collected within the ground forming the natural hot springs. The springs were essentially mud baths, which we could only locate because of the stars' reflections off of the water and the steam rising from the water's glassy surface. Dipping into the mud baths seemed eerie at first because the lack of light restricted my ability to see the pool's floor. However, the darkness that enveloped the scarcely lit area surprisingly became less intimidating as my eyes started to adjust in noticing my surroundings. The sky magnificently resembled a massive dome littered with stars that reflected the surrounding mountains as shadows. Enjoying the night sky while relaxing in the hot water and digging my bare feet into the mud floors was one of the most ethereal experiences I've ever had, and I had never felt more present in my entire life than in that moment. My breathing steadied as my heartbeat slowed down, and my muscles released any tension they were holding.
Look, I've had my fair share of relaxing spa days, treating myself to the opulent luxuries they have to offer. But after experiencing how rejuvenating hot springs are, I've realized that there's something about embracing what nature has to offer that presides over any fancy spa treatments. And it was well worth my money to make a trip to a natural hot springs than to spend it on a lavish spa.
What Are Hot Springs?
By Wikipedia's definition, hot springs pools are "springs produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater that rises from the Earth's crust." Also known as hydrothermal springs or geothermal springs, these spring waters are just bodies of water that are known to be literally hot, with Tecopa's hot springs reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit near its source, cooling to around 90 degrees Fahrenheit by the time it bubbles up at the surface into a pool.
The pools in Tecopa consist of mineral water and muddy floors, and those who choose to take a dip can actually apply the mud to their skin as a natural hydrating exfoliant. The slightly sulfurous smell that can be noticed when easing into the water, comes from the mud underneath the floor stirring up, causing air bubbles to rise to the surface.
My friend could have easily taken me to one of the many other hot springs closer to the city: Spencer Hot Springs, Arizona Hot Springs, Twelve Mile, Alkali Hot Springs, Trego Hot Springs, Fish Lake valley, Gold Strike Hot Springs, and/or Ruby Valley Hot Springs. While I'm sure those hot springs offer great experiences, I think I understand why he might've chosen Tecopa instead.
Tecopa: A Secret Prized Food Haven
Not many people know the stories behind the very few, but very special, places to eat and drink in Tecopa. According to the Los Angeles Times, Tecopa's Bistro has served customers for over 40 years, making sandwiches for local miners. Ryan Thomas, the restaurant's owner, set up the place as a haven for chefs who wander into town and find themselves staying in the area for weeks, sometimes even months, at a time. He said, "I can cook, and I'm a pretty good chef. But I thought, 'Why not give others a chance? Make it a culinary arts gallery.'"
Thomas acts as sous chef when a guest chef arrives in the city. But on his own, he serves the only breakfast in town, along with his specialty Italian and Mediterranean food. He sources veggies from local gardens, raises his own chickens for eggs, and collaborates with friend and fellow competitor Eric Scott, who supplies pork and beef. Scott runs Steaks and Beer, just less than two miles down the road, where you get what you pay for- namely juicy steaks for an extravagant price. Both Thomas and Scott escaped the crazy hubbub of Vegas to dive into Tecopa's close-knit community, taking advantage of the local sourcing hookups for their own restaurants.
?If you're a patron of craft beer, it's suggested you head to Death Valley Brewing, where you'll find creative beers brewed with pride by assistant brewer Dan Leseburg. Leseburg comically told the Los Angeles Times, "There's lots of interesting stuff out there just waiting for a yeast orgy."
Tecopa Brewing Co. and BBQ Restaurant is at the entrance of Delight's Hot Springs Resort and is Tecopa's only other eatery and microbrewery. Co-owners Westley McNeal and his wife Courtney, who also own the resort, serve Texas-style brisket and Memphis-style pulled pork, ribs, and chili.
There's also the China Ranch Date Farm, a family-run farm that not only sells dates, but also Tecopa-related trinkets and date-infused baked goods. The farm also marks the trailhead of an easy three-mile hike that begins south of Tecopa and winds through mud hills to the Amargosa River. There you will find endangered Amargosa pupfish, and following the trail to its end will take you through a slot canyon and some old mining ruins.
Campsites and Resorts
Whether you decide to camp or to check-in to an RV park, Tecopa has many places that offer a wide variety of options for stay. Most of the places offer exclusive access to their own hot spring swimming pools, as well as day passes to those baths if you choose not to stay overnight. Resorts include Delight's Hot Springs Resort and Tecopa Hot Springs Resort, both sitting on Tecopa Hot Springs Road. However, if you're looking for wheelchair accessibility, you might want to head eight miles down the road to Shoshone Inn instead.
If you want to camp, Tecopa Hot Springs Campground features restroom facilities, showers, and two bathhouses that also offer men's and women's only pools. There's also a small private pool, play equipment, electrical hookups, and a community center. You can even purchase Wi-Fi at the kiosk when you rent your camp space if you need to stay connected online.
You really can't judge a book by its cover when it comes to small towns. Maybe the idea of a small town isn't as inviting to the typical tourist, but Tecopa has proven that its size attests to the amazing community that aims to guide wandering visitors through its obscure natural beauty and abundant opportunities for adventure.
If you've ever dipped in to Tecopa Hot Springs or any other hot springs pools, we would love to see it! Share your experience on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
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