Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Benton Hot Springs - April 2016

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"Where can we go next weekend?" the Lady asked. Our trip out to Project Shoal was coming to a close as we climbed the steep eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada on our way home Sunday afternoon.

"Let's call Benton Hot Springs and see, if by chance, they have any campsites available," I suggested.

"Call them as soon as we get home!"

It was a long shot. We had struck out the last couple of times we tried on short notice. Sabrina answered the phone.

"We just now had a cancellation," she said. "You can have tub 8 for Friday and Saturday nights."

"We can go to Benton next weekend!" I relayed to the Lady.

It was kind of hard getting through the work week, dreams of warm mineral water caressing us, soothing our bodies, filling our thoughts. A ghost of a gentle cold breeze carrying the scent of sage haunted our cheeks and noses. Everything was falling into place except the weather. Winter was going to put up another fight against spring with a cold storm, strong winds and snow. Late Friday afternoon we'd be its full fury.

When out on the main highways in winter storm conditions, it is easy to spot the drivers who do not live in the mountains and do not frequently drive in snow and ice. Aggressive and fearless and without a clue how over the edge they are, it is only pure luck that saves them. Have I missed it? Is it now required to have half your brains sucked out before you can buy a new 4x4 vehicle? Most of the early part of our drive is best forgotten. Traffic on 395 south of Gardnerville was, thankfully, very light. We were almost alone on the highway in the storm. Chain controls were up from Walker to Bridgeport. Conway Summit had snow blowing across the highway pushed by the hard wind out of the west. We drove past Lee Vining and turned east on highway 120. The sign announcing chain controls was not turned. It was now dark. The storm was here.

Highway 120 was covered with blowing snow. There were no vehicle tracks. It was a quiet night with us alone in the storm. Across the flats on the west side of Sagehen Summit, in the distance, we were surprised to see flashing lights. Was it a snowplow? As we neared, we could see it was a car's emergency flashers and the car was perpendicular to the road. This was not good. There were still no tracks in the snow. We pulled to a stop behind the sports sedan. It was off the road and straddling the ditch.

"I bet the maneuver to put it there really surprised the driver," I said aloud.

"Is anybody in it?" the Lady asked while squinting through the snow.

Right then the driver's door opened and a young man climbed out and approached the Lady's window. He was well dressed for the weather.

"Thanks for stopping," he said. "I'm okay. There's a tow coming from Lee Vining."

The Lady made him answer all her questions twice.

"You are sure you are okay and we can continue on our way?"

"You are staying warm and will be warm until whenever the tow truck gets here?"

He assured us he was okay and from all appearances, except for the placement of his vehicle of course, he was okay. We continued on into the night and the storm.

The snow that blew in waves at ground level across the trackless road, illuminated by our headlights, was beautiful. Our solitude in the storm was calming and peaceful. Time did not matter. We had a hot springs tub waiting for us whenever we arrived.

On the east side of Sagehen Summit, again in the distance, we saw a vehicle's headlights. It was heading east, the same direction we were.

"How can that be?" the Lady asked, puzzled. "There are no tracks in the snow." She was observant.

"My guess," I answered, "Is that they were west bound, became concerned about worse conditions ahead, and so turned around."

We soon came upon the tracks that confirmed my guess.

As we continued on, the Lady leaned forward, her face close to the windshield, watching.

"Stars!" she exclaimed.

"What?" I asked. Snow still fell against the windshield.

"Stars!" she confirmed. "There's a black wall of clouds to the south but a big break in the clouds over head. I'm going to open my window!" Her face was soon outside and looking up. "It is beautiful!" she cried. "Smell the wet sage! I love it!"

The storm added around a hour and a half to our trip. It was nine pm when we quietly pulled into our campsite at Benton Hot Springs. We were out of the storm. The last of the clouds were heading south. The camper was quickly set up and guess what we did next. Damn right. It was utterly glorious.

We slept like death and awoke to a sunny morning. It took until mid day to rid the truck of ice and snow.

We climbed back into our own private hot tub.

We watched the north winds scour and blow plumes of snow to the south off of Montgomery Peak.

It was spring time at Benton Hot Springs.

We would not drive anywhere on Saturday but leave the camper set up. We'd walk and explore wherever our wanderings would take us and return again and again and again to soak in the healing warm waters. Sounds like the best plan for a beautiful spring day, doesn't it?

Our first wander around the Historic Benton Hot Springs was at dawn.

We returned to camp, pulled off our clothes, and raced each other to the tub. The Lady always won.

There is an intriguing granite canyon to the west, a deep cut in the Benton Hills. The source of the hot springs is at its mouth. We climbed past the cemetery.

The Lady remarked that Benton Hot Springs was established in 1852 but they did not need a cemetery until 1868. The Lady is observant.

There is an outcrop of volcanic tuff near the source of the springs and we found a dwelling or storage cellar carved into the rock.

It was the granite ahead that drew us onward.

We noted at least one bolted climbing route. The canyon opened up and then closed in again. The wash was impenetrable, choked with riparian vegetation. We climbed to the north, up and out of the canyon.

The view was worth it as we neared the top of the ridge.

Wildflowers filled the area between the sage.

We descended back down to camp to celebrate with another soak.

We lingered over a snack lunch. Campers are not allowed to play music of any kind. This is a quiet place.

We walked in the early afternoon...................

........................and returned to our little piece of paradise. The Lady won again.

We wandered in the late afternoon light.

The Lady loved the kestrel pair. We saw them repeatedly along with pairs of quail and mourning doves. It was springtime at Benton.

Did a foreign auto repair shop really fit in? Hint - if you stop by, look in the window.

An old Plymouth sits out back.

Jimmy stopped beside us in his pickup. "You can walk through there if you like," he nodded toward the no trespassing signs, "And take pictures of the buffalo but don't try to pet them. Don't pet the buffalo."

The winds on the White Mountains had died down. Last light fell on Montgomery Peak as we made supper.

This was a wonderful way to spend a weekend. We walked hand in hand in the night. I tried a few long exposures around the bed & breakfast.

We again slept like death. Sabrina was also out walking at dawn. She smiled. "Every day I get to wake up in paradise," she told us and we agreed.

It was cloudy and dreary Sunday morning. Storm was returning. One more soak before we started the drive home.

The drive was quiet and relaxing. Snow occasionally fell against the windshield. "Where can we go next weekend?" the Lady asked as we climbed the eastern flank of the Sierra toward home.

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