Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Benton Hot Springs - November 2016

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A birthday, mysteries, and the big question

Friday was Veteran's Day, a holiday from school for the Lady, so a chance for a long weekend. It was also my birthday although I was born on Armistice Day. Mom always stressed that. The name and reason for the holiday was changed in 1954. I was born on Armistice Day and I celebrate my birthday on Veteran's Day. Actually I celebrate my birthday every day I wake up.

We had a store bought sit down dinner Thursday night at the Virginia Creek Settlement. We are capable, sometimes, of refined civilized behavior and we had no reason to hurry, no schedule to keep. Back on standard time, night now comes early but we have so many spots along 395 for an overnight stay that finding our way and setting up in the dark is not an issue.

We returned to Mono Diggings, set up camp, and walked in the cold night. I asked the Lady if we'd hear Prairie Flower, feel her presence, or the spirits of others associated with this ghost of a gold rush boom town. "No," the Lady answered. "There are no restless spirits here. This is a peaceful place. Feel it? Prairie Flower is no longer here." Alone here on this quiet night, the stars overhead, the breeze brought a sting of cold to our faces. We both knew the Lady was correct. This is a peaceful place. There are no restless spirits.

The Lady climbed out of the camper during the night for a bathroom break. She must have looked at the clock when she climbed back into the bunk. She cuddled up close, her lips to my ear, and sang Happy Birthday. It was my birthday and I knew I had to ask the big question.

A few hours later and the growing morning light woke us. "Well this is something I've never done in my life!" the Lady exclaimed. "I've never woke up in bed with a 64 year old man before!"

It was time for the big question.

Assured that I would be needed and fed, we got on with our day of poking around with mysteries.

The first mystery was "Where was Lago?" Do you remember Clint Eastwood's classic western, High Plains Drifter? Lago was the town on the edge of Mono Lake.

The movie set - Lago - is long gone, cleaned up per special use filming permit requirements.

Many other close by locations were also used in the movie during filming in 1973.

There is much to enjoy here. Just upslope from Lago is a large ancient shoreline of Mono Lake.

Tufa towers stand out from the shrinking Mono Lake with remains of higher ancient lake levels carved into the hills beyond.

The next mystery - where is the bubbling hot spring on the shore of Mono Lake? We, of course, went looking.

We found another spring, this one with surprisingly clear water.

Neither of these are developed for soaking, nor should they be. They are beautiful in their natural state. I am curious about the composition of the gas bubbling to the surface. Both springs are quite active.

We investigated a couple other mysterious sites on our way to Benton Hot Springs. We made reservations several months ago for a special birthday weekend, an extra special weekend now that I knew I would still be fed and needed!

There was a thick cloud deck as the daylight ended. It could have been spectacular color if the sun had streamed under just as it set. It was not to be, but the last warm light on Montgomery Peak was wonderful.

Benton Hot Springs has 10 campsites, each with a private tub of hot spring water. It is a delightful place. Site six, where we stayed, has a recessed pool. We were able to back the truck up so the that the healing, restorative waters were only two steps out of the camper. We alternated between playing "Tease the Geezer" and soaking, and, as Huell Howser always said, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

At sunset we walked up to the cemetery. It is a peaceful place and caused us to wonder about the lives recorded here.

A great horned owl was perched above our camp when we returned in the dark. The Lady said it was a good sign. I was surprised to get anything close to an image with the low light. Owls songs lulled us to sleep both nights here.

After dinner we walked up highway 120 above Benton. We saw a faint flickering light in the cemetery across from us. We heard no voices. Saw no evidence of people moving about. What was this mysterious light in the cemetery?

It was cloudy and warm (mid forties) Saturday morning.

We had a mystery to search out today. In a long canyon leading into the White Mountains is something we want to find.

Feral horses grazed the hillside above us. A large mule deer buck with a huge single fork rack moved his harem of six across the opposite hillside.

We moved slowly with our search.

We stopped just below the crest of the White Mountains.

Although the weather was clear and beautiful, it was cold. This area was solid ice. I went down hard here on our way up canyon. If that wasn't bad enough, I then slid down slope into the willows. It was slick.

We were unsuccessful with our search. I have since gathered more clues. We'll be back. 

This was a holiday weekend and we were alone here all day in this remote beautiful place. As Huell Howser always said, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

We returned to our campsite at Benton and partook of the healing restorative hot spring waters. We almost missed the rising of the near full super moon - the Beaver Moon.

The Lady surprised me with direction on the photography. "Get a picture with the moon framed by the tree branches," she directed. I happily complied.

We walked up to the cemetery with the moon casting long shadows. We investigated the mysterious flickering light we had seen Friday night. It was there, two small solar powered lights in front of an ancient inscribed wooden grave marker. The sage brush is higher so the lights appears to flicker as you move in relation to it. High tech has come to the old pioneer cemetery.

Sunday morning, after a predawn soak and with that first mug of hot coffee, we walked through town. Cottontail rabbits scurried about along with coveys of quail. The horse was waiting for us to get some attention and the Lady obliged.

Quiet mornings like this are priceless.

We had two more mysteries to look into. Our first stop was Black Point on the northwest shore of Mono Lake. With five years of drought, even with the Mono Lake agreements in place, the lake's level is dropping and nearing a critical stage where a land bridge will exist to Negit Island exposing its vast colonies of nesting birds to predators such as coyotes.

A link to an article - Mono Lake Facing Another Crisis

We stopped at Conway Summit to find a section of the water delivery canal built by The United Water Ditch Company in the summer of 1860 to provide (as in sell and make money) water to the placer mines at Mono Diggings.

If you are interested, stop at the corner of 395 and Virginia Lakes Road at Conway Summit. Look across the highway to the southeast at the twin parallel lines crossing the slope above the highway. The system was two canals with a flume across the pass carrying water that was diverted from Virginia Creek, Dogtown Creek, Dunderburg Creek, and the East Fork of the Walker River.

A competing ditch - The Old Mono Ditch - was built by Cross & Company that diverted water at the mouth of Mill Creek (Lundy Canyon) to Mono Diggings. Remnants of this canal can be seen just north of Mono Lake.

We stopped at another favorite hot springs for a break and lunch.

It was a fabulous weekend. Huell Howser is ringing in my ears, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Or maybe it does. We'll leave that option open. There are still mysteries out there to figure out.................

Oh, to let you know, we are all healed up and restored, better then new. The waters have worked their magic. And the Lady will still be my valentine.

A special thank you to our military veterans - Veteran's Day - and here's to the continued celebration of the end of war - Armistice Day.


  1. Monte,thank you for the great story and photos.
    I always enjoy your trips.It's nice that you let us who don't get to these places to tag along.
    Glad you had a fun birthday.

  2. Monte, at 'Geezer +2' I thought you would have gained enough wisdom to stay off of ice on an incline. Dang, it takes a long time to heal at our age. :p

    A wonderful trip report as always! I didn't know that High Plains Drifter was filmed at Mono. Thanks for sharing and bringing us along!

  3. Happy birthday, and many more great trips to come!

  4. Thank you so much for the wonderful travel diary! you should write for a Eco-travel blog! Happy Thanksgiving.