pic by Dano Gruen
It’s springtime in the desert…as oft mentioned, my favorite time ever! The sun’s rays have just begun to gently seduce bottle-blonde party whores all over Vegas into shedding clothing like cherry blossom petals, and foot pervs everywhere are sporting wood over all the newly-pedicured toes going around in flip-flops. Well, with all that going on, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be balls-deep in snow this time of year — but it happened to me TWICE in the past couple of weeks!
the open road!
The first brush occurred a couple weeks back, when my friend Alex invited me to go camping “in the desert” off U.S. 395. For those not in the know, the 395 runs north-south along the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains, through some of the most beautiful country in the world. I haven’t explored it much, but have heard many tales of the amazing hotsprings along its hallowed length…so I was super stoked to check it out.
In addition, every time I drive up to the Bay Area, I take CA-58…and just outside Barstow, I always pass the 395 turnoff, at a place called Kramer Junction. The 395 trails tantalizingly off to the north, and every single time I’ve passed it, I have solemnly vowed to one day take that road and see where it goes. Well, that day was finally here!
the alabama hills
Alex sent me a link to this fabulous-looking place called the Alabama Hills, which due to their relative proximity to Hollywood have been used as the backdrop for countless Westerns, and suggested we camp there. It looked awesome and fairly temperate, so I packed up my tent and some weed, wine and warm-ish clothes, and headed out with him on the open road.
Alex and me
Now, Alex is the guy I almost went to that off-road race in Baja with — he’s a loose cannon, to put it mildly. I originally thought he was like the male version of me, but I’ve since come to learn that he’s more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Either way, he’s an interesting person if you like exploring the desert…and are not easily offended. You just have to stay on your toes.
Anyhoo, we left Vegas on a Friday afternoon, and moseyed down I-15 to Kramer Junction, then hung a thrilling right — at long last!! There is nothing in this world I enjoy more than heading down a road I’ve never been down before — NOTHING. It was fabulous!
Snow-covered Mt. Whitney in the background
After stopping to check out a few local attractions, including a creepy old abandoned military base/prison camp/???, we continued cruising north to the scenic little town of Lone Pine, where we turned off and headed west into the Alabama Hills, right at the base of snow-capped Mt. Whitney — the tallest peak in the continental U.S. The snowcapped mountains made a super-gorgeous, ultra-dramatic background to our campsite, nestled among the gently rounded boulders and desert scrub of the Alabama Hills — absolutely breathtaking!
After unpacking our gear, Alex rode his dirt bike off to town while I stayed behind and set up my tent and built a fire, like a good squaw. When he got back, I ate a pot cookie and got baked by the fire, and had a pretty good time. There’s little in this world I enjoy more than a campfire in the desert…ya know? The night was fairly warm, even with the snow-capped mountains in the background, and everything was completely amazing.
The next morning, I cranked up some Dark Side of the Moon and drove Alex’s truck while he rode his dirt bike through the hills and down the road to Manzanar. Manzanar was this internment camp where the U.S. Gov’ment forced U.S. citizens of Japanese descent to live during WWII, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was basically a couple steps above a concentration camp — there were no ovens or forced labor, but they still had to give up all their possessions (other than what they could carry with them), abandon their homes and businesses, and leave their entire lives behind to go live in these drafty barracks in the desert until the war was over. Shameful!!!
the Mobius Arch in the alabama hills
Manzanar is now a museum and memorial site, so we checked that out and then headed back up the 395 to the slightly larger town of Bishop, where we stopped at Erik Schat’s Bakkerÿ (?!) for some delicious shepherd’s bread (for reals, you gotta try this shit. It’s amazing!!). The plan now was to keep heading north to Mammoth Lakes, where there are a bunch of super cool hot springs that I’ve been dying to check out for years. Alex knew all about them, since a few winters ago he and his ex-girlfriend lived out there in his truck, while working as ski lift operators at the resort on Mammoth Mountain.
an alpine lake near Mammoth
However, the skies looked pretty ominous, and I kept getting these “Winter Storm Warning” alerts on my phone: “Are you sure we should camp there??” A storm was moving in over the mountains, and heavy-to-moderate snowfall was expected that night — and I hadn’t prepared for snow camping. All I had was my shitty little $20 WalMart kids’ tent, and a super thin sleeping bag. I was even kinda chilly the previous night, in the Alabama Hills! But Alex just scoffed at me, calling me a pussy: “I lived there all winter…you’ll be fine. You can sleep in the back of my truck [he has a camper shell] and I promise I won’t manhandle you.”
at Mammoth ski resort
Hmmmm. If there’s one thing I hate more than being freezing fucking cold, it’s being called a pussy! But, man…I reeeeally hate being cold. Almost as much as being manhandled.
So we drove up to the ski resort area and checked it out, and it was pretty cool, if you’re into that scene. I personally am a lizard — I like the sun, and I like it HOT. Snow ain’t my bag, nor is snow culture in general — all those snowboarding bros and bro-ettes, bourgey skiiers, and boisterous blond kids in funky knit caps boozing in the chalet, which I observed in one of the bars up there over a round of drinks (I had one of those delicious hot toddies with coffee and Baileys and shit, trying to fortify myself for the freezing night to come…drinking hot toddies is the only part of ski culture I can get down with).
the deadly hot creek
Anyway, despite my misgivings, we headed back down the mountain to the hot springs around sunset, and it was only getting colder and colder. There are several springs in the area around Mammoth, all sort of scattered around in this meadowy area on the east side of the highway. There’s even a hot creek that runs through the meadow, although they don’t recommend soaking in it as the temperature is known to fluctuate wildly from one minute to the next, and people die up there all the time from being scalded by boiling water being belched from the Earth! Yikes!!!
Fuck this cold shit!
Anyway, skipping the creek, the first couple pools we stopped at were crowded with drunken revelers — and since Alex doesn’t like to soak around other people, those were no-gos. But when we did finally find a deserted pool, the water in it was only lukewarm :/ I insisted that if I had to spend the night freezing my ass off, I at least wanted some seriously HOT water to warm up in…so we kept going.
Meanwhile, along the way we stopped to check out this little hunting cabin Alex knew of, that’s easy to break into in case of an emergency — it has a wood stove and cozy beds and a cooler full of beer, and I guess is mainly used by cowboys during cattle grazing season, although Alex and his ex-girlfriend used to bunk there on exceptionally cold nights, when the temps were too low for even badasses like them to sleep in the back of his truck. As long as you leave it as you found it, it’s apparently OK to crash in…I mean, in an emergency, ya know?
Well, any snow at all is an emergency situation in my book, and that cabin looked pretty good to me!!! But Alex just called me a pussy and insisted we push on. So we cruised back over to the hot pool with the least amount of people near it, and set up camp up the hill a bit, as close as possible to the springs…so that when we eventually had to get out, at least we didn’t have far to go in the freezing night air.
By “set up camp,” I mean all we really did was unload the firewood, build up a fire ring, and take out my camp chair. It was too dark and too cold to bother with anything more — so instead, I ate some mushrooms and drank some wine, and we headed down to the springs for a nice hot soak. Yay!!!!!
Now, all this time Alex was still chewing me out for being a pussy, since I was pretty much non-stop grousing about how cold it was. But I couldn’t help it — I was fucking cold, and not prepared to camp in the snow!! I’m a fairly hardy outdoorswoman, but only if I’m prepared for conditions. If I’d expected to camp in the snow, I’d have brought warmer clothes and blankets and stuff — but as it was, I’d packed for the climate in the Alabama Hills, which are at a much lower altitude. Either way, all we did was bicker and bitch and bitch and bicker at each other — until, thank Christ, my shrooms kicked in
By then, we were soaking blissfully in the pool of steaming hot spring water under an inky-black sky, and it was pretty fucking fabulous. We had the place all to ourselves (the other soakers probably took off when they heard us come bitching and bickering down the path), and the night was utterly still. This particular pool is fairly rustic and natural, but the bottom is cemented over, so it isn’t mucky and gross and full of pubes, like other natural springs I’ve been to. There are even little benches built in, so you can sit and soak in the utter peace and solitude with your head above water. It really is a truly exceptional hot springs!
the pool by day (none of my night photos came out)
As the night wore on and my buzz intensified, I turned on my headlamp to look for my lighter, and noticed that snow had begun to fall! The storm my phone was warning me about had rolled in, and big, fat fluffy flakes were falling all around us. In my shroomy state it was the most magical thing ever – to be sitting in a natural hot spring, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a snow flurry!
Alas, my shroomy brain failed to anticipate the fact that snow melts when it touches warm shit — so all that magical snow piled up on my head soon melted into ice water, soaking my hair. Snow also covered my down jacket and furry boots, at the water’s edge — and so when my buzz finally wore off, there I was, sober and miserable with all my warm clothes cold and wet, and my head cold and wet as well…facing a bone-shatteringly cold night in a tin coffin i.e. camper-shell-covered-truckbed. Quel horreur!!
Well, there was noting to do but sack up, get dressed and tromp back through the snow to our “campsite,” where it was too late and too cold and too wet to even bother with a fire. To his credit, Alex made a pretty cozy bed in the back of his truck, and I snuggled down into my shitty WalMart sleeping bag and tried to get some sleep. But two things were bedeviling me.
One, my hair was wet and freezing fucking cold. Even in the best of times, I am afflicted with cold hands and feet (like many women)…so this night, I was really cold!! My feet were like two ice blocks all night long — despite the mountains of blankets Alex had prepared, my feet were by the drafty tailgate, and they actually ached from the cold, all through that miserable night.
Second (and even worse), I had somehow lost my lighter down by the hot spring, and the only one Alex had was buried in his gear outside the truck, in the freezing cold. I didn’t feel like getting dressed to go look for it in the snow…so I couldn’t even hit my pipe and get baked to forget my misery!! Instead, I had to break off a piece of a bud and chew it in my mouth, like chawing tobaccy — which, needless to say, didn’t really work well
I am NOT a morning person!
So I spent a long, freezing, miserably sleepless night huddled up trying to warm my aching feet…and when the sun finally came up, it was a blessed relief. Even though I hadn’t really slept, I couldn’t wait to get up and put my feet back in the hot water of the springs. It was the only way to stop the aching!! So I rolled out of bed like a grumpy, puffy-eyed icicle, and got out of the truck to survey the landscape.
winter fucking wonderland
It really did look magical: a clear blue sky, with sunshine sparkling off the crust of pristine white snow covering everything — including this poor mango I’d brought along that had accidentally rolled out of my food bag, and was laying there in the road covered in frost, like a metaphor for my sad frostbitten ass.
this poor mango was a metaphor for my own misery
Once I’d brushed my teeth and had some coffee, I felt better about things, so Alex and I headed back down to the springs for a morning soak before heading on our way. This morning we had company — an über-cool bearded road-warrior type named Kevin, who lived in a van with his two dogs, one of which was soaking in the pool with us. He was a super cool dude, and very interesting to talk to — he’d been on the road for over ten years, and had been camping out by these springs for a few weeks. His supplies were running low, though, so in a few days he was headed back to town — but in the meanwhile, I spotted him some smoke, and gave him the rest of our shepherd’s bread (which Alex relentlessly bawled me out for, despite the fact that it was my fuckin’ bread that I paid for…in fact, I paid for all our meals and drinks on the trip).
hanging out with Kevin in the hot springs
Anyway, after an hour or two we got out, dried off, packed up and headed out, stopping for lunch back up on Mammoth Mountain before cruising eastward, back into the desert at long fucking last!!! The happiest sight I ever saw in my entire life was the sight of those fucking snow-covered mountains in the rear-view mirror, let me tell you.
A friend had told me about these other springs in a place called Fish Lake Valley, right on the Nevada/California border north of Death Valley, so we headed there next, stopping in the town of Fish Lake Valley proper for a sody pop and some gas (Alex has the supremely annoying habit of only gassing up $5 at a time — his justification being that if his car conks out, he doesn’t want to leave a full tank of gas just sitting there).
the Boonies indeed!
Fish Lake Valley is little more than a blip in the road — a few alfalfa farms, a general store/gas station, and a wonderful-looking and very aptly-named little bar called The Boonies. But no one was in the bar — the real action was on the patio out front of the general store, where a bunch of Mexican farmworkers were chilling out drinking Coronas in the sun. Alex wasted no time in befriending them, and they shared their beer and told their stories: the various ways they had sneaked over the border into the U.S., their decent-paying gig as alfalfa harvesters, and their sympathetic bossman, who gives them plenty of warning on the rare occasions that Immigration comes sniffing around so they can hide out in the woods or wherever. Fantastic!!! It was really cool talking to those guys, and I have to give Alex credit for being really good at getting strangers to open up.
Overview of Fish Lake Hot Spring
After an hour or so, we headed back down the road to the Fish Lake Hot Spring, which turned out to be a pretty cool little spot, if you’re into off-road dirtbiking/four-wheeling. The spring itself is a concrete rectangle at the edge of a marshy lake, in the middle of a vast, desolate windswept valley — I’d only recommend camping there if you can sleep in your car or in a hard-shell trailer; tents or tent-trailers would probably blow right the fuck over out there.
the soaking tub at Fish Lake
That being said, it was a pretty cool spot — there’s a vault toilet, and barbecue grills and fire rings, and if you’re into dirtbiking there are tons of trails criss-crossing the area. As we soaked, Alex talked to a few guys who came riding in from just such adventures, and he started developing an idea for an offroad motorcycle tour company, where he plans to take groups of wealthy Europeans on off-road adventures all around the desert surrounding Vegas.
Meanwhile, I chatted with this awesome dreadlocked Viking hippie who was soaking in the pool smoking a joint and reading Harper’s Magazine — he’d driven out from South Dakota with his dog, and was cruising around camping at various hot springs to escape the freezing South Dakota spring. He informed me that the Rainbow Gathering is supposedly going to take place in northern Nevada this year, so now I have no excuse not to go — it’s been on my bucketlist forever, although I’ve heard from some that it’s really kind of gross, and full of the nasty, lazy, society-leech-type hippies I despise. (I’m a hard-working hippie myself, ya heard?)
where to next??
Anyway, I had to be back by in Vegas by 11pm for this dumbass conference call in the morning, so we left Fish Lake and cruised back into Nevada by way of my all-time favorite ghost town, Gold Point! You may remember Gold Point as the ghost town where me and my Goddess Collective nude model friends all met at a two-day photo shoot back in 2012 — these two photographers had hired the four of us to go out there and goof around in the sagebrush, and we all had a wonderful time.
emergency gas from Walt
Well, I can never pass by Gold Point without stopping in to say Hi, and besides….Alex needed another $5 worth of gas, which they don’t normally sell to people out there, but it was an emergency, so Walt the bartender let us buy a couple gallons. After gassing up, Walt let us into the saloon and we sat around bullshitting over a drink — and I couldn’t believe what he told me next.
bullshitting in the Gold Point Saloon
Come to find out, those same two photographers have already booked a return trip later this year! This is shocking, because they didn’t hire me again — I checked with the other Goddess Collective members, and apparently they did hire at least one of the other girls again…but I never heard a word from them Oh, well….I guess they didn’t care much for my look! They seemed happy with me last time, but with modeling you have to have a thick skin and not take this shit personally. D’oh!!
Anyhoo, after that the sun was going down, so we said good bye to Walt and headed back to Vegas. And before you know it, I was home again, feeding my dog and watering my plants and up at 7am for this dumbass conference call and a Japanese TV documentary I played a small role in and had to be onset for all day. But shockingly, it wasn’t long before I found myself balls-deep in motherfucking freezing cold snow — again!!!
The very next day — April Fools’ Day, no less — I had made plans to go hiking. My girlfriend from Arkansas was in town, and she wanted a bad-ass workout before starting her miserable week of working a tradeshow, so I decided we’d go up northwest of town and hike through the ancient bristlecone pine forest to the Raintree — this awesomely ginormous, knotty, warped giant bristlecone pinetree, said to be the oldest living thing in Nevada. I’ve hiked to it many times, and while it’s only 6 miles roundtrip, it’s a pretty decent elevation gain, so it’s a pretty good workout.
April in Vegas!
I also invited my friend “Ken,” a commercial airline pilot I met back in January when I was hiking the Goldstrike hot springs trail, and he was repairing the rope ladders on the bouldering portions of that trail, using rope he’d bought out of the goodness of his heart. A really cool guy, and a pretty badass outdoorsman — when not flying for one of the major-ish airlines, Ken is a veteran backpacker who is also building his own log cabin on some property he owns way the fuck up in Northern California. Oh, and he’s super easy on the eyes, too!
a bristlecone pine
Anyway, the three of us met at the Tropicana Hotel, drove up north 30 minutes to the trailhead in Lee Canyon, and set out for what we assumed would be a fabulous, moderately-strenuous day hike. But what none of us realized was that a storm had blown in, and the top of the mountain was completely blanketed in fresh snow! Down in Vegas the weather was sunny and warm…but here on the trail, at around 8,000 feet, it was pretty chilly. I mean, who the fuck expects to get caught in a blizzard in Vegas, in April?!?! Not me!
Thank dog I actually brought along my tennies — I normally hike this (and all) trails in flip-flops, but for once I had brought along real shoes, a hoodie and even gloves. And BOY, WAS I GLAD I DID! The farther up the trail we went, the snowier and icier it got — the trail was downright treacherous in places, due to the ice, so after awhile we gave up hiking on the trail and tromped along in the snow, instead.
Ken led the way, what with all his rugged outdoors experience, and soon we were near the top of the mountain, somewhere near the Raintree — but the problem was, up there at the top (9,400 feet) it began to snow so heavily, and visibility grew so bad, that we couldn’t even see the damn Raintree through the foggy mist! And that’s a huge fuckin’ tree!!
Worse, we couldn’t see the trail anymore, either…so after stumbling around awhile, and taking a bunch of “Look at me! In the snow, in Vegas! In April!!” photos, Ken suggested we should give up on finding the tree, and just head back down before we got caught in a bonafide blizzard. My girlfriend and I concurred, although privately we agreed there were worse things that could happen to us than spend the night in an igloo with handsome Ken, haha.
But even finding our way back down to the bottom of the mountain proved insanely difficult in that fucking snow! We hiked in a downhill direction, but by now we’d completely lost sight of the trail, and ended up scrambling through brush, off trail, for four long hours of uncertainty. Let me tell you, those mountains are surprisingly rugged, for being only 30 minutes outside Vegas. It ain’t like that fake-ass jungle in the Mirage, let me tell you! Even Ken, who has backpacked the Pacific Crest Trail in the High Sierra, was taken aback by the harshness of the terrain.
traversing the mountain
Anyway, neither Ken nor my girlfriend had ever hiked that area before, so they didn’t have a good grasp of the direction we were headed. I’d done it a few times, but I wasn’t much help either, since we had somehow ended up waaaaay off course after getting lost at the top of the mountain. We meandered up and down through avalanche chutes and steep ravines, coming to dead ends at sheer cliff faces and having to turn around and backtrack several times. It was actually pretty scary there for a minute! We were cold and wet and exhausted, tromping through snow and ice and sharp brambles — meanwhile, back in Vegas, jackasses were laying by the pool sipping piña coladas!! Surreal!!!
identity concealed to protect the innocent
Finally, after five long hours of painful scrambling, we found the trail and made it back down to Ken’s truck — which also has a camper shell on the back, incidentally. But instead of having to spend a freezing night sleeping in the back, we simply sat on the tailgate in the sunshine (it was totally sunny and beautiful at the base of the mountain, bizarrely), shared some beer and sangria, and then headed back down to Vegas and beat the fuck out of some Thai food. Boo-ya!! It was one of those crazy adventures that are slightly terrifying at the time, but are so much fun in retrospect — in my experience, all the best adventures are the ones with a slight element of danger, ya know?
Anyway, after all that I was DONE with fucking snow! Done, I tells ya –fuck snow!!! I grew up in Germany as a little kid — I saw enough of that fuckin’ shit back then to last me a lifetime; I don’t need it cramping my style now. Thankfully, my next adventure was down by sunny Hoover Dam, where it never snows.
the mighty Colorado
A really cool friend of mine from the local hippie/Burning Man community has a bunch of kayaks, so he invited me on an overnight kayak trip down the Colorado River, with a campout at the Arizona Hot Springs beach, midway down the river. I camped at that beach around this time last year, and it was amazing – my friends and I drank shroom tea and soaked in the springs til all hours of the night, and had a generally fabulous time. Well guess what?!?!?!? We did it again!!!
Originally, a bunch of people were supposed to go…but most of them bailed out at the last minute, for one reason or another, and it was gonna be just me and two guys, unless I could round up more people on my own. I tried messaging a few girlfriends, and invited Ken and Alex as well, but none of them were interested or available…so I finally resorted to the nuclear option: posting a call on Facebook. I don’t really like doing that, because you never know who is gonna show up…but at this point, I was desperate. I mean, the other two guys I was going with were cool, but the more the merrier…ya know???
Well, imagine my astonishment when the one person to answer my post was the last person I ever expected in a million years!!!
I met this chick we’ll call The Baroness back when I was working at that nutty nightclub last year. I’m calling her that because she’s kinda like The Baroness from The Sound of Music — blonde, beautiful and ultra-glamorous. You never see her out and about without her being dressed to the motherfucking nines: evening gown, fur stole, trademark long cigarette holder and perfectly coiffed platinum blonde hair. All this fabulous bitch does is party all night, every night, and then retire to her glass castle in one of the luxury high-rise towers facing the Vegas Strip, where she sleeps all day in her fabulous, ultra-feminine, super-luxe princess bed. She’s straight out of a movie, and I totally dig her style — we’ve hung out a few times, and she’s one of the nicest people I know.
She’s also the last person I expected to be into kayaking and camping — but she was down to come along!! After taking her limo to WalMart for supplies (she travels everywhere by limousine, of course), she was packed up and ready to go — sleeping bag, tent and a jumbo-sized bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Have booze, will travel! I picked her up at 7am (!!! that’s how hardcore this bitch is; she was up and looking fabulous by 7am) and we cruised out to the Hoover Dam to meet my two guy friends at the launching area.
what a Baroness wears to kayak
I can’t imagine what my two dusty hippie friends thought when I rolled up with the Baroness in tow, dressed as she was in a fabulous full-length flowing yellow chiffon skirt, with a matching bikini top barely restraining her massive breasts. Fringed leather sandals and matching hobo bag completed her look, along with a chic straw cowboy hat with turquoise accents, and oversized stunner shades. Meanwhile, I just had on an AC/DC ball cap and my usual shorts and flip flops — we must have looked like a lesbian couple, lol!
launching below the Hoover Dam
But despite her glamourpuss looks, let me tell you something — the Baroness doesn’t fuck around!! That bitch is hard core. The first thing she did upon arriving at our meeting spot at the Hacienda Hotel was to go in and buy cigarettes and bottled Kahlua drinks, which we chugged in the parking lot at 8am while the adventure outfitter loaded our gear onto his truck. When kayaking or canoeing the Colorado River, that’s how it works — even if you have your own vessel, a special tour outfitter has to tote your gear down to the launching spot, since it’s on restricted Federal Government land directly below the Hoover Dam. You pay a $27 launch fee, but once you put in, you’re on your own the rest of the way. Pretty cool deal!
Once our gear was loaded, we climbed aboard the outfitter’s van and he drove us down to the launch site. Meanwhile, my good old buddy Alex had roared up on his dirtbike out of nowhere to bring me my tent, which I had accidentally left in his truck after our Mammoth Mountain mishap, and while he wasn’t allowed to follow us down to the launch site, he got some cool overhead photos of us launching from the bridge overhead. He also let me borrow his cold-weather sleeping bag, since I was afraid of freezing my ass off again.
The Baroness toted her fair share of gear down
Anyway, once they drop you off at the river’s edge you have fifteen minutes to get your gear in your boats and take off — and they are very strict about it. Between me and the Baroness and all our booze and accouterments, plus my two guy friends and all their accouterments (drum, tambourine, three cookstoves and a dog, etc.), it was QUITE an ordeal getting everything loaded up and ready in time. The Feds were on our ass the entire time, telling us to hurry — there are only three launch times on the river (7am, 8am and 9am) and we were making them fall behind schedule. Thankfully, the Baroness and her tits and her fabulous sunny outfit all served as a sort of charm offensive, keeping the Feds at bay until we were all packed and ready to go. And then we were off!
the happy lesbos
The plan was to kayak downriver 4 miles to the Arizona Hot Springs beach, stopping along the way at various sites of interest. Our first stop, not even a mile from the launch site, was to be the fabulous, legendary Sauna Cave – a long tunnel bored into the cliff face below the Dam, through which a hot spring runs, creating a steamy sauna effect. It’s truly fabulous! But before we even got there, disaster struck!
First, the Baroness tipped over in her kayak and fell overboard, completely soaking her long chiffon skirt and fringed leather sandals and handbag. Like a bonafide champ, however, she sacked up and scrambled back aboard, none the worse for wear — I’d had the foresight to bring us Ziploc bags for our cellphones, since we’re both social media whores and can’t be without our phones for two minutes, let alone two days. So her phone and cigarettes were dry — and that’s all that really mattered!
just before I capsized
By the time she recovered, however, we had already drifted downstream past the sauna cave!! Catastrophe!! We regrouped, and decided to paddle back upstream, against the current, to reach the little beach at the foot of the sauna cave. But on our way up, I capsized my kayak — and even worse than the Baroness!
My entire kayak flipped over, and every single thing I had was completely soaked — my Camelbak, my backpack full of gear, my clothes and my flipflops. I was struggling in the icy water, hanging on for dear life, trying to keep my flipflops on my feet and my Camelbak and backpack from sinking to the bottom of the river. Meanwhile, my sleeping bag was soaked and my kayak wouldn’t flip back over…YIKES!!!
Finally with the help of my friends, I somehow managed to right my kayak, rescue all my gear, and climb back aboard without losing a single thing (!!!). Even my phone stayed dry in its store-band baggie!! It was nothing short of a miracle, I tells you…and a real baptism by fire.
in a cave
At this point, the Baroness and I were both having second thoughts as to the wisdom of this little excursion — so we all paddled into one of the many wonderful little caves lining the river, and took a few tokes to regroup. Not all of us partook, but I certainly did — and let me tell you, it was fan-fucking-tastic! Once our nerves were settled, we continued back upstream, fighting the current until at last we reached the sauna cave beach. SUCCESS!!!
climbing up to the sauna cave
After laying my things out to dry in the sunshine, we all hiked up the trail to the sauna cave — and it was truly magical! The cave is more of a tunnel that goes back into the cliff face about 50-100 feet, and halfway along it curves to the left, so that you lose sight of the daylight and you’re in complete inky pitch-black darkness. We decided to inch along in the dense, velvety steamy darkness without a flashlight, just feeling our way along the walls with our hands, sloshing through the warm water running through the bottom. Let me tell you: high as I was, it was fucking amazing!!! Like being reborn, passing through a dark, watery womb — or like one of those sensory deprivation tanks that rich New Agers pay big bucks to float in. You lose track of all time when you’re deprived of your sight like that, plus I was high as a kite, so it felt like it took forever…but finally we reached the back wall of the tunnel, covered with these calcified stalagmite-type formations that felt really cool in my altered state of consciousness. I was so glad we went through all that to get to the sauna cave, because it is BAD ASS!
By that time my clothes were mostly dry, so we packed back up and headed back downriver to the next stop: a “rain cave,” which is basically a big, beautiful mossy cave that drips hot spring water from the ceiling. The Baroness and I were super careful not to tip our kayaks from that point on, and I’m pleased to report that neither of us capsized or had any further mishaps the remainder of the trip. Maybe it was all the weed I smoked…I don’t know. Either way: Yay!
After that, we beached our kayaks at Goldstrike Hot Springs (the same springs where I originally met Ken, the pilot), and went ashore for a little hike to one of the better soaking pools. We hung out there for awhile and had some cocktails (the Baroness made gin & juice for everyone), then cruised further downriver to the Boy Scout Hot Springs. There was already a family camped out there, and we didn’t want to sully their Rockwellian idyll with our boozy antics, plus those springs are kinda lukewarm anyway, so we didn’t really stay long.
the Baroness at Goldstrike
By this time it was getting later in the day, and the Baroness and I wanted to get to Arizona Hot Springs beach so we could set up camp and dry out the rest of our stuff before the sun went down. So we paddled the rest of the 4 miles to that beach, arriving about an hour before sunset. Perfect! We built a fire, wolfed down some food (kayaking burns about 50,000 calories a minute), had some drinks and then set up our tents and stuff.
the Baroness vs. Wonderhussy. Looks like I’m going to have to up my game!
As mentioned, the Baroness had gone to WalMart for supplies, and on my recommendation had purchased a $20 kiddie tent — only they were out of the real tents like mine, and she’d ended up buying something that was really more of a kids’ play tipi — printed with cartoon owls, and without a zipper or any way to close it. Additionally, it had this huge glory-hole looking thing on one side, which I guess was designed for kids to crawl through…but which for camping purposes looked like it would let in badgers and shit!!! Yikes!! Again, however, she sacked up like a pro, mixed another drink and just dealt with it. Fabulous!!!
By now it was getting dark, and us four were sort of sitting by the fire grousing about how nobody else had showed up — I’d invited my guy friend from last year, the one who had made the shroom tea, and it looked like he was flaking out, too (he was supposed to hike down through the canyon, overland, and meet us on the beach). But then, lo and behold, came two backpacking figures hiking towards us in the dusky gloom: my good ol’ buddy Alex, and my Shroom tea friend (I’ll call him Sal)! YAY!!!!
Now it was a real party! We had more drinks, built up the fire, roasted some hot dogs and stuff, and then Sal fired up his Primus stove to brew some of his famous shroom tea. Gooooooooooooooood times, let me tell you. Not all of us partook, but I’m here to tell you that I certainly did, and it was fan-fucking-tastic.
climbing the ladder
When the tea kicked in, we all headed up the canyon to the hot spring for a moonlight soak — the most magical thing in the world! I’ve been to a lot of hot springs in my day, but I have to say that I think these Arizona/White Rock ones are my #1 absolute favorites — they’re the ones you have to hike up a long, narrow slot canyon to reach, climbing up a series of waterfalls until you reach an intimidating rusty metal ladder bolted to a boulder — and did I mention the ladder is about three stories tall?! Yikes indeed! Not only is the ladder precarious as fuck (although it is securely bolted to the rock), it’s also soaking wet and slippery, so you really have to keep a death grip on it with your hands and toes! Now imagine doing all of this while you’re shrooming!!!! Whoa, maaaaaaaan!!!!!!
Astonishingly, we all made it up the ladder without mishap and enjoyed a long, surreal soak in the beautiful springs. Last year when we did this, we brought all these colored lanterns and took really cool art nude photos — the springs are in a really steep slot canyon, almost like a cave, and the lighting and reflections were really cool. This time though, we just chilled out and soaked. And when we’d had enough, we headed back down to the fire!
Alex had stayed behind with my other friend’s dog (who can’t make it up that ladder), drinking beer and Old Crow, and by the time we got back he was in fine form. A bickering match began in no time, only this time it was between him and the Baroness — they went at it all night long. In her defense, the Baroness did nothing to provoke him — that’s just the way he is. It was a super awkward situation, let me tell you. I think they ended up making amends later on, but I’m not sure — it was pretty bad. I was sorry for the youth group camped next door — they really got an earful Plus, we had set up camp right in the middle of the fuckin’ path to the outhouses (there are two vault toilets on that beach), so those poor kids had to walk past us angry drunks every time they had to pee. My sincere apologies, kids.
morning on AZ hot springs beach
Anyway, around 4am we all finally passed out in a mess of beer cans, Solo cups and smoldering resentment, and I spent a miserable few hours trying to sleep, despite the fact that I had Alex’s really warm sleeping bag, plus he also let me borrow his sleeping pad, and I had my lighter and weed and everything right there. The sad fact is, I can’t sleep well unless I’m in my own bed…which really sucks for adventuring, but I’m learning how to deal with it. Meanwhile, Alex himself passed out on his spare bedroll by the fire, the Baroness konked out in her kiddie tipi (which was only 5′x5′, so her feet stuck out), and the other guys all crashed on/in their various rigs. What a fucking zoo!! I can only imagine what those poor kids next door thought when they got up at sunrise, tiptoeing past our hot fucking mess of a campsite on their way to the potties — it must have looked like the remains of Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4. Sad!
Astonishingly, we were all up and at ‘em by 8am or so, eating omelets and drinking coffee like nothing happened. The Baroness emerged from her tipi looking radiant as always (the bitch!!), and we all packed up and then headed back for one last soak in the springs before leaving.
After a soothing soak, we all felt much better and were ready to face the rest of our journey. If you rent kayaks from the outfitters, they recommend leaving Arizona Hot Springs beach by 11:30am in order to be at Willow Beach in time for the shuttle bus that takes you back to the dam — well, luckily for us, our guy friends had gone ahead the day before and left a car there, so we didn’t have to get there at any particular time. We were able to mosey!
I’d brought these canned espresso drinks along, and was trying to figure out a way to make cocktails with them, using the limited materials at hand. After last night’s blowout, all we had left was half a bottle of Old Crow…so we improvised, mixing that with espresso and coconut milk: crowconut lattes! I’m here to tell you, it was actually a damn good drink!! And that Old Crow came in handy in more ways than one — the Baroness also used it to sanitize a cut on her foot. She had also broken one of her beautifully manicured nails, way down to the quick…but did she sit around and bitch about it?! Nah…she simply sacked up, poured some Old Crow on it, and bandaged it up with a Band Aid. And then kayaked 8 miles to Willow Beach!!! Now, that’s a badass.
back on the river
Anyway, now we were wasted again, sitting in the sun on the beach, some of us baked and all of us having a blast. Sal hiked out early, to beat the heat, and Alex ended up staying another night and making friends with another group of boozy campers that had arrived that morning, so around 1pm or so, the four of us kayakers climbed aboard and set off down the river again.
Actually, only three of us were in kayaks — my one friend (the guy whose kayaks they all were) actually had a canoe. He’s a pretty rugged outdoorsman himself, and goes down on the river all the time with his dog…so much so that he devised this ingenious Dog Board that fits onto the prow of his canoe, so that his dog can lay on the front like a masthead, while he sits in the back and paddles. Meanwhile, he has a badass airbrushed drawing of an octopus on the side of the canoe, with the legend “El Pulpo” — the Octopus, because between him and his dog they have 8 limbs. How cute is that??!?!
So with El Pulpo leading us, our ragtag band of hungover, waterlogged boozers journeyed on, the rest of the way to Willow Beach. As mentioned it was an 8-mile trip…and I’m here to tell you, 8 miles never seemed so long!!! As tired and hungover as most of us were, with our various injuries, it was a wonder we even made it.
At first it was great — we glided along with the current for awhile, listening to Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U” blaring from El Pulpo’s boombox, echoing off the canyon walls. Then we glided along in silence for awhile, and it was so amazingly peaceful. We stopped for a while at Emerald Cave, this exceptionally beautiful, humongous cave where at the right time of afternoon, the light turns the water a gorgeous shade of emerald green, some of us taking one last ceremonious puff on the peace pipe….and then we basically hauled ass for Willow Beach.
By then, the weather had gotten overcast, and it looked like it might rain…so for the last two miles or so, I just paddled. Left, right, left, right, left….ugh. Kayaking is exhausting!! After that 5-hour scramble in the snow the other day, I’d gotten a great lower body workout — well, now I was getting an amazing upper body workout, too! And my liver got a great workout the night before. Fuck!!
Now, Arizona Hot Springs beach is a great place to camp out in most respects…but if I were to do this trip again, I would seriously think about camping closer to the halfway point. It’s a 12-mile trip from the Dam to Willow Beach, so ideally you could camp about 6 miles down and then not have so far to go the next day. Well, either that, or you could just not drink so much the night before, and you’d be fine :-p But seriously, there are all kinds of cool little coves and beaches along the river down there….there are TONS of options. But I guess if you want potties and those fabulous hot springs…you have no choice.
willow beach at last (taken last year, when it was sunny)
Anyway, we finally made it to Willow Beach, one after another, and all of us virtually collapsed on the shore, completely exhausted. I was so proud of the Baroness — she fucking kicked ass, had a great time, and my friends totally dug her. I have a complete newfound respect for this woman! Here’s to you, Baroness!
So anyhoo, once ashore we loaded everything up, drove back to the Hacienda, and then separated our gear and parted ways. By now it was around 8pm, already dark, and we all pretty much just straggled home to bed. I dropped off the Baroness at her Glass Castle, then came home and crashed hard, completely exhausted — not just from the kayak trip, but from ALL this crazy shit I just wrote about! Damn!!! I mean, I loooove adventuring… but it can really wear a gal out.
Still, that being said…I can’t wait to do it again!!!!