A place NOT on everybody’s “Must See” list – Tecopa, CA
After days of exploration and fascination at Death Valley National Park its time to say goodbye to one of our favorite places and move along. We didn’t have a firm destination, but rather a tentative stop in mind before crossing into Nevada. We took highway 190 E and at the junction turned right onto 127 S, where we traveled through the expanse of the Amargosa Valley. We initially hesitated to stop at our first tentative destination, for it was in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t know much about it. But what the heck, lets check out this place called Tecopa Hot Springs. We saw what looked like a little oasis up on a plateau to the east, so we turned left and followed the sign. Our GPS directed us to the first RV park, Petersen’s Tecopa Palm RV Park. At registration we learned we’d be hooking up to natural mineral water, which means it’s not so good for cooking, drinking or using in your coffee. Also, since we were in the desert there was no cell, internet or tv. Hmmm, sounds exciting! So we decided to stay for the night.
Even if Tecopa is off the beaten path, this town seems to be a snow birder’s destination. As we socialized with folks during the 4pm happy hour we learned that the big attraction here is the natural baths, local hot mineral springs they claim is healing. There is a public hot springs administered by Inyo County at a cost of $5 per day, where you must shower first then bathe in the nude. Oh. Lucky for us, the RV park had their own private Hot Mineral Baths, natural hot spring water piped into soaking tubs. The rules are the same, shower first then soak in your birthday suit.
Our planned one-day stay became three days in short order, as the desert landscape and quiteness got to us, plus the natural hot springs. The mineral water did not bother us much, nor did being off the grid again. Tecopa is beautiful and has a mix of rolling hills and desert flats. From our site we enjoyed a 360-degree mountain view, interesting vistas and more. This place is no Death Valley, yet it has its own character and is worth seeing and enjoying.
On our second day we hopped in the car and followed the sign pointing to China Ranch, about 7 miles north of Tecopa. At the end of a twisting road between chalky cliffs cut into desert seemingly barren of plant life, China Ranch came into view.
What the heck is China Ranch? Well, it’s a family-owned small farm in a hidden oasis in the Mojave Desert. The ranch fills a little valley with groves of stately date palms, stands of cottonwoods and thickets of vegetation, all amid the tranquil sounds of trickling spring water.
There’s a bakery with yummy home made bread and cookies made of dates, assorted dates for tasting, a gift shop, landscaping nursery, a one-room museum
and miles of hiking trails. Mine shafts abound in China Ranch, as the area has a rich history of mining booms and busts. Lead, Silver, Gypsum and Talc were the primary minerals that were extracted here.
We were thrilled at the assortment of hiking trails! Off we went without a trail map (the gift shop was not open yet) or drinking water, thinking we’d be back in less than an hour. In short, we were winging it and feeling adventurous.
Despite the lack of trail markers, this was really a wonderful area to hike and explore. It is unique, with an assortment of intriguing scenery. As we were walking along the ancient lakebed sediments, we saw light-colored clay hills mixed in with darker hard “gold rock” mountains. We also explored a couple of canyons leading between mountain peaks which ended in very high dry waterfalls. We could just picture the water cascading down those falls and through the canyons we were exploring.
We enjoyed looking at interesting formations and checked out some veins of gypsum running through the clay hills. Then we walked down the ridge and flood levee. Rockhounds would love this place with all the colorful rocks strewn in the area.
Finally, we saw a waterfall in the middle of the desert. Parts of the various trails run along the grade to the old Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and we found many of the 100+ year old track ties discarded along the way. As we kept walking and admiring the view of badlands, colorful rhyolitic volcanic rocks, marshes and salt flats we lost track of time and were feeling a little lost in the wilderness. The half-hour walk became a three-hour trek, and it was pretty awesome. After arriving back at the park we availed ourselves of the mineral bath to ease our aching muscles. Not for long though, that water was super-hot!
The lack of quality drinking water in Tecopa, a community built around natural hot springs, does not deter those who seek a destination off the beaten path. Our spur-of-the-moment decision to stop here illustrated that even though it’s NOT on everyone’s must-see list, that only makes it more alluring. It was a stop well worth it!
Here are some interesting things we admired along the way.