How to really soak up fall

Autumn's a great time for a road trip to natural spring waters in California's Eastern Sierra

Travertine Hot Springs outside Bridgeport, CA

Travertine Hot Springs outside Bridgeport, CA

Thomas J. Story

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Fall color in the Eastern Sierra
Downtown Bridgeport, CA
Map of Eastern Sierra

By Andy Isaacson

Jack Kerouac and his “dharma bums” once used Bridgeport as a base to explore the Eastern Sierra.

For me, though, it serves a slightly different purpose, as a gateway to a natural spa paradise: Hot waters gush to the surface in abnormally high concentration between the towns of Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes, 60 miles south.

Between them, U.S. Highway 395 cuts a ribbon of pavement like a surfboard’s path riding the Sierra crest. I’ve devised a therapeutic formula for a long weekend along this route: Drive, hike, see fall color, and do some soaking on the way to Mammoth Lakes.

If the hot springs of the West are thought of as sanctuaries of hedonistic worship, then Long Valley, a geothermally active depression just a little southeast of Mammoth Lakes, is hallowed ground.

But finding the hidden pools that are open to the public (and not scalding hot) requires local knowledge―or locals willing to share that knowledge.

Travertine Hot Springs, a pair of warm tubs near Bridgeport, isn’t one of those places―it’s popular.

When I arrive the next morning, however, after a night at Bridgeport Inn, Travertine’s waters (which average 105°) and views of the Sawtooths are mine alone.

To an amateur balneologist―one who studies, with barely a nod to science, the therapeutic effects of thermal baths―this is like a ravenous man stumbling upon an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Eventually another wandering bather slips into the adjacent tub at Travertine. Our conversation immediately turns to which hot springs we like.

The retired gardener from Santa Rosa points across the valley to the foot of the Sawtooths. His favorite springs, he tells me, is Buckeye.

Next: Spring-fed pools


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