With his directions, I get back in the car and drive about 10 minutes to the hot springs, nestled at the bottom of a ravine and sheltered by cottonwoods.
Rocks segregate spring-fed pools of warm waters from a cool mountain stream. After spending an indiscernible amount of time―it could have been minutes, or hours―cycling between hot and cold, I dry off and continue south on U.S. 395 toward Mammoth Lakes, climbing to 8,100 feet over Conway Summit, then descending toward Mono Lake Basin and on to Mammoth Lakes.
I arrive in time for a burrito dinner at Roberto’s with my cousin Lori, a Los Angeles native who now lives here, and a few of her friends, all of them Mammoth Lakes natives.
To avoid getting lost in Long Valley’s maze of unmarked dirt roads, I quiz them about their favorite hot springs. Someone recommends a tub known to locals as Crab Cooker. Another votes for Wild Willies. Alas, they point me toward the easiest one to locate―less whimsically named the Rock Tub.
The next morning, I follow the handwritten directions. The tub reveals itself only when you’re upon it. I step into the pool.
A wind sweeps across the sagebrush plain, cooling my exposed shoulders. Sunlight sparkles off the surface of the water, into which I sink, my balneology retreat feeling complete.
Next: 48 hours on the Sierra's U.S. 395