How to really soak up fall

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

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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



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