hot springs stewardship

Photo By: Jamie Kingham

hot springs stewardship

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hot springs stewardship

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hot springs stewardship

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

hot springs stewardship

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

hot springs stewardship

Photo By: Sarah Jaeger

Fish at Spencer Hot Springs

Photo By: Nate Alexander

guzzler

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Picking up trash at hot spring

Photo By: Sydney Martinez

Hot Springs Garbage Cleanup

Photo By: Lauren Strange

hot springs stewardship

Photo By: Jamie Kingham

Soldier Meadows Hot Springs

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10 WAYS TO BOAST THE BADGE OF A HOT SPRINGS STEWARD

By SYDNEY MARTINEZ | February 2018
Updated: September 2019

Adventure

Points of Interest

10 WAYS TO BOAST THE BADGE OF A HOT SPRINGS STEWARD | SYDNEY MARTINEZ

Being a “steward of the land.” What does that really mean to you? Like, when you really sit down, dedicate your entire focus and truly process it? Sure, I think we can all agree that we want to live in a world knowing we’ve made it a better place or reduced our footprint, even if that means picking up one teensy tiny piece of trash. The ol’ “leave it better than you found it” motto. Welp, THAT my friends, is a damned good start. But, there’s more.

Nevada is one vast landscape, and if you’ve been along for the ride, you’ll know that it’s loaded to the brim with unimaginable perception-benders. Hot springs is just one of them, but it’s a big slice of the pie here. With more hot springs than any other state, it’s safe to say this is something we wholeheartedly care about. It’s true: while there are hundreds of natural hot springs in Nevada, we only call out a total of SIX by name and location. And those six? They’re all managed by the BLM or state counties, promoted by local communities, and situated nicely on public land for everyone to enjoy because it’s all of ours. Of course, those are merely a saucy gateway drug in this addiction called hot springs—soft spots to land for newbs, yet still enjoyable ones for seasoned soakers alike. “Oh you want a good start? Try Spencer… you can’t go wrong.” And the rest? The rest are up to you to go out and find, and while doing so, make sure you’re doing your dang part. 

The reason Nevada is such an unmatched hot springing destination is simple—the good ones are hidden, well cared for, and thus, protected by a seriously stewardship-minded community. If you’re going to make a trip out there (and we highly recommend you do), treat a soak like the gift it is. You’ve worked to find it, and somebody’s likely logged some serious hours to make it a soakable thing. We’re not into exposing that, but nudging you to pay it forward baby—it’s the only way. We’re borrowing the landscape from our grandkids, remember? We know you care about it. Here are 10 ways to act like you mean it, lovies.

1. THE HOT SPRINGS COMMUNITY

This is like this shiny, sexy group of adventurous people. The Insta-FOMO instigators!  Everyone has this elite sect of friends in their feeds—the type of people who are perfectly yogafied on top of a hard to reach peak, popping a wheelie down the Loneliest Road or luxuriating like a real-deal hot springs siren in some hard-to-believe-it’s-an-actual-place Nevada hot spring. Right? We’ve all got ‘em. At least that’s how it appears from the outside, eh? The thing about it is this: most of the people who are truly out there enjoying that “we are the wild” sort of mentality are doing their part without the online recognition. Because the notion that they care enough to head out to remote destinations means that they care about protecting it, and are protective of it. 

Personally, I’ve been present for some wild nights out on the playa when we’re getting after it until sunrise. But you know what happens in the morning? An unspoken truth of cleaning the place up. Sure enough, like you’d set an imaginary alarm clock, each person slowly emerges from their tent or the bed of their pickup and personally picks up garbage. And not just their personal trash, or even waste that was a result of the group, but Any. Trash. In. Sight. Because it’s the right thing to do, and they want to come back and enjoy this place another time without risking that someone may intervene and doze it or gate it—or simply not have the best time, due to gross garbage. 

Really being part of it to the ride or die, true grit community means you’re picking the place up without being asked, or without recognition. Or better yet, even devoting a weekend of the year with that mission in mind: going out to a spring, draining the thing, scrubbing it out, leaving cleaning tools for the next person and making it a better place. Until you’ve been part of that unseen side of it, you’re not fully ingrained in “the hot springs community.” So buck up and volunteer your time into making your favorite spot an even better one. It will instigate a better feeling than perpetuating the FOMO, that much we can guaran-dang-tee.

2. WHEN IT COMES TO LOCATION, DON'T ASK.

Ahhh, the loaded question of “where is this?” when you post a photo of a natural hot spring. If there’s one small-but-mighty act of stewardship that doesn’t require a shovel, irrigation piping, or even a trash bag, it’s this: do NOT disclose (or, soak-gods forbid, geotag!) the location when posting a pic. Here’s the thing: while some people are quick to say that not disclosing location is snobby, (or worse, elitist), it couldn't be more opposite. By omitting, not only will it feel more personally rewarding to actually find the place when you go after it, but it protects the place you have a blossoming passion for. Sure, we’ll lob you a soft underhanded pitch to get started by naming a mere six that are on public land (we’re not reinventing the wheel there, they’ve been public—and widely published about—for a loonng time), but the rest are up to you to find. And the fact of the matter is, it’s just not that hard to do. 

In recent years, people have been losing their minds (myself included) when it comes to these incredible desert getaways that no one really seems to have been talking about. Some of them legitimately feel too good to be true. It feels undiscovered, but isn’t… social media is just still a relatively new thing. Yet somehow, along with that Instagram FOMO school of thought, if you feel the instinctual need to not just brag that you’ve been there, but identify exactly where it is. DON’T DO IT. Post the pic, go crazy. But! By disclosing the location, you’re opening the gate for a whole slew of problems, like too much traffic (just look at the majority of California hot springs, specifically in the Mammoth Area). Most Nevada ranchers with hot holes on their property are typically cool with you coming and going as long as it’s not filled with broken glass, fireworks casings and other garbage. But in some cases—a lesson one popular outdoor lifestyle outfit learned the hard way after exposing one of Nevada’s most sacred hot springs on private land—there are just too many people on someone’s private land and it’s a liability. Naughty, naughty. So the ranchers doze or gate it. Bummer.

I don’t want to show up to a hot spring too packed to get into, or tag a spot that results in it getting closed down for good, do you? Do your part and don’t reveal the location. Or, if you must, test the waters with that imagination of yours and find a funny / appropriate / intriguing geotag from somewhere far, far away. “Tuck Everlasting” , “Heaven on Earth” , “Paradise Found” or even “Middle of Nowhere Nevada” all work. But we beg you please, no real locations with a pin drop. Got it? Good.

3. TRAVEL LIGHTLY, I BEG YOU PLEASE

You’re going into the desert… happy dance COMMENCE! Even for local residents of Nevada (I’m looking at you, Vegas and Reno) this can be foreign. Please get all kindsa wrapped up in that hypnotic sea of sage—I mean truly, get after it. But don't turn this thing into a three-act play. Travel prepared and responsibly, by all means, but is it totally crucial for you to roll out with a 24-wheel rig and an “I’m-going-to-survive-in-the-wild-for-40-days” kind of a setup? I mean, I like my back seat stacked with perfectly chilled beverages, hot cheetos and sour gummies as much as the next road tripper, but am totally content with (and prefer) carpooling when cruising out for a spring. And I’m here to reframe that for you babes, too—you’re already living by the buddy system, why not reduce your impact a smidge and travel together? 

I’ll raise you one more, too. I knooooow you boys out there have some mondo lifted trucks that are built for spinning donuts and handling rutted roads. And when you’re deep in Nevada, it’s tempting, and I admittedly I fall into that demo myself. But think of it like staying on the trail when you’re bagging a peak—it’s bad for the landscape if you take a shortcut. Same goes for rutted out roads. Yes, your truck can totally handle it; it was made for that, but do you really have to rut the roads more and launch over banks and stuff? Mmmmm, I’m thinkin’ not. Legitimately stuck? Obviously you have to throw it in 4WD and get the heck outta there no matter what. But if you have the option of parking 100 feet away, lacing up those boots and hoofing it in the last stretch to the spring, do it. To some, toting a 30-foot RV and a lifted Built Ford Tough into a spring just says ‘Merica. But for me, knowing I’m not wrecking the route in is a whole new way of lettin’ that freedom flag fly.

4. REMEMBER: OTHER SPECIES HAVE SKIN IN THE GAME

When on the hot spring hunt, sometimes you’ll roll in and find a cowboy tub (AKA a cattle trough) glimmering in the afternoon light with textbook clarity. And others? You show up to a natural-bottom spring that looks, well, like a mud pit, and you suddenly ask yourself, “Man, what lies beneath?” And boy howdy, you’re right on track with that school of thought, because the thing is—with natural bottom sources anyway—there’s a whole lotta life below the surface, as well as making its home nearby that body of water, totally dependent on it as its life-sustaining source. In an otherwise totally and completely arid landscape, many animals—ranging from wild burros to cottontails—depend on these natural pools as a drinking source… they just so happen to be hot. It’s easy to overlook the fact that there’s a whole biodome you’re wading into… but that’s just what you’re doing.

Think of it this way: what may be your off-grid escape right now could someday be so vital to a specific species that it becomes completely off limits to human use—if that doesn’t make you consider your impact, well, don’t know what will. In fact, some Nevada springs are home to such specialized species that the whole spring isn’t even a soakable situation anymore—take Ash Meadows as a hot little example. These hot springs pools were only closed off to public access when it became a real deal National Wildlife Refuge in the 80s… not that long ago (thermally speaking). Up until this point, anyone could soak in these electrifying Caribbean-esque beauts, but probably didn’t realize the fish they shared it with were, literally, the only ones of their kind on planet earth, and would eventually become one of the nation’s first protected species. Totally jump in when the situation is right, but remember that, sometimes, what might look like an inviting personal play pool, is really a sensitive little creature’s only home. Be mindful friends, Nevada is a wild place, and yours isn’t the only life at play!

5. BLEACH? YOU MUST BE JOKING.

Chances are, if you’re reading this article you’re not a newb, so don’t act like one, silly goose. You see, there’s this vicious rumor making its way around the hot springs community: if you’re unsure or freaked about what lies beneath (hint: red spider mites), don’t worry: just POUR A CAPFUL OF BLEACH IN IT. Umm, I’m sorry, WHAT? We just hashed it out up above in #4, but no matter how saucy that spring is looking or what kinds of desperate things you’re willing to do to take a dip, you can betcha booty there are other species at stake. I mean without sounding like a total hippie, you’re the outsider and in their home—not the other way around. I get that it’s likely a highly anticipated soak, especially if you’ve traveled several hours to get there. But no matter how you cut it, it’s not worth it (not to mention, it’s downright wrong) to kill a bunch of fish, wipe out an endemic snail species, or poison a watering hole that wild burros, rabbits or coyotes depend on as a drinking source. As a matter of fact, an entire school of goldfish (they werent native, but still) lived in the overflow ponds at Spencer. But after some dumb-dumb poured bleach into a spring that wasn’t even contaminated with spider mites, the whole population croaked. Sad, but true… and all for nothing is what gets me. RIP, fishies.

I’d be willing to argue that that whole school of thought—pouring bleach in hot springs—is never an option, because you know what? If you’re afraid of spider mites, maybe hot springing really isn’t your bag. But if you want to take it to the next level, also be leery of any soaps or perfumes you might be using, or have already used before dunking that beautiful body of yours in the water. Depending on how crazy strong some soaps and shampoos can be, even something that subtle can seriously jack up the ecosystem. Plus, if we’re talking long-term, this ain’t good for the landscape, either. 

6. NO BUM RUSHING LEGIT CATTLE TROUGHS

You’re out in the wild, doing some serious dirt road rambing in backcountry Nevada, chasing down a few hot springs you’ve heard about or seen glimpses of on Insta. Windows are down, music’s up, and you’ve got your favorite bevvy cracked open. It’s a perfect day. I’m the first to admit that sitting in the middle-of-somewhere Nevada in a cattle trough catching that hot springs flow is my kind of heaven. It’s oddly freeing, which is why your eye has now trained itself to laser-focus in on every single cattle trough in sight. But I’ve got some news for you—not all cattle troughs contain these magical waters, so be leery of jumping the hot springs gun. In Nevada, you’re truly home on the range. There are real cowboys (or buckaroos as we like to call ‘em), with thousands of heads of cattle. And, while you’re used to soaking into the night in one of these exact same tubs, we can’t overlook their original purpose—a drinking fountain for cows.  You might come up on one of those and realize oh wait a second, yeah, this is just cold water. That’s because ranchers have set that thing out there to keep their cattle alive. That, or you’re the only person on the mountain and you come across an old tire with a glimmering spring shooting out of it. That, my friends, is a “guzzler”… which is the same concept, except built by hunters doing their part (yay, stewardship!) for animal conservation.

No, I wouldn’t bet on you taking an icy dip, but you might think lingering around a legitimate cattle trough is harmless. But here’s something to lock into that noggin when even approaching these things, especially with cattle. They’re easily spooked, so don’t plan on hanging around. Even parking your car next to this thing for a while, or worse, setting up camp in really any sort of close proximity to a cattle trough will drive the cows away from their water source, which can lead to bigger problems for ranchers. Again, most ranchers seem to be pretty cool with hitting up hot springs on their land, but if you are leaving gates open, trashing the place, geotagging it, or worse: driving their cattle away from a life source, we got bigger problems. Be a true hot springs pro and don’t fall for that accidental bait! With ranching is one of Nevada’s main industries, not every cattle trough you see is packing your restorative weekend escape. Be cool.

7. TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL, BABY

I think I’ve knocked it over your head by now: you best be at LEAST picking up some trash when you’re visiting Nevada hot springs. This does, of course, include picking up garbage that might not even be yours… you’d be surprised at the crap people leave behind, accidentally, sure, but sometimes unfortunately otherwise. What seems like such an obvi concept to you and me isn’t so focused for others, but I trust we can lead the charge on that front. Because true stewardship is all about taking this thing to the next level…

That means I’m officially challenging to you leave the place better than you found it, folks. Lock down some Hefty bags, baby, cause we on a mission! With every hot spring hunt you embark on, count on devoting 15 minutes to picking up some trash. Cause I promise you, it’s going to be there. Do whatever you gotta do. If it’s super cold outside, perfect. Stay bundled up and pick up all the trash in sight. If the tub is more on the 103+ side of hot, let that core temp heat up and use picking up some garbage as a way to cool down for a sec. Really, it’s easy; just build in some time—I’m talking mere minutes—to take this thing to the next level by cleaning up after yourself and then some. I promise, it’ll all be worth it in the end—really it will.

8. USING THE ON-SITE TRASH CAN? Y THO?

If there’s one thing out there in the recreational world that truly mystifies me, it’s this. And I’m not coming at you sideways, don’t take it that way. But if you see a trashcan “in the wild,” why is it totally mandatory that you must use it? That’s just it, IT ISN’T! If you’re backpacking and have to physically carry some crazy loads of garbage weight, if you see a trash can, seriously… by all means. Use it. Lots of public hiking trails, fishing areas, other recreational areas, rest stops, and even highway intersections are completely under the watchful eye of some government entity that employs peeps to go out there and empty trash cans, along with a slew of other maintenance tasks. 

But let me focus the lens a little tighter for you when it comes to the mighty world of hot springs. Those other places are built for garbage cans; they have staff. With the sprang situation, if there is a garbage can there, try to only use the thing if it’s an emergency. Because I’d be willing to bet that the box you dug those beers out of will still hold those empties when they’re, well, empty. Because even if a hot spring that’s managed by the county—take Fish Lake for example—yeah, they have restrooms, areas for you to set up camp, and garbage cans. But who is going out there and emptying the trash cans on a regular basis? Maybe once a month at best… it’s just not a real thing that happens. Every single time I’ve basked in these glorious waters, trash is not only overflowing out of the trash cans, but all over the ground surrounding it. And guess what? Now a breeze just kicked up and it’s strewn trash all over the area, including in the marshes surrounding the springs. Great. But whyyyyyy even the need to toss garbage in can? I know you packed it in, you can definitely pack it out too, bud. (Those bottles are probably lighter now anyhow.) Plus, if you’re hitting up hot springs on private land that a rancher just so happens to be cool with you accessing, well then, you’re especially in the hot seat lovies. He may have stuck a garbage can out there at a last attempt to keep the place clean, but do you think he’s interested in gifting access to his property only to go empty a trash can on his one day off? Besides (if you zeroed in on #7), you’ve already got your own trash bags in tow, right? Be cool. If you’ve packed it in, it’s not going to kill ya to pack it out, too.

9. IF YOU'RE GOING TO DO IT, MAKE SURE YOU REALLY FREAKING DO IT

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve spent 8 hours chasing what I thought were soakable hot springs out in the Nevada desert, only to roll up on a bubbling, muddy field, well, I guess I’d probably have… like maybe a whole dollar by now. That whole “most hot springs than any other state thing” includes stuff like that, too guys. Yes, there are gobs of amazing pools with just the right temps that beg for hours of lounging. But, there are a fair share of this sort of situation too… the source is there, but no one has really tapped it, or made it into a soakable situation by bringing in some irrigation and a tub to contain it. Not until now. 

Not going to lie—the idea of rallying all of my friends, heading straight for the ranching supply store to snag a cattle trough and heading into the desert armed with shovels, pipes and valves sounds pretty dang fun. It’s a romantic thought! My kind of heaven. And that sort of thing truly is already happening in Nevada, sort of renegade style by some bona fide super-soakers. But the part that always trips me up is the fact that yeah, it IS super fun to head out and install this thing with the best of the best, but I know that I won’t have enough time to manage it if it all hits the fan. So please, if you’re going to head for the hills, start small and work your way up. Maybe clean one out completely, or improve an an already existing one that needs a little lovin’. Digging out an entire source is amazingly cool, but making “nothing” into something is a serious undertaking that you should be prepared to manage and have permission to kickstart… . Plan it out right with long term use in mind, and if you can make it happen, it’s that much more worth the squeeze.

10. LET THAT STEWARD FLAG FLY

The mysteriously addictive world of Nevada hot springs is basically a glorified hobby (like nearly every other outdoor recreational feat), and I’m certainly not trying to get carried away here by preaching to people who are just looking to relax, then tasking them with these crazy long to-do lists, or worse, elitist ultimatums. The way I see it is this: if this is a place worth visiting and enjoying, it’s worth devoting a few minutes to make sure it’s going to remain available for your children to use. If this really is your soft spot and something you’re constantly chasing, consider paying it forward just a teensy tiny bit, and it might open up into something even more satisfying for you than jello-fied muscles after a serious soak. 

I started out as a college student who was too broke to afford really anything, and this was my FREE, secret escape. Serious Me Time, baby. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more than paying for the gas to get out there and leaving it how I found it. But after relying on these sacred escapes and making a personal connection with the land, it hit me! Most things in Nevada are equal parts mystery and unspoiled landscapes, thanks to stewards of the land. Today, I can even be a little too protective of these hot springs because I know the amount of work that’s gone into protecting and improving these locations by dedicated renegade soakers. The type of people who drive hours into the desert chasing a source to slink below the steamy water’s surface as their faces get blasted by sub zero temps and like it, all while reaching for their perfect element-chilled barley pop as they watch the sun drop behind the peaks, but also have an uncanny laser focus on environmental protection, community engagement and preserving Nevada lands. That, my friends, is the true hot spring community we should all strive to be indoctrinated into. The good news is, it’s not at all hard. It can be something as small as not blowing up a location by geotagging it, or as big as creating a hot springs task force and dropping in a new tub at a long-existing source, then keeping tabs on it for decades. Not all heroes wear capes, baby! In this case, it’s probably just beach towels. #NVHotSprings

Interested in hitting up some Nevada hot springs, but not ready to get this serious? Zero in on where some of Nevada’s fair-game public lands hot springs are here. And whether you know and love Nevada’s hot springs already or are just now aspiring to join that crowd, definitely check this one out before hitting the road. Happy soaking!

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