I’ll be the first to admit it, I was unprepared for what Nevada had to offer. I associated Nevada with Reno, Carson City, and Las Vegas. I absolutely didn’t expect majestic snow-capped mountains, azure hot springs, and vast stretches of golden grasslands. What’s more, I didn’t expect it to all be so rugged. Stretches of wilderness lay between each town, and even those were teeny little rural establishments with hardly anything other than a single gas station and a whole lotta cows.
Our first stop was Spencer Hot Springs near Austin, about 5 hours from Las Vegas. On the way up we stopped to check out the few note-worthy spots along the way (really, the only places to stop on the drive). These included an Area 51 rest stop, Tonopah, and the famous Clown Motel.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I really struggle on road trips. Two hours in and I neeeeeed to get out and stretch my legs. Thankfully, Michelle shares this restlessness, so making a few stops every now and then worked for her, too.
After miles of driving, tons of really gorgeous countryside, and a few hours of sea shanties (I made a playlist for the drive. Don’t knock it til you try it) we arrived in Austin, which was more or less completely shut down. It felt like an apocalypse movie where everyone else had received the memo that the world was ending, and meanwhile Michelle and I were Dweedle-Dee and Dweedle-Dum happily arriving and expecting a cute little getaway.
No such thing, my friend.
I didn’t realize just how impacted some of these isolated rural towns were from COVID-19, but it really hit me when we arrived in Austin. I felt like Lightning McQueen showing up in Radiator Springs, except instead of a celebrity I was the creepy out-of-town girl petting the local stray cat and staring in windows for long periods of time determining whether or not a business was open (they weren’t).
When we say nothing but the gas station was open, we are not exaggerating. Thankfully the motel had left our keys out for us to let ourselves in (shout out to Cozy Mountain Motel, you’re so cute), and we had packed a cooler and a box of wine. We stayed in our room the whole night, eating potatoes on Tupperware lids and watching Mamma Mia & Clueless.
To be honest, it was all very romantic.
We rode at dawn the following morning to hit Spencer Hot Springs before the crowds. The drive in and the view from the springs was spectacularly breathtaking, made even more special by the population of wild cows grazing in the nearby fields. There were a few people camping near the springs, which seemed pretty cool. Someone from the BLM contacted us when we were reaching out for information about this area and informed us that people have frequently camped ON the springs, as though to claim them for their personal use exclusively. Not only is this the type of selfish camping mentality we strongly abhor, but it is also incredibly damaging to the springs. Please be considerate, folks, and don’t do more harm than good out there.
We had a three hour drive to our next spring, but we were both dying for a coffee. Luck was not on our side, however, and every town we drove through was completely barren. We had to wait until we reached good ole Ely for some hot coffee and omelettes. The drive was gorgeous though, and singing sea shanties kept us awake (enough) to make the commute manageable.
It’s funny now, but finding the Hot Creek Springs was no laughing matter at the time. We were in Michelle’s little red Nissan, barreling over barely-there two-tracks, only to be stopped by barbed wire fences again and again. Our navigation was hardly working, we could see the springs, but we had no idea how to get there. Pro tip: just go to the campground at the Wayne E. Kirch Wildlife Management Area and do your best from there. We promise it’s worth it. Pinky swear.
After a nice long soak (and Rachel falling in during a very graceful attempt to get out) we hopped back in the car, victorious, prepared for another long haul back to Vegas. Two springs down, one to go. If we thought the first two were difficult to get to, we had no idea what we were in for.
Gold Strike Hot Springs is accessible two ways: by kayaking the Colorado River, or by hiking 7 miles into a deep canyon, with climbs so difficult there are ropes in place to help guide you. Guess which path we took?
We finally (FINALLY) got to the springs, soaked our feet and ate our sandwiches, and felt the sweet sweet relief that can only come from finally accomplishing something that seemed incredibly difficult when you first set out to do it. Not only did we just have a relatively unplanned road trip through Nevada, with no cell service, hardly any open towns, and not NEARLY enough coffee (or warm clothes), but we also managed this wildly challenging hike. For anyone else wanting to do this hike: pack extra socks. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.
We learned … a lot during this trip. We battled exhaustion, navigated sans cell service, realized the limits of Michelle’s car, tested our hiking capabilities, discovered that there were, in fact, no brain-eating amoebas in the hot spring, and so, so much more.
Each of our trips pushes us a little further out of our comfort zones, teaching us more about ourselves and about this new path we’ve chosen. It’s challenging, but insanely rewarding afterward. For anyone else interested in checking out these hot springs, we highly recommend all three of them. Just make sure you pack sandwiches and coffee and have a partner who can handle you at your grumpiest.