"Just a few more minutes and the cinnamon rolls will be done, then we can head over," Beau says as he closes the lid of the dutch oven in excitement.
The five of us decided to treat ourselves to dessert on our last night of camping, a rarity when trying to keep gear and food to a minimum. One of our close friends was moving back up to his home state of Washington, and so we got together for one last road trip. Of course, we also wanted to tease him with what he’d be missing in the Pacific Northwest: California’s mighty Eastern Sierras.
"We all ready?" We were posted up in the Owens Valley, mainly for the abundance of BLM land, fishing the river, and of course, hot spring soaking. However, with the popularity of social media, many of the hot springs that lie in the Mammoth area, have seen an uptick in visitors who don't give a damn about the planet and keeping their trash out of wild places. Luckily for us, we knew of a more secret spring, one I have visited and haven't had to share with another soul since stumbling upon it. Not to mention this hidden spring made social distancing easy.
"Ah shit… That truck just parked on the road, and they're walking out there. They might be going to it."
"Go grab the bino's and see," Silas says as our heads pop up and look in the direction of the strangers. A look of disappointment falls upon every guy as we realize this last secret of ours may be gone for good.
"Yeah… they're definitely heading in that direction. Looks like we'll have to pack in like sardines tonight."
"Let's just get gear together and head over to see what's going on. Maybe they'll back off when they see five dudes rolling in," I say in attempts to keep the hope alive.
Of course, every "secret" spot doesn't stay that way forever. As more folks make their way to these parts, it's important to demonstrate good principles and ethics regarding dispersed camping for those new to the wild. I've been spent a lot of time in Eastern Sierras, specifically around June Lake & Mono lake. My great-grandfather had an undying love for these mountains and I certainly inherited this trait from him. My friend that was moving back home to Washington had never been up here, so even I was letting others into the know about some hidden gems. Perhaps these intruders wouldn't be so bad.
"No way! I think it is empty!" A fast walk breaks into a jog as we approach the spring and realize the strangers must have been heading elsewhere. The excitement takes over as we start stripping to our shorts.
"Jeez, I thought that might have been the end to the secret spring for me. Looks like the internet and geotagging haven't got to it quite yet. Let's keep it that way"
We managed to get the springs to ourselves this time, and I feel blessed for that. We spent the days up there hiking, fishing, swimming and exploring, much as my great-grandfather had done before me. We fished many different creeks (and got skunked). We hiked to my favorite waterfall where the fish are plenty and wild rock jumps are encouraged. In the evenings we sat around the fire, talking, reflecting on our college days. Fueled by a few evening beers we reminisced about inside jokes that no one can remember the origin of anymore. Like every trip to the Eastern Sierras, you grow in your appreciation of this place, and even more so, the people you share it with.
After some laughs and beers at the hot springs, we headed back to camp satisfied and ready to crash. Weaving through sagebrush on the trail, we spot a newcomer setting up camp in our zone from afar, parked right next to my van.
"That's kind of annoying; there's plenty of land in this valley," Nolan says as we approach the 'intruder.' "Oh well, he's all set up, so it looks like we're making a friend tonight."
As we walk past our new friend, he calls out: "What were you guys searching for out there?"
With mischievous grins on our faces we reply:
“Oh nothing, just out for an evening walk.”