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Arizona Hotspring, Arizona.
The next time you're shivering in the unusually cold winter weather that most of the U.S. has been experiencing, lately, imagine yourself in this setting: As you lay your head back you view the steep rock walls of the narrow canyon rising over you on either side, and through the aperture high above, the clear and sunny Southwestern sky is visible. The canyon floor beneath you is a pebbled bed of ancient desert wash. You hear nothing but the sound of natural spring water as it flows gently through the canyon, spilling over short waterfalls along the way. At this particular spot in the canyon, the spring water seeps from the rock walls and up from underground, where it has been heated by geothermal activity. A natural pool of crystal-clear hot mineral water has formed here. The pool is about 2 feet deep, with a temperature of 106 degrees F. Light wisps of steam rise from the pool's surface in the morning air and you relax and enjoy the solitude as you soak your nude body in this wonderful natural hotspring!
This was my experience as I visited Arizona Hotspring (aka Ringbolt Rapids Hotspring), located in northwest Arizona, about 35 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. This spring flows from a small side canyon that feeds into Black Canyon, where the lower Colorado River runs below Hoover Dam. My last visit was on January 2nd, 2001, after returning to my home in Las Vegas from a c-c-c-coooold holiday vacation in the Northeast. While most of the states have been receiving uncommonly cool temperatures, the far southwest corner of the U.S. is enjoying uncommonly warm weather. In Las Vegas, the temperatures have been averaging mid-30s at night, and mid-60s for daytime highs.
The hotsprings flow out of the ground where a desert wash cuts deep into the rock, forming a slot canyon. There are usually 3 or 4 pools of various temperatures present in the narrow part of the canyon, near the source of the springs. There is no sulfur present in these springs, and with a decent flow rate over a gravel bed, only a small amount of algae forms in the most stagnant areas. The pools are made by damming up the waterflow with sandbags. The upper pools are located above a 20-foot vertical drop, negotiated by a steel ladder installed by volunteers. The waterfall over the drop makes an excellent natural warm shower, with a flow rate of over 200 gallons per minute. It's about 250 yards from the source of the spring to the Colorado River. The spring flow disappears underground before it reaches the river.
The desert scenery of the area is exceptional. Rugged volcanic rock formations rise hundreds of feet above the green waters of the Colorado River, which is also referred to as upper Lake Mohave. Hoover Dam is about 4 miles upstream, where the river water is drawn from a depth of nearly 400 feet, keeping the temperature at a chilly 53F year-round. There are 2 other worthwhile hotsprings located upriver on the Nevada side, in Boy Scout Canyon and Goldstrike Canyon (Arizona Hotspring is my favorite of the 3, and seems to be the most popular). There is also a Sauna Cave along the river near the dam. It is a horizontal mine shaft dug into the canyon wall during exploratory drilling prior to commencing the construction of Hoover Dam. At about 40 feet back into the rock the workers struck hot ground water and abandoned this site. Some of the local wildlife includes Desert Bighorn Sheep, waterfowl, lizards, snakes, and at night, ring-tailed cats, which are similar to raccoons and equally curious.
Arizona Hotspring has been a popular naturist destination for several years. Long before it was discovered by settlers, Native Americans frequented here. Nowadays there are more and more textile visitors, as the watercraft traffic on the Colorado River increases each year. However, clothing optional is still the local custom, depending on the company present. The hotspring and surrounding area are on federal land within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It is open to the public and there are no fees for this particular region. Camping is allowed without a permit. There are no services available here. A couple of chemical toilet outhouses are located near the river. The best times to visit (especially if you hike in) are from October thru early May. The summer heat makes this place unbearable during the day.
Getting There: You can hike to Arizona Hotspring or reach it by boat. The trailhead is located beside Highway 93, 4.2 miles south of Hoover Dam. An opening in the guardrail allows access to a leveled dirt parking area. There is a sign at the trailhead to confirm you're in the right place. The trail is actually a dry wash through White Rock Canyon. The easy route is a little over 3 miles down the wash to the river, then south along the river for about 1/4 mile, up and over some rugged hills to the next wash, then up the canyon to the springs-just follow the water to its source. A slightly shorter route (discouraged by the Park Service) breaks off to the left of the main trail and over the hills south of White Rock Canyon before it narrows. This route takes you into another canyon that eventually leads to the top of the hotsprings. It involves a couple of tricky rock scrambles over 15-20 foot drops. The first big vertical drop can be bypassed to the right, if you're headed down the canyon. The second drop is a chute-like crevasse that you can easily slide down. The round trip for the average hiker is a little over 2 hours, so if you're planning a day trip, try to get an early start.
To get there by boat, you can launch at Willow Beach Marina, or contact the Hoover Dam Police to obtain a permit to launch a canoe or kayak from below Hoover Dam. The canyon to the springs is about 1/4 mile south of Ringbolt Rapids (around mile marker 64?). The mouth of the canyon is identified by the small gravel wash fanning out into the river. There is also a large boulder in the river here, marked by a round warning buoy when the river level rises over the top of it. If you ever visit Las Vegas in the future, include a daytime excursion to Arizona Hotspring-you won't be disappointed.
Happy Trails! --Paul
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