Boulders, Bunnies and a Hot River Runs Through it: Benton Hot Springs, California


The drive from Lee Vining to Benton on 120 starts off with five miles of dips- stomach fluttering waves down arroyos and up again where you can’t help but go whooooo! even if you don’t mean to. Then there’s the view of Mono Lake and it’s salt tufas like deformed white fingers sticking out of the lake, and outcrops of boulders that turn into faces and animals if you squint or otherwise stretch your brain. Boundary Peak comes into view, at over 13,000 ft- not the epic vista I expected just before skirting the Nevada state line. I thought Nevada was gonna be flat flat. It’s not. But that’s another post. Anyway then 120 descends into Benton Hot Springs, ooh la la! Besides being a relief of green in the desert, Benton is a town of living antiques. Not necessarily on purpose.

Benton is a family owned non-profit, whose mission is “to preserve the natural and historical environment.” There are 7 rooms and 10 camping sites. This is the clean campground with trash, recycling and ew, portapotties, that are secretly controlled by packs of wild and dangerously cute bunnies.

Each $40 campsite site has it’s own private redwood barrel tub. If you stay in a private room for $109, you share the tubs with other guests. But you also get breakfast in a room preserved with charm from last century.

A knob on your tub keeps the hot river water showering in and an overflow drains it out. Site 2 is the most private, site 5 maybe the most picturesque, facing sunrise and a dramatic canyon of boulders and…other stuff. I’ll get to that in a minute. We got a bright grassy bank next to, yep, a hot river. Never before have I stuck my toe in a river that felt like a hot tub. I screamed happy. Around the campsite, rabbits dart around. Warning: they like marshmellows. Somewhere out there is a very sick bunny.

Benton is an oasis of green grass, olive trees and uh, other trees I don’t know by name, in the desert. The only downside is the slow, oversized mosquitoes (it’s the water?) that suck a lot of blood. But they’re giant and lazy so they’re easy to catch.

The Springs offers tours through the cemetery that overlooks the campground.

You can also walk out behind the cemetery to the boulder canyon,

past the spring bubbling out of the ground and onto BLM land- which begins at the headwaters and covers, well, most of the state of Nevada.

Hiking towards the canyon, I found an opening in the cliff that I was only brave enough to stand at the entry way of. (It was 5am, mind you, and I had no idea it was cool to walk this far until I met the proprietor of the Springs the next day, who cheerfully asked me if I’d gotten a chance to walk around.)

I also came upon a table full of finds of what I’m guessing is last century.

Aside from the mosquitoes and portapotties, this place was heaven. The tub, the walks, the frozen-in-time town. I took a total of 4 soaks in the less than 24 hours we stayed here. Don’t miss it if you’re headed anywhere around here.

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