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Hollister
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May 24, 2022

Naturally

Earth as a soothing bath
We may feel as if we are firmly planted on terra firma, but the
occasional jiggle we feel as the earth trembles reminds us that we
are living comfortably with our delusions.
The crust of the earth is often likened to an orange peel in
classroom exercises, but that comparison invites us to think of the
earth’s crust as considerably more substantial than it really is.
It’s more appropriate to think of the earth’s solid crust as the
skin of an inflated balloon.
Earth as a soothing bath

We may feel as if we are firmly planted on terra firma, but the occasional jiggle we feel as the earth trembles reminds us that we are living comfortably with our delusions.

The crust of the earth is often likened to an orange peel in classroom exercises, but that comparison invites us to think of the earth’s crust as considerably more substantial than it really is. It’s more appropriate to think of the earth’s solid crust as the skin of an inflated balloon.

Sure, it feels solid, folded into a rich landscape of mountains and valleys. But occasionally, the earth moves and we’re reminded again that we live on a fragile shred of solid ground.

Volcanoes open the door to the roiled cauldron beneath us from time to time. It was less than a century ago when Mt. Lassen last erupted, and the town of Mammoth, on the eastern slope of the Sierra, is set on the flank of an enormous caldera. Gas emanating from the earth is even killing sections of forest nearby.

But the most delightful manifestation of the kiln beneath us is a hot spring.

Because of our location at the edge of two plates – the Pacific and North American – we’re on a particularly likely bit of real estate for hot springs.

A few generations ago – before the advent of backyard Jacuzzis – hot springs were popular resort destinations. Gilroy Hot Springs remains as part of the Henry Coe State Park property, but it’s a historic relic rather than a place to “take the waters.”

Alum Rock Park in east San Jose was popular for its strongly flavored mineral waters. Aromas takes its very name from the springs that still flow near Highway 129, lending parts of the area with a sharp sulfuric scent that I’d not be likely to describe as an “aroma.”

There was a springs just outside of Hollister as well, across Airline Highway from Ridgemark. No sign of it remains.

But a few springs remain as public resorts, reminders of a slower time. Mercey Hot Springs, in the hills east of the Panoche Valley, continues to accept visitors who are welcome to camp or stay in simple cabins between dips in the hot springs-fed pools. Paraiso Hot Springs above the Salinas Valley also welcomes visitors.

There are several less developed springs in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County. The location of most is a closely guarded secret. The most popular and most widely known is Sykes Springs, and I’m told that on weekends the location tends to resemble a sequel to “Animal House.”

No thanks.

The Sierra, too, has its share of springs. There’s one location, a good day hike from Florence Lake, where one can float alone in a small pond set in a meadow, basking in warm water.

The aptly named Hot Creek, reachable by well-marked gravel road near the Mammoth Airport, is popular enough that the Forest Service erected a changing area and restrooms.

The creek flows through colorful volcanic deposits, passing over a series of hot springs. Picnicking families are usually scattered around, and the whole experience is pretty social.

But to swim in an icy spring-fed creek, paddling a few feet over to steaming, bubbling water, is magical, crowds or no.

The Hot Creek springs are something of a barometer for seismic activity in the area as well. The flow from the springs often increases around the advent of an earthquake, illustrating the link between all things seismic most vividly.

We’ve basked in Hot Creek’s waters as a dusting of snow fell around us, looking up at the granite wall of the Sierra’s east flank. It’s a priceless memory, enjoyed at no price at all.

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