The air was warm and dry, even on a late afternoon in February, when Andy and I first arrived to explore Tecopa Hot Springs. The desert sand gave off a burnt orange glow as the sun began to descend. Virtually nothing stirred. We passed no cars once we turned onto the Old Spanish Trail that brought us to the resort, despite evidence of a nearby RV park and campgrounds. In fact, the only thing that stirred was something in me – a true feeling of peace that comes with desert silence.
It was my first true trip to the desert. We had been through it, of course, but I had never set an intention to explore before this. But when Andy suggested visiting desert near Death Valley for Valentine’s Day, it was just too “us” to resist. We jumped into his car and motored east, stopping only at the Mad Greek restaurant in Baker, California before turning our attentions 50 miles north of I-15.
It was at this point that Andy mentioned we might not have cell phone reception for much longer. That gave me pause. It felt like everything in California was connected, and I’ll admit, it made me wonder exactly what I had gotten myself into.
We were headed for this historic Tecopa Hot Springs. Said to be set in an ancient lakebed, Tecopa had a reputation for its healing waters and stunning views, along with some fascinating wildlife (In fact, someone we met in neighboring Shoshone came to survey the bird life and never left). People come here from all around the country just to soak in one of the natural springs and go hiking (something I can’t recommend in the summer months as the air temps routinely rise to more than 120 degrees).
Founded in 1875, this Mojave Desert town was originally known as Brownsville. It sprung up as a result of nearby silver-lead ore mine developments in the 1860s. The original settlement grew, but it wasn’t until the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad came in that the present town of Tecopa (re-named for a Paiute leader) really found its identity. Then, as was the case in many boom towns, the population began to shift toward other work sites. Ultimately, the hot springs were given over to the county, and rumor has it that they were gifted under the condition that they remain free for anyone who wants to visit.
Now, Tecopa is a literal oasis in the desert – a bit of an oddity to see this much water amidst so much arid sand and salt beds. The public springs can be found just off the Tecopa Hot Springs Road. How can you spot them? Look for the camper vans parked by the side of the road (you can see them in the distance in the photo at the top of the article). And if you are walking north from the resorts, you can just follow the curving road beyond the warning signs. Here, you can gingerly descend into the hot, highly mineralized water with a full view of the desert flats, distant mountains and the incredible colors of the sunset (and sunrise).
Pro tip: the public springs are clothing optional. It’s a bit startling if you aren’t used to that kind of abandon. If you aren’t prepared to share quite that much, you are welcome to wear a bathing suit or choose to stay at one of the resorts that provide private access to the spring-filled tubs. Be warned that the hotter months can bring mud mites to the outside, public springs which are not an issue during the late fall, winter and early spring.
As we weren’t prepared to camp (the Mojave air at night in February can be pretty chilly even if the days are warm), we headed straight for the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. Its motto is “Leave your Troubles Behind.” I think we can all use this kind of escape from time to time! The resort is actually divided into camping and hotel accommodations. People choosing to stay in the RV park, campgrounds or the cabins all have access to the mineral spring bathhouse. We opted for the small hotel which had direct hallway access to private mineral tubs. Under normal circumstances, you probably wouldn’t notice this collection off buildings that make up the resort, but this desert town makes even the unlikely look like a good possibility. The hotel rooms were comfortable and clean – nothing fancy, but perfectly serviceable. Access to email could be had from their WiFi, although they asked that during office hours we restrict our use to email rather than streaming.
The mineral baths in the hotel were actually quite large. There are doors that close and lock for privacy as the tubs here are also clothing optional. We took our time here. Our descent into the hot mineral water was slow, and we luxuriated in the feel of muscles loosening and the aches diminishing, and those were just from driving – can you imagine how good they would feel after a day of hiking? My favorite touch was the skylight above us. You can have an amazing view of the stars if the clouds cooperate. In fact, the area is so devoid of light pollution that there is a telescope site on the property. On clear nights, you can enjoy a guided “sight-seeing tour” of the stars.
Other amenities of the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort included an art gallery and a restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn’t open, as we were only there during the week. It is scheduled to open on the weekends from 12:00 pm until about 9:00 pm. I’ve heard talk of it being remodeled and live music on Saturday nights. We’ll have to return to find out!
Food is an important consideration because Tecopa Hot Springs is quite isolated. Shoshone is about nine miles away, and the store there and the Crowbar Cafe are your primary food options if the on-site restaurant is closed. In the immediate vicinity, you would either have to bring some nosh from home or grab some snack items from the general store. I’ve heard that the Death Valley Internet Cafe near the resort has now closed, but hopefully, that’s just a seasonal issue. No matter what, be prepared to be in an area with very few services.
Let’s face it, the reason you go to the desert is to escape modern life. While we sort of cheated by staying in the hotel at night, I have to say it was one of my most favorite excursions in California. The peace is nearly absolute out there. You can stand in the middle of the desert, and the only sound you will hear is the beating of your heart and the song of the shifting sands. It started a drive in me to escape to the desert whenever the world gets too crazy, or my brain becomes too filled with all the “must do” and “should do” things that life throws at me. This is a place for reflection and deep breaths. And I am deeply grateful that Andy led us here.
How to get to Tecopa from Los Angeles:
Head east until you connect with I-15N. Connect with CA-127 and then take the Old Spanish Trail into Tecopa Hot Springs Road. The trip takes about 4 hours driving time, but we highly recommend taking a stop in Baker to gas up and to grab some food. Remember, there aren’t many services once you get to Tecopa.
How to Get to Tecopa from Las Vegas:
The drive from Las Vegas is approximately 80 miles. You can take NV-160 west to the Old Spanish Trail Highway onto Tecopa Hot Springs Road.
Where to Stay
- Tecopa Hot Springs Resort, 860 Tecopa Hot Springs Rd, Tecopa, CA 92389
- Delight’s Hot Springs Resort, 368 Tecopa Hot Springs Rd, Tecopa, CA 92389
- There are also numerous campgrounds in the immediate area.
Where to Eat
On the weekends, you should be able to eat in the on-site cafe. Otherwise, the nearest town is Shoshone. You can grab food at the Crowbar cafe, approximately 9 miles from the hot springs.
Other Area Attractions
- China Ranch Date Farm: Great hiking, a surprisingly lush setting and home-grown dates and other treats.
- Hiking: In addition to China Ranch Date Farm, South Nopah Range Wilderness has become a popular hiking spot.
- Wildflower Spotting in the Spring (acres of golden blooms on the Old Spanish Trail just before you turn back onto 127)