California: Hot Springs the Hard Way

Text: Alfonse Palaima • Photography: Alfonse Palaima

Seeking a hot spring while the temperature in Los Angeles boils over 100 degrees might seem like a rather strange journey, but my loaner BMW F 800 GS and I 
are off to do just that in the 
Eastern Sierra. Let’s go!

Slipping out of town at noon in early September, I’m 3,000 feet above sea level and aiming toward the sky every hour.

It’s super-slab out of Los Angeles on the 5 and 14 freeways north to the Mojave Air and Space Port until I break away to the scenic 395 bound for higher ground. Passing through the gateway to Mt. Whitney’s trailheads, Lone Pine, CA, this is as good a place as any to fuel up and get my grub on. Gas is also available in the town of Independence (another 15 miles). That’s where I turn off and get dirty.

Rising 4,000 feet (over a span of five hours), I’ll add another 5,000 feet on the dial in just 20 miles before setting up camp, watching the sun set, and bedding down for the night.

At the south end of Independence, I turn east on to Mazourka Canyon Road and ascend with ease. The first six miles merely cross to the foot of the mountain on broken pavement. Once bending left (north) up through a valley, the surface becomes graded gravel, picks up the routing number 13S05, and leads all the way to Mazourka Peak at 9,300 feet. It’s an easy start for those of us that don’t ride in the dirt too often; it’s flat, predictable, and passable by automobiles.

Had I been smarter, I would have more slowly acclimated to the altitude by spending a night in town at a lower elevation to avoid any possible sickness, but I excitedly climb and suffer a little. I’ve already got some great photography, though, thanks to the half moon in the sky, so I don’t mind.

Camping in this part of the Inyo National Forest doesn’t require any permits. Fires are legal, but this is California and rather flammable, so I usually cook my meals with a stove. As I get closer to the ancient trees tomorrow night, any flames will be off limits.

Day 1 ends on an elevated note right where I belong. Though I’m many miles from home, I’m surrounded by nature and my Patsy Cline MP3s lull me to sleep.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2013 back issue.