The landscape on Interstate 5 glows under shafts of light. A visual feast spreads before me: blond hills dotted with the shadows of grazing cattle, live oaks stark against the rolling slopes. We drive north through the central valley, toward our first stop at Los Banos. My rudimentary Spanish tells me there may be hot springs for bathing nearby. And so it is: we pass a sign just south of the Los Banos exit announcing “Mercey Hot Springs.”
That’s where we go the next morning, taking a long, winding detour through the golden hills and gullies. Steers lean against the fencing, reaching for the greener grass. Hidden in a copse of feathery trees, we come upon the place. (Don’t be fooled by the clothing–it wasn’t that cold!)
At Mercey Hot Springs, you can rent a cabin or camp, or just stay for the day as we did. There is no restaurant, but snacks are available at registration. Towels, too. We changed into bathing suits and chose the “bathing suits required” option as it is not fenced in for privacy.
The individual tubs are arranged in a circle. We were advised by a fellow bather to rinse the tub with the mineral water to heat up the metal tub before filling it.
The day was cool and cloudy, but the water was hot. Not scalding, but comfortable. To my right, I was joined by a mother and her daughter who came all the way from Hawaii.
Unlike my hot-tub-loving husband, I do not enjoy soaking idly for hours. After a half hour or so, I get fidgety and drip away to the mineral-water-fed swimming pool. This is more to my liking: I can move around and still be in water–88′. As I grew up with a backyard pool in southern Los Angeles, I love to swim.
From the tubs and pool, we move to the sauna, sweetly smelling of cedar. Then, a picnic of Trader Joe’s wraps beside a slow trickling stream lined with agave cacti.
Revived and relaxed, we press on to the north, after experiencing another hidden wonder of California.