|Tecopa, California: Off the Beaten Path, by Alice Zyetz|
When I lived in Los Angeles, the desert was a place you drove through to get to Las Vegas. But since I've become a full-time RVer, the desert is my home in the winter. One of the joys of RVing is spending time in a place that is NOT on everybody's "Must See" list. Tecopa, California, is just such a place.
Next time you are on your way to Death Valley or Las Vegas, give yourself an extra few days to stop in Tecopa, midway between Baker and Death Valley on Hwy 127. Or take the Old Spanish Trail from Las Vegas, ninety minutes away. The former underwater landscape is compelling, particularly in early morning or late afternoon light. If you can camp without hookups, drive on Furnace Creek Wash, a dirt road just north of Tecopa Hot Springs turnoff, and park on the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. You will be surrounded by the beauty of the desert landscape. Sunsets can be fantastic.
TECOPA HOT SPRINGS
The big attraction is the baths, local hot mineral springs that are truly healing. Several resorts in the area (Peterson's Tecopa Palms and Delights Hot Springs) have their own private baths to soak in, but many of us-as well as day visitors from surrounding areas, including Las Vegas-go to the public hot springs administered by Inyo County. Until this month, they have always been free. Starting now, they tell us, the cost will be $5 per day. Men and women have separate pools, housed in newly painted one-story concrete buildings. As you approach for the first time, you will wonder (as I did) why in the world people rave about this place. It almost looks disreputable. Trust me, you will be delighted. The next obstacle for some readers may be that in order to avoid contaminating the waters, people must shower first and then bathe nude. It is a bit shocking in the beginning, but particularly in the woman's baths, it shortly becomes a communal quilting bee-without the quilts. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes just naturally start talking to each other about anything from the weather to what their hopes and dreams are. On the men's side, I am told, the conversation is more limited, but the soaking is just as healing.
Before or after you soak, follow the signs to China Ranch Date Farm, a few miles from Tecopa. You drive along a seemingly bland desert highway, and all of a sudden you are on a dirt road descending through deeply etched rock formations that look like overgrown sand castles. The road is one way for a half mile and then you come upon a green oasis, overgrown with huge cottonwoods, willow trees, and date palms. A working family farm, China Ranch is a lovely place to walk, buy dates and various homemade foods and crafts, enjoy hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, learn about the history of the area, or just be there to relax in the refreshing greenery.
Five miles north of Tecopa, Shoshone is the gateway to Death Valley. The town itself is full of history. Shoshone started out as a railroad town as well as a mining town. Visit the Shoshone Museum to view the displays detailing the colorful past of this community. In front of the museum is an old car and vintage gasoline pumps. Off to the side are some of the railroad cars and a few tracks. Shoshone is still an active town with a school, chamber of commerce, two local cafés, swimming pool, motel, RV Park, etc.
For Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) families, Dumont Dunes is the place to go. About twenty miles south of Tecopa and set amid the steep volcanic hills are the sand dunes, ranging in elevation from 700 to 1200 feet. Administered by BLM, permits are now required: $20 for seven days, $60 for annual use. From the number of vehicles dumping their tanks at the County RV Park in Tecopa on Sunday of the recent Thanksgiving weekend, it doesn't seem like the permits are a deterrent to the family outings. For those readers who are interested in which RVs can handle OHVs, visit Dumont Dunes on a holiday weekend to see the variety available and talk to the owners to find out the pros and cons of various models.
AMARGOSA OPERA HOUSE
Finally, as you head north to Death Valley, make sure you visit the Amargosa Opera House. Almost forty years ago, Marta Becket arrived in Death Valley Junction (north of Tecopa and Shoshone) and found a most unlikely place to fulfill her dream of being a performing artist, selecting only the material she wanted. Starting with a group of broken down adobe buildings and theater, she has created a magical kingdom for her creativity. In the beginning when her audiences were scarce, she painstakingly created her own audience by painting pictures of people on the walls of the opera house so that she wouldn't be dancing alone. Her mural audience included royalty, bullfighters, monks and nuns, early native Americans, and so on. Like the baths, you must experience Armagosa for yourself to believe it.
Yes, Death Valley is very special, but take the time to literally enjoy the journey by spending time in Tecopa and her neighboring sites.