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Hot springs offers midhike respite

With the weather cooling off, it is the ideal time of year to hit the trail and enjoy a soak in one of our local hot springs. To combine both of these pleasures in a single outing, one of our area’s best destinations is Arizona Hot Springs in Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The hike to the springs is 6.4 miles round trip from trailhead to Colorado River and back. Elevation change is 875 feet loss on the first half and, of course, 875 feet gain on the uphill return. This will be a moderate hike for most people.

From the trailhead and parking area, drop down into White Rock Canyon and head downstream, under the highway. The wide, rocky wash soon narrows, and the walking becomes easier on soft gravel between high walls of volcanic rock.

Keep a lookout for desert bighorn sheep, as they frequent this area.

After 2.6 miles, you will arrive on the banks of the Colorado River in Black Canyon. Pick up the worn path that heads downstream, and head up the steep hill of volcanic rock. There are signs to show you the way. This section is a little hard to negotiate, as it is through the rocky cliffs themselves, but soon the path brings you down into a vegetated, narrow canyon with a small ribbon of water flowing through it.

Put on your water shoes here if you have them (do not wear flip-flops, as they will not stay on your feet). Head to your left, upstream, walking in the streambed itself. In just a couple of minutes, the canyon will widen enough to contain a small, dry gravel bar at the base of a waterfall. Here you will find a sturdy metal ladder, perhaps 20 feet tall, which will give you access to the hanging canyon with the hot springs at its mouth.

Once up on top, you will find pools of water to soak in. These tend to vary in size and configuration anytime you visit, because they are dammed by sandbags, which energetic people sometimes rearrange to suit themselves. The water here flows at a rate of about 30 gallons per minute, with the water being warmer at the upstream end.

Heated by molten rock, the water reaches the surface of the Earth through faults. The water is highly mineralized with chloride, sulfates, potassium and other natural chemicals.

Like other hot springs in our region, this one may contain an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. Infections from this amoeba are extremely rare, but they can be fatal. You can safely soak in the springs, though, if you never submerge your head and never allow water to get into your nose, mouth or eyes.

For a hike and soak, Mondays and Tuesdays are best. On these days, this section of the river, between Hoover Dam and Willow Beach, is closed to motorized vessels and personal watercraft, which reduces the number of visitors. Even so, some will arrive by kayak, canoe, raft or standup paddleboard.

Because this is such a popular destination, start on the trail at daybreak for your best chance to enjoy it in solitude.

One more caveat: As is true in all narrow canyons with few exits, flash floods could be deadly here and on the access trail. If rain is falling, threatening or even predicted, save this hike for some clear day.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled in the book “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States.” She is also the author of “Great Hikes: A Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All: Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

Directions

From Boulder City take U.S. Highway 93 south over the Hoover Dam bypass bridge into Arizona. Continue 2.6 miles and turn left at the signed White Rock Canyon crossover to the paved parking area.

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