We stayed and woke up in what we could only describe as "Country California". The Lexington of Cali. The campground was on the edge of a small town, filled with familiar small town people. The kind of place that sells "You've entered GUN COUNTRY" bumper stickers in their convenience stores. We got up extra early and rearranged our plans so we could wade in hot springs before we kayaked at Lake Tahoe. Before leaving town, we sucked up medium hazelnut iced-coffees from McDonalds- a road trip tradition to force our eyes open.
In one of the many drafts of the road trip schedule that didn't make the cut, I planned a stop at Travertine Hot Springs. As with most of the stops, I didn't know much about what it would look like. We turned off of the main route to Tahoe and began winding up a small mountain. I pulled the Matrix into a dirt parking lot with two other cars and I laughed as I remembered reading a few reviews about "clothing optional". The path to the springs was no more than a quarter of a mile from the car. We rounded the last corner and several little hot spring pools came into view. But we weren't looking at the pools- we were looking at the giant alien head "water faucet" that trickled water into the spring closest to us. It was vibrant-yellow and orange with streams of water carved into the rock. No one else was around and we shared yet another moment of "WHAT??!" as the land surprised us again with colors and shapes we had never before seen in nature. We stripped down to our bathing suits and stepped into the biggest pool. The water was incredibly hot- resting at a temperature just shy of boiling your skin off. Weird algae floated around- moving like a creature through water. We scooped it out. After about twenty minutes of soaking and watching weird algae monsters float by, we decided to get out and explore the area.
Not far from the other springs was a smaller, more secluded spring. We headed in its' direction to get a glimpse of the entire area. Instead, we caught a glimpse of an older couple that had passed by us earlier. The woman was bigger with blonde hair. She sat in the spring completely naked, while the tall and skinny man stood, wearing only a black cowboy hat and a gray mustache. Their clothes, a black biker vest and a Tie-dye T-shirt, laid beside them. This wasn't the part that phased me, I am not bashful to naked people or nakedness. But while I was crouching behind a bush like a giant creep, not knowing where else to go to avoid being seen, I heard mumbles about "feeling guilty" and "sneaking around", then even a little bit of "but my kids..". I was listening to an affair. I was hiding behind a bush, feet away from a nude couple who were hiding way out here in the hot springs to continue an affair. And I held a giant camera in my hands. I turned to Celeste and tried to plan an escape where I didn't get busted and questioned about spying- but alas- I walked right over a snake. Celeste froze and began backing away before she disclosed to me that a snake was inches away from where I stood. No thank you. Suddenly the desert path to the car seemed to hide a dozen snakes ready to strike, so I detoured up onto a rock wall that walked high over the ground, passed the alien hot springs and straight to the lot. To the right we looked down at the snake ridden path, and to the left we avoided eye contact with three incredibly tan, butt naked forty-somethings: two blonde women and a round man. We were basically attending their nudy bath from ten feet above. They soaked and appeared unfazed the entire five minutes it took us to walk across the wall. Five minutes has never been so long.
We had a day allotted for Lake Tahoe and decided to spend it in Emerald Bay- A bay on the South side of the lake- known for it's clear blue waters and kayakers island in the center. After a parking nightmare and steep trek down, we rented our kayak on the beach and started for the island. Every time I get on a clear lake I find myself cussing out Missouri for it's muddy water. Emerald bay looked incredibly fake. The deep blue water glistened in the sun, the mountains towered over us lined with green trees and shrubs and a dreamy haze. It was a perfect seventy something day and the wind blew just enough to cool our shoulders. It's moments like these on this trip that I become very aware of all that I don't know in the world, and all that I haven't seen. We were in a dry desert the night before, now we sat on top of a kayak in a blue oasis. We pulled our Kayak onto the island and made our way to the house on top. We spent some time peering out the windows in every direction. We spoke to a couple and exchanged picture taking. Piling back into the kayak, we paddled further around the island and laughed hysterically into the wind as it pushed the water in the opposite direction that we needed to go. We paddled hard and laughed hard and made it to shore with our stomachs sore. There we laid out our towels and napped in the sand until the laughter and screams of children jumping off of the dock woke us up. These smooth sailing, seemingly uneventful days are the most difficult stories to tell from our trip. There were no bumps in the road, no notable occurrences to share with those we get to share our travel stories with. It's the feeling that I struggle to convey. The feeling of being somewhere beautiful with nothing to worry about, sitting in the sand enjoying the perfect weather with your best friend. There is nothing better than it.
Continuing the pattern of improvisation, we decided to ditch the campsite we had planned to stay at that evening and travel an hour further to a motel. When we stopped at the campsite on Walker Lake we became aware of just how deep into the desert we were. It was tucked between the highway and an enormous lake that seemed to stretch for miles. Each site had a round shelter awning and a picnic table-it was eerily empty. A giant sign at the entrance of the campground that warned about spiders didn't seem relevant until we were face to face with a spider camping out in the center of it's circular web. It was yellow and huge, I'm pretty sure it looked like this (click). It's called a garden spider, which sounds cute and dainty. It's not. I imagined waking up to a tent covered in garden spiders. The hairs on my entire body stuck straight up. Trucks flew by on the road behind us. We sat in the car contemplating our plan, almost deciding to disguise ourselves in baseball caps as boys so no one would stop and help us as "damsels in distress" as we pitched the tent. That happened sometimes. People see a couple of girls putting up a tent or messing with their car and they stop to see if us women need some manly assistance. We didn't want any manly assistance. We were alone and we didn't feel safe by the highway or sleeping with giant yellow spiders, so we drove to a safe place- a haunted clown motel.
I love dingy old motels. I felt like I was in Pulp Fiction.. or any on-the-run-from-the-cops action flick, posting up in a dirty motel. I checked the sheets for bugs and hair- as my Grandma always did. It was clean. I was dirtier than the sheets. We turned off the TV and fell asleep immediately, grateful for the A/C that froze us in the night and the stiff beds that gave our backs a break from the lumpy ground. No clowns or ghosts visited us that night.
Photographer on the road