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Technically in California, this small town and its surrounding land have a Nevada feel.
Photo: Amy Noel (all)
A mere 80 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, over the Spring Mountains, 17 miles south of Pahrump, turn left on Tecopa Road and head 35 miles down the Old Spanish Trail Highway, and you’ll find the town of Tecopa.
Tecopa is a tiny rural community, where you’ll find a working date ranch, America’s first National Wild and Scenic Desert River (the Amargosa), riparian habitats with world-class birding, geology-rich human histories, fabulous food, silky natural hot mineral water to soak in, and astounding quiet night skies so clear you’ll think if you could reach just a bit farther you could touch the Milky Way.
Tecopa is on the eastern edge of California and is a little-known treasure. There are about 75 full-time residents (those that tough out the summer). Winter snowbird populations might grow to a whopping 400, fall through spring. Tecopa, indeed the whole southeastern Inyo County in many ways, is culturally much more akin to Nevada than what we tend to think of as California. In fact, Inyo County’s motto is “The Other Side of California.”
Tecopa and its hot springs are part of the Amargosa Valley and are also located at the southeast end of Death Valley National Park. Death Valley, homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone, protects 3.3 million acres of some of the most amazing landscape on the globe. Folks have been known to spend their whole lives exploring it and always find something new.
Oft times when people think of the desert, especially one that boasts the lowest elevation you can put your feet on as well the hottest place on earth, the tendency is to think of a wasteland portrayed in so many westerns. But instead, the deserts here where the Mojave meets the Great Basin, tectonic plates pulling apart have emptied vast Pleistocene inland lakes where seas roamed a billion years earlier.
And in this process, layers of earth’s long-buried crust broke apart and cracked and faulted, revealing amazing striped and multicolored mountains, tilted forward impossibly fooling the eye trying to discern distance. And there is life still, amazing mountain and canyon seeps and springs, underground rivers and waterways, and lush riparian habitats. It’s fiercely beautiful.
This amazing life does not make itself readily apparent as you hurdle down the highway, though. You have to get out of the car and look around. For example, in the spring, the mountain appears purple because there are literally millions of “belly” flowers no bigger than your little finger displaying that gorgeous color. And then there are years when the skies dump heavy rains and snow in the mountains that melt and overfill our aquifers, and the flowers grow as thick as carpets and as high as your thigh.
You have to stop and listen to the silence—no sirens, no rushing. And then there’s the buzz of insects, the whoosh of raven wings, soaring hawks, frogs, a bighorn sheep, a crane…there’s the wind through the grasses and stillness.
Amazing to many is that people actually live out here. Hardy and in tune with the seasons, comfortable with solitude and silence, feeding a yearning to explore and ready to help your neighbor even a 100 miles away any time.
Harry Rosenberg, who came to Amargosa Valley in 1915, first developed Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. He worked as a siding foreman along the T&T Railroad until the track was tore up in 1942. His first wife, Noona, and he lived in a train car with two preschool boys in those early days.
After the war, Harry, who had always loved the hot springs and knew everyone would, began developing his resort on a 120-acre parcel using rail ties from the abandoned T&T as his lumber. His hot bath was out on the back 120 acres and fed by a hand-dug line to a spring, which came out of the ground at about 109 degrees. He found a bison hip while digging that line.
The regulars affectionately knew this as “Harry’s hole.” You’d go by Harry’s café, pay your fee, get the key, and head on back to shower and then soak in heavenly hot water and open space all around you. Unfortunately, Harry’s hole had fallen into disrepair before my time, but the walk and the views “out back” are still incredible.
Ironically, Harry drowned in a flash flood near Shoshone in 1969, less than a decade after phone lines and electricity came into the area. The ’70s and ’80s saw new owners and further developments and was the place to stay in fall through spring, folks sometimes waiting for days in the parking lot for one of the 92 RV spaces to open up. After the death of one of Harry’s partners and the closing of the local mines in Kingston, the resort slept for almost 10 years.
In 2001, a small group of desert lovers began to restore it. Today, Tecopa Hot Springs Resort offers 12 newly renovated motel rooms; four rustic rail tie cabins; five soaking tubs; fine arts, crafts and relics; and a unique bistro in one of Harry’s first rail tie buildings featuring incredible edibles by five-diamond Executive Chef John Muccio. Activities include annual Fire House Fling fundraising for our local volunteer firefighters and EMS, music, art openings, work shops, and star parties.
When you visit, remember this is a tiny community more than 35 miles from the nearest supermarket. There are some supplies in Tecopa at the county campground store. In Shoshone Village, eight miles north, there’s gas, a small general store, two more cafés, and a fabulous local history museum.
We are surrounded by wilderness, and sometimes we experience extreme weather conditions. Travel with plenty of water because it is dry even if it’s cold. Stay with your car if you break down; someone will eventually come along. Be safe, be curious, and enjoy.
Tecopa Hot Springs Resort
P.O. Box 25
Tecopa, CA 92389
860 Tecopa Hot Springs Rd.