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Serpentine Hot Springs

It’s the first day of spring today. We’re in for a few glorious bright, clear, light months. It’s still cold, dipping to double digits below, so my mind often drifts to warm thoughts. I’m thinking specifically of a trip last summer to a remote hot springs area.

Serpentine Hot Springs is as much about the journey as it is the destination. It’s reachable in summer only by plane or by bike and foot, but snowmachines can get you there in the winter. The springs are in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and most motorized transportation is off limits. There’s no road for the last 35 miles, only patches of gravel and hint of a trail over the tundra. If it’s wet, you’re slogging up and down over tussoks and squishing through mud. It was indeed a very wet summer and we had our work cut out for us.

I was traveling with a group of Nome-based bike riders. We’ve done a fair amount of biking together and put a lot of planning time into the trip.  I could not ask for a better group: Keith, Mark, Jane, Don, and Jack made it an absolute blast.  And our fearless leader Keith helped me out with gear in a big way.

We began with a 70 mile drive to the end of the Kougarok road, and then started a 22 mile bike ride/push.

We camped for the night at Taylor, a mining camp with 100 years of history.  The tailings bed was good, the dehydrated food was great, and the mosquitos were quite bad.  I’m glad I had my head net, otherwise I would have gone insane.

We dropped our bikes at Taylor and began the 14 mile hike into the springs.   North of the Kigulaik Moutnains the terrain changes to long rolling hills that all look the same.

Volcanic activity millions of years ago in the Serpentine area led to the formation of underground lava cores.  Over the years, the lava cooled and formed cylindrical rocks. Erosion wore away the soil and left the cores standing tall.  The formations are known as “tors.”

At the springs, the routine is pretty simple: eat, soak, sleep, hike, repeat. You can even skip the hike part if you want. I plowed through most of “The Hobbit” and took advantage of the healing powers of the serpentine heat.

People have been coming to the Serpentine area for thousands of years.  There was an archeological dig going on about a mile away when we were there. The ridge overlooking the the Serpentine Valley was used 12,000 years ago as a lookout for animals moving through. Hunters worked on their tools and had a broad view of the valley.

It’s a rare opportunity to make it to Serpentine hot springs. It’s a very special place.  I’ll never forget it.