Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gold Strike Hot Springs and Sauna Cave

Dead People.  Yes, it is rumored that you can find dead people near my next adventure if you're brave enough, for this one deals with Gold Strike Canyon.  This magical place is located on the Colorado River near the downstream side of the Hoover Dam.  Hoover Dam is built  in Black Canyon, but Gold Strike canyon has some Hoover Dam history also and it's really close by.  But enough about that, let's talk about this adventure!

Caves and Waterfalls!
So years ago, a friend of mine told me about the best hike he had ever been on.  He called it Boy Scout Canyon, but it turns out that's the area right below this one.  He offered to take me on the hike for the price of a six pack of beer.  I obliged and off we went.  This hike is through slot canyons and  large open areas, cut by years of water erosion as runoff makes its way down the sloping mountains to the mighty Colorado.  The canyon walls are, in some areas, 50 feet high or more.  As you hike and rock scramble through about 2.5 miles of downhill slope, keep an eye out for old vehicles on the left face of the cliff.  Above you, is the road to the dam, and during construction, many vehicles unfortunatly met their demise and ended up off the road, on the side of the canyon.  There they sit, still somewhat intact.

What, me worry?
So, as you hike down the canyon you will find that the ground is mostly gravel, which makes it difficult to walk on, but better than if it were sand.  When you get to the area that was once a makeshift parking lot, you will find that there is a small fence and a sign.  You will also notice that you are now hiking under the road that takes you to the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge, which is built right near this canyon.  If you happen to read the sign you will notice that it basically tells you that if you go swimming in the hot springs that you see later, you will surely die a terrible death.  These signs were put here by the government, so you can safely ignore them. Naegleria Fowleri is the name of the bringer of said death.  It is an amoeba that lives in hot springs and can kill you by making its home in your brain.  How does it get in your brain?  Through your nose of course!  Only one person has ever died of this in 25 years at the springs located here and that was an immunodeficient child.  If you want to be safer though, if you go swimming, don't put your head under the water.  If you start to foam at the mouth, don't blame me, that's not a symptom.

Hot and cold waterfalls!
Let's follow my first hike down the canyon:  After the initial thoughts of death by amoeba settled down, I realized that this was beginning to be one really beautiful hike.  For the first mile or so, there are just rocks, rocks and more rocks, but then we encountered some wet areas that required navigating through very tall bushes and reeds.  It was an interesting experience walking through "the corn field" of the hike.  As we continued we encountered a very large and somewhat funny shaped rock partially blocking the path.  After passing this rock, the hike really got interesting.  Water was seeping out of rocks all around me!  It was creating small, multicolored pools that contained all sorts of life, including, I'm sure, the aformentioned killer.  Eventually, I came to an area where the water was no longer "seeping" it was gushing out of rocks at about 120 degrees - that's Fahrenheit, not an angle measurement.  Thousands of gallons per minute of hot water just blowing out of cracks.  I had never seen anything like it before.  The water in some areas was literally boiling hot.

At one area we tried to avoid getting our shoes wet, so we hiked part of the way up a cliff face and became stuck.  I began to scream like a little girl as what I thought was a rock face turned into a mudflow and washed me down the cliff into the water.  Luck was on my side that day though, as cell phones with cameras had not been invented yet and there was no facebook to speak of.  I survived by gracefully using the skin from my chest to slow my decent enough to catch a foothold.  It was a bit painful to say the least.  Go ahead and get your feet wet people, it's worth it.
The Corn Field

After having a good cry, we continued on our way to what you will surely agree with me, must be called eden.  Right before the area with the very large hotsprings we were about to encounter, there was a ladder, no a rope ladder, no a rope - well, a string really that I was expected to shimmy down and then up again to get out.  I held on to the rope and hoped my feet didn't slide out from under me while climbing over the slipperiest rock in existence for about 10 feet.  Now, I didn't die and I didn't fall, the rope didn't break and nothing of consequence happened here but it could have, and that's what matters.

My friend was now telling me that the springs were right up ahead and was sounding serious this time so I was getting excited.  We climbed up some really steep rocks and low and behold, we found it.  Hot waterfalls from 50 feet up high, deep crystal blue, white sand bottom, just the perfect temperature hot spring pools and naked, Playboy quality women.  Bathing and washing up in said waterfalls.  Naked. Women. Playboy.  What?  We both peered over the rocks in complete silence just watching the scene before us in shock and awe for a very long time.  What was happening here?  I thought that what had really happened was that I
HAD fallen from the cliff earlier and I was now in heaven, but realizing that there was a slim chance that I would ever get to heaven for thinking the thoughts that were in my head at that time, there must have been a better explanation.

It just so happens that some magazine similar to Playboy was having a photo shoot at this time at this area.  Yea, lucky us.  As we watched the girls frolic and play, we knew that there must have been another way into this canyon, as these girls were two incredible to have hiked anywhere.  Perhaps they drifted down on clouds from the sky above.  Soft ski...  Oh, sorry, back to the hike.

Tarantula Hawk
Are you kidding me with this thing?
So after an hour or so, the girls and camera crews cleared out and we were back to our normal adventure.  We made our way to the first incredible blue pool where the camera crew was previously set up. It was not only crystal clear, but it had a white sand bottom.  The water was spa temperature.  With hot water pouring out of the rocks all around, it was constantly being refreshed.  As we were sitting, relaxing and soaking in this magnificent pool, my friend broke the serenity by giving me a look of death.  He was staring at something that was over my shoulder on the rocks behind me.  He exclaimed, "Don't move!"  I immediately though, "snake."  I think I would have preferred a snake, as when I slowly turned around and caught a glimpse of what it actually was, I couldn't believe my eyes.  The largest insect I have ever seen in person was staring at me.  This was evil, real evil.  It was about 6 inches long, black with large red wings.   It resembled a very large wasp with a very large stinger.  VERY. LARGE.  It ended up flying off, but not before changing the shade of the nice blue water to a greenish color.  So it turns out it was a tarantula hawk.  Let me say that again, a TARANTULA HAWK.  I didn't know these existed.  I do now and now you do also.  They are large wasps that sting tarantulas, paralyzing them, lay their eggs inside them, and then the babies eat their way out of the tarantulas while they are still alive.  Nice and pleasant.  Sometimes, they sting people.  Horrible.  I'm a nature guy and all I love things like fish and deer and snakes and lizards, but these things should all die.  They haunt my dreams.

So clear!
As we hiked a bit further down the canyon, we found a few more hot springs, some even better than the first group but the big payoff came near the end.  As we approached the Colorado River, I was told that we were now to make our way up river toward the base of the dam.  Unfortunately the river at that time was a bit to high, so we either had to swim in 40F degree water, or climb up an old wooden ladder that was left there by the workers exploring the area for Hoover Dam.  Damn is right.

We would have frozen in the water so that was out.  The ladder we were about to climb was about 70 years old and made of tattered wood.  It was bolted to a large boulder and was about 25 feet high.  If it broke or came loose from the rock, we would surely die, no joke.  It actually looked so old and rickety that it might have been one that God himself used in the construction of the actual Garden of Eden.  The workers from the dam obviously got it second-hand.  I did it anyway and lived to tell the story, so here it is.  On the other side of this boulder is an amazing area.  There is a limestone rock wall about 20 feet wide and there seems to be a water pressure build up behind it.  The hot, seismic activity has somehow supersaturated the limestone and hot water is continually seeping out of the entire wall.  There are hot, multicolored, boiling water pools all over the area in this little grotto.  If you take a rock and strike the wall with it, boiling water will being to stream out of the small hole you made.  In a few minutes, the hole fills in and you can repeat it.  It might be the only place in the world that you can see this phenomenon, as I have never heard it described before.

Entrance to Sauna Cave
As you continue on from this area, you will find a steaming cave.  It is known as sauna cave, and it is hidden behind some large bushes. It isn't actually a cave, but the beginnings of a tunnel, made when workers were exploring the rock area for possible dam locations.  It is supposedly about 50 yards into the rock.  When the original explorers got to that depth, they hit a fissure that filled the tunnel with boiling hot water and steam and killed all 5 men.  The remains of these men are still in the cave with all of the equipment they went in with, due to the fact that it is just too hot to go in and explore.  I made it about 10 feet into the tunnel before I had to turn around.  It really is a strange experience, and one you should go and see for yourself.

The hike back up the canyon was long, but uneventful.  The hike out can be really difficult after relaxing in such a beautiful area.  If you are hiking during the summer, bring lots of water.  A few years ago, two older hikers died here of heat stroke, because they ran out of water.  They were only about a mile from help.  Don't do that.  I made it back down the "Ladder of Death" and back up the "Rope Ladder" safely.  I have been there many times and have even done the hike at night.  With a full moon, on a warm summer night, it can't be beat!  Consider camping down there also, you will have a blast!  Please clean up after yourself and enjoy!

UPDATE - 2/17/11 -

I have just been to the canyon, although, due to my young kids, I didn't make it to the springs here are some cool pictures of the canyon.  The road and parking area have been improved and it is marked with a sign, so it is very easy to find.

Just starting out, a new bridge to walk under.

Can you find the wildlife?

This car has fallen from the top of the ravine and has been here since dam construction.

My wife and kids hiking the canyon.

Another old automobile.  This could be a truck.  It's halfway up the canyon wall.

Nice rock formations.

About a mile into the canyon.

This is on the way back out.


  1. This is by far my favorite hike. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  2. You're going to have to send me a map of the location or we will have to go on a hike....J

  3. OK, I'll send you a map, but who is this?

  4. Hi John,
    do you know the status of the pools now? I've read in a few different places about them, but I've gotten conflicting information.... some say they are just about dried up and no point in going (maybe they don't want to share paradise) and others say its great and to go up if you have a chance. Thanks!

  5. I went there when i was in high school, how you run into Playboy is beyond me i got a sunburn.

  6. The status of the pools is great! Arizona Hot Springs is not fairing as well though...

  7. We were there today (02/13/11). The really big pool, and a couple of the others, are completely dry. The smaller pools were still decent.

    We've done this hike for the past three years, and today also got us a bit upset due to some idiot not having the decency to bury his "leavings". This same guy, and his girlfriend, also left multiple candles and a condom at one of the pools.

  8. Anon, did you go the the second and third set of pools? They are all the way down near the river. They are still in great condition. The first few are filled in with silt because of a flood that happened a few years ago. Also, there has been earthquakes that have slowed down the water flow a bit.

  9. I may be a little late, but what are the actual directions to get to Sauna Cave? Could you send me a map of the pocation? Thanks.

  10. Easy, follow the directions above, to the hot springs, and hike all the way to the river. When you get to the river, it is just to the left (upstream, towards the dam) its only about 30 yards upstream, it is hidden behind some bushes and it is difficult to get there sometimes due to the water level changing, but it's there!

  11. I was there Dec 8, 2014. The large "so clear" pool pictured above is dry and filled in with sand. Everything above that large pool is either dry and/or filled in. There are two small pools less than 50 yards down stream that are "soakable". The next soaking pool is below the first rope assisted down climb. It is over 4 feet deep and very clear. I think there are 3 or 4 good soaking pools before you get to the river. Yes, it is still a very worthwhile hike! If the river gauge below Hoover Dam is much higher than 42 feet...expect to swim to and from the gravel bar on the way to the Sauna Cave. It was 4 feet deep on our way there...and maybe 6 feet deep just 30 minutes later (~between 445 PM and 515 PM PST).

  12. Beautiful hike still but many pools are filled in not as it was in 2014. We found 2 small pools but didn't make it to river either time. 1st with kids and second with friends with wk at 2:30. We will go again soon and report back, I'm making it to the river next time!

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  14. Jgjonola, Can you please provide a reference point on how you came about the information on the miners who lost their lives building sauna cave? And their remains and equipment still within the cave?