Friday, November 4, 2016

Foray into Geology: Travertine Hot Springs

For sheer dramatic beauty, there is nothing quite equal to the eastern Sierra Nevada, where 14,000 foot peaks rise from a sea of gray sagebrush and billowing clouds roll in for summer thunderstorms.  It is the product of some incredible geologic activity, and home to a handful of rather "secret" hot springs.
Travertine Hot Springs is a popular, easily accessible point of geologic interest near the town of Bridgeport on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.  The hot springs lie on the northern edge of a region known for its tectonic activity, roughly 50 miles north of the Long Valley Caldera.  The region is alive with geothermal activity, as recent lava domes and flows, and active hot springs and fumaroles will attest.
The pools at Travertine Hot Springs
The travertine for which these springs are named is actually limestone, a calcium-rich rock which forms as calcium carbonate precipitates, or forms a solid from a solution.  Chemical precipitation occurs as ground water rich in dissolved calcium carbonate reaches the surface.  At hot springs, geothermally heated ground water travels up to the surface, releasing carbon dioxide and depositing calcium carbonate.  The trigger for chemical precipitation is a change in pH, brought on by a change in carbon dioxide levels.  Water evaporates, leaving behind mineral deposits.
Looking down from the travertine formation onto the series of three pools.
Over the years, the deposition of calcium carbonate at Travertine Hot Springs has created long, linear mounds of travertine rock; the hot springs originate from the tops of these mounds and the geothermally heated water flows down into a series of pools.  The porous version of travertine is called tufa, which we'll learn more about when I get around to writing a post on Mono Lake.
The source of the spring; the water flowing from this rock was extremely hot!
 The Travertine Hot Springs are located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, and small pools have been created to allow visitors a chance to soak in the mineral rich water.  There is a vault toilet at the dirt parking area, a short walk from the springs, but no other facilities are available.  In our age of overcrowding and vandalism in national parks (read about some infuriating examples of recent vandalism here and here and here) it's almost surprising to find these hidden gems tucked away down a few dirt roads.
The lower (and coolest) pool

If you visit, please, please, please respect the springs and the surrounding area. 

It is a privilege to still be able to visit places like this in California. 

Practice "leave no trace;" pack out what you pack in; leave the springs even better than you found them.


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