September 21, 1841 — Ruby Valley Hot Springs

Tuesday, 21st. Hunters returned; many antelope were seen and 2 or 3 killed. About 10 o’clock A.M. as we were coasting along the mountains in a W. direction, we came to some hot springs, which were to me a great curiosity. Within the circumference of a mile there were perhaps 20 springs, the most of which were extremely beautiful, the water being so transparent we could see the smallest thing 20 or 30 feet deep. The rocks which walled the springs, and the beautifully white sediment lodged among them, reflected the sun’s rays in such a manner as to exhibit the most splendid combination of colors, blue, green, red &c. I ever witnessed.

The water in most of them was boiling hot. There was one, however, more beautiful than the rest; it really appeared more like a work of art than nature. It was about 4 feet in diameter, round as a circle, and deeper than we could see–the cavity looked like a well cut in a solid rock, its walls being smooth and perpendicular. Just as I was viewing this curiosity, some hunters came up with some meat. We all partook, putting it into the hot spring, where it cooked perfectly done in 10 minutes—this is no fish story!

The earth around the Springs was white with a substance which tasted strongly of potash, and the water in the springs was of this quality. Traveled about 15 miles. Several Indians came to our camp, several of whom had guns. From signs, this valley contained thousands.

They are traveling along the eastern side of the Ruby Mountains, in a direction more southerly than westerly. Bidwell found these hot springs to be of great scientific interest.

George R. Stewart, in The California Trail, writes: “One sure point is marked by the hot springs which they passed on September 21 and which Bidwell described in some detail. These beautiful springs still bubble out near the base of the Ruby Mountains, just as they did when Bidwell saw them.”

The Ruby Valley Hot Springs can still be visited, but they are in a very remote area, next to the Ruby Mountains Wildlife Refuge and a long way from any services. The water is not “boiling hot,” at least not today, but it gets from 100 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo from The Ultimate Hot Springs Guide

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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