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The surprise in Surprise Valley is in the water | Bartell's Backroads

Soak in the hot mineral waters of Cedarville, one of the hottest places in Modoc County.

CEDARVILLE, Calif. — When pioneers traveling on the Applegate Trail made it through the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, there was a surprise waiting for them in what is now Cedarville, California...


It was everywhere, but a lot of it wasn’t exactly something they could lead their livestock to. Much of the water came from geothermal hot springs.

“Yes, a boiling caldron of geothermal mineral water,” Curtis Rose says. “One of the many that are out here on the valley floor.”

Rose is the owner of Surprise Valley Hot Springs in Cedarville -- one of the hottest places in Modoc County.

“It will kill you. These are boiling just like Yellowstone. You don’t want to fall in there,” Rose says.

The water is heated by underground geothermal volcanic rocks. Lucky for visitors, they don’t have to dip into or drink from the scalding hot mineral water. Instead, they can ease into their own personal temperature-controlled hotel room soaking tub.

“The geothermal mineral water, before it gets put into the tube, is piped through this concrete slab, cooled and used as snow melt,” Rose says, gesturing to the cement patio.

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Unlike many public hot springs, you won’t find any nudists wallowing in the mineral water. Here at Surprise Valley Hot Springs, privacy is kind of a big thing. 

“We built them private because we just kind of like our privacy,” Rose says.

In each one of the 19 rooms there’s a private soaking tub, private kitchen and private living area that is uniquely decorated.

Surprise Valley Hot Springs has been in the family four generations now. Curtis’ great grandfather, E.E. Rose, built the resort back in 1953.

“It was kind of a build it and hope they show up kind of thing,” according to Rose. 

People did show up, and they showed up because of the water. It has about 38 minerals in it, which are great for your health, but there’s a bit of a mystery about how the mineral got in the water.

NASA and USGS say this is ancient water. It hasn’t seen the light of day in I don’t know how long,” Rose says.

According to Rose, the even bigger mystery is where the underground water comes from.

“My understanding is we have not been able to fingerprint this water. It's mystery waters."

The geothermal mineral water may be a mystery, but it is also a gift to the town of Cedarville, especially in the winter. 

“The hospital is heated by geothermal; the school is heated by geothermal. We are very fortunate," Rose says.

One reason Pioneers on the Applegate Trail called this area Surprise Valley is because of the water. The other reason? It's surprisingly beautiful here, especially if you are sitting on the banks of a heated lake.

HIT THE BACKROADS:  Summer is here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell's list of California's top 10 destinations to visit.

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