In one of the most seismically active areas on earth, water boils and bubbles in pools, and cascades into Hot Creek in the eastern Sierra. Whitish minerals line some pools, looking as cool and blue as a backyard oasis. Steam hovers and floats. Geysers explode, some as high as 6 feet.
Meandering through an 8-mile gorge in Long Valley Caldera, Hot Creek teams with trout and tiny fish that hide under abundant algae colored vibrant green, red, yellow, brown. Long tendrils of emerald grasses wave in currents. A primordial palette of life.
Long Valley Caldera is part of the Mono-Inyo volcanic chain, a landscape of craters that extends north to Mono Lake. Tired skiers used to enjoy the geothermal waters about 15 minutes east of Mammoth Mountain resort. The creek had a reputation as a go-to natural spa in the 1970s. But geology of the area began to change. By 2006, the natural hot springs could heat up from 86 degrees to 199 degrees in seconds. People were burned, and the area was closed for bathing.
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A scientist who works with the Volcanic Hazard Program says that activity is now more vigorous in Hot Creek Gorge. The bubbling pools, geysers, steam and colorful algae evoke the image of an immense caldron boiling a brew of scary and mysterious elements.