California Camping: Grover Hot Springs State Park
Lower Montane Forest
Upper Montane Forest with Granite Outcrop
Upper Montane Forests
Grover Hot Springs is a 553-acre state park on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range, suitable for trailer or tent camping. The hot springs offer a naturally heated pool at between 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit. There is also a cool pool where you can swim or just cool off. The pools are not glamorous, but they are extremely soothing.
Hiking and Photography
There are plenty of hiking trails and Grover Hot springs abuts the Toiyable National Forest. The hot spring and pools are about a 10-minute walk from most campsites. There are showers at the pools, as well as coin showers in the campground. This is an excellent place to come and relax, hike, and enjoy nature. For pool information visit the Grover Hot Springs State Park Website.
Mountain ranges in general have four life zones: Lower Montane, Upper Montane, Subalpine, and Alpine. In the Sierra Nevada, the upper montane region is from 6,000 - 8,000 feet in elevation, and the lower montane region is from 3,000 - 6,000 feet. Grover Hot Springs sits at approximately 5531 feet in elevation, in the lower montane and upper montane vegetation zones. The two zones offer unique characteristics that you may notice at Grover Hot Springs.
Certainly around the park you will have views of upper montane and subalpine regions. One of the easiest signs is the types of trees that you see from one zone to the next. Lower Montane is characterized by events that include geology, biology, and natural history. The climate is vastly important and a key component in all four mountain zones. In the relations between the plants, animals and the physical geology within the region, climate is a critical factor, as animals and plants must be able to adapt to a specific range of rainfall, temperature, and the availability of water; these relationships define a habitat. Inter-relationships between organisms are quite fascinating. Understanding these relationships is vital for humans to be able to manage resources and live in a sustainable manner. In this article are some tools that you can use to look at these relationships, whether at Grover Hot Springs (one of my favorite places) or anywhere else.
Physical and Chemical Erosion
The Sierra Nevada is a south- and west-tilted block with the lower elevations in the south and west and the highest elevations in the east. The tallest peak is Mt. Whitney at 14,495 ft. The core of the mountains, and most of the outcrops you will see, are made of granite. Granite is a hard igneous rock that was once the molten core of a volcanic magma chamber. The nearest volcano is Mt. Shasta to the north, which is still active.
Weather and Rainshadows
The mountains play an important part in the hydrologic cycle. This great tilted fault block affects weather patterns by creating a rain shadow that affects how and where plants grow. The Sacramento Valley on the west side of the Sierra Nevada is a lush agricultural area, rich in moisture, while the State of Nevada on the east is a desert-like habitat. You see different climate zones as you travel west to east over the Sierra Nevada.
The average annual rainfall at Tahoe City, CA, at 6,250 feet in elevation is 34.34 inches. In comparison, The average annual precipitation at Markeeville, to the south and closer to the Nevada border, is 18.7 inches per year. The difference in rainfall is due to the rain shadow.
The Rock Structures
Because of the way that the tilted fault block is situated, there are a lot of exposed granite outcrops. Granite is a hard rock (not all rocks are hard) and it does not erode easily. This creates a problem for plants that want to grow here. Over millions of years, a thin layer of soil has been created through the natural recycling process. Lets look at how this process works.
Soil and Erosion
Exposed granite, which is solidified magma, makes a poor place to grow. The soil that accumulates may be immediately washed away by rain and snow melt. Nevertheless forests and plants grow here. Why?
The process begins with the erosion and weathering cycle, but not just the washing away of soil. The big concept here is the weathering process of granite. This is how large chunks of granite become smaller and smaller. How does that happen? It happens because of ice. Physical weathering helps to break down larger pieces of granite. The sand at the beach along the west coast is made up of eroded mountains, broken down seashells, and basalt rocks that line the ocean floor. That is the power of erosion and weathering.
Little cracks in the granite begin to fill with water. When winter comes and the temperature drops below freezing, the water freezes and expands, and the cracks in the rock becomes larger. Over time, the rock will split, and the process continues. Every crack that can hold water becomes a place of weakness for the granite. When you visit Grover Hot Springs, you will notice this process. You can see the cracks that have begun to hew these rocks into smaller pieces.
The Beginning of Soil
These cracks and crevices become important to the plant life here. Falling needles from the pine trees, bits of granite, and bark settle into these crevices and soil is made as these elements break down further. Notice the small trees that grow out of the rocks, and the small plants that have taken root in the cracks of the granite. That is the beginning of how soil creation occurs. In the valleys and meadows soil is created as nutrients and elements are washed downstream. Streams that overflow dump sediments onto the canyon floor. The wind will sometimes move soil, as it does when you see dust clouds. Once plants take hold they help to keep the soil in place. Their roots form net-like structures that help to bind the soil so that it cannot wash away.
The soil is what promotes life here. The water is what helps to keep plants and animals alive. Together these two abiotic (non-living) things allow this vast forest to grow. They allow all of the plants, animals, trees, flowers and butterflies to create a wonderful place to spend a weekend.
The Burnside Trail is an outstanding hike that puts you square in the middle of all of the geological features that we have just discussed. You can hike to the waterfall that is about 1.5 miles one way. It is a moderate hike that involves scaling some boulders and rock outcroppings. Along the way, you will climb 2,100 feet in elevation. You can continue on to Burnside Lake, which is five or so miles of hiking one direction. The photographs in this article were mostly taken on a hike to the waterfall. It was very low the year I went, but well worth the hike.
What to Bring on This Hike:
- Wear layers of clothing. Summers are hot, and there is the possibility of ticks.
- Sunscreen is a must.
- A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses work nicely too.
- Bring a lunch, snack and plenty of water. July is the hottest month at Grover Hot Springs.
- If you are going to brave the ten-mile round trip hike to Burnside Lake, bring dry socks and extra food.
- A flashlight is a good idea too.
- Wear sturdy shoes for either hike. Flip-flops will be destroyed in a matter of minutes.
- Bring band-aids; the granite is sharp and abrasive.
- Bring a bear whistle, because this is prime bear country.
- Trekking poles are a good option too.
- Bring your common sense. You are miles from help, and you are your best resource for safety.
- If you bring your dog, bring its leash.
- Bring a good attitude and spend some time enjoying what you see. A guide book is a good bet too.
Map to Grover Hot Springs
Grover Hot Springs State Park
From Sacramento, this is about a 2.5-hour drive.
Take US 50 East to Alpine County. Where US 50 meets 89, take a right turn and proceed to Markleeville. Once in Markleeville, turn right onto Hot Springs Road. Hot Springs Road dead-ends into Grover Hot Springs State Park. There are plenty of signs along the way.
Note: Markleeville is a great place to stop and stock up on stuff like the ingredients for s'mores.
Note: Remember only to burn local firewood. Transporting firewood is an easy way to transport insect pests such as wood-boring beetles.
Official page and directions: Grover Hot Springs State Park
Camping at Grover Hot Springs
The campsites are basic. There are fire pits and bear lockers in each camp. Personally, I prefer to camp near the creek. The road in the campground is paved, and most of the campsites have a paved pad on which to park your vehicle. Some have longer parking spots for trailers. There is enough space between campsites to provide a great camping experience.
There are restrooms and coin-operated showers. The visitor center is an excellent place to find field guides and icec ream. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the campground is well maintained. People have always been well behaved while I have been there.
Note: Bring sturdy shoes. There are so many awesome places to hike around that you will want to protect your feet. The hot springs are awesome. It cost an additional $8 to use the hot springs, but it is well worth it. Bring extra blankets just in case. The night temperatures can drop quickly.
Water and the Environment
The Importance of Snags
The Importance of Snags
There has been a debate raging for a while now over what to do with the burned timber from the Yosemite Rim Fire. There is plenty of heat on both sides of the argument. It may illuminate this debate to think about the natural beauty and intrinsic value that you will see as you camp and hike at Grover Hot Springs.
The Role That Snags Play
As you walk along the Burnside Trail and throughout the park, you will see dead trees. Those trees died from lightning strikes, fire, and other natural processes. Many of them remain standing where they grew, monolithic monuments to the glorious life they have had. These trees, while dead, hold valuable timber. They also hold value as habitat. As they decompose, they will become nutrients for the soil. In the meantime, they serve as homes for many of the forest's creatures. Old snags and dead trees offer outstanding habitat for nesting birds such as owls, eagles, blue jays, and many others. Trees living and dead are home to squirrels and other rodents and even honeybees. It is an impressive sight to see a nesting predatory bird such as an eagle. These creatures, great and small, add to the richness of your visit. Taking down the snags, and dead trees destroys vital habitat for species that help to keep the forest food chain in order. Owls, for instance, hunt snakes, and rodents. Larger birds of prey hunt snakes, rabbits, and rodents.
The Natural History and Ecology of This Community
There is a balance that is struck within the forest and meadows. That balance is important to the entire ecosystem that is the park and the surrounding forest. The food chain goes back to the soil and the plants that eke out a life among the granite rocks and across the meadows. If you remove the habitat that the preditors use, then the consumers such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits will overpopulate and destroy the grass and plants. If the plants are not there to hold in the soil then you have negative erosion and the forest suffers. It is important that people see the link between every element of an ecosystem and all of the rest of the elements that exist there. Even a dead tree is important in a natural setting. Even the dead trees add intrinsic value to this place, and many others too.
As you approach a dead tree listen to see what you hear. You may hear baby birds or fledglings. You may get to see nesting hawks. You may discover woodpeckers. Observe, but do not disturb. If you are still for half an hour, you may see a lot of wildlife use the dead snags. We call that posting in biology. Post in a spot for half an hour and watch and listen. The wildlife will eventually come alive around you.