Grover Hot Springs pulls Markleeville out of obscurity

"Where do you live?" one is asked. "Markleeville," one replies. A faraway look appears in the eyes of the interrogator then suddenly the light dawns, "Oh yes! The hot springs." Grover Hot Springs rescues Markleeville from obscurity.

Grover Hot Springs is a significant place in our family. In the late '60s my husband John and I were arrested there for skinny dipping. In those days, when there was only the hot pool, the area was monitored only sporadically and we were taken by surprise. The employee was driving us into town in a park pickup to introduce us to the sheriff when my husband managed to talk him out of it.

In 1989 John died at the pool, one of his favorite places. Six weeks later our daughter Daisy was born in the employee house at the park entrance, with Paula Pennington, our friend, ranger and occupant of the house and two midwives in attendance.

Hot springs usually occur where molten rock exists at relatively shallow depths. Water from melted snow seeps into the earth's crust where it meets molten rock thousands of feet below the surface. There it absorbs minerals from gases released by the liquid rock. When the water is heated, it bubbles back to the surface often along an earthquake fault, as at Grover's, dissolving more minerals along the way. The mineral composition of the thermal water depends on the rock it passes through. At Grover Hot Springs the mineral content is 14.4 grams per gallon. The water contains traces of about 50 minerals but mostly sodium carbonate, sulfate and chloride. The springs have very little sulfur content so they do not exude the rotten egg smell often associated with hot springs.

The healing waters emerge from six springs at 140 degrees and are channeled to the pool where the temperature is cooled down to 102-104 degrees.

It is assumed that for centuries the Washoe visited the springs in the warm weather. They may have used the water for such activities as cooking, bathing and curing hides.

Some sources maintain that the first white men to see the hot springs were the members of the Fremont-Carson expedition, who camped there in a blizzard on Feb. 2, 1844. The following day Fremont wrote in his journal that they camped under the largest incense cedars he had ever seen which were near some springs, though it does not say hot springs. Supposedly John C. Fremont carved his name on one of the incense cedars. In 1915 the tree was cut down, badly damaged by fire from the burning of an adjacent house.

Ten years later, John Hawkins, a farmer from Vermont who lived in Woodfords, homesteaded Hot Springs Valley. He had a ranch house built where the parking lot is today. He also had a hole dug 8 feet deep and 12 feet in diameter to catch the hot water for bathing.

In 1866 Hawkins leased the valley to C.H. Kilgore who ran a dairy business with a Dan Hawkins. In 1873 loggers, who had for years been cutting down the trees of Alpine county and floating them down the Carson River to the Nevada mines, logged the hillsides of Hot Springs Valley. A local editor of the time reports: "The blight is rapidly devouring this fairest spot within or county, rendering desolate the tract that left alone or improved upon, would in a few years have been one of the favorite summer resorts of the coast."

In 1874 Alvin Merrill Grover went into partnership with Hawkins. He built a bathhouse and enclosed the pool, now 4 feet deep and 40 feet in diameter, within a fence, constructed of lumber salvaged from Silver Mountain where the mining had declined.

The property stayed in the Grover family until 1908 when Mrs. H.A. Grover sold it to Joseph Scossa who built a cabin to the west of the pool in 1921. Scossa deeded the property to Charles Scossa who occupied the cabin in the summer months until the valley became a state park in 1959.

In May, our new supervising ranger Jean Sisson, arrived at the park with Dino, a retired police dog who was her work companion at Folsom State Park where she worked for the previous nine years. The most enjoyable part of Jean's job is interacting with the visitors, helping to make their stay more pleasant. Educational outreach is a high priority with Jean; she believes that teaching is most effective when the teachers are excited about what they are teaching and encourages the staff to develop programs on topics that interest them. During our conversation I learned that the last Grover born in Markleeville died this year. The family held a memorial service for her in Hot Spring's Meadow.

Thanks to Dick Edwards, now retired Alpine County Museum director, for the photographs and information, and to Jean Sisson.


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