Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gandy Warm Springs, Millard County, Utah

You see it as you drive north from Highway 6 and 50 near the Utah/Nevada stateline, a pointed mountain isolated from the mountains around it. This special mountain, called Spring Mountain or Gandy Mountain, harbors a fantastic cave, Crystal Ball Cave, as well as warm springs.

On this hot summer day, after a visit to the Devil's Gate slot canyon, we took refuge in Gandy Warm Springs. We came prepared with lawn chairs, life jackets, goggles, and float tubes.

The water, a tepid 80 degrees Fahrenheit (with the name Warm Springs, you always think the water should be warmer!), cascades into the pool as well as flows out of a small cave tucked under some ferns. Average flow is 9,000 gallons per minute.

Here is Desert Boy exploring the cave entrance.

Water drips constantly at the entrance, providing a unique habitat out in the desert.

The cave, Beware Cave, is not large and requires dipping your head almost underwater to get to a chamber with a higher ceiling.

It's not to be taken lightly, as a man died here in 2003, leaving behind a grieving wife and small children. If you do go, follow safe caving rules: go with other people, wear proper equipment, let someone know where you're going. The proper equipment is especially important. The gear I choose to wear in this cave: helmet, multiple lights, and goggles. The cave follows a narrow corridor back to a small room (about 10 ft wide by 15 ft long) that loops around a rock formation in the middle. You can feel the water entering the cave from the back side, and from what I've been able to find, some SCUBA divers went back into it and found that it got smaller and smaller, with no air chamber beyond. Throughout the cave it's very easy to bump your head, and the current pushes you strongly. There is some flowstone in the cave, but not too much else that's particularly scenic. In short, you're not missing much if you skip this cave. The most scenic part is right at the entrance, looking out at the rest of the spring from under the ferns.

Out in the daylight, there's plenty of fun to be had. With goggles or a mask, you can check out the native speckled dace that live in the spring. These two-inch long fish swim around the edges of the spring. Desert Girl also enjoyed picking up the non-native Melanoides shell. They are a mollusk commonly found in aquariums, and unfortunately someone dumped their aquarium into the Warm Spring, and now the non-native mollusk is taking over the habitat. That's particularly bad because Gandy Warm Springs is home to a tiny springsnail, Pyrgulopsis saxatilis, found nowhere else in the entire world. (To learn more, check out chapter 11 in my book Great Basin National Park: A Guidebook to the Park and Surrounding Area.) It's also really cool to look at the base of the waterfall through goggles.

Something else that's spectacular about Gandy Warm Springs is the diversity of dragonflies and damselflies. Here are a few that we saw:

Water is always precious in the desert, but Gandy Warm Springs provides an especially fun diversion. For directions to Gandy Warm Springs, check out the Utah GeoSight bulletin. If you go, please pick up any trash and be safe!

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