Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hot Springs Double Header

Melozi Hot Springs - the abandoned wilderness paradise... (Rozell photo)

I stood there completely naked as the cascade of hot water splashed over my head and ran down my back. Several large grayling suspended in the crystalline water that was lapping at my knees effortlessly maneuvered between the cobbles lining the bottom of the creek. A lone dipper glided across the blue summer sky as it skipped from rock to rock in search of food. This is absolutely unreal I thought to myself. Does this place exist? ...or is this some fantasy that I conjured up in my mind? But I am really here...in this remote valley deep within Alaska's interior.

The hot springs double header - this trip was conceived while soaking in the steaming water of Horner Hot Springs over 7 months ago on winter solstice. Dan and I had skied from the village of Ruby to these springs that rest on the northern flank of the Yukon River. Now we were here again in the heat of the mid-summer sunshine retracing our steps - but this time by boat and foot.

On this return trip we were accompanied by my 15-year old nephew and friends Ned and Jim. The plan was to complete a full 360 degree traverse that would hit two remote geothermal springs: Horner and the mystery shrouded Melozi. This entire circuit would incorporate a 25-mile boat ride up the Yukon River, 25-miles of ridge hiking over the Kokrines Hills, and over 70-miles of packrafting the Melozi River.

Sam and his friends drop us off at the start of an overgrown trail that leads a mile back to Horner Hot Springs. Sam lives about 10 miles downriver and is building the Yukon River Lodge which should be open for business soon.

The approach to Horner Hot Springs nearly required a machete in order to bash back the thick growth of ferns and other Jurassic-like vegetation.

Jim adjusts the plumbing that feeds the small tarp-lined pool at Horner Hot Springs. Hot water seeping from the adjacent hillside is collected in a small pond above and piped into the pool.

Quaking aspen cavities (Rozell photo)

Jim climbs into the alpine tundra high above the mighty Yukon River.

Mark gazes down at an unnamed alpine lake from the crest of the Kokrines Hills. This was the first of two cirque lakes we skirted which were tucked into a dramatic amphitheater of rock that rose over 1000 feet above the waters surface.

Plotting a course across the "green" -- We had to descend from our firm carpet of tundra into a saddle riddled with thick brush, dense mosquitoes, and scraggly spruce trees. Rumor had it that a trail transected this low pass through the Kokrines en route from the Yukon River to Melozi Hot Springs. We never saw any trace of the historical path...

Becoming one with the tundra (Rozell photo)

The late evening sunlight softens the high terrain of the Kokrines. This elevated island of rugged topography along the central Yukon River was once sculpted by glaciers and lies in sharp contrast to the surrounding weathered and rounded hills. The isolated alpine ecosystem here is home to the Alaska marmot which can only be found in two other ranges in northern Alaska.

The main lodge at Melozi Hot Springs was in stellar shape. The stout roof was still intact even after more than 25 years of neglect. This was not the case with the remaining structures littered around the springs which were in varying degrees of disrepair.

The Melozi Hot Springs reservoir tub fabricated from slats of wood was too hot for soaking. It was designed to accumulate a pool of water that could be gravity fed to the various cabins.

A pipe fed an intricate network of plumbing that provided a "green" source of heat to several buildings and brought the luxury of hot running water to this isolated paradise.

Ned rotates a hand crank drill that was mounted in a dilapidated workshop. The shed was loaded with nearly every tool one could imagine. It was difficult to accept that the last residents at Melozi Hot Springs departed and left an entire lives worth of hard work to decompose in the boreal forest.

Its amazing the structure hadnt been ransacked by bears or other varmints such as squirrels or porcupines. There was still an assortment of spices on the kitchen shelves, jars partially filled with dried legumes, circa 1970's clothing hanging in the closets, file cabinets with various paperwork, and liquor bottles at the bar (empty...of course). (Rozell photo)

An old brochure describes the decadent features at Melozi Hot Springs...including the indoor swimming pool.

The indoor pool in July 2009 - collapsed and gradually being overtaken by the boreal forest and eventually erased forever.

A tattered copy of People Magazine and Cosmo resting on the table from the early 1980's shot us back to a time. The account of the passionate and later volatile love affair between Glenn Campbell and Tanya Tucker provided us with a brief flashback of pop culture from that era.

The not so grand piano rests silently under a pile of dust.

Pinups on the wall of the main Melozi lodge give a glimpse into the lives and dreams from days past.

Aug 24 1983 2:00PM +70 degrees. Beautiful, sunny, bugless day!! Light variable breeze. Melozi seems more of a natural paradise. Photographed a grizzly splashing across the river below cabin #2. Working in the garden naked - making love on a mat by the pool..then a warm swim. Grizzly running in the sparkling blue river. A rare day. (Excepts from a Melozi diary, author unknown.)

We loaded up our rafts and took to the river where the hot water free falls into the creek. We suspect this was the first packraft descent of Hot Springs Creek and maybe even the Melozi River.

Hot Springs Creek was entertaining Class I/II water with some rocks to "pinball" through and small standing waves to bob over.

Altocumulus clouds illuminated by the midnight twilight.

The gang enters the head of the Melozi River canyon. The river water was an unbelievably warm 64 degrees F (18 C)! Several hundred miles of the upper river slowly meanders across a broad interior valley and soaks up the 20+ hours of daily sunshine.

Scoping the runout of the upper rapids in the Melozi River canyon.

There are two short class III rapids in the Melozi canyon. This inhibits almost all motorized boat traffic from traveling beyond the canyon. We also heard that the local legend about the "woodsman" that haunts the forest along the Melozi also discourages visitors to this region. Thus, there is minimal sign of humans on much of the Melozi River considering its navigable size and proximity to Ruby.

We were not the only ones traveling down this river corridor.

The full circle is complete - the hot springs team back in Ruby on the way to the airport. (Rozell photo)

Plaque at Melozi Hot Springs...


Video sampler from the Hot Springs Double Header

10 comments:

Michelle said...

is that mer-men at Melozi Hot Springs!? ;-D
Fantastic Adventure Ed, take care everyone, love to Sky xxx

neddy said...

best trip of the year. Thanks, Buddy!

Jennifer said...

That was a really good post!
Jennifer

Sean6 said...

Amazing. I had no idea those two springs even existed. And Jim Brader was along on the trip! I'm jealous! Tell Jim hello for me. -Sean in Japan (Where there are a lot more hot springs, but nearly all are accessible by very nice roads).

Howxotk said...

I had actually stayed there in 1984. The piper cub in the background picked us up from Galena. Trying to remember the name of the guy. I could get it with some thought. If you want any information from that period email me. I swam in the pool, we fished for grayling. pretty cool. Ciao Howard.

HSevey@msn.com

spruceboy said...

We did a copy-cat repeat of this last week, and it was fantastic - thanks for providing the motivation for the trip, it was very fun... quite an experience! Its hard to imagine why the lodge is still abandoned after all this time, its such a neat place.

Matt said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip to Melozi. In 1981, my wife and I lived there with our infant son. Skip and Maureen hire me as the maintenance worker and my wife as the cook. I finished building the pool enclosure. I was screened in and fantastic. We heated the lodge and our greenhouse with water from the hot springs. We even had a hot flush toilet. It was paradise, but we didn't have many guests. Skip and Maureen went broke flying in supplies. In the fall of 1981, my wife, son and I hitched a ride out on a bush plane. Over the years, we lost track of Skip, Maureen, Pat Carol and Browne. Your photos brought back lots of memories, but it is sad to see the place in ruin. It was a magical place.  Melozi Matt

Matt said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip to Melozi. In 1981, my wife and I lived there with our infant son. Skip and Maureen hire me as the maintenance worker and my wife as the cook. I finished building the pool enclosure. I was screened in and fantastic. We heated the lodge and our greenhouse with water from the hot springs. We even had a hot flush toilet. It was paradise, but we didn't have many guests. Skip and Maureen went broke flying in supplies. In the fall of 1981, my wife, son and I hitched a ride out on a bush plane. Over the years, we lost track of Skip, Maureen, Pat Carol and Browne. Your photos brought back lots of memories, but it is sad to see the place in ruin. It was a magical place.  Melozi Matt

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your adventures. To me right now, this is so sad. Back in the summer of 1977, I worked for an exploration company in the Yukon River, North Slope area. One of our fuel cache sites was at the Melozi Lodge. (back then, they called it the Lodge) Our crew of 12 came in from the bush to relax in the private rooms supplied with the hot spring water...what a delight! We of course, took a dip at the wall where the hot water flowed into the river. So many memories...I have never forgotten it, the best site for our fuel, ever!! Most were in a remote airstrip with no ammenities...nothing...so that was heaven. We were looking for uranium, but we found a piece of heaven. The pool was closed at that time but the building was still intact. The main lodge was full of old relics and it was just cool. I have such fond memories...what an adventure. Now to hear no one lives there and it is falling apart hurts my soul. I always thought it was a little nugget in the rough and could have been a great fly-in fishing destination. Great river fishing and wonderful retreat after a long day fishing and seeing the sights. Its amazing how vast Alaska is and is sad to think this little piece of heaven has been reclaimed by the elements. I'm glad you were able to get to it and glad you brought back some great memories. Happy trails!! Jan

Anonymous said...

My name is Heather Hanes. My mom and dad took a trip to Melozi in 1984. it was before the place abandon and was well taken care of by Rudy and Collean Scott and their two daughters. They left that paradise after a divorce. The picture you saw was of the owners and the airplane was either Rudy's or Larry Thompson's. It broke her heart to see it in this condition but brought back fond memories of running nets across the river, blueberry picking and taking showers over the creek in an outdoor shower. thank you for sharing your adventures with us. :)