Not sure why I didn’t do this ride sooner.  Although I’ve recently ridden around Mono Lake on my fat bike,  I never really considered taking it to the big island in the middle.
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About to launch.
Then, as often is the case, a couple seemingly random happenings set the wheels in motion.  I was recently reading about the hot springs on Paoha Island in the local guidebook, thinking that would be interesting to check out.  Maybe a day or two later, my good friend Jeremy, who I did Drop In with, hit me up about Paoha Island.  He was rapping with another homie of ours, Tim, about paddling out there and soaking in the hot springs.  Hmmm.  Sounds like fun.  I started to do some more research, and became enthralled with the idea.  After talking with Jeremy some more, we decided it would be good for me to canoe out there on a scout trip – to see if I could even find these “hot springs.”  Fat biking started creeping into the back of my head.  There’s gotta be some beaches, right?  I brought up the idea to another friend, Dan McConnell, who has a canoe.  Dan had been around the island before on a kodiak boat, and he confirmed my hopes- I might be able to ride some of the terrain on my fat bike.  He had me at might.
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Strava map from route.
The plan was hatched.  With the warm winter we’re having, there’s no time like the present.  Actually, as I write this, it’s 25 degrees and snowing (FINALLY!).  But a couple days ago, when we did the mission, it was 60 and sunny- and more importantly, no winds.  
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My co-pilot, Dan.
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I took a selfie.
What is Paoha Island? Paoha is a Paiute Indian word.  This is what they called the spirits they believed to exist in the hot springs on the island.  The volcanic origin of the island gave rise to many vents, hot springs, fumaroles and mudpots on the surface.  Clay and marl with a salty layer, are responsible for the island’s overall pale surface.  Both Paoha and Negit (the smaller “black island” next to Paoha)  were built by recent eruptions of lava and cinder, and by uplift of the shallow lake bottom caused by the rise of magma beneath the lake. The lava flows on the north flank of Paoha Island are only about 250 years old.  Methane gas percolates up through the lake floor, creating bubbles on the surface. The water’s alkali content (Mono Lake is twice as salty as ocean water) gives it a slimy, soapy texture.  Volcanic ash is scattered all around the island as well as basalt, pumice stones, and obsidian.
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Arriving on the island. Great vantage point of Negit Island and Black Point behind it.
Most of the north side of the island has this terrain. Perfect. For. Fatties.
Most of the north side of the island has this terrain. Perfect. For. Fatties.
No, that’s not snow. That’s Paoha, baby.
No, that’s not snow. That’s Paoha, baby.
The Mission: Our goal was simple.  Park at Black Point.  Portage the canoe and bike 0.4 miles from the parking area to the shoreline (which I scouted ahead of time).  *Note – no bikes are allowed between the parking lot and the shoreline, so I had to carry my bike.  Once at the shoreline, throw the bike in the canoe, and paddle approximately 2.1 miles out to the island.  Once on the island, ride around it and look for hot springs.  Simple, right?  If you’re planning on heading out to Paoha, leave early in the morning, and make sure it’s not windy.  Mono Lake is notorious for heavy winds, especially in the afternoon.  A few people have even died when they capsized.  Check the weather, and be prepared for anything – including the potential of being stranded on the island overnight.  *Another note – don’t go to the islands or within a mile of the islands between April 1st and August 1st.  It’s off limits while the gulls are migrating.  That being said, we had a glassy, serene lake to paddle on in both directions.
Some interesting clay terrain.
Some interesting clay terrain.
A Fat Biking First Can’t say for sure, and don’t really care (I’d love to compare notes with someone else’s account, if there is one)- but pretty sure my trusty Husker Du’s were the first bike tires to leave tracks on Paoha Island.  I can tell you this – a traditional mountain bike would be no fun at all on this terrain.  Right away, I knew the fat bike was perfect for what Paoha had to offer – I waved to Dan, and said see ya in a bit.  I was gone!!  Sure, a good portion of the island is too rugged for any type of bike, but much of the island is prime for fatties – mushy, sandy, muddy, beach-like terrain abound.  Nothing too terribly soft, it was all nice and floaty.  I was expecting this near the shores, but surprised at how much was rideable inland as well.
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One of the muddy sections of the island where the fresh water springs were mixing with lake water. Somehow, my bike still rode over most of this terrain, even though it added on 20 lbs. of muck. I completely disassembled and overhauled my bike when I got home. Good as new.
In my research, I found out that in the 1930’s, when the lake level was higher, a geyser and hot springs prompted a local entrepreneur to build a small resort on the south side, catering to people with tuberculosis.  I knew that ruins of this operation still existed and I  even spotted them from Google Earth.  I saw that fresh water springs still flow in that area (where I took the above photo), creating an environment that is home to several deer, whose ancestors apparently swam out to the island.  When I saw the ruins, I assumed there would be some remnants of an access corridor.  No such luck.  I had to carry my bike about 100 yards through tall sage and brush, which slashed up my body.  But I wanted to get up close and personal with the ruins.  I figured that if this is where they built the resort, there must be some hot springs and a fresh water spring close by.  Sure enough, when I got there, the smell of methane overwhelmed me.  Definitely geothermal activity going on here.  Then, I could faintly here the sound a running stream.  Yup, just a few feet from the main building and rusted tubs, there was a fresh water spring, and the sound of birds chirping.  Unfortunately, the brush was so thick, I could barely see the water source.  I also found deer droppings and tracks, but never saw a deer.  Oh well.  I went inside the ruins and felt like I was one of the “The Others” from the tv show Lost.  A couple rusted out beds, and plumbing was still evident.  Amazing views out to the lake.  I wish I could’ve seen this place in its prime. I climbed up high to try and spy an area to “soak” in the hot springs – but to no avail.
I scarred my body and bike for this picture. Was it worth it? Fo sho.
I scarred my body and bike for this picture. Was it worth it? Fo sho.
The view from inside the old resort dwelling.
The view from inside the old resort dwelling.
Ruins. Spooky.
Ruins. Spooky.
Other interesting stuff: I wound up making an entire loop of the island.  I had to hike my bike through some gnarly volcanic rock sections, but 2/3’s of it was rideable.  In my travels, I found some more cool stuff.  An old scaffolding still exists where a “fake” volcano was built for the 1953 movie, Fair Wind to Java.  I also read that the bird researchers who come to the island every summer use this for shelter.  Read here. I also rode by an old homestead.  Apparently, the settler abandoned it, leaving behind a herd of goats that remained on the island for many years.  Most of the fencing around the area is still intact.
Ruins. Spooky.
Ruins. Spooky.
I also rode across a gorgeous beach on the east side that had a modern picnic table set up.  Wasn’t expecting to see that.  Besides seeing one butterfly, numerous birds, and the deer tracks – this island feels desolate and lifeless – but also peaceful, mysterious, and inviting.  The whole time I was touring around, it felt very “moon-like” to me… or at least what I’d imagine the moon to be like if I were to ride my fat bike on it 🙂
Tufa time.
Tufa time.
Salty tires. Volcanic rock.
Salty tires. Volcanic rock.
About to drop in on a sick ridgeline descent as I make my way to the crater lake ahead. Yahoo!!
About to drop in on a sick ridgeline descent as I make my way to the crater lake ahead. Yahoo!!
The canoe ride back to shore was special.  With all the thoughts and fresh images and memories still fresh in our minds, Dan and I were giddy and the calm lake was so soothing.  Paoha,  thanks for having us.  We will return soon.  Even though I never found a “soakable hot spring”, the adventure was a success.
Dry land. Returning from the island.
Dry land. Returning from the island.
No trip is complete without good beer.
A June Lake Brewing Black IPA and Kailua Pig Burrito from Ohanas was the perfect way to cap the day!
A June Lake Brewing Black IPA and Kailua Pig Burrito from Ohanas was the perfect way to cap the day!
I used the following resources for the trip and this blog:  

One Comment

  1. Great article. Since I bought my fat bike (a 2014 Salsa Mukluk w/ Nate Tires and Rolling Darryl Rims), I have explored some non-mountain bike, out of the way places here in Kansas (not a place many people think of when envisioning a fat bike excursion, I know). In particular, Wilson Lake, in Russell County, Kansas, just off Interstate 70, is a very “un-Kansas like” place of Dakota Sandstone, and Niobrara Chalk formations that crop out into weirdly shaped structures not generally regarded as typical Kansas topography. My son and I did some recon riding along the northern shoreline last winter, and saw mountain bike tire tracks at first (and we were hoping to be the first-ever to ride out there), but, those soon stopped as the crumbly, gravelly, and down right rockier sections became unavoidable! The Mukluks just kept on going, and going! We went a heck of ways before the weather turned to sleet, and then light snow. (This was back in early December.) I can’t say we are the very first to ride a bike along those stretches of shoreline, but, probably not many have! We’ve had a long-lasting drought in the western part of Kansas, and the lakes level is at historic lows. Bad for the need of water, but great if riding a fat bike! With having a fat bike, I now look at Google Map views of my state with an expanded ability to go places virtually no other bike owner would wish to go! But, that kind of suits me. I’m not a misanthrope, but on bikes like these, you can get to some pretty out of the way spots; and you can feel quite isolated–a hard thing to do generally! I related a lot to your post. Thanks again! GO FAT BIKES!

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