El Dorado Hot Spring in Tonopah

A woman relaxing in a hot spring.
••• Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

During our visits to Phoenix, we find pleasure in all of the traditional activities most visitors enjoy, but we also found a very nice and rather unexpected surprise. It is a rustic jewel in the desert known as El Dorado Hot Spring.

The Entrance to El Dorado Hot Spring

El Dorado Hot Spring is one-tenth of a mile west of 411th Avenue on Indian School Road. When we arrived at the entrance to El Dorado Hot Spring we noticed a humble-looking wood sign announcing "Hot Spring." A large jack pump, an ancient 1924 well rig drawn by a 1948 Ford truck with the 4 digit Texas phone number still legible, and a 1963 Thunderbird adorn the parking lot.

After making our way inside past various historic relics and artifacts, we were greeted by the staff with the warmth and friendliness.

Sunset Pool at El Dorado Hot Spring

For our first visit, we reserved the "Sunset Pool," so named because it is a great place to soak away the tensions of the day and experience a breathtaking Arizona sunset. We were able to drive our car within a short distance of the Sunset Pool surrounded by a hedge of living bamboo. This gives this area a natural rustic beauty and secluded privacy.

This spa is open to the west, giving you an unobstructed view of the Arizona desert and the evening sunset. The view of Saddle Mountain is inspiring. Even though this is open desert, it's still a private environment. Wooden fencing to the east and 25-foot living bamboo to the north provide all the privacy you need. Just soak in the warm mineral waters as you enjoy the sunset with someone you love -- au natural or not.

Either way, you'll be tucked away in a completely private area. The Sunset Pool is actually a stone spa made of local volcanic stone, as well as stones from a nearby abandoned gold mine. The spa is continuously fed by mineral spring water which flows in through a large amethyst geode on one side, then out the other side through a stone chute; from there it irrigates the bamboo.

According to the owners of El Dorado Hot Spring, "The water has a natural pH of 8.3, so it acts like a conditioner on one's hair and skin. Trace amounts of lithium in the water produce a feeling of relaxed well-being after a soak."

The sound of the flowing water into the spa adds an additional element of relaxation to the experience. You can adjust for the perfect temperature by controlling the amount of hot water flowing into the spa. There is a small cooler pool shaded by a palm tree and a hand-held mineral water shower if you want to rinse off. They provide a large table to get your food and other belongings off the ground. There are also lounges, chairs, and another smaller table with a small shade tree when you can relax when not soaking in the spa. This private soaking area has a sliding shade screen over the pool, so hot summer day soaking is comfortable.

This spa area has a small solar powered lamp, but we would suggest bringing a flashlight along if you intend on being there after sunset. It is surprising how dark it can get in the desert on a moonless night. When the moon is full, however, it's very bright and is inspiring to view while soaking in the Sunset Pool.

The Corral at El Dorado Hot Spring

Our second visit to El Dorado Hot Spring brought us to the "Corral Pool." This is also a private soaking area, but much different from the Sunset Pool.

This area, while retaining the rustic atmosphere of El Dorado Hot Spring, has a little touch of modern living.

The soaking pool in this area is very large. The mineral water cascades into the pool out of an old hand well pump, then down a rock waterfall. It makes for a very pleasant babbling brook effect. This pool is equipped with a retractable sunshade and an adjustable misting system. There is also a very nice stand-up mineral water shower. Visiting on hot days should be no problem in the Corral given the cooling effects of these conveniences.

The Corral also has a smaller cool soaking area. We didn't soak in the cool pool. Even though the high temperature of the day was near 100 degrees, we arrived near dusk and were able to adjust the large pool to a comfortable temperature.

Two sturdy cots and two chairs with a sunshade offer another place to relax when leaving the soaking pool for a time.

The Corral area is enclosed with a wood fence for perfect privacy. There is a small rope light around the perimeter of the fencing that gives you a unique lighting effect and provides the ideal amount of light to find your way around after dark that can be switched off for an impressive view of the stars.

If you are from the city as we are, then you'll be amazed at the stars you can see while relaxing at the soaking pools at El Dorado Hot Spring. Laying back and enjoying the starlit night away from the lights of the city makes this a truly indescribable experience.

Other Private Soaking Areas at El Dorado Hot Spring

Though we've only experienced two most popular areas, Sunset and Corral, there are three other private soaking areas at El Dorado Hot Spring:

Desert Garden: The garden has sun, summer shade, and lounge chairs. It's very close to the Motel California cabin, a mineral water shower, and the main toilet area. It has two soaking tanks. The water temperature in each can be adjusted to your preference. Naturally, heated spring water flows into one of them out of an old farm water dispenser. Excellent star gazing at night.

Lily Pond: Located beside a small pond filled with lily pads and thousands of tropical fish, Lily Pond soaking area has a hot tank and a small cool tank. It's under the shade of an ancient ironwood tree (the only tree that was on the property when El Dorado Hot Spring began) and is surrounded by palms, bamboo, bougainvilleas, and tall grasses.

Tonopah Joe's Restaurant & Lounge

We couldn't resist a dinner at "Tonopah Joe's," located just up the road from El Dorado Hot Spring. Actually, our visit began there. It was like stepping back in time. It could have been a scene out of "Petticoat Junction." We could envision Sam Drucker's General Store around the corner and could imagine seeing the Shady Rest Hotel down the road. Tonopah Joe's is a total country experience with friendly down-home service you'd expect from such a place. Our meal for the evening was (what else?) fried chicken. After all, what could be more appropriate at a country restaurant? The chicken itself was almost worth the drive out. It was large, juicy, and delicious. The sides were all fresh and homemade, better than mother used to make.

Final Thoughts

Chances are that you've visited or will visit many of the popular tourist attractions in and around Phoenix. If you enjoy a good meal, shopping, museums, outdoor activities, or simply the scenic beauty of the desert and mountains, then you'll find Phoenix and surrounding areas an oasis of fun and relaxation. If you are seeking a relaxing detour from the bustle of most vacations and a chance to see a piece of the natural Arizona desert up close, then a visit to El Dorado Hot Spring should be included in your plans.

Be forewarned - natural hot mineral water can be addictive! You'll never again visit the Phoenix area without a stop at El Dorado Hot Spring to soak your cares away. As they say in their ad, "El Dorado Hot Spring, A Million Miles From Monday…" This is no hype. When you're out relaxing in the warm mineral water and enjoying the serenity of the desert, that's exactly how you feel.

This article based upon a visit in 2005. Offerings are subject to change without notice.