Melozi Hot Springs

During a flight to Nulato in June of 2018 (Nulato to Unalakleet trip report), I noticed hints of a deep canyon along the Yukon River north of Ruby. I had always assumed that the Yukon was flat, like the Kuskokwim, where I grew up. When I got home I pulled out the maps, found Melozi Canyon, and started googling images to determine if the canyon was boatable. The first photos that appeared were from Fairbanks adventure friends, Wilderness Classic participants, Ed Plumb and Jay Cable. Reading their trip reports I discovered that they floated the canyon after hiking to an abandoned hot springs. That caught my attention! To further seal the deal, I saw my name in one of Jay’s photos. Clearly this trip was meant to be!

Jay Cable‘s photo of flour (‘mehl’ in german) at the abandoned Melozi Hot Springs resort

Sarah and I managed some classic Alaskan logistics, coordinating with college friend Ken Tape to borrow bear spray, which was delivered to Ned Rozell, who contributed history on the abandoned lodge as well as white gas, which was all picked up by Jack McClure, who met us at the airport. Alaska Love.

In Tanana we were greeted by a headwind that never really let up. We ended up stitching our Alpacka packrafts together with sticks and straps to move more efficiently against the wind. When we got home after the trip I did a set of push ups and then called Sarah over to join me. She cranked out 30 pushups and giggled at how easily they came… neither of us had ever been as good at pushups. So, at least flat water with headwind has that going for it. Our experience motivated Sarah to build more upper-body work into her Summer Strong fitness program.

Tanana, Alaska

The Yukon was much warmer than we expected, but otherwise fairly featureless. I appreciated being on the river as a way to connect to the deep history, but other than that, it was a slog. A few days down the Yukon we noticed a plume of smoke on the far shore, and grateful for a distraction. We re-routed the stitched boat to check out the smoke, and discovered a low-grade coal seam that has been burning for several years, including having started a forest fire. Too bad we didn’t have any hotdogs.

After 60 miles, we pulled off the Yukon River at Kokrine Hills Bible Camp. I had identified the camp as the best location to climb out of the Yukon and head to Hot Springs Creek, which we could then float to Melozi Hot Springs. We met Roger at the empty camp, and he let us stay in a cabin to pass a stormy night. Roger is a pilot and preacher that lives at the camp year-round, gardening, hunting, and hosting youth programs throughout the summer. Roger told us where to find a trail to get above tree line (which was exactly where I had drawn my ‘best route’ option based on google earth). We were grateful to follow flagging through the fog on a steep climb.

Morale was low. The Yukon River had been significantly harder to paddle than we expected, and now we were hiking through thick fog, behind schedule. We started discussing bailout options, but felt confident that the worst part was behind us. We could always bail back to the Yukon and float to Ruby, but we weren’t very excited about fighting more headwind.

Just when they needed to, the clouds started to break. We glimpse bare ridges in front of us, and got the sense that the clouds were close to burning off.

The change in weather quickly rejuvenated us. We cruised on excellent hiking surfaces and marveled at granite outcrops that peppered the ridge line. I told Sarah that a real photographer would slow down and set up some pictures, and she proposed we do it. I’ve never wanted to take posed photos before, but playing on the rocks was a blast and we wanted to get fun photos Sarah could use to promote her fitness programs.

This is one of our favorites, the rock dog. Note the lone caribou on the right side of the photo.

I thought it was likely that we would find signs of an old shelter at one of the rock outcroppings, but we did not. We did find an animal shelter, probably black bear, once we left the ridge and started our descent to Hot Springs Creek. Below the bear den the forest transitioned into a surreal caribou-lichen carpet.

We spent the night on a lichen mattress, inflated our boats, and started the float down Hot Springs Creek. We found an old Reindeer Herd Camp that was marked on the map, nothing but rusty scraps of metal now.

Bear den?

We could smell the hot springs before we could see it, but seeing it was more rewarding. The scalding water seeps through and over a cliff of cemented river rocks into the cold creek. Following the model of Ned, Ed, and Jay, we found a tarp at the abandoned lodge and built a tarp pool in the creek so that we could mix cold and hot water. Our slow pace on the Yukon left us with only a single night at Melozi, but we took glorious soaks at night and in the morning in our makeshift tub.

The hot springs are on BLM land, and the resort owners gave up their lease in the 1980’s due to the challenges of making a profit on such a remote location. An entertaining history of the lodge is available in a book by Michael Travis. A short history is available in Tom Moran’s article. Several of the original buildings burnt down in a forest fire recently, but the main lodge is intact, complete with furniture, drawers full of silverware, a piano, etc. It is kind of spooky. Sarah took a copy of Dune from the bookshelves.

In the morning we watched a grizzly bear meander downstream revisiting salmon carcasses. We had seen and smelled many carcasses on the float, in some sections of the river each island-boulder featured a fish skeleton.

We watched the bear during our breakfast, then made a racket hoping to drive the bear back upstream. The bear was not curious about us or the noise, and continued its way downstream. We followed an hour later, but didn’t see the bear again.

Hot Springs Creek joins the Melozitna river, which has three class II/III rapids. We ran into some bear hunters before the first rapid and were grateful for their description of the rapids. But knowing that they got a boat up through them made me confident that we would have no problem.

The bear hunters, all men, were very impressed with Sarah. They flattered her with compliments about how strong she must be, and then offered her a job… as camp cook! I wasn’t quick enough to come up with a retort. I wish I’d said, “Cook? She should be carrying all of your gear!!!”

The first (Class III) was the most enjoyable, with an easy scout/portage option. The second rapid was Class II and over too quickly, and the third was just splashy boogie water at our water levels. We camped on a gravel bar and watched a black bear upstream.

After the rapids the river slows and eventually joins the Yukon. The Yukon is half a mile wide at the mouth of the Melozitna and took about 30 minutes to cross. We found a warm welcome in Ruby, and appreciated the public shelter they’ve built to accommodate visitors. We spent a night in town and swapped stories with other boaters. One family showed us a mammoth vertebrae they found during the float, which made me really jealous. But they were preparing for another month on the water, likely with a headwind for much of it, which did not make me jealous.

This was my third trip on the Yukon in 12 months, and more than anything else, I’ve been surprised by how different it feels from the Kuskokwim. We never really did any hiking along the Kuskokwim growing up unless it was to hunt, which makes me really appreciate the excellent hiking along the Yukon. We received warm welcomes in Tanana and Ruby, and were very grateful to visit their traditional hunting and living lands.

And a huge thanks to Ed, Ned, and Jay, for their information and motivation.

30 Comments

  1. Excellent trip report Luc. I’ve been wanting to do a trip to that hot spring after reading about it a few years back. Bill R.

    1. It is worth doing! Ed, Ned, and Jay all visited by starting and ending in Ruby, hiring a boat to bring them up river to where they started hiking. Their trip was a little more straightforward.

      We flew to Tanana and floated 60 miles on the Yukon before hiking over the Hot Springs Creek.

  2. Push-ups, shmush-ups. What river do I need to run to be able to do one legged, toe-grab, squats?

  3. Very entertaining reading, and I admire you for what you have accomplished. Len Veerhusen ran the camp until his death in 1976. His wife, Pat, was my first cousin. At 86, I am slowed quite a bit, but I would like to try the trip. Probably common sense will prevail. Does anyone out there know more about Pat’s marriage to Len?

      1. Thanks, Luc…I am just trying to fill in some gaps in the family history for the next generations. I appreciate your getting back to me.

    1. Best I recall, they met in Cold Bay Alaska and were married in Galena. Alaska. I bought in with Pat and Len in 1974 and worked the lodge seasonally until the summer of 1980. Wonderful years.

      1. Thanks, Tommy…I wonder if Galena could tell us if they have anything in their vital records. I am going to follow up. It is strange, but there is no record of Pat’s death in Seattle, that I can find.

  4. Great story and photos as always, Luc. I’m good friends with one of the former teachers in Ruby (now a gold miner) and he always talked about getting up there. Did you check out Horner Hot Spring at all before crossing the Yukon?

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed that you’ve been stitching together a “route” across Alaska’s Interior. A piece to connect Ruby to Nulato that is certain to be unconventional could combine a continued float of the Yukon with a traverse of the Kaiyuh Mountains south of Galena. The lake and slough portages through the flats getting back to the Yukon might max out the masochism meter, but at least you could say you did it.

    P.S. Congratulations on the wedding!

    1. We came from the north, so we didn’t see Horner. The Fairbanks folks had gone up via Horner, and that sounds like a great option.

      I do want to connect lines on the map, but not if it means a bunch of flat water. Ruby to Nulato looks challenging to make interesting… maybe it could be wind surfed! I hadn’t noticed the Kaiyuh mtns… they don’t quite connect the dots.

      I think higher priority for me would be the traditional Kuskokwim – Yukon portage (on skates?), and maybe a trip from McGrath to Ruby (tough travel). Sarah is less interested in those destinations than I am… understandably.

  5. My wife and I with our three month old son lived and work at Melozi in the early 1980s. She was the lodge cook and I was the maintenance man. We ran hot spring water in pipes under the main lodge for heat, lined and screened in the pool. We even had a hot flush toilet, piano, and swing couch in front of the fireplace in the main lodge. I never could get the Cat dozer running, Melozi was paridise. The only problem was that we had very few guests. Eventually, the owners went broke and my wife, son, and I had to hitch a ride out on a bush plane. I’d like to go back sometime.

    1. Hello, Matt! I am curious if you can add anything to the stories of Melozi Hot Springs from the 1970’s. Patricia Jane Sewall Veerhusen was my first cousin, and I would like to know more about her life in Alaska. I have Travis’ book, Melozi, and it was sure fun and enlightening for me. Thanks!
      Bob Sewall

    2. I’m wondering who the owners were in the 80s? My Aunt Patricia and her husband,Len Veerhusen started it up in the sixties, is my understanding.
      Michael Travis wrote about his experience working there for them as a teenager, quite a saga.
      Would love further information.
      Nancy Gould

      1. Hi Nancy; I bought in with Pat and Len in the fall of 1974, we worked the lodge together through, 1977, Len passed away in 1976 and Pat subsequently married one of Lens’s relatives, with whom they were staying with in Seattle while Len was in the VA hospital there. Lens , relative, and Pat married, and then Pat passed away, thus Orin and myself were the owners in the 80′ Orin who worked for Boeing in Seattle had really no interest in the lodge and sold his shares (we incorporated in 1976, Melozi Hot Springs Corp.) to some folks that weren’t really prepared to operate the lodge, neither of them could fly so they kinda didn’t make it, and sold their shares to Scott and Coleen ??. Myself, I went to work for the FAA in the spring of 1980 and never really got back into working the lodge. Scott and Coleen have since separated and the lodge has reverted back to the BLM with no current leaseholder. The BLM raised the annual lease to coincide with lease rates they were getting from the oil companies for the Trans-Alaska pipeline, so needless to say they in brilliant government mismanagement the lodge now sits empty.
        I guess that is as Paul Harvey would say, “The Rest of the Story”

        1. Just remember, the last partners in the hot springs, It was Rudy and Coleen Scott. I believe they are both still in Alaska, Rudy was working with the FAA last I knew and Coleen was in the Plamer area.

    3. Hi Matt- Thanks for adding your history to this story. Melozi is a magical place, and also understandably hard to access.

      The building with maintenance supplies, tools, burned in the wildfire. I didn’t see any big machinery, but it might have been in the trees.

      The piano and swing couch are still in the lodge, still in pretty good shape. The piano could use a tune 😉

      1. I can imagine the piano did need a tune-up. I last tuned it in the summer of 1977, I borrowed a tuning wrench or whatever ya call it from my Uncle who lived in Kansas, he taught me the basics and I did get it tuned fairly well. (not quitting my day job to become a piano tuner)

  6. I was a physician working for the Indian Health Service at the Tanana Hospital (since closed) from 1972-74. My wife and I, with two others, hiked into the Melozi Hot Springs sometime during the summer of 1973. We started at the long-since abandoned settlement of Kokrines on the Yukon (only the tumbled-down log trading post remained then) and did an as-the-crow flies route directly to the hot springs. Lots of bear signs and smells on the hike but we were blessed with a small group of caribou passing right by our camp the one night we spent getting there. My wife remembers Len and Pat and another woman–a sister, she thinks. My memories are more hazy, but we both remember the look of surprise on their faces when the four of us appeared from the forest. The lodge was not up and running for guests then–still in construction phase, but we were graciously accommodated and we enjoyed a memorable warm soak and a meal before heading out the next day. Neither my wife nor I remember the 16 year old Michael Travis but I believe that was the summer he would have been there–perhaps just our fading memories.
    So happy and appreciative to read about your trip over this old familiar territory. The photos were great. Though we never floated the Melozi, one of our memorable trips was floating the Tozitna, the next major tributary upstream into the Yukon from the north, in our two-man Klepper kayak–a gentle float through beautiful country with bear and wolf sightings and no white water.
    The next step for me is reading the Michael Travis book.

    1. Thanks for your comment about Melozi. Pat was my 1st cousin. Always nice to hear or see her name so many years after her passing.

  7. Hi there!
    Very nice reading all your posts. We stayed out there at Melozi hotsprings in summer 2003 as a group of 12 friends from Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands. We were the ones leaving the flour behind. Still one of the most amazing trip I remember. We stayed there for two weeks, before heading back to Ruby.

    1. Wow! Thanks for solving the mystery of the mehl! I’m glad you had such a good trip out there, it is an amazing place.

      1. Hey all,
        Great post! I love seeing the history. I am interested in the condition of the airstrip. I am familiar with Kokrine Hills and we could land there and hike in, but I am wondering if the airstrip at the hot springs is still in decent shape and not overgrown. Landing there would save a couple days with the kids hiking. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Lane

        1. Hi Lane-

          Sorry, I don’t have a sense for where you could land near the Hot Springs. I would reach out to folks in Ruby, maybe starting with the village / tribal council. Galena might be more likely to have pilots that are familiar with the strip.

  8. My good wife just picked up Luc’s new pack rafting book and I was thumbing through it and saw the pictures of Melozi Hot Springs. A few internet clicks and I ended up at this blog post. I was looking for info about the landing strip but realized I could contribute to this thread…you see I’ve been to the hot springs too. It was in 2001 and I was part of an exploration crew based out of the bible camp. We had a helicopter and one evening we choppered over to the springs. I recall the date well as it was just after 9/11 (yes that 9/11).
    On Supercub.org there is a thread on the airstrip condition, which around 2010 was described as poor, so now who knows for wheel equipped planes in the summer time. I have seen more recent videos of ski-equipped cubs there in winter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YYdYCcE0Wc) go to the 23 minute mark.
    I’m planning a summer trip with one of my daughters to go after Sheefish on the Kobuk, check out the sand dunes and boy oh boy would it be nice to be able to land at Melozi on the way back for a soak.

    1. Someone in Ruby knows the condition of that strip … I just don’t know how you would find them. It would be a great place to spend a night. Very novel.

      I’ll be jealous of your trip to the sand dunes. I’d like to visit them … but the terrain getting to or from there under my own power isn’t very motivating.

  9. No matter how many times I see this blog, I am thrilled by the virtual experience. Thanks, Luc, and everyone for keeping this going.

  10. Van – try contacting Roger Huntington in Galena – rogerhuntington@gmail.com (907) 656-2226 old contact info) he can put you onto people likely to know the condition of the strip at the Melozi Hot Springs – tell him Don Martin suggested you contact him.

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