California Hot Springs is both a census-designated place (population 97 as of 2014, according to http://www.bestplaces.net/city/california/california_hot_springs) in Tulare County and a “resort” located in that small community. At the resort on Mountain Road 56, one can soak in soothing, odorless hot mineral water.
According to the history page of the resort’s website (http://www.cahotsprings.com/history.html,)
350,000 gallons of water at 125 degrees Fahrenheit, flow from the rock cliffs of California Hot Springs each day. Its characteristics of remarkable softness, very-low sodium, lack of odor, unique purity, and refreshing taste; set this spring water apart from all others.
(The questionable punctuation in the above paragraph is copied directly from the website.)
The history page traces the use of the hot springs to the “native Yokuts” who “channeled the hot spring water into hollowed-out logs,” then soaked in the water-filled log tubs.
Development of California Hot Springs started in 1882 by Henry Witt and by 1902 a large hotel was under construction. In 1920 a commercial center, swimming pool, and therapeutic center were constructed. The landmark California Hot Springs recreation hall was built in 1926 and dedicated in May of 1927.
Fire destroyed the hotel in 1932 and the commercial center in 1968. The facility was then abandoned for the next 16 years. Restoration began by Ronald and Mary Gilbert in 1983 and the facilities were reopened in 1985.
The California Hot Springs Resort offers two in-ground pools for soaking. These pools offer very hot, bubbling water, and are each big enough for four to six people to soak in at one time. The resort also pumps hot mineral water into the swimming pool. The hot mineral water is mixed with cooler water to maintain a warm temperature in the pool.
Of all the places I’ve soaked (12 in four states, both natural and developed), California Hot Springs Resort is probably my least favorite, for several reasons.
#1 For a resort, California Hot Springs is kind of shabby. In my imagination, a resort is a fancy place. However, the Google definition (https://www.google.com/search?q=resort+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8) of “resort” is
a place that is a popular destination for vacations or recreation, or which is frequented for a particular purpose[,]
which I suppose does describe California Hot Springs. In any case, the women’s locker room looks more like “junior high gym class” than “relaxing get-away.” It’s not dirty so much as old, with humidity-warped benches, showers partitioned by not-quite-big-enough curtains, and a toilet that wobbled when I sat on it. The pool area is better, but not pretty or charming.
#2 California Hot Spring Resort doesn’t open until 9am. Even at an elevation of 3,700 feet, in the summer it’s warm at 9am. By 10am, it’s very warm. By 11am, I felt like a lobster boiling in a pot and not longer wanted to soak in 100+ degree water.
California Hot Springs charges admission by the day. At $12 for a pool and spa day pass, I wanted to get more than two hours for my money.
I suppose I could have dipped into the swimming pool to cool off, although the hot water/cold water back and forth is not something I enjoy. (My dad always preached against shocking one’s system, and I guess at least one of his ideas did sink into my brain.) I could have also sat in the snack bar area or hung out in my van for a while, but I also don’t like hanging around in a wet swimsuit. (I guess I’m just picky.) Even if I’d cooled off, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the hot water again until at least a couple hours after dark, long after the resort was closed at 5pm.
What I really wanted was to soak around seven in the morning, when the air was cool, and slipping into hot water would be welcome warmth. I prefer to soak in hot springs when “steam” (actually “water vapor condensing into small water droplets which scatter the light giving them their cloud like appearance,” I just learned at https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/2eg4e2/why_does_steam_sometimes_rise_from_cold_water/) is rising from the pool.
#3 The two bubbling hot tubs are outside, next to the swimming pool, entirely public and communal. “Public and communal” means swimsuits are required. I hate swimsuits. I hate the way I look wearing even a black one-piece (although my method for wearing one has been the same for years: put it on and don’t look down.) I also hate the way the wet fabric feels when it clings to me. Yuck!
“Public and communal” tends to lead to chatty people in the pool with me. I hate it when I’m soaking, trying to relax and loose myself, and other people in the pool are babbling about inane topics.
If I’m soaking, I want to be alone, which guarantees nakedness and quiet. If I can’t be along, I’d at least like to be soaking for free on public land with other naked people who will maybe keep quiet or maybe have something interesting to say.
#4 I didn’t know how clean the tubs were. I didn’t even ask how often the tubs are drained and scrubbed or if anything is added to the water to kill germs. Some things I think I don’t really want to know, especially if I am bound and determined to soak.
The best part of the California Hot Springs Resort was the breakfast I ate at the “full service delicatessen” in the main building. It was a basic breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns, but true to the raves of a local, the cook grated fresh potatoes for the hash browns. Yum! I think the meal cost me $6. In addition to breakfast, the delicatessen serves sandwiches and ice cream.
While I wouldn’t urge anyone to visit the California Hot Springs Resort, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to soak there again, for anyone in the area who really needs to spend some time in hot mineral water, California Hot Springs will do.