"Oats were great...until feedbag taken away. Felt horses no longer welcome. Made to wear a blanket on a 90 degree days? Neigh, I say!"
-- Gallumpher, Globetrotter Quarterly
All Things Stewart Mineral Springs
~ Independent tribute & watchdog site since 2011 ~
Stewart Mineral Springs Review Rants & Raves
Trying to Make Sense of
Dizzying Disparity in
Travel Site Reviews
(Scroll down 3/5 for pushback on late 2016
nudity ban; late 2017 sweat lodge removal reactions on home page)
"Something old world and mysterious lurks about here, setting the imagination adrift..."
-- Jill B, San Luis Obispo, CA Yelp review
"...this place is a blessed piece of Mother Earth."
-- Luizasso - Instagram
"It's a shame what has happened
to the once-wonderful establishment"
-- Michael B., Santa Fe, N.M., Yelp review
"A long-standing, respected and beloved space destroyed."
-- Laurie L., Middletown, CA, Yelp review
"I am deeply saddened... I will not be back... I pray for the land and the new owners."
-- Carla C., Weed, CA Yelp review
"There are years of magical energy, prayers and love that have been steeped into this place; now it feels like it is being erased."
-- Michele Feasby, Instagram
"The current owners and management have sucked the beauty, joy, innocence and purity from this sacred place... changed the very fiber and culture of the space we have all loved for decades." -- Anu Honey, Nevada City, CA Yelp review
"I love...the shift in energy that the new owners have brought..." -- Beth W., Mt. Shasta, CA Yelp review
"I have had many healing moments at this hot springs but will likely not be returning due to the changes with new ownership ..."
-- Sarah B., Ashland, OR, Yelp review
"...WHO are they catering to? The old management was bad enough, the new management sounds even WORSE..."
-- Zp Zap, Google review
"It's sacred land and you really feel that as soon as you arrive."
-- Caroline H., Ojai, CA Yelp review
"...the best we can hope for is the new owners fail in their attempt to pimp this place for the big money..."
-- Todd C., Mt.Shasta, CA
Note: if on desktop and lines are weirdly spaced out, you've accessed mobile-device version. For desktop and laptop format, click here to reach home page, then click Rants & Raves on side menu
by Stu Ward
Volunteer Stewart Springs assistant to manager Mary H. 1999-2002; work-trade cold-plunge creator/maintainer 1999-2014. Withdrew support December 2017
Two Intros - first, pre-new-owner times; second, post-new-owner & pandemic meltdown
Part I - rustic nature - former friendly staff - soak limits - water quality - bohemian flavor - laid-back or not?
Part 2 - hours - signs - creek music - body freedom
Part 3 (click) - online review headlines - more recent reviews - grounds restaurant - classic reviews Part 4 (click) - dire grumblings on management - big-picture overview - calling new stewardship
Analysis freak at heart, started this page in 2013 to try making sense of polarized online travel reviews of Stewart Springs posted over the years.
Soon branched to address frequent visitor concerns and page grew like Topsy (whoever Topsy is). Then added SMS Facebook reactions to 11-1-16 clothing-optional ban. Then got so long after sweat lodge furor, split into two pages.
Bouncing off select thumbs-up and -down excerpts are in-depth takes -- some speculative, others well-informed -- rambling asides on such things as soak limits, restaurant, open hours, clothing-optional, and management.
It attempts, finally, to demystify place some by offering a Big Picture metaphysical overview.
Revised September 2020
Originally posted 2018
Intro to intro
If not a die-hard fan or not too concerned about grave peril facing Springs -- happening long before state-mandated bathhouse closure over virus and more recent ownership announcement to supposedly keep it closed -- you might want to scroll past long introductory rant.
Then again, maybe you won't. Your call.
If wanting to just scope hundreds of often-noteworthy, excerpted online Springs reviews posted over the decades, interspersed with former deep-insider comment, scroll down about 2/5.
Is there hope
or are we screwed?
Unimaginable disaster has befallen the once-magical, culturally-diverse, fitfully open-minded healing spa refuge known as Stewart Mineral Springs.
Anyone the least bit bohemian who visited since November 2017 when clothing-optional policy of 17 years was scrapped, or especially since sea change in December 2017 with essential kicking out 45-year sacred sweat lodge, is all too aware of tragic turn of events...events, again, unfolding long before March 2020's state-mandated closure of bathhouse due to pandemic and ownership's following May 1 announcement of intent to KEEP it closed.
It dawned on writer that last is possibly just another ruse to try to further disenchant public, then later re-open spa services for own exclusive use within some five-year plan to try converting place from public-friendly treasure to a keep-out, go-away, it's ours all ours, private compound.) (see here for more on bathhouse shuttering. In light of game-changing pandemic, resulting economic meltdown, racial-injustice reckoning, firestorms, etc., some might now have zero interest in gaining any better understanding of where new ownership is coming from or dubious intentions on place. Or even be curious about realm's singular and checkered history.
If so, it's understandable. People's feelings towards a place once nominally dedicated to serving greater public good have tended to run to extremes...like an intense love affair flipping from hot to cold in a heartbeat.
More's the pity, though. For the more one comprehends the place -- both recent history and especially its older -- the more one can get better handle on its energetics. It then becomes easier to visualize with more positive, do-able future...when and if epidemic fades enough to push grand re-set button...either with present owners radically changing tune, or, more likely, once public-be-damned diversionary intentions for place go bust and they give up trying to kidnap place from the people but, perhaps at least having the grace to finally feel duly chagrined for upsetting thousands of fans, sell to an APPROPRIATE steward, thus handily redeeming themselves.
With enough positive visualization of future stewards by fans, people might just manifest bringing operation back home, full circle, to the service-grounded, nonprofit-in-spirit, healing retreat place was essentially born as seven generations ago.
What ill tidings befell yon,
Bear in mind, many posters of countless ecstatic raves below, had they visited before shutdown, would've no doubt felt like rescinding them in heartbeat, loathe to encourage any patronage whatsoever as things stood.
"The illuminati have taken over the Springs!," wailed one. Don't know about that exactly, but it didn't take too big a stretch of imagination to sense that Springs operation seemed somehow to have gone over to the dark side, new conservative ownership appearing to manipulate and intellectualize spirit for own non-public, professional ends, setting up rigid rules to assure keeping tight handle on visitors (or totally ignoring them), so no one would enjoy place too much...besides them, that is, during own affiliated gatherings in their new little shangri-la...
...in process making place a better fit to perpetuate its Pneuma Institute -- a peculiar international amalgam of quasi-new-age/conventional-religion/psychoanalytical shtick, all wrapped up in a smiley face for public consumption.
Lamentably, actions erased place's former fitfully free-spirited, progressive-minded culture -- a longstanding one that they apparently couldn't or wouldn't understand, appreciate, or respect... and, as time proved, couldn't wait to get rid of.
It was an open-minded, bohemian air. One that managed to evolve and thrive in leaps and bonds for decades despite last longtime S.F.-based owner's relentless profit focus and consequent over-wound management, seemingly all but clueless to ways of genuine mineral springs culture, with their simple, unassuming focus on down-to-earth purification, healing, and rejuvenation.
Current buttoned-down, seemingly tone-deaf absentee-owner mindset and policies appear intractably disconnected from the cooperative spirit embraced by most every other popular rural mineral spring resort in the northwestern U.S.
"Refine the culture"
Indeed, while grimly enduring the light countercultural toehold on place in decade-long tenure, former head manager under old ownership always envisioned 'Refining the Culture' -- her pet phrase and constant mantra. No surprise then that she, serving as broker for land sale -- reportedly pocketing over a quarter million dollars as 10% commission in what some might call the ultimate Springs sellout -- attracted energies sharing similar bland ambitions for place.
One of their Facebook Pneuma website statements offered a clue where they're at: "Formation of Spiritual discernment is a great need for our present time! Pneuma offers such formation programs..."
Yes folks, buy your way into enlightenment, we know the way! Special discount on three-day class intensive this week only.
Formerly, self-empowered and spiritually-disciplined visitors gained such discernment on their own, thank you very much. No need to pay one blessed cent past bathhouse admission or lodging booking, staggering healing and transformative power of realm's special natural properties being greatest teacher of all for free.
Gave benefit of doubt
Sometimes-naive, former longtime insider writer's own previous rants on the last ownership's inappropriate, profit-maxing focus were once hoped to be ancient history by now and long ago deleted.
New absentee ownership -- again, peripherally involved in spirituality via its Pneuma Institute -- was given every benefit of doubt for nearly two interminable years...despite absurdly oppressive clothing-optional ban that instantly threw place into mourning over lost body freedom, which, with uncanny ability when pursued mindfully, had fostered profound body-mind-spirit reintegration...especially during nice weather, but even in depths of winter, when going from roasting sauna to freezing cold creek and back again galvanized one's body and soul.
Thinking was they'd been sadly misinformed, taken in by Machiavellian wiles and wonky upscale visions of longtime, former manager. Could practically hear her having pitched, "The upside potential's enormous!" and "Everyone hates clothing-optional except a few wild, low-spending locals...it's killing business, I tell ya!"
As it turned out, little to no convincing seemed needed.
How to alienate
supporters in 3 easy steps
Long abandoned hope: that they'd naturally come around once realizing wool had been pulled over their eyes. They'd be chagrined to realize they were unwittingly destroying place's rich universal culture and long-term core support base -- those seriously into genuine rural healing and rejuvenating spas -- plus shutting out droves of potential, open-minded others, primed to give time-honored clothing-optional regimen earnest try, shake free of systemic body oppression and experience profound re-integration that mindful freebody state so easily catalyzes when in safe and nurturing environs.
They'd naturally want to do everything to keep such a loyal, growth-minded visitor base from ever unraveling, work to keep place's nonprofit in spirit, love of natural healing service DNA intact to ensure keeping place a thriving rejuvenation retreat.
Wrong. Turned out wool was over writer's eyes. Current owners appeared sold on her "Project Refine/Homogenize Culture"...but then, fatally, added their own public-unfriendly twist -- one they waited a good while to spring. Along with intent to indeed 'cultivate' place's culture (i.e. turn more upscale, conventional, and bourgeois-friendly), devolving former quasi-bohemian almost-paradise into yet another lah-de-dah, "Your water's drawn, ma'am" retreat, they also radically changed place's climate to suit their own headspace (if only flying in to visit a few days a year) and double use to also serve as Pneuma Institute's international headquarters, workshop, retreat, and classroom space...
...thus fundamentally becoming its own, public-supported retreat centre...for now, at least. (See flood of concerned comments on ending Karuk sweat lodge ceremony on home page -- scroll down)
It seemed general public was suddenly being invited there only to subsidize Pneuma operation and ownership costs...rather than from any altruistic call to provide affordable purification and healing to public at large that had long been place's devoted tradition (if fitful in more recent times), having offered visitors simple, down-home spa service and lodging since founding seven generations earlier.
Their own website quickly dispelled any such notions of resurrecting original spirit of place the second they tipped their hand by referring to Stewart's as Pneuma Retreat Center!
And, if any doubt at all remained, by more recently showing apparent intent to convert now-shut historic bathhouse into more private retreat and class space. (Either that or, again, only officially claiming to have permanently ended bathhouse and massage service, so everyone, broken-hearted and royally pissed, will duly give up on place...THEN they bring back spa operation for own exclusive use. (Hate having such cynical thoughts, but they're not without foundation.)
Was founder's name kept in public business name merely for illusion of continuity until shameless conversion was a done deal? Imagine how pioneer founder Stewart would react if time-traveling to now.
Elsewhere, place and its legal ownership have been variously referred to as Golden Eagle resort, Kairos Inc., and Logos, Inc. Wouldn't be at all surprised if there isn't another name or two floating about, obfuscating ownership and accountability over what's been going on...long before virus upended things further...a debacle viewed as travesty pure and simple by legions of place's now-estranged fans.
Stewart Springs is, obviously, no longer Stewart Springs in owners' eyes.
Not only did former rigid all-business focus appear live and well, now with new narrow organizational interest watering down former nominally unassuming, down-home service focus, but even ramped it up a full magnitude.
And maybe something worse, for, again, it sounds like misguided long-range plans might well include eventually closing entire grounds to public outright. (Of course, anyone enrolling in their pricey workshops or hosting one of own might still be welcome...if able to stomach rigid new climate, replete with fear and loathing of former, simple low-key nudity in course of spa regimen.)
rumors run wild
- what's the truth?
At first blush, years ago it appeared new operators had maybe only inadvertently and ingloriously shot themselves in collective foot...that they'd doomed viable operation for having so unwittingly and cavalierly disregarded place's open-minded, diverse culture...in process grievously alienating countless longtime supporters...obliterating former large loyal-customer base to hell and gone.
As time's proving, it's far more likely they just didn't care. And have the bucks to give myriad long-established customers the bum's rush, while leisurely changing tone of place to suit their own conservative lifestyle and that of new hoped-for visitorship...again, sought, for now at least, seemingly only to subsidize ownership costs during transition phase and perhaps give public a chance to get used to idea of having forever lost place so long cherished.
What boggles minds of so many former fans is how they can possibly claim to champion furthering higher consciousness by trying to build a scene furthering said aim on top of ruins of time-honored, thriving grounded Springs culture they so indifferently, willfully, and systematically destroyed. Some might think such an awareness-disconnected pursuit -- what might be called 'bourgeois spirituality' -- little more than a shameless, specious effort to exploit the free gift of Spirit for private gain.
Bathhouse shutdown highlights
inappropriate ownership intent
With bathhouse spa now supposedly history, place is reduced to bare-bones, lodgings-only operation. Owners might still cling to hope -- if and when things return to some new normal -- to continue pursuing own gig and resume converting place into international headquarters, classroom, retreat, and bureaucratic center, showcasing clinical, super-structured Pneuma teaching and practicing model of transpersonal psychotherapy...
...and, riding on coattails of place's one-time enormous popularity, continue renting lodging to general public and those enrolling in classes and retreat/event organizers a while longer to cover the rent, as it were, hoping enough people will want to stay there even without spa, which, along with sweat lodge, had once been heart and soul of realm, so they can keep bogarting the joint.
Such a spa-bereft set-up would be an unspeakably lame scene to any visitor long used to affordably and freely enjoying healing realm in quasi-bohemian atmosphere while either day tripping or overnighting and leisurely coursing through clothing-optional spa regimen, often leaving reluctantly and eager to return as soon as possible.
One might think such a sad, lodging-only scene could never work with both bathhouse and sweat lodge gone with the wind...unless finding enough would-be patrons who know nothing about place's extraordinary, public-minded history and don't realize new offerings were indeed built on ruins of destroyed, beloved popular culture -- or know and don't care...or, more likely, buy into management's probable twisted take of having nobly rescued place from miscreants, perverts, and other assorted rabble who had been ruining it for the more deserving to enjoy. People who count...dollars in their sleep.
More likely scenario, again, is continuing to lukewarmly invite public as part of some 5-year transition to convert place from public to private domain, then re-opening bathhouse for own exclusive use once at last (hopefully) under public radar of righteous wrath.
Yet another take: might it be that despite their website painting seductively rosy picture of future plans for place, current lodging-only operation proves only a temporary stop-gap effort to try to staunch hemorrhaging of funds until they can decide how best to divest of what seems to have been one colossally bad venture?
...both by dint of unrealistic (and inappropriate) fantasies for place that appeared to be treading water water at best, and then pandemic roaring onto scene out of the blue, throwing giant monkey wrench into business operations, threadbare as they'd already dwindled to.
If so, it wouldn't be place's first diversionary bust.
"All right, we've got it; now, what'll we do with it?"
Over generations, the energetic blueprint of the original 78-year, service-grounded stewardship by the Stewart family has faded away. It's apparently still sensed only by true believers in simple natural living and holistic healing...to the point that the place started attracting a series of inappropriate stewards with wonky, profit-minded, and/or private-use intentions that never pan out.
And for obvious good reason: sacred medicine land resonates only with and supports stewards who mindfully pursue purifying, healing, and rejuvenation...those revering nature's medicine and wanting to freely share it in genuine service with any and all seeking healing and rejuvenation. And, in long run, it causes only chaos, financial hardship, and busted fantasies for ANY other use.
Time has proven repeatedly that anything short of working hand in hand with nature and freely sharing the blessings of extraordinary land and waters for the greater good of humanity is a doomed effort...like spitting in the wind.
Before virus outbreak forced bathhouse closure -- then, throwing baby out with mineral water, making it permanent for ostensibly being too money-draining and problematic -- they seemed all too willing to take the cash of anyone who could stomach disheartening changes.
Especially that of newbies, knowing no different...perhaps most especially upscale, "cultivated" visitors, into charming exclusive resorts with over-solicitous, prim-and-proper, no-nonsense service; or own affiliated groups, into super-structured, new-age-tinged teaching programs -- so weirdly overlaid with old-age bourgeois, guilt-based morality and dry, over-intellectualized approach -- rather than former, trey distasteful, hippie-ish help-yourself-and-welcome, clothing-optional spa purification, healing, and rejuvenation scene, thank you very much.
This, again, in hopes of offsetting $2.6 million purchase investment and not inconsiderable ongoing operating expenses. (Some $77. each day of year's needed now just to cover annual county property taxes.) One wonders, again, if they hadn't perhaps finagled a tax write-off somehow against another, successful branch of international outfit or that of one of co-owners', thus having no worries about losing in droves patronage of once-dedicated repeat visitors. Or, an opposite possibility, took out second mortgages on homes or other land holdings to meet purchase price, optimistic that changes would be embraced by greater public, and now are freaking out on gnarly reality check.
In any event... misguided changes have tragically erased former wild, beautiful -- often free-flowing, at times holy-stoned -- energy of place. Energy that over recent decades had made it a favorite place for countless global sojourners on nature-friendly, life-affirming paths and pulled to the magic of Mt. Shasta region.
Despite owner groups' own attraction to realm, having done many workshops there in years past themselves, outfit's specialized exclusive focus and conservative mindset struck true-blue fans as being at egregiously depressing odds with place's abiding spirit... one until recently, at least fitfully open-minded despite constant profit preoccupation by management, bohemian spirit of place enduring...one absent any limiting doctrinaire mindset as now weighs down realm's former lighthearted spirit like a ton of bricks.
Cynics might view efforts as trying to cram the wild, infinite Great Mystery force into box for three-dimensional clinical analysis and packaged, monetized promulgation.
Their site proclaimed, "Our intention is the Spirit to be always present in each of our actions." Talk about your spiritual-reality disconnect. Why does the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", so readily come to mind?
Pumping hot air
Pneuma's hybrid system, as noted, incorporates psychology's fourth branch, transpersonal psychology.
It grew out of humanistic psychology and human potential movement of mid 1960s to early 1970s...not surprisingly coinciding with burgeoning countercultural values now merging with progressive-minded mainstream awareness, manifesting in diverse, more organic lifestyles.
Sometimes referred to as 'spiritual psychology', branch discipline apparently seeks to formally study, promote and train transcendence of personal being through such things as mystical trances, peak experiences, and other altered states of consciousness -- enhanced spiritual awareness in general, which, aided by deep, focused breathing, is then integrated into methodology for fostering transcendent mindstates...primarily geared into formalized, gazillion-dollars-an-hour psychotherapy profession.
Like Spock, they apparently distrust emotions as irrational. And sadly, parted ways with one of branch's historic human-potential movement/humanistic roots that had for a magical season successfully incorporated mindful nudity into select group-therapy workshops.
Promising therapeutic breakthroughs were made on realizing the profound mind-body-spirit re-integration so easily achieved by guided mindful group nudity workshops in appropriate environments. It enabled people to become far more aware, sensitive, and present and in record time...as if suddenly re-awakening to innocent joys of childhood. (Famously at Big Sur in California's Esalan Institute, as featured in Life magazine.)
Beyond serving as purification spa, one might say Stewart Springs effectively became its own ongoing, self-guided nude-therapy workshop...one that enhanced many-fold every open-minded visitor's potential spa benefit over recent decades.
It worked well when group energies were together despite lack of management support and guidance, but ran risk of becoming a sorry scene indeed when group energies de jour were ungrounded, scattered, and tawdry. Place's c/o scene was in total free-fall absent any more mindful and resonant management backing.
But they'd have none of it...in any form. Not in "their" Springs. Nope. Don't even think about it. Outa be ashamed. Shades of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nude's rude, Jude, it's crude and lewd, and oughta be be eschewed and boo-ed, dude...
For, along with conscious breathwork, they threw into mix Judaeo-Christian tenets with all their baked-in body guilt and the spirit-crushing burden of Original Sin. This of course put a decided damper on anyone's hopes of ever enjoying being bare in nature and fully relaxing and letting go of worries, grandly amping up palliative spa benefit...whether solo, couple, family, or socially.
A peculiar amalgam indeed, one foot seemed firmly planted on solid ground of innovative, growth-minded psychotherapy, the other in sinking quicksand of guilt-based morality and over-intellectualized methodology.
More impressionable might imagine a therapy session going something like following:
"All right, lie down on the couch and get fully comfortable; now breathe deep and -- no, not that comfortable, please leave your clothes on!...[later] Well, praise the Lord! Now, how does this enhanced mindstate make you feel? Be specific and -- oh darn, time's up; hold that thought til next session. By the way, your last check bounced; we'll need a card this time."
Okay...in fairness, system might well prove excellent therapy indeed for any so inclined, who can afford it. It's probably worthy indeed of being cultivated...at appropriate places.
But drastically diverting age-old focus Stewart Springs in order to facilitate it? A place so accessible and rich with healing energies that it naturally fosters -- especially through catalyzing boost of mindful body freedom -- the very same altered consciousness, peak experiences, and transcendent awareness...and, thus, profound healing on multiple levels?
...without any help from dry, super-structured workshop intensives and long-term instruction on how to get yourself and others enlightened: This week only, $2,000 off two-year credential program. Become certified graduate of Institute and start making big bucks doing same thing teaching and enlightening others!
Enlightening others' wallets, at least.
No need to put God in a box...leastwise not at expense of countless longtime Springs fans, plus sea of others suddenly deprived of ever discovering its magic in anything approaching place's former, fitfully open-circuit, bohemian climate.
Again, no doubt it might work fine in more consciousness-starved areas and professional-rich, neurosis-breeding urban scenes. But is mind-mindbogglingly poor fit in northern bohemian wilds of Future State of California, denizens already soaring through the cosmos, visitors eager to follow suit and expand being beyond yet widely-accepted, drastically limiting three-dimensional existence.
No coals needed in Newcastle, thank you.
One can perhaps blame Mt. Shasta's chamber of commerce. Long ago they came up with classic slogan still posted on Interstate 5' southbound's vintage billboard: "Mt. Shasta -- More than a Peak Experience". Term 'peak experience' was, of course, coined by Abraham Maslow of earlier humanistic psychology movement that focused on fostering positive, transcendent wellbeing over seeking neuroses under every rock. Possibly at some point sign caught the eye of one of travelling, psychology-enamored group -- "Wow, this region's psych-savvy!" -- thus planting seed for January 2016 snapping up of beloved Springs that has so long cried out for APPROPRIATE stewardship to finally rescue it...
...and abysmal overhaul attempt by new, woefully mismatched ownership: Too much nudity, too many trees, too much drumming, too many pagan cards, too much...aggrh, I need my shrink!
pick a rumor, any rumor...
Various overarching owner intents, according to various rumors long before virus outbreak, had included transforming what was until recently incredibly popular rural spa retreat into:
1. Bland, culture-deprived place suitable for non-discriminating mainstream consumerist traveling hordes, better to fund Pneuma Institute's doings and cover ownership costs
2. Sterile posh resort to serve as backdrop for Pneuma headquarters and transpersonal training classes, workshops, and related retreats. Suffer general public to help fund Institute and cover 'rent' of place
3. Private domain; at some point slamming gates shut to general public, privatizing Stewart Springs outright for exclusive use of Pneuma Institute... plus perhaps select groups that can stomach (or even embrace) dreary changes...to help fund Institute and cover costs
All disheartening prospects. Last rumor especially filled with dread anyone who truly treasured realm, making one pray it wasn't true -- or if true, would fail miserably. (With wild card of virus now thrown into mix, no telling how it might affect plans; it may very well ultimately prove saving grace -- if one can use that term here -- for future of Springs.)
Whatever the case, in all three scenarios remedial first step in revamping operation was of course to get rid of the riff-raff: everyday alternative-culture friendly, free-spirited visitors, those who had supported and championed place since renaissance Goodpasture-stewardship era of 1970s.
Such visitors easily locked into healing spirit of land's powerful mineral waters and operation's fitful tradition of calm mindful service with open, unassuming spirit. This in turn fostered a tenuously progressive social climate conducive for people even the least bit open-minded, from all walks of life, to let go and tune into deeper self while nurturing down-to-earth inner wild child...again, despite recent decades of profit-jonesin' teeth gnashing in background and resulting control-freak management crimping scene on subtle -- and sometimes not-so-subtle -- level.
New owners either couldn't or wouldn't connect the dots, having a dandy dot matrix all their own: dilute focus and effectiveness of affordable body-mind-spirit therapy of time-honored spa regimen into sideline money maker to defray cost of 'renting' place while pivoting main focus onto furthering pricey, clinical psychotherapy healing approach...
...using place as international headquarters, running formal indoctrination workshops and certification classes and, of course, from time to time enjoying it themselves...all the while thanking the Lord for being able to rescue place from the great unwashed masses, those countercultural miscreants and sundry perverts who so shamefully ruined it for more deserving bourgeois to enjoy in atmosphere befitting dignity of their elevated life station. "Taupe...the walls must be taupe!" "Whataya think of my new designer swimsuit? Got it for a steal...only $199!"
It would seem the fox was suddenly guarding hen house: re-purposing traditional spa therapy retreat to take out of circulation unfair, cheap, yet often far more expedient, competition in lucrative healing market, diverting focus to own pricey, intellectualized therapy regimen while upgrading lodgings to lure visitors and groups that might embrace (or at least tolerate) changes in order to support private-minded operation.
Sounds like a plan. What could go wrong?
Cynically inclined might've viewed seeming stony attitude as, "Hey, we stole the Springs from you fair and square, with our hard-earned cash. We're pursuing our own gig here now and whether you like it or not doesn't concern us. It's our baby now. Get used to it. Accept the changes or go elsewhere; we don't care much either way. Have a nice day. [aside:] ...or not. Damn hippies, shameless nudists, pitiful pagans.'Public service'? gimme a break, mumble grumble..."
On now-abandoned off-chance they hadn't substantial upscaling or privatizing intent, but were simply extraordinarily inept in trying to go more mainstream -- as one might've perversely hoped was case -- it would've been a simple matter of time before the business terminally hemorrhaged red ink.
But it's become starkly evident that they've almost certainly had it in mind all along to convert what was so long an extraordinarily unassuming, public-minded healing place into their own semi-private bailiwick, to further own goals and enjoy more for themselves...and, cynics might say, cash in on growing niche market to provide enlightenment vehicles for upscale nature-deprived and holistically challenged.
Assuming here they perhaps haven't full privatization in mind, that is...
But as word saturates planet how new owners have been indifferently destroying place's fragile, tenuously-progressive spa culture and longstanding traditions, even if over time life returns to some new semblance of normal post-pandemic, they won't be able to entice enough undiscriminating, bland mainstream hordes or workshop/retreat/concert event organizers to fill gaping void...doubly unlikely now, having become in essence a spa-less spa. Or even entice enough of own affiliated groups, friends, and family to support woefully inappropriate, legally kidnapped detour of place's original, pure-minded purpose.
They wouldn't be able to keep any more-awakened staff on board willing to enforce and endure muted, tightly-controlled scene at minimum wage...not without running off screaming the second day out, knowing how planet's inhabitants -- even before virus -- cry out for affordable places of natural healing. And witnessing new 'stewards' caught up in diversionary shtick that so blatantly watered down and hamstrung former public-minded treasure.
With pneumatic tires of Pneuma's wilderness outpost vehicle springing serious leaks, they'd be prompted to either radically change tune or, if remaining unyielding in hopes of transforming place to suit semi private-minded agenda but remain dependent on public to generate revenue, concede defeat and look for more suitable headquarters elsewhere...putting place back on market for, ideally, more appropriate ownership to rescue and set up as legal nonprofit healing and cultural center...
...if any justice in world at discount for the mountain of destroyed good will, that intangible priceless business asset they tossed off wholesale to accommodate lamentably un-northern Californian lifestyle and buttoned-down druthers.
If at least empathic and aware enough to finally feel chagrined, they could yet salvage now-tattered integrity and credibility by seeking out a new owner-steward that dyed-in-wool fans of place have always envisioned...thereby making an ultimate positive contribution to historic legacy of Stewart Springs...a place they could still enjoy themselves in future, if able to get over nudity bugaboo, after finding more suitable, non-controversial headquarters to stand them in worlds better stead.
Then they'd no longer have to deal with taking firestorm of heat for having coveted public treasure so much that they tried to legally steal it -- the hell with everyone else -- and actually thought they could get away with it without burning collective integrity to a blackened crisp.
In meantime...they've got their work cut out if remaining open to public but still hope to eventually go all posh -- long-humble bathhouse was suddenly referred to as Wellness Center, (and since closing and supposed current re-purposing, Shambala House); while A-frame's pedigree was upped to "the Chalet" -- effectively excluding all without money to burn and/or disinclination to stay imprisoned in sensory-deadening cloth during spa regimen...that is, before bathhouse closure rendered that one moot.
For even among would-be higher-end clientele, and certainly among affiliated members, family and friends, enough actually do have social conscience to recognize when something's not right. Flat out wrong, even. They'd refuse to support it, especially now, seeing permanently shut bathhouse and ostensible conversion plan to make more retreat and class space as glaring indication something is grievously out of whack.
As word keeps spreading how new owners -- whether willfully or unwittingly seems fairly moot now -- alienated thousands of former faithful fans and longtime supporters, poisoning place's free-spirited vibe and creating veritable Matterhorn of bad karma for themselves and seemingly laudable causes, it appears less and less likely that owners can ever gain sustainable support.
After historic COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdown unfolded, millions losing work, hour of racial injustice reckoning coming coming home to roost, plus state's historic fires, together making for humanity needing to push giant re-set button to manifest a more fair-minded, sustainable planet, any such an un-public-minded attempt would now seem all but impossible to succeed with even one ounce of grace.
From another angle, if intent indeed has always been on eventual privatization and they've the bucks and wherewithal to run at loss, and/or finagled some legal tax write-off, then on surface at least it looked as if fans are screwed. As others pointed out, assuming privatizing is case, boycotting and badmouthing only help drastic transition process...
...it would enable swinging fortress gates shut to public that much sooner with minimal howling from disenfranchised. 2-15-18 Yelp review by Reality Check Z, of Napa, CA would be music to their ears: "Very poorly run operation. Stay away". Hee-hee, please stay away. Also, 2-22-18 Yelp from Share S., of Seattle. WA: "Worst place i have ever stayed. No heat i frooze to death awful management who does not care." Heh-heh, glad you got the message; keep those rants coming!
With fans thus giving up on once-magical, universal-spirited, affordable healing refuge (in mid 1990s on locals day, saunas were $5, bath $10), and awakened newcomers duly repulsed, present detached absentee "owners" of new acquisition, along with their affiliated groups, would be left alone to enjoy their legally-stolen paradise...but with what could only be unspeakably contentious un-peace of mind.
In any event, no bothersome demanding riff-raff blocking midnight sun. They'd be free to enjoy place all to themselves. Free to pursue own particular quasi-spiritual teaching model amid rustic refuge, safe from distasteful teeming hordes of everyday people clueless and unsympathetic to crushing burdens and responsibilities of their life station. We'd then at least more fully appreciate how original First Nations soakers felt when sacred medicine grounds were obliterated in 1870s massacre by intolerant settlers stirred to murderous frenzy. see history Big Duh Best hope -- should this actually be intent and not simply an unfounded, assuming worst, sky-is-falling rumor -- is of course to visualize a positive future for place under new stewardship. (see sweat lodge removal outrage re-posts; also clothing-optional-ban, re-posted rants later this page.)
With current drastic world-wide turn of events, it almost seems no longer necessary to even offer them a reality check of consequences IF ever actually misguided enough to even think of pursuing any such ill-suited plan for long-time service-minded place, having done too dastardly a deed to ever experience one shred of peace of mind or abiding enjoyment of place, having created a giant boatload of gnarly, stinking-to-high-heaven bad karma by closing to public one of planet's treasured natural healing realms.
Assuming they do realize this in time (again, IF indeed there is in fact such long-range plan), they'd either come around and change tune or, if feeling they'd blown it too royally to even try redeeming scene -- or perhaps lacked any such inclination to begin with, having minds set only on doing own thing all along and general public be damned) -- give up, re-sell, and look for more suitable headquarters elsewhere...guaranteed a more peaceful and fruitful one, no more outraged public creating static and throwing off focus to do good works by having to constantly put out brush fires of negative publicity...
...but again, redeeming themselves by taking time and effort to seek out and transfer to appropriate new stewardship at fair price...one allowing for mountain of good will destroyed. A stewardship psyched at idea of transforming Stewart's into legal nonprofit, magical realm at long last getting back to genuine love-of-service spirit that operation was founded on ages ago, and resonated with more years than not...and help world heal from devastating aftermath of pandemic.
Maybe reader possibly knows of someone(s) and can connect them -- or IS that someone or group, Ideally, a small contingent of so-inclined Springs fans might in time to work with buyer(s), brainstorming ways to set place up legally and practically to best develop committed, robust community, with work-trade support, hitting the ground running (once pandemic subsides) with informed, dedicated, transparent operation and quiet joy of service.
Stating the obvious: the more fans visualize making place such a fine-tuned, legally-chartered nonprofit mineral springs retreat and cultural center, the sooner such a vision might actually manifest.
Owner change at first seemed so promising
Despite initial promise of what at first appeared enlightened intent by new ownership as of 1-19-16 -- first in 34 years, despite wild epidemic of false rumors to contrary circulating for decades --and place having enough charm to spare for first-timers to enjoy, blissfully ignorant of relative shangri-la place once was, things soon became unspeakably dispirited to anyone who'd chanced to enjoy it in more free-spirited times.
...to point myriad, including writer, have vowed never to set foot on place again until owners' hearts miraculously melt or they give up misguided plans and sell to new, progressive-minded ownership. (Or, if indeed actually harboring thoughts to eventually privatize and shut fortress gates, and actually succeed -- though hard to imagine loving universal father allowing it -- perhaps never.)
What's most galling is how, in name of proclaimed pursuit of inner peace and world enlightenment, they could have so mindlessly erased such a rich quasi-bohemian culture that place's myriad fans and staunchest supporters so lovingly built up and refined over long decades.
Again, it was a people's culture that evolved despite profit-minded focus of absentee owner of previous 34 years...one who, saving grace, was liberal-minded enough to let late local manager Mary H. run place to suit local/regional preferences, which eventually included offering clothing-optional, soon realizing that droves of open-minded, free-spirited, nature-loving travelers the world over resonated with it.
Former atmosphere embraced mother earth's healing power by enabling becoming one with elements...thus allowing easier purifying, healing and rejuvenating.
There was zero need to dryly analyze spiritual influences on psyche or pursue any particular approach to enlightenment or salvation, to exclusion of others' own unique awareness, lifestyle, and belief systems, as had recently seemed underway...all in name of unwieldy, often impersonal, scientific discipline...this one so oddly overlaid and entangled with claptrap of organized religions that it makes one wonder what they were thinking.
Altering grounds to mirror ownership's more conservative ways obviously precluded letting visitors enjoy place too much by having any option to sauna nude, skinnydip, or sunbathe au natural -- even if receiving profoundly more benefits in process...healing benefits long accustomed to and embraced by countless free spirits and bohemian-friendly.
Or visit mineral water source gazebo to center and reflect, maybe leave prayer and love offerings, realm's medicine wheel merrily building momentum. Or be inspired by enchanted divining cards during purification in bathhouse, helping activate and reinforce higher consciousness in moment, not years later during $200+/hour shrink session in some obscure urban outpost. Or experience life-changing miracle in sacred traditional sweat lodge by connecting with deeper-most, prehistoric cultural and spiritual roots of ancient land now called America.
Not that they were actually thinking this, but it seemed their overarching attitude and strategy might've essentially boiled down to something like:
"Hey, if everyday visitors have illuminating and liberating experiences on their own through freedom to gallivant about in their birthday suits, it'll make our own vested formalized method on how to cure what ails you look pretty lame in comparison.
"Can't have that; we'd appear irrelevant, maybe even stodgy. Would-be enrollees to classes wouldn't be anywhere nearly as attracted and so support operation costs. Gotta oppress scene to make own shtick, with goal of 'profoundly reintegrat[ing] body-mind-soul on higher level', actually look liberating in contrast or we might be sunk."
"How does that
make you feel?"
As said, traditional psychoanalysis has all too commonly discovered festering neuroses under every rock, maladies needing slow curing through long, pricey analytical sessions. Even though new approach focuses more on positive-awareness growth and attuning to one's heart, it still seems locked into longterm, dry, controlled procedure that, it would seem, could all too easily straitjacket Divine Spirit's wild infinite nature and rapid transformative healing ability.
What appears to have created current spa-culture destroying dilemma is owners being so smitten by and vested in scientific methodology that they perhaps lost touch with own inner child; that wild, freedom-loving being with innate, all-inclusive compassion and enthusiasm, qualities vital in running any heart-centered purifying and healing service place like Stewarts...rather than, sadly, becoming control-freaks forcing mandatory cover-up, thereby turning place into watered-down resort only toying with radical purification and healing and transformation, gingerly testing healing waters with big toe rather than jumping in with both feet.
It might seem new outfit had so intellectualized and bureaucratized process of achieving enlightened state of mind that it fairly lost sight of (or hadn't learned yet) the spiritual law that the end can't justify the means...that, in process, any would-be integrity and lofty intent is neutralized and voided.
Verdict in court of public opinion
In court of public opinion, overwhelming evidence supported verdict of new ownership being found guilty of betraying place's spirit -- again, no matter if in ignorance of divine law or in willful rebellion to re-purpose place -- by imposing hard-nosed, worldly edict of 'Whoever has the gold makes the rules -- deal with it'.
Exhibit A: scrapping super-therapeutic 17-year clothing-optional offering
Exhibit B: ridding springs gazebo of love and prayer offerings altar
Exhibit C: ending 45-year weekly sacred sweat lodge ceremony
Exhibit D: slashing take of masseuses and increasing take on consigned gift shop items
Exhibit E: no longer offering employees free monthly bath, decades-old tradition
Exhibit F: clear-cutting acre of mature trees on grounds above main road below cabins for new septic system leach field for bathhouse greywater pumped across creek. (surely better solution was out there)
Exhibit G: abrupt removal of rich assortment of inspiring divining cards from bathhouse lobby table
One shuddered to think what exhibit H might've been... Up baths to $50, only available with $200 massage by appointment? Fine any reckless enough to move deck lounges one inch from strictly appointed placements? Crowd covered bridge with junk-food vending machines and ATM? Build dank dungeon in bathhouse basement to hold any would-be skinnydippers until nude police come and haul them away for indecent exposure?
If ultimate plan was to privatize and close place outright to great unwashed masses, again, perhaps they were trying to piss everyone off. That way nobody'd much mind if gates slammed shut and new signs greeted trekkers, saying in effect: Go Away - Private Property - Trespassers prosecuted - No Bliss for You - Transcend Yur Sorry Naked Selves Elsewhere
Over-commercial, conventional-minded ways of recent decades, so rife with bold, authoritarian stances it seldom even bothered to mask efforts to milk the place blind, seriously interfered with earnest original focus of place's pioneer namesake founder: relaxed purification, healing, and rejuvenation in tranquil arms of nature...simply and affordably, with simple, basic lodgings to support longer healings. And before that, centuries of peaceful, reverent sharing of healing land among first nations people -- even with ailing white pioneer, should one chance to appear.
Fans of place, including writer, tried making best of bad situation and for long while were fitfully successful. Nature's wild and free spirit prevailed and former absentee San Franciscan owner, John Foggy, beyond relentless profit focus, appeared something of easy-going, liberal-minded Libran who let things be, as evolved by local management that seemed to resonate with sweet lost dream of place's founding family. Owner saw it as great for business.
Since recent intolerable developments, former 34 year regime, flawed as it was, suddenly looked pretty darn good. Could just hear Foggy chuckling, "Betcha miss me now, huh?"
Since dumbfounding change in operations, and then, global, sea-level-changing pandemic, writer has obviously changed tone and focus of much of page, along with rest of site. The sweat lodge ban flood of spitting-nails-mad, re-posted rants, most of which had ephemeral original-site life, soon disappearing, were plunked on home page rather than risk getting buried here. They perhaps constitute strongest collective voice ever expressed of feelings towards treasured Springs as public-friendly retreat. Re-posted clothing-optional rants and raves still reside below. Older slams over management were moved to more rants and raves, along with sampling of more recent reviews, page also exploring plight of under-utilized restaurant and offering metaphysical take on place's checkered history of pronounced light and dark energies.
~ Despite all, dreams of peace on earth persist.
Note: most of re-posted reviews below and on More Rants & Raves page, along with comments, originally posted long before change in operation under present, way-absentee ownership, many even before fair-warning harbinger of clothing-optional ban that took effect 11-1-16, going back to far different times -- before recent virus pandemic practically made them ancient history.
Again, many such posters would've no doubt felt like retracting or reversing full-tilt raves in heartbeat had they visited before bathhouse shut down. It was never recommended...unless in denial, thought plight exaggerated, or morbid curiosity compelled witnessing and verifying heartbreaking changes firsthand.
Glowing posts are left up both to remind people of what place once had AND to
spark imagination of what it COULD have again, and better, in future...
...IF enough fans insist on it...through positive visualization of perfect stewardship rescuing realm once owners realize they'd be worlds happier somewhere else (and, hopefully, virus threat eventually fades away)...
...again, redeeming honor and building ultimate positive Springs legacy by seeking out appropriate stewardship to carry on operation on enlightened nonprofit level, enabling far more of planet's peoples to benefit by visits to one of nature's more charming and magical healing realms.
* * *
Rants & Raves
Rustic nature - Soak limits - Water Quality - (Former) Friendly Staff - Countercultural Flavor - Laid Back or Not?
Surf through various trip review sites like yelp and tripadvisor and you once read wildly opposing Stewart Springs takes. Everything from "Heaven on earth" to "I'll never go there again!" Understandably it made for one roller coaster of a ride, leaving one to wonder how everybody could possibly be talking about the same place.
Of course, one bore in mind some reviews were posted ages earlier. Different times, different managements -- even, now, different owners. Stewart Springs, like people and planet as whole, is always changing. It has its good moments and bad moments; good days and bad days; good years and bad years, good decades... Plus, everyone brings own unique awareness into mix -- often with expectations, reasonable or not, then happily fulfilled, wildly exceeded, or utterly crushed.
Is 'Rustic' Bad Word?
That said, it might still seem odd how two people visiting the same day might've been 180 degrees apart in experiences and estimations. This could lead one to conclude some reviewers were perhaps a tad snooty, not in touch with inner bohemian, holding up unreasonable expectations and irrelevant comparisons to more upscale spas and amenities impossible to provide -- many long, roundly undesired anyhow -- while others were more easy going, nature-attuned and rural friendly, open to embracing rustic environs and focused on enjoying therapeutic spa and retreat amid the glad tidings of nature.
WorkshopAttie of Monterey, CA bemoaned how, "For $130 a day, we had to build a fire in the woodstove as there was NO HEATING..." (Venerable wood heat didn't seem to count.)
Connie Carbarry was "...appalled by the accommodations...perhaps this is a fun place to spend the day but not the night."
And Google reviewer Christian George, in glorious contradiction, groused, "I'm all for rustic, but no phones, no TV, and NO WIFI! Did I fall off the face of the earth?" [Yes, and many fans relished break from such omnipresent 21st century complexities.]
Also: "We had planned to have a wonderful experience and really start our vacation with a relaxing trip to the mineral baths, get massages and stay in the woods. Our experience was to the contrary..." (KnitVallejo, Vallejo)
50-50 review: "The hot springs is magical if you come just for the hot spring and meditate on the forest and creek side. But the accommodation is terrible." (Unattributed Yelp review)
In contrast, myriad happier campers raved endlessly (from Trip
Adviser, unless otherwise noted):
"The place has an amazing rustic charm, and is the real deal as a mineral springs." (1Shastagirl Redding)
"Funky and perfectly rustic and remote. We love everything about the experience. Reminds us of a more authentic, down to earth time. Absolutely healing..." (Nina Hyatt, Google review)
"I must say, I wanted rustic and boy, did I ever get it!" (Alexia J., Montreal, Canada)
"Extremely relaxing. Nice people, they're not crazy, they're just not from a city." (S.F., CA)
"The place is absolutely the most magical..." (John R., Clay, MO)
"I absolutely love the peaceful tranquility of this special place..." (Crystal Dawn)
"I don't go through Northern California without a stop here. A magical place... If I could live just up the road, I would." (Psychedelic_, Bloomington, Indiana)
"...loved every minute of it. Very tranquil forest, a cleansing mountain creek, and quiet atmosphere for healing in a rustic, earthy way. If you want to REALLY connect with nature without all the frills of a resort, this is the place for you." (Emily C., Moss Beach, CA)
"My favorite retreat spot!" (Ronit Ashkenazi)
"...a little run down and shabby. But this is the charm of it. Makes me feel more relaxed than somewhere fancy." (Cyndi Johnston)
"This place attracts people from all walks of life, all with the same intention -- to heal." (A Google User)
"If you're someone like me for whom periods of 'unplugging' are both feasible and valuable, you will definitely appreciate this setting..." (WaterViolet)
"One of the coolest mineral springs I've ever been to!!" (Kiki S., Los Osos, CA)
"The place is a rustic gem, beloved by many, with countercultural overtones." (Anonymous, hotspringsdirectory.blogspot.com)
"There is nowhere in the world that is like it, I have been to countless spas, banyas and sanctuaries and this is my absolute favorite..." (Jasmine, Sebastopol, CA)
"We are glad that they have not caved to any pressure to install TV, Internet and telephones in any rooms. It is really wonderful to UNPLUG and enjoy the nature..." (naz s., Redwood City, US)
"...although it was a short two night stay, it was very profound. I can still feel the 'high' from this place." (Rose R., Willows US)
"What an excellent spring!...the grounds are amazing...and the stream that runs through it is absolutely joyful." (Miranda D., Santa Fe, NM)
"Something old world and mysterious lurks about here, setting the imagination adrift. I was enchanted by my time here."
(Jill B - San Louis Obispo, CA)
"Some of the most healing mineralized high vibe waters on earth! Such an amazing place, like another dimension, beyond words."
(Kelly Lynn Anderson, Twitter)
"Rustic but perfect at same time. For those of you sensitive to beautiful healing energy you are going to love it. For those of you expecting a four star resort you will not be getting that! For myself, I would go back in a heartbeat." (thefunns)
"This is a relaxing rustic retreat from the rest of the world...if you want to recharge your batteries then you have found the right oasis. "
(John 434 on YellowBot)
"It's a place I return to over and over..."
"I was completely charmed by this simple and relaxing gem of a place..."
(Jamie H., Alamo, CA Yelp review)
"The actual spring house (up the creek) completely stoned me out -- great energy there." (Cee Jay 60-27, Aromas, CA)
"...never tire of it. I love going on a beautiful drive past the horses and the cows, up a mountain in the forest to a beautiful secluded rustic mineral spa. Sometimes it's sunny, sometimes wonderfully blustery. When the weather is cold, it's lovely to sit by the fire. When it is sunny, it's exhilarating to jump in the creek. I love the ritual of going from a mineral bath, sauna and then the creek.
< Former office manager Danielle with long-time bathhouse mascot, Mr. Beechum. "My grandmother always told me, 'Love what you do and you'll never work another day in your life.'" "Meow."
"Yes it is 'funky' not your upscale experience, but it is way nice and all the other guests seemed 'chill'...if you are sensitive to nudity go someplace else." (WanderlustSal)
"If you want to escape pressure, pretense and pomposity, you will love this place. This is a rustic resort for real people." (BoyneDefender)
"Pretty and unpretentious" (SubjectTravel)
"A magical place, really. The accommodations are simple and rustic and the mineral baths are out of this world." (Psychedelic-Doughboy)
"An awesome retreat that was so good for this soul." (Darla M., Bend, OR)
"This is one of the most magical places I have ever been to. Last time I went I had a hard time leaving because I felt so good being held in this sacred land. " (Dr. Alexina M., Vancouver, Canada, Yelp, under "not currently recommended" link box at bottom of page)
Conclusion: Some relish being immersed in rustic simplicity of nature and seriously unwinding, perhaps building fire in cabin's wood stove to keep cozy on snowy night. Others seemed to take uber-urbanized umbrage having to resort to such primitive labor-intensive heating methods, expecting conventional amenities, and solicitous pampering, even in middle of woods, and live to gripe about no hair dryer or wi-fi -- or hordes of shameless naked people despoiling the otherwise charming landscape.
(feel free to skip)
Split-focus made operation challenging
-- schitzy too
Place seems to have had a serious identity crisis ever since leaving founding Stewart family hands in the early 1950s.
Its various owners, most with intents at grievous odds with original one -- basic yet profound, affordable healing and rejuvenation amid simplicity of nature -- seldom gelled any integrated vision for place of their own beyond fantasy level. Without management hewing to original vision or gaining viable alternate brainstorm, visitors (including writer) have always tried to impress onto it own ideas of what place SHOULD be...some high-minded, others depressingly clueless of astonishing miracle of long ago, original operation with its unassuming, simple devotion to service and natural healing that struck such a profound chord in the hearts of travelers the world over.
Diverse visitor expectations brought to fore split focus -- spa and lodgings -- and likely constant challenge of even the most dedicated mineral springs resort. It terminally over-complicated things when owner directive caused over-wound preoccupation in maximizing profit, making for seriously off-putting schitzy management energies that adversely affected any fuller, more profound enjoyment of place.
Again, even if latter wasn't the case, running both healing day mineral springs scene and comfortable overnight lodgings can always be tricky. Unless stay intent includes relaxing into focused spa and/or meditative communing with nature and/or mindful workshops/retreats as visitors to dedicated mineral spring resorts lean towards, the resulting disconnected visitor energy all too easily muddles management team's focus. It pulls it in two directions at once: Healing place, Motel 6; healing place, Motel 6...
Would-be flowing organic scene is turned hopelessly disjointed and watered down, relentless drive to generate profit -- or, now, diverting focus of place for specialized, semi-private shtick -- totally eclipsing original, keenly focused, altruistic, purifying and healing intent of place.
Visitors expecting typical amenity-loaded lodgings, with spa perhaps an offbeat pay-extra bonus option -- or especially if coming for lodgings alone -- were naturally bound to be disappointed at basic accommodations.
In happy contrast, visitors intent on purifying, healing, rejuvenating while immersing in nature -- age-old vision of place and, lest one forget, original reason for operation after eons of prehistoric healing use, lodgings developed solely to support purifying spa treatments and unwinding in woods -- were more than willing to take break from TV, phone, wi-fi, etc. and embrace lodgings, no matter how bare-bones, so long as basic creature comforts and amenities were covered, all as part and parcel of backwoods healing retreat experience. (Perhaps not too unlike Sierra Club's Claire Teppan ski lodge in high Sierras.)
Can place's original
intent be re-activated?
Original dedicated purpose of Stewart's - - offering special waters and restful rustic retreat as affordable, nonprofit-in-spirit healing service -- has long been fading due to no more of six post-Stewart ownerships resonating any better with founding vision of pioneering Stewart family's dedicated 78-year reign once it ended in early 1950's...to point place seems to have segued into something of a quirky, relatively cheap, fashionably off-beat and rustic quasi-resort having extra-pay option to take the waters. (And now just lodgings, bathhouse gathering dust bunnies and plumbing pipes dry as a bone, new owners ostensibly intent on converting structure to further meeting and class space...though writer, as stated elsewhere, thinks it's perhaps latest ruse to try getting public so frikkin' disenchanted with place that they utterly give up on it, THEN, at last below radar, bring back spa for ownerships' and related groups' own exclusive use.)
More's the pity. Writer once hoped newest absentee ownership would, together with fresh dedicated management, at long last help place turn a corner and put cart back behind the horse for real service...reclaiming altruistic vision of namesake, wife, and daughter and her husband, who between them ran an oasis of down-home, essentially nonprofit operation for four generations...and now we're in the seventh generation after them, a critical one that can either make or break place for benefit of greater humanity.
Hope was that new stewards would emulate founders' profound reverence for special realm, echoing that of natives before them for time untold, by re-energizing service-first focus as honored by Masons in 1950's and 1960's, Goodpastures in 1970's, and, within profit-minded owner restraints, down-home local family management of 1980s through 2005. (see History)...one that enabled visitors to partake of realm's sacred healing and grounding power without off-putting over-commercial headwinds or serious re-purposing intent putting damper in potential for profound healing and life-changing experiences.
Obviously, writer's no longer holding breath.
Insisting on trying to cram c/o genie back in bottle has utterly ruined place for countless. Other drastic changes made, maddeningly heedless of service-loving tradition of place, has all but disconnected place's heart and soul.
Paging lucky seventh. We know you're out there. Destiny is calling.
Even a conscious for-profit ownership instinctively realizes that there must be critical balance in running Stewart's, one seeking elusive sweet spot between making reasonable return on tied-up capital and enabling visitors to most fully benefit from place. If lacking, if inappropriate monetary and/or narrowed focus and privatizing intent dominate, taking away from place the ability to affordably and radically purify, heal, and rejuvenate, then chaotic and sorrowful karma of tragic massacre of original soakers in 1870s re-surfaces as sure as night follows day.
Better than a fair-minded for-profit model, though...place as re-launched nonprofit would blossom, at last liberated from depressing material gains focus that can, with consciousness wanting, all to easily become an anti-life force. (Telling: some Natives called paper money dead frog skins;; and western settlers nicknamed dollars bucks after treated skins of slain deer briefly used as unit of trade.
Urge the universe to manifest an awakened financially wealthy soul or group of souls who would be happy to rescue place from jaws of disaster and legally establish realm as nonprofit, dedicated to purifying, healing and rejuvenating, enabling cultural juices to flow again, with events, psyched support, and input of community and every aware and awakening traveler making pilgrimage up the winding hill.
Odds are in our favor it's not too late. For of 145 years of Springs stewards, 54% were dedicated efforts of founder and daughter and another 17% under earnest stewardship of masonic lodge and Goodpastures, for a total of some 70%...versus only 30% for recent profit-driven and/or private-shtick-minded focus.
Greater long-term momentum overwhelmingly remains towards dedication to place serving the greater public good.
This amazing free-flowing energy can be re-activated IF enough fans of place INSIST on it, collectively visualizing it happening with stone-pure intent, place liberated by dedicated and awakened new FUTURE ownership...after current coronavirus crisis is behind us, of course.
That's the dream.
Do enough Springs fans want it?
Yet more raves:
"I love Stewart Mineral Springs [not for lodgings but]...for the spiritual power of the place and the healing properties of the land and mineral waters." (Diane Elliot)
"...absolutely the most magical place. I stayed here last night in this really cool, rustic cabin. The staff is amazing and friendly. If you want fancy and frilly, this place isn't for you but if u want pure and simple natural beauty, come here. It will blow your mind." (John R., Clay, US)
Reviewer Boyne Defender of Detroit, MI summed up place so neatly, reprising it here: "If you are looking for a pampered spa, this is not for you. If you want to escape pressure, pretense and pomposity, you will love this place. This is a rustic resort for real people. I have had a great time each and every time I have been there."
Another qualified rave: "I love this place! It is not fancy, schmanzy but a great woodsy, spiritual place...the moment you come in to the grounds you feel yourself relax." (Carla C., Weed, CA.)
< Amazing gravity-defying rock sculpture by cold plunge, summer 2012, builder unknown. Like to think it was playful earth spirits, creating it overnight to blow minds of mortals on arriving next day
And: "Once I got snowed in here for a few days right after Christmas. Not a bad place to be stuck!" (Mojorayjones, Northern CA)
"Truly sacred land." (A Groggel, S.F., CA)
"The whole scene imparts an incredible sense of relaxation and rebirth." (Kitty Case)
"...sacred, revered, carefully loved and cared for magical forest with a beautiful, clear cold stream coming from the waters of Mount Shasta ..." (Doug. S., Pacifica, US)
"Wonderful rustic resort. Totally off the beaten path...place has a magical feel to it..." (Crystal S., Davis, CA)
"It is not your 'upscale' Napa-type hot springs and I love that!" (Unattributed 'not recommended' Yelp review)
vs. more rants
Others were not so charitable. One felt that rich barbarian spa freaks had stormed the gates, crowding out everyday people. From Martinez, CA, old post by shastadaisey:
"The earth goddesses have now been replaced by rude people in BMWs who leave you standing while they lay in the sauna. The sage weavers [smudge bundlers] have been replaced by signs with rules. It used to be a wonderful relaxing experience, but... truly peaceful earth-loving folks can't afford to participate anymore..."
Also: "I've loved this place for 20 years, but am disappointed in the recent changes. " (Benicia B., S.F.)
If indeed place is energy vortex many believe it to be, amplifying whatever vibrations are brought into realm, it's no wonder such diverse reactions occur. People from all walks of life have been attracted to place. Each day is unique blend of energies: expectations and head spaces, mood of times, day's staff, owner support and involvement or lack thereof, manager mindfulness, energy flow de jour, weather, shifting mass consciousness, world events, one's financial means, economy in general, Mercury retrograde,water heater going on strike, moon void-of-course, bad hair day...
You call this a campground?
Some campers were disappointed at lack of amenities, and rightly so, often no handy drinking/washing water, shower, or facility better than porta-potty anywhere close at hand:
"Camp sites are not much more than a parking spot for $35 a nite." (Juliane, Google review)
"Quite uninviting...no drinking or washing water anywhere near the campsites." (Bistra, tripadvisor review)
Place Better or Worse?
One said they were "...pleased to discover that it was so much nicer than it was a few years ago" and that "...the resort is managed by caring people who are restoring it with ecological consciousness." "[M]anagers have made some much needed and lovely improvements". (Betsy46, Sacramento, CA).
Another: "One of my favorite places on the entire West Coast."
(Travis P., Ashland, OR)
"Simply put, this is the BEST place on Earth. If you are looking for a sacred, revered, carefully loved and cared for magical forest with a beautiful, clear cold stream coming from the waters of Mount Shasta with the astounding, and in fact miraculous, addition of a twin (female/male) underground spring of healing mineral waters all offered to you in a rustic, laid back and very affordable way, with much love, then this IS the place for you. The bathhouse experience is incredibly healing and rejuvenating, the grounds are gorgeous and the accommodations are comfortable and cozy. We love the cabins. I cannot recommend Stewart Mineral Springs highly enough..." (Doug S., Pacifica, CA - obvious pre-sea-change review)
For every rave a rant
"I was met cordially with the information that things were 'much better than they used to be.' I had used the baths about 5 years before and thought they were great", going on to say not so now.
Or, "...in spite of lovely renovations to both the bathhouse and the sauna, the service has sadly declined."
One really discouraging pan: "Overpriced, disgusting place. I didn't sleep a wink..." (Emma L., Lechtenberg)
2017 visitor balthazer b, S.F., gave mixed review, put off by A-frame accommodations, sauna not hot enough, mineral water irritating skin, but enjoyed plunge, left to muse, "Odd that the best part about the place was running out to jump in a creek."
While one enthused about how "mineral baths, sauna and river cold plunge were all fantastic, the best of that kind of thing I've ever experienced anywhere," another griped about jagged rocks at "outright dangerous" creek plunge, along with stains in tubs.
And limited soaking time and open hours:
"I spent my time worrying about how much time I had left, rather than relaxing into the experience." (Benicia B., S.F., CA)
"Extremely limited bathhouse hours..." (Michael B., Santa Fe, NM)
"We checked in at 5:45 and were disappointed to find out that the bathhouse closed at 4:30 pm and didn't open until 12:00 pm the next day. That meant that we wouldn't be able to soak the main reason that we chose this resort." (unattributed Yelp review "not currently recommended" at bottom of page - might have to click a few times to bring up)
One especially poignant more recent post reflects how Springs's limited mineral water supply and tubs keep more visitors from enjoying therapeutic soaks:
"I reserved a place to sleep here after climbing Mt. Shasta knowing that our group of 5 would be exhausted and need recovery in the baths. We arrived and were surprised with the information that there were not enough baths for us and that they were closing them down two hours early. We decided against staying because there was really no point if we were not able to use the facilities to recover our bodies. I was charged the full rate for the few minutes we spent in the office before leaving.
"I guess this is their policy but it left a really bad taste in my mouth. I grew up an hour away from Stewart Mineral Springs and have always been really curious to go, which makes this experience devastatingly disappointing.
"I walked away with tears of disappointment and a much lighter wallet."
-- April L., San Diego
another inevitable sidebar
(feel free to skip)
Limited, Powerful Mineral Water
On surface, time limit on soaks might appear understandable concern. Especially considering most rural mineral spring resorts of Northwest allow unlimited soaking, albeit mostly in self-serve, communal pools.
Many Eastern spring resorts with private tubs have similar time limits -- some for only 30 minutes and more coin than Stewart's more leisurely 75 minutes. But any limit can be off-putting if tub enthusiast hoping to relax and totally forget about time.
But springs with communal mineral pools have far greater replenishment rates. Ashland, OR's Jackson Wellsprings, for example, changes water in Olympic-sized pool each week (reportedly -- and understandably -- mixed with fresh) and full-strength hot mineral pool twice a week; even showers are mineral water. They likely have thousands times more mineral water to play with, as probably do most others in wider region. If we did too there'd maybe be less time restriction and more tubs. (But probably not, for reason soon to follow.)
As many spring enthusiasts, given choice, far prefer communal soak experience in sunshiny out-of-doors over any private indoor private bathtub inside open-topped, low-ceiling-ed, noise-echoing hallway stall, Stewart's might've long ago developed mineral water pool too had it water to play with. (Though, being cold water, ambient-temp pool might not have been popular except in hot weather.)
But magic elixir wells up at super modest clip, sometimes only gallon or two a minute, requiring close rationing. And it must be propane heated at no small expense to boot (yes, it is a cold mineral spring), making each drop even more precious.
To main point of time limit: Springs' mineral water can be powerful -- sometimes almost industrial strength. (Potency varies throughout year for reasons uncertain.) Well-traveled soakers report it's strongest mineral water they've ever experienced. Tall claim posted on sign inside entrance is perhaps less than your typical mineral springs hyperbole.
Some people perhaps haven't learned to appreciate how various mineral springs' waters can differ. The unaware, especially bathtub enthusiasts addicted to soaking for hours and merrily scrubbing away at will, can easily overdo, losing benefit and gaining skin irritation lasting days, if not weeks:
"I did not hear that I should soak only a limited time in that water, so I stayed 50 minutes. I have been itchy and miserable for 10 days. Please put those signs someplace where no one will miss them..." -- Bets S., Talent, OR Yelp
More than 30 minutes total soak time can be pushing luck unless well-attuned to water properties, proper way to soak, and listening to body.
It might help to think of Stewart's silica-rich water as liquid glass crystal, scouring off dead skin, opening pores to enable beneficial minerals to soak in and freer sweating out of toxins in sauna. (See list of minerals from analysis in Emile Frank's article, Part 2.) Also, while not justifying reason in itself, setting time limit does allow more people to enjoy soak when things get mega-busy (one formerly could count on it middle of any three-day holiday weekend year-round), there being only dozen tubs. Plus it serves as way to track hygienic cleanliness of tubs between use. (In other, self-serve, no-time-limit springs like Orr, Sierra, and Mercy, tubs are user-cleaned before and after each use.)
Oldtimers remember slow days with time-stopping luxury of claiming tub for four to six hours -- real oldtimers, for entire day -- leisurely stretching out mini-soaks, slowly acclimating to water's power and proper soaking method. (Or soaked for hours on end, having hide of rhino or wisdom to stay absolutely still.)
There's a rural legend that an outdoor communal mineral soak once existed on grounds. For sure, there was indeed over-sized indoor tub in '70s -- now tub rooms 3 and 4, for a while two dressing rooms -- big enough for three or four. Rumor has it in its heyday more than a few doobies and vino jugs were merrily passed around.
It's the Water!
Many note quality of mineral water:
"It felt more amazing than any hot spring I've been to. It is slippery and a little gritty. Odd, but blissful.
"I felt no need for a massage after that......felt more amazing than any hot spring I've been to. " (Deborah D., Redwood City, CA)
"The mineral baths are the best around (I've been to other places) VERY rejuvenating." (Steve B., Richmond, CA)
< Dr. Emoto team photo of spring water's molecular structure. Some think it looks like circle of little blissed Buddhas
"The water made my skin really soft (also it really improved the condition of my stubborn psoriasis)." (Natalie L., Redding, CA)
"They claim it has the highest quality mineral water in the world! [Just all of America actually.] I must agree in some ways...I am very fair skinned, so I have to be careful. Sometimes the minerals are so strong it almost feels like I'm sunburned afterwards..." (Mojorayjones, Northern CA)
"The mineral waters are amazing!" (Isabel Martinez)
"Water is the strongest I've ever been in [emphasis added]. If you stay in too long, your skin begins to peel off. At its worst, it can be like soaking in bleach." (Tim Wu, author and well-soaked traveler, from his site exploring global hot springs)
"...the mineral baths are out of this world. I love the way my body buzzes after a soak..." (Psychedelic_Dou)
"...Mother Nature's healing properties at their best." (Brookings,OR)
"The experience was amazing. I didn't want to leave!!!" (LIBLKS, Paso Robles, CA)
One, while enjoying water, took exception to bathhouse setup:
"When you go for a mineral bath you get your own bath tub in a private room. The water is amazing, but honestly, I didn't like the isolation within a small room [open-topped stall, actually]....while still being able to hear people in the other rooms." (Angela F., Berkeley.)
During former, pre-sea-change ownership, many visitors raved about place's now-bygone staff:
"We have very nice young people caring for us..." (1shastagirl)
"The office staff was EXCELLENT! They were kind and helpful...all the kind people who work there...made...trip PERFECT." (DarlaM)
"For all of the years that I have been coming, the staff has always been friendly and kind. I bring friends and family. They love it, too!"
-- S.S., San Diego, CA yelp review
"Staff was extremely helpful" (Persephone2010)
< Former bath attendant Ally's 5-year-old twin girls would trail close behind like ducklings in pond as she made rounds
"Staff is made up of dedicated and friendly people" (Ori977)
"Staff seems to genuinely honor the spirituality of the place and the peace experienced there is pervasive." (Nearyme, TripAdvisor)
"Respectful staff who make it clear their goal is to facilitate each guest's peaceful and restful stay. I think SMS is awesome!" (Kae L)
"The staff were very friendly and helpful" (Lizypeterson, TripAdvisor)
Former longtime bathhouse attendant Lara >
"Compassionate friendly staff." (Celinda Carlisle Cheskawich)
"...exceptional customer service...accommodating, friendly, professional..." (Mrsmueller)
"...helpful and friendly" (Margain)
"...front desk staff were pleasant and efficient. Never came across a person who didn't gave a certain joy about working at the SMS." (Brookings Oregonian)
"The vibe of the staff was a welcome balance of attentive and unassuming." (Waterviolet)
"I can't speak warmly enough about the land and the people who watch over it." (Andy G)
"...resort is managed by caring people who are restoring it to ecological consciousness. This is not a deluxe modern destination resort, but it is a place to enjoy nature and relax." (Betsey46)
"...the tender loving care of the Goddesses in the Bath House are something beyond words." (Shasta Visitor, from Netherlands)
another longwinded aside
Some might not realize that the Sixties countercultural movement, with its radical lifestyle changes of untold millions creating global cultural impact, was in fact exponential expansion of an earlier, turn of 20th century movement begun in Germany known as the Natural Man movement.
Earlier movement was, in turn, itself a popular protest over massive disruption created by industrial revolution, which suddenly prevented people from living in close, long-accustomed proximity and harmony with nature.
Situation had become intolerable. Movement included celebrating seriously getting back to nature, radical body freedom, saunas and mineral baths, massage (until recently all features of Stewart's), communalism, raw food diet, feminism, loose fitting clothes, and resisting draft and public schooling. (Sounds like late '60s/early '70s, no?) Including such luminaries as Herman Hesse and Isadora Duncan, it laid energetic groundwork for later back-to-nature countercultural movement that, despite gross media distortions and dismissal as flaky, ephemeral social phenomenon, helped spread nature-attuned, liberated mindset to global level. (Check out well-illustrated book Children of the Sun, by Gordon Kennedy, out-of-print but around.)
Big duh: mindful mineral soaking and sauna-ing with clothing optional are essential parts of alternative natural-healing and so naturally attract nature-loving alternative-minded culture.
But what IS alternative" culture anymore?
Fifty years ago, trying to discourage Spring visits by rebellious wild hippie-types due to low spending habits; deeply polarized, smash-the-system attitudes; and then shockingly free ways might have seemed valid effort to ensure making business operation inviting and safe to more respectable and solvent mainstream visitors.
But no longer. Since then, essence of harbinger countercultural influence has gone viral, spreading like wildfire to fringes of mainstream consciousness.
Witness soaring interest in yoga, transcendental meditation, conscious diet, cannabis and hemp healing, recycling, pre-cycling, alternate energy, appropriate livelihood, simpler living, tiny houses -- ALL championed ages ago by hippie culture...along with unabashed delight in getting nekkid in nature.
Flash: Over last half century countercultural influence has been transforming mainstream culture -- the ever-expanding life-affirming part of it -- as if awakening from long sleep and witnessing unfolding miracle.
Radical body freedom is obviously no longer sole domain of so-called hippies, naturists, and stereotypical gated volleyball-ing nudists. Not so subtly proving point, shown here is Spencer Tunick's art installation with some of 6,000 naked people in Mexico City, around 2006.
Body freedom is one of many emerging lifestyle preferences (or high on one's check-out list) of myriad health and freedom minded humans of all walks of life, cultures and incomes around the world.
Hence Stewart became such an incredibly popular go-to spot at dawn of new millennium. Besides being set in charming region rich in history and possessing special water and amazing vortex energy, it was one of select few spas open-minded and enlightened enough to permit visitors to experience simple yet profound joy of getting unabashedly bare in nature. It enabled taking mini-vacation from depressingly perma-dressed society, regaining simple childlike innocence and becoming one with healing elements among kindred nature lovers. It amped palliative benefits of mind-body-spirit reintegration and enhanced experience for all open-minded, even if passing on option.
rants and raves cont'd
"If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere." - Van Gogh
"If you live in a van and love Burning Man, this place may not be right for you..." -- online review
S.F. reviewer Byron Gordon groused, "Beware. This place operates on limited hours..." He and his arrived at four on day bathhouse closed at five and didn't re-open til noon next day, too late for them so they never got looked forward to bath. (He claimed he wasn't told of open hours on making reservations.)
His verdict: "This place lacks budget and it shows... Restricting hours during the summer months during the longest days of the year is ridiculous..."
yet another rambling aside...
On former limited water, hours, & staff
Place in 1990's hobbled along for years on water-heating system so anemic it often only supplied three tubs' worth at a time. This was due largely to owner finding damaged heater at 90% off and trying to save money, hoping it would work, which, alas, it often didn't. Countless would-be soakers were kept on hold in sauna so long while more water slowly heated they'd finally give up and demand refunds.
Manager wisely saved refund receipts and presented double fistful to owner during annual visit to show it might be good business to spring for system upgrade -- at which point he went whole hog and had late, great plumbing ace Matt Reed custom design and build grand heating system enjoyed today. Certain special-made plumbing components were imported from Europe that wouldn't be affected by water's mineral content.
Thank goodness such disconnects appeared only sporadically. Rest of time place could run like clockwork. Among other operational refinements, bathhouse (and office) since 2000 began staying open evenings on Thursday thru Saturday during peak season. (Roughly May thru October)
Of course, crucially, it also used to get far fewer visitors. Place wasn't on map, receiving merest trickle of present visitor volume that can sorely tax mineral water supply.
Again, Stewart's mineral water is far more limited than places like Orr, Harbin, Breitenbush, and Jackson Wellsprings. Reducing operational hours help stretch supply so expectant visitors all day on road are less likely to be told, "Sorry, just ran out." (But, alas, sometimes instead finding place closing at seemingly ridiculous early hour.)
A former, trey dubious, way to stretch mineral water briefly done years ago -- much to writer's shock -- was to dilute it with fresh. Rationale was water was getting too strong. Maybe a few times it was; water at times seemed almost industrial strength -- but veterans realize potency fluctuates and adjust soaks accordingly, and newbies could be strongly cautioned. Couldn't help but be reminded of shady dives watering down pricey drinks. Full-strength mineral water is what people paid good chunk of change for.
Shorter hours and closed days off-season were cutbacks started during fun-filled Great Recession. Fewer visitors came, though conserving water supply was no doubt one reason for continuing shorter open time since so-called jobless recovery, there were other possible factors. Perhaps owner liked reduced labor overhead it allowed and/or management got used to luxury of sleeping in now and then, enjoying morning mini-respite from operation pressures. In any event, varied hours and closed-days off-season, for better or worse became new standard long after economy rebounded.
Skeleton staff abused by bone-headed management
At times it seemed any higher standard of operational integrity was deemed optional, for chumps. Place as directed appeared to pursue old-school hardball business model, forever preoccupied with milking most revenue for least outlay, bending labor laws when possible, and breaking them if thinking could get away with it.
One might've thought such bold operation practices would cause bottom line to suffer, but it didn't seem to, not unduly. But only for being well-positioned and renowned mineral springs, able to coast on historic reputation and, again, being in seller's market. Unfair and dispiriting practice ended only after owner at last got busted and fined good pile of cash by state labor board around 2006 once furious group of ex-employees filed complaints for being forced to work off-clock and not always getting work breaks if things busy.
rants and raves cont'd
One first-time walk-in visitor, Javacat of S.F., arrived before open hours, but didn't realize it. She was misled by 'Office' sign posted on wall few feet from sauna maintenance door, no arrow indicating that office was actually around corner. She was about to have a crazy Alice in Wonderland experience, meeting up with stand-in for testy Mad Hatter who'd breathed in too many mercury fumes (but who this time was in fact Ted, late operations manager, dying of liver failure and no doubt just wanting to cop precious alone time to cope):
"I opened the door next to the office sign, walked in a very dark room [sauna]...and navigated my way through the dark room towards light at the back of the building.
"Just then, a man bustled out a door with an armload of supplies, looked up at me, and YELLED, "What're you doing in here? How did you GET IN HERE??!! WHAT DO YOU WANT?!"
(will they never cease?)
On lack of critical signs...
and blizzard of others
Tho told she was first person to do such a dumb thing, it was in fact once not too uncommon an occurrence. Back door was kept unlocked during open hours for emergency exit.
A group might be sweating away in still near-darkness and -- suddenly! -- backdoor, one many didn't know existed, flung open wide with blinding flood of daylight. Confused reaction of inadvertent intruder was usually good for chuckle once startled reaction subsided, appearing as visitor from another dimension: sudden flash, chagrined mumble of "Oh..sorry, thought this was the office," door shutting just as fast and returning room to dark silence. One's imagination reeled at notion of dim roomful of often-nude people sweating away actually being the office: "No, but it is the Springs think tank. Hey, we've been waiting for you. 'Bout time you made it. Take a load off and give us your take on chem trails."
For some reason getting all grounds signage logical and clear has often proved either elusive goal or little cause for concern. Perhaps result of former untoward profit focus to obvious detriment of any more relaxed interaction with visitors, along with periodic labor shortages and log-jam of daily chores and maintenance tasks, contributing to ungracious treatment reviewer experienced. (Also, again, manager was facing decade-long terminal disease, something that could understandably make anyone who'd really rather not check out more than bit testy or indifferent to any and all beyond small trusted circle.)
Needless unfortunate energy wedgies could make for spacing out such directional details. Springs, being in believed energy vortex, could well have swirling forces encouraging non-rational spirit state that at times wreck havoc on such mundane matters. It might throw off ability to get any better handle on small but critical matters, like creating accurate and pleasing guiding signs (that grounds manager Josh W. began remedying nicely with grand routed creations).
Maybe it's just human nature. Writer at Oregon's vast Britenbush grounds once got lost in snowy cold on returning from distant parking lot -- even with their far more generous placement of refreshingly artistic signage -- and started freaking until finally finding way back. Management and seasoned staff members of any place might think, "Well, I know where things are -- heck, everybody does. Why do some people seem to have such trouble? Are they directionally challenged or something?"
Case in point: missing "Apts. 1-6" sign on post at turn into parking area went unreplaced for years. Post sign of course pointed way to the one unrentable place, The Cottage. (Manager abode/office space since 2005, chef's residence earlier; rented before that, hence lingering sign.)
Another example: For decades, large historic routed wood sign inside entrance at road fork pointed former route to bathhouse, straight ahead uphill, rather than turning down right and crossing creek bridge. It was quaint outdated relic from days before car bridge was even built, changing approach. Its arrow guided people up to restaurant area with covered walking bridge over to bathhouse. Route still works and is pleasant sheltered walk over creek, even if limited roadside parking. After years of unintended but uncorrected misdirection, one day the owner of large camper possibly did place inadvertent favor backing into sign and demolishing it.
Then there have been other kinds of signs, No-this, No-that, and Don't-even-think-about-it signs found in plenitude, posted around bathhouse, at gates, gazebo and in lodgings. These would seem unfortunate result of decades of mostly green, flying-by-seat-of-pants management -- all former owner could get for low salary and wages offered. It seemed they could never get any solid, assured handle on operation that might allow more nuanced, artistic signage reasonable in tone and pleasing to eye instead of unfortunate reactionary authoritarian edicts.
"...found the signage...unfriendly", said Kirstine 2013, Albuquerque, NM, tripadvisor)
at2522 of Eugene, OR, keenly noted how scene seemed lacking in "...abundance of 'yes we can' energy" successful operations thrive in, doubtless spoke for many when saying:
"The place has a lot of negative messaging which led us to believe they've had some problems in the past. Around every corner are signs telling us what not to do and how we may be fined and prosecuted (even above the sink in our room!). This is not what you expect to see in a 'healing' place such as SMS..."
rants and raves cont'd
A Creek Runs Through it
One thing everyone agrees on: the beauty of land and the creek running through it:
"The resort is on incredibly beautiful land, and you can hear the rushing of the spectacular creek from the lodging, a great sound to sleep to." (Salem. OR)
"We especially loved sitting by the creek and drinking in the sound of the water and the silence of the trees." (Henderson, NV)
"...at the top of the scale for the natural beauty, the setting, the rushing creek..." (S.F.)
"The grounds are very nice. There is a creek that runs through the resort and it is very peaceful listening to it rush through..."
(A. Applebee, San Jose, CA)
"I arrived after a long day and was lulled to sleep by the sound of a running stream." (Anne D., S.F., CA)
"I loved sitting by the river and having time to heal my inner spirit...I truly appreciate listening to river while laying in bed..." (Kady Cherry)
"The cabins and motels are very basic but the sound of the creek rushing by makes up for it!" [forgot to get handle]
"The river draws you in." (Irishwannabe, Portland, OR)
"...definitely a hidden gem. The location and setting are beautiful." (Los Angeles, CA)
"The mineral baths, sauna and river cold plunge were all fantastic, the best of that kind of thing I've ever experienced anywhere...I liked being able to hear the relaxing river sounds anywhere on the property." (Waterviolet, Boston, MA)
"You can hear the rushing of the spectacular creek from the lodging, a great sound to sleep to." (Enjoying Oregon, Salem, OR)
"Fabulous healing waters and spiritual atmosphere!!" (Carl M., Ashland, OR)
"I feel like I enter heaven each time I have been blessed to come here! The springs are filled with negative ions and you can feel your vibration lifting the longer you stay close to the running water. It's magical!" (Jasmine H., Sebastopol, CA)
"...The brook is stunning and runs through the beautiful land with chairs for sitting and chilling out..." (Layla K., Oakland, CA)
One thoughtful criticism of former sweat lodge ceremony
"each year i gather with family and friends for memorial gathering to honor our veterans. i decided last year to go to the sweat lodge. it was not a positive experience. the person leading the ceremony appeared focused on what some of his students weren't doing and sounded rather angry and forgot about others who were there, some for their first experience with "the sweat lodge".
"i am hopeful they will find a traditional sweat one which honors our ancestors, our gratitude or love for mother earth. there was not one mention of our warriors who gave so much.
"i am hopeful he will be able to step out of self and remember the true ceremony."
-- Karen D., 2013 Yelp review (in "not currently recommended" link at bottom of page)
On Body Freedom,
Or Lack Thereof
(Scroll bit further for feedback since nudity ban took affect)
Reviewers often commented on former checkerboard zones of permitted and verboten nudity in effect between 2000 and late 2016. Before acclimating it could create schitzy feeling: okay in sauna, tubroom, outer deck, and around coldplunge; but "Uh, you need to cover up" reminder elsewhere...or realizing from stares one was inadvertently streaking between okay zones. Persons were left with feeling it was okay to get buff -- kinda, sorta, but just a little, so be ready to cover up anytime lest the nude police cometh...
"I found it odd that they would want you clothed just walking in between the bath, sauna and cold plunge though nude once you got to any of those places." (Echosaisis C., Sacramento, CA)
"I was told...the bathhouse is a
clothing optional facility [Indeed, website claimed this without specifying okay zones,
implying no limits: Hey, arrive naked if you want, we don't care!]. However,
when I was going from my tub room to the sauna and I had a sheet around
my waist, I was discreetly shown by one of the attendants to cover my
breasts. So obviously, they don't mean the whole bathhouse is
clothing-optional..." (Florence, OR)
"For reasons not known to us, bathers
are required to 'cover up' in the short hallway leading from the sauna
and baths to the sundeck."
(Camilla & Bill Pennington, Arizona
naturist [nudist] resort owners, coiners of phrase "clothes-minded"; colleagues of late founder of The Naturist Society, Lee Baxendall, who in turn coined term "clothing optional".)
< Think place was always clothing-optional? Old signs rescued from trash tell a different story. They were posted around bathhouse until 2000, when things liberalized.
Checkerboard policy of allowable zones was progressive minded, Euro-style compromise to try accommodating both those wanting to enjoy body freedom during spa regimen and those who weren't sure, or for sure didn't want to, thank you very much...with predictably mixed results, given bathhouse having non-optimal set-up for creating chill freebody environ as do other c/o resorts
"A little cliquey, with a big divide between the naked and the clothed." (Mark G., Oakland)
"I just love this place...I can get my nude on." (Chelle B, Sacramento, CA)
"The back deck and creek are great for nude sunning and swimming." (Carl M., Ashland, OR, TripAdvisor)
TripAdvisor posting from Randyfish of Eureka, CA struck balanced viewpoint: "Nudity is not flaunted as it can be at some other 'clothing optional' spas, so wearing a bathing suit...or not...is not really a concern." [But now, alas, is]
"If you have problems with nudity or a laid back atmosphere this might not be the place for you." (Sofista, Bend,Or Tripadvisor)
"Be prepared for NUDITY, no, and I am not talking in a good way, I am talking OLD and disgusting..." (Unattributed Yelp review from 2010)
"...if you are sensitive to nudity go someplace else." (WanderlustSal, Portland, OR Tripadvisor)
"Get ready to see some naked folk - the steam room and stream are clothing optional." (Laura908, TripAdvisor)
"I'd estimate that 80% of the patrons chose to be nude in the allowed areas. If you have issues with this, then this is not your place. This is not your mainstream 'spa' [emphasis added] so expect to see all kinds of unusual and interesting folks!" (Alverda3, TripAdvisor)
Actually, percentage choosing option over long-term varied from practically everyone (whether out of genuine preference or feeling the need to conform was another matter) to almost no one.
"I find it weird that I have to drape myself with a sheet for the 50 feet between the tub/sauna and creek...I wish people were comfortable in their bodies enough to be naked.. I admit, being a nudist and going to this place was a bit of a turn-off... but for some of you, that might be a grand ole time." (Angela C., Oakland, CA)...
...versus "...[W]e headed to the sauna where clothing was clearly not abundant. There were about 15 naked 30- something men and women looking at each other and sweating..." (KnitVallejo, Vallejo)
Evan Halper, in 2006 L.A. Times review, offered own initial perspective on clothing-optional policy, reflecting conventional mainstream attitudes:
"Still relatively new to California, Erin and I were unaware that here the words 'hot springs' were synonymous with 'naked people.'...We strolled...down to the creek. A few yards off stood a large woman, buck naked, her tattooed back to us. Erin put her hand over her mouth to muffle a gasp.
"The next morning, we headed down to the springs with every intention of soaking in one of the 15 private bathing rooms and making a quick, fully clothed escape. But once in the steaming hot tub, the draw of the creek became irresistible. Soon, we too were skinny-dipping in the freezing waters."
Similar warming up to skinnydipping option was shared by Ronet G of Novato,CA., who went from initial "...shock of seeing naked people strewn about...river cold plunge area" to joining in and enthusing how "...being nude in a river in nature on a warm day is a fabulous experience!"
2017 Nudity Ban Rants
Seventeen-year clothing-optional policy evaporated into thin air at stroke of midnight on Halloween in 2016 (in synchronicity of bummers, exactly one week before T-rex snagged election). Former royal carriage of body freedom turned into lowly pumpkin -- ironically signalling time to don costumes. Many assumed we'd established a permanent beachhead away from masquerade of life that forever demanded keeping souls' physical temples covered in public, no matter how appropriately natural the setting and innocent the intent.
Many voiced stunned concern, heartbreak and sputtering outrage on SMS's Facebook review page -- entire page long since removed:
"...I am SUPER bummed about your recent "no more clothing optional" policy...you might be the only hot spring 'resort' in California with this stupid new policy...who exactly are you trying to appeal to? Most of us locals go naked. Maybe you could release that silly concept on local days, at least? I am really not inclined to return." - Alexa Ninal
"Was surprised by the new policy of clothing only, did not feel the same."
"The sacred nature will be lost as people no doubt will start to talk more and be less respectful of the land ...there is a magick in the vulnerability the option to be naked offers and it is a level of healing that has been central to Stewart Minerals Springs [emphasis added]. -- Anu Honey
"Dear Management: These springs have been a longtime gem in this area...a healing and rejuvenating place for so many of us, locals and tourists. The recent new ownership has made big changes without properly understanding the local clientele and it will likely be detrimental to keeping the springs running, especially in the off seasons.
"Changing from clothing optional to not clothing optional makes this a much less desirable place for me to soak. Being in a 170-200 degree sauna with a bathing suit or sheet on...no thank you. Jumping in a freezing river with a bathing suit or sheet on...brrr! It's not like people were just waltzing around naked...it was a quick dip and back to the sauna or bath. How about a compromise...have a few days that are open for clothing optional and other days not?"
-- Jacqueline Sidra Hertzog
"I have been enjoying Stewart Springs for almost 20 years. It's always been a favorite place. However, what makes it awesome is its purity and how freeing it is to jump in the creek naked & sauna naked...Don't ruin something that has always been sacred with your dumb new rules."
-- Annoy Fusso
"No more clothing optional? What puritanical nonsense! This sounds like a corporate mindset overtaking the beauty of the tradition. What's next - mandatory burkas?
"...I can understand not wanting anyone to feel uncomfortable, but jumping in the creek with clothes on or the sheet wrapped around you is not the same experience as being naked. Sitting naked in the sun after coming out of the creek is far nicer than sitting with a freezing sheet wrapped around you.
"Changing the tradition to accommodate some people misbehaving is usually the easy way out - with more restrictions you don't have to deal with unwanted behavior, but eventually our traditions become watered down from our submission to fear or conformity.
"Maybe you should have considered just ejecting those misbehaving rather than throwing out the traditions. Why not put up a few signs - 'Anyone acting like Donald Trump will be asked to leave.' "
"I love this place with all my heart. I healed so much here and have grown so very much from my experiences here, but since the new owners have come in and instated new policies that inhibit the free expression on ones self, then things have really changed. It went from full transparency to having to cover up (clothing optional was one of the most potent aspects of SMS healing qualities in my opinion).
"In this covering up of one's own "shame" I believe Stewart lost not only many long time customers but also the magical feeling of free expression... Yes these new rules have allowed shy newcomers to enter but at what cost?... -- Merau Daan
And from TripAdvisor and Yelp:
"During my recent (and likely final) visit to Stewart Mineral Springs, I was very sad to discover the new owners have banned the clothing optional policy..."
"New owners want clothes/sheets on sauna users; this is dangerous and a mistake! When you cover your skin with clothes, your sweat can’t help cool you down by evaporating on your skin. You will quickly overheat and also lose the benefits... When you wipe away the toxin-filled sweat, the toxins don’t sit in contact with your skin to possibly be reabsorbed."
"My former favorite place on earth, I used to always make a special effort to get to the mineral baths when I passed through the area a couple times a year. I just went for the first time since (unbeknownst to me) they stopped the clothing optional policy. They say they did it because it made some people uncomfortable, but it fit so well into the nature of the experience that I am really saddened to see that go.
"The new policy actually makes me feel less comfortable and more self-conscious now that societal inhibitions have crept into the experience, and I have to be more careful of how I'm looking [emphasis added]. If I hadn't been here before to know what it was like, I'd probably be giving a 4 or 5 star review as the baths are still healing, but not as much as before. 'Another one bites the dust' in the name of lowest common denominator, mediocrity..."
-- Leo H., Los Gatos, CA
One of few early posted votes of approval for change until 2018 brought out more perma-dress minded and Pneuma shills (as poster possibly is):
""I appreciate the new no nudity policy, as it is more family friendly and you can bring your kids." -- Caroline H., Ojai, CA Yelp review
If saturated with my spouting -- I do go on -- and want to skip following rant on nudity ban, or for some unfathomable reason aren't unduly bummed by nudity ban, get to Parts 3 and 4 with more re-posted online review rants & raves excerpts by
Need to rethink nudity ban for good of all
Making place un-barable
made place unbearable
"And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." -- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Further rant and analysis on hot button issue, take formed by writer's 20 years of weekly visits or more until December 2017, having low-keyly rallied for clothing-optional in late '90s before it existed.
(note: writing assumes bathhouse will re-open sometime in future under new stewardship.)
It would almost appear some bizarro alternate reality has befallen Stewart Mineral Springs.
In draconian over-reaction to supposed isolated incident of some idiot mindlessly jacking off on sundeck, using event as handy excuse -- or, more likely, manager boldly inventing incident out of whole cloth -- a plague of de facto enforced body shame swept over grounds. Banning clothing-optional after 17 years of body freedom completely discombobulated realm's once-magical air.
It was an enchanted atmosphere largely made manifest by chance to experience low-key social and solitary nudity amid nature during spa regimen -- or not, everyone's choice -- experiencing rare, liberating break from depressingly perma-dressed world at large, often regaining sense of simple, unashamed childhood innocence and fostering getting closer to nature spirits and amazing feeling of oneness with all creation.
It distressed and dumbfounded countless now-alienated fans of place for new stewards to have abandoned longtime policy, which emulated popular open-minded European spas. Though for sure with more fine-tuned layout, they, along with select U.S. mineral springs resorts, have long offered clothing-optional areas to boost potential for purifying, healing, TOTAL relaxing and rejuvenating. (Sometimes, especially in Germany, birth land of modern freebody movement, in nude-mandatory areas like saunas one can get in trouble for wearing anything, even footwear, inside.)
Not only are myriad stateside visitors staggered by change, but, as can be imagined, also many would-be European and other international visitors, who came to Stewart's because they preferred familiar enlightened spa option of getting free of unnecessary cover and enjoying profound relaxation and palliative effect that popular open-minded policy fostered.
As shown by some of above public comments, posted before what many feel is stunningly repressive change, even some first-time visitors initially put off by public nudity came around and enjoyed opportunity to skinnydip and sunbathe au naturel, some no doubt for first time ever. Others didn't -- though, tellingly, few online rants against former allowed nudity posted over years, perhaps from concern they'd appear prudish or uptight. One suspects some took out their displeasure over modest but, for them, disconcerting freebody scene by ranting instead about not enough towels or toilet paper in cabins.
Visualizing Future Enlightened Ownership and Management
Body acceptance and radical body freedom have made giant strides in recent decades, albeit at times progress has seemed three steps forward to two back. (Obviously, Springs has taken giant two steps back.)
Growing numbers think it a good thing -- even crucial -- that various appropriate natural public and select private settings be clothing-optional... especially rural mineral springs...most especially those in free-spirited northern California's nature-rich environ...if not availing for selves, then for others, for whom it's either integral part of chosen lifestyle or chance to experiment and reclaim body acceptance after lifetime of socially ingrained suppression, false modesty, and guilt trips over one's biologic reality.
But the way things stand, Stewart Springs, though deep in nature, perhaps has only provided half-way optimal conditions for visitors making peace with earthly temples and furthering personal spiritual evolution through more relaxed spa regimen that such simple conscious nudity so easily fosters.
Bathhouse layout part of problem
Nudity often felt tenuous around the edges at Stewart's during last c/o run. Last management, not attuned to rich benefits of mindful radical body freedom, most probably dismissed it as hopeless, distasteful situation they were stuck with. She likely leaped at excuse of rare incident (or shamelessly made it up of whole cloth) and new un-informed, mandatory-cover leaning ownership to paint alarming picture of massive visitor disapproval of scene, naturally making new ownership want to scrap it post-haste, hee-hee.
Whatever in fact prompted sorry change, bathhouse layout is a culprit in situation. Every other rural mineral springs resort in northwest allowing some measure of clothing optional has dedicated zone in which to enjoy liberated and blissful freebody state while purifying and rejuvenating...if one so chooses.
Not Stewarts. All under same roof: bathing and sauna, employee break room, office, laundry room, housekeeping supply... So much going on it was constant uphill battle to get in -- and stay in -- any comfortable zen state nude OR wrapped. Add employees coming in to pour tea in hallway and massage meets, along with bathhouse attendant constantly scurrying about, clothed visitors picnicking on sundeck, separated c/o zones between mandatory wrap-up, etc. and textile vibes dominated bathhouse.
It could leave those trying to enjoy a bit of super-relaxing body freedom in course of spa treatment feeling frustrated -- even made to feel like exhibitionists by sometimes smug and judgmental textile chauvinists remaining sensorily muted, bods armored in cloth, feet shod.
Whether or not lamentable bare-not policy is rethought, re-energized, and fine-tuned to re-accommodate former dedicated visitor base, no doubt there will likely always be those discontent with any situation hoping to accommodate different mindsets on issue, striking newcomers as either oppressively conventional or utterly shameless.
Some will always want freedom to be nude without restriction in bathhouse compound or at least have option available for self and others. They will forever grumble about enforced body shame if made to cover anywhere in bathing area -- especially on cold wintry days in toasty 180 degree F. sauna, and warm sunshiny days perfect for skinnydipping and sunbathing and enjoying nature au naturel.
Motto: "Lose your clothes and lose your woes."
Others, not yet rediscovering joyful inner nudist of un-self-conscious infant and toddler years -- before socially programmed body shame eclipsed it, locking it up and throwing away key -- will remain forever intolerably uncomfortable or at least severely awkward around any everyday nudity. Especially if rude behavior like mindless gawking and idle-amusement cheesecake/beefcake posing is tolerated, as sadly it was under past managements...inevitable result for their not being at all pro-active and building positive, conscious c/o climate to prevent such non-centered, over self-conscious and body-objectifying behavior.
At worst, one could feel forced to endure being around naughty people, if not out-and-out deviants. Even with together c/o scene, same perma-threaders, though far fewer, would always balk at those with the galling temerity of being out of uniform, as it were, boldly disobeying conventional regime's dominant cover-thy-shame edict, making seeming bold exhibitions of their essential physical beings. It served as uncomfortable reminder how much one's bought into society's systemic body alienation and shame.
Then again, how many such would bother to visit? People going to Harbin or Breitenbush have known full-well before arriving how mindful nudity is fully sanctioned and the practice well established there. Stewart seems to have only flirted with such bohemian atmosphere, sitting on the fence, and, as result, often having had ongoing civil war between freebodies and perma-dressers, all loving place but being at perpetual odds over proper way to enjoy it. Place was forever neither fish nor fowl.
Latter sub-group might as well have had bumper sticker reading:
"Another proud cover-up junkie; you should be, too -- in fact I insist."
It's said Americans often appear simultaneously sex-obsessed and Puritanical towards nudity. There seems precious little room for socially normalizing it except at places like public free beaches, naturist resorts -- and enlightened rural mineral spring resorts, as Stewart's had been, of sorts.
Breakdown on attitudes towards social nudity
Were writer to hazard educated guess on breakdown of Stewart visitors' attitudes towards social nudity, one based on 20 years of weekly visits, it'd be:
5-10% serious freebodies
35% casual/first-time/Sunday nudists
40-50% neutral; stay covered but ok with it IF scene's respectful
5-10% "oh my God!" (obviously some perma-dressed deity)
Again, writer attributes rash decision to possibly absentee owner being fed exaggerations and misinformation by lingering manager. Never resonating with legion of freer spirits who championed progressive clothing-optional set-up, she pounced on sorry isolated incident -- or, again, shamelessly manufactured it -- to convince new owner to junk policy post haste. Clearly a misguided effort to try to make place more attractive to adamantly clothes-minded, more culturally refined (that is, deeper-pocketed) visitors. Mo money, mo bettah. Plus for those, both local and travelling, who, though perhaps actually enjoy select nudity in better manager-supported environments, could find Stewart's latter-day c/o scene way too sketchy and so grudgingly approved of nudity ban.
The Naked Truth: for some, the place is viewed more as a gold mine to be exploited than healing place to be cherished as public-minded service.
Possible positive side to
Playing devil's advocate now, taking wild card of nudity out of situation could've possibly evened out social-energy field some -- if only on dampened, comfort-constricting, spirit-stifling, level.
More visitors, at least those used to always keeping covered in public and expecting others to as well, thank you very much, might've felt more inclined to visit. Also, well-meaning parents no longer having to feel concerned about children -- naturally biggest nudists of all -- being thrown off cultural brainwashing regimen for witnessing public nudity of grown-ups who should know better, and possibly become interest of stray pedophiles possibly attracted to place for want of positive intent overseeing by management. (To solve last concern and keep clientele diversified, hour-away Oregon's Jackson Wellsprings has cover-required during daytime for family enjoyment, and becomes c/o (and adults only) after nightfall/ 8 p.m., whichever comes first.)
Granted, with textile modesty barriers in place, it slows or stops any possible over-excited pheromones from dancing mad fandangos being publicly nude sometimes causes for sheer liberating feelgoodness of it all after lifetime of body suppression and prevailing automatic hard-wired equation of nudity = sex. So it might discourage idle lustful fantasies and mindless objectification with resulting unease (vs. unease having to keep covered).
Also a few unfortunate and isolated incidents like, again, some old dufus reportedly jacking off on deck in 2016 that was supposedly last straw (if, again, it ever actually happened, rather than simply being invented by manager's wily imagination), sparking draconian ban. (Although, as one male pointed out, women's abbreviated outfits like thong bottoms can distract and idly arouse more than outright nudity.)
At risk of repeating point (okay, that ship's sailed), such incidents can in no small part be attributed to former management seeming only to tolerate c/o, rather than work to build more conscious climate. No signage on former policy, either friendly or serious, was ever posted.
Ephemeral explanation of okay areas was always verbal by attendant and front desk -- as if putting anything in print would legitimize it too much as real and solidly-backed policy. Barring any more focused effort to elevate and reinforce awareness and enlightened nude etiquette that kept excited pheromones on slow simmer, place was left wide-open for blatantly untoward behavior to creep in. This included, most commonly, open mindless bold gawking, some from distance using binoculars. Stewart Springs as peep show village: "Low admission; come one, come all (just not on our deck, please)."
While some might;ve at last felt free to give place a try with ban, they could've just as well done so with owner establishing cover-up and clothing-optional days. There would've remained potential awkwardness of clothed employees threading through re-established c/o zones of sauna, deck and plunge area, but that could be lived with like it had been last 16 years, perhaps this time lessened with more mindful intent infused in re-nude policy.
Even if renovating and moving office, laundry room, etc. elsewhere, there's always been further snag to making place fully self-serve compound like other c/o rural springs in wider area, one conducive to more chill freebody environ: place's powerful but limited supply of mineral water.
Without attendant monitoring limited mineral water use, place could run out in no time. Some, left to own devices, might mindlessly drain and refill tub between rounds. Short of, say, installing some kind of meter with automatic shut-off to ration dispensing once given limit reached, sign coming on saying, "No more water for you!", bath attendant serves a vital function.
One's also needed to tend sauna's wood stove. (Alas, missed golden opportunity when building new sauna in 2006 to change stove to special in-wall kind fed from outside, eliminating need for attendant to enter sauna except perhaps to announce ready bath.)
Possibly now-quaint, century-long tradition at place of visitors being waited on can't easily change to soakers cooperatively helping selves, as all other popular regional rural springs have done. Especially with new no-nudity policy encouraging even more visits by those who aren't serious about intensive cleansing but like idea of hot bath with personal attentive fussing, just like at similarly-compromised, lah-de-dah city spas. Serious inertia prevails at place always having provided staff assistance and not being any more "hey, help yourself, lazy gat and keep prices down."
Many treasured place over time who, for sundry reasons, were not into going au naturel. For them, radical policy change itself was no problem (though it being reflection of more buttoned-down scene might be). Others who were initially put off by change, either grudgingly or gracefully accepted more restrained body freedom -- as, indeed, most did during last cover-up period, which started roughly 1980 after Goodpastures left, and lasted until place went clothing-optional again in 2000.
One becomes philosophical about it, as in "This too shall pass." Some are stone certain nude-adverse were minority and convinced former faithful visitors -- both locals and travelers -- will deem new policy deal breaker and stay away in such numbers business volume will suffer (as time has proven to be true.
That, or business volume remain up but place suffer sudden ignominy by lights of progressive for having become yet another paradise lost by caving to negative, guilt-based morality rather than taking simple, effective positive pro-active stance. As it was, while place might've still been good for bath, sauna and plunge (and affordable lodging on the road), it was on such a more muted, restrained level that often all but vanished was former indefinable super-natural magickal healing air that countless people treasured.
In time --especially if bathhouse changes made with future, appropriate stewards -- new more workable and all-inclusive compromise can be fine-tuned, like at other places. In meantime, place could've still transformed -- lifting energies up to former transcendent levels -- simply by making certain days clothing-optional.
With policy well-advertised and well-posted, including prominent "Today is Clothing Optional Day" sign both outside and inside office, place could yet someday again accommodate broadest Springs' visitor base. It'd let visitors know exact policy upfront, rather than attendants wasting time and breath explaining to each newcomer "Ya can be naked here and here, don't even think about it there or there." Likely, with longtime reality of so many clothed employees around and office being right there with clothed visitors entering lobby all the time, only formerly allowable zones -- sauna, outer deck and plunge area -- could again be c/o again.
Such compromise -- say, offering four clothing-optional days and three bare-not days, during peak season, if not instead returning to former policy of everyday nudity in such designated areas -- would prevent excluding any Springs fans from enjoying place according to druthers (so long as it fits schedule). For those who don't care one way or other, likely greatest number, they'd merrily continue visiting any day, no problems.
Even without changing layout, renewed accommodation of those valuing nude option by having clothing-optional days makes sense business-wise. Like Wilfred Brimley said, "It's the right thing to do."
As it was, one was left with muffled feeling if one didn't coldplunge duly wrapped, or wear cloth preventing sun's healing rays from energizing entire body, or, for some weird reason, just can't enjoy sweating in 180 degree sauna covered in clammy, constrictive, bacteria-breeding cloth... that if, instead, one longed to embrace nature's elements free of supplied man-made, pesticided cotton and polyester cloth or even own natural covering... well, sorry, it's simply unacceptable now; indecent; hope you understand our cover-up crusade. Please bear with us...no, wait -- don't!
Stewart's was a rare environ that for first 16 years of new millennium distinguished itself from dominant body-phobic world at large, including majority of nation's mineral spring resorts. While a pity policy was no better embraced by former owner and management, no better focused, energized, and gently enforced, even such as it was Stewart's became a low-key clothing-optional oasis for untold thousands -- locally, nationally, and internationally. Visitors could more thoroughly enjoy therapeutic benefits of place, if choosing to, by embracing positive body acceptance and liberation amid tranquility of nature and kindred nature-loving spirits.
It's the hope and prayer of countless that clothing-optional (and sacred sweat lodge) returns before long to Stewart Springs...under new, future enlightened stewards.
More re-posted online review rants & raves here