The site was launched in 2011 independent of SMS management by longtime local Springs aficionado and volunteer, moi, Stuart Ward.
Until late 2017 I was only a mildly disgruntled work-trade helper (relatively speaking) over the dismal changes made soon after the first 'ownership' change in generations went down. In denial, I nurtured Pollyanna hopes place would turn around eventually with the new, at first seemingly promising (if mysterious), stewardship.
Towards that end, I continued a dedicated effort maintaining bathhouse's creek cold plunge...but with sinking spirits once the popular clothing-optional policy of 17 years was scrapped. Scrapped with zero outreach to the realm's longtime supporting fan base.
In the wake of the calamitous changes new 'ownership wrought once showing their true colors, the writer became one uber-"disgruntled ex-employee" indeed. With heavy heart, I suspended 18 years of psyched involvement (10% paid, 90% ridiculously informal work-trade) to join the growing de facto boycott of the cherished, now beleaguered realm.
The tragic December 2017 sweatlodge removal and taking out of spring source gazebo's love-offering prayer altar -- on top of the year-earlier clothing-optional ban -- became the last straw for countless now-estranged fans.
With the pandemic initially forcing the shutdown of the bathhouse and the subsequent management decision (possibly made before even beginning their new 'absentee stewardship') to KEEP it shut and cease massage service -- and now, with the spa-indifferent, total repurposing detour of the bathhouse building after dismantling the tubs -- the place has entered truly tragic, uber-weird territory.
See below for a site overview, analysis of the current situation, and reason yet for hope. -- also 12-part sussing.
Note: some of what follows was written long ago, during the place's more tranquil and tenuously alternative-culture-friendly times. Make due allowances.
What made this rustic retreat tucked away in the wilds near Weed, California revered by so many for so long?
Its mineral water? Its age-old Native American reverence as sacred healing grounds? The sound of rushing creek amid evergreen canyon just minutes off interstate highway?
Maybe being a believed energy vortex, amplifying vibrations any present might call forth? Or the dollop of body freedom -- allowed until late 2016 and, if there's a God in heaven, will be again some day -- to fully embrace nature, experience body liberation and enhance the purifying, healing and rejuvenating process?
Or employees, who when not scrambling or caught up in tedium almost felt transported to summer camp, and whose enthusiasm rubbed off on visitors and vice versa?
Maybe the patina of rustic historic establishment and legend of pioneer Henry Stewart, found in dire straits by natives and brought to the Springs and restored to life through mineral water soaking, making him a true believer in its curative powers, decades later launching a dedicated mission to 'buy' the place and share it with the world for the next 33 years of his life?
Of course, that indefinable attraction to Stewart Springs has been for all the above and more.
Surprising then that no book had ever been written about it. The feeling by this longtime fan was that the place deserved something more...more than the usual official in-house info and sizzle and ephemeral online reviews and thumbnail write-ups in springs guidebooks, place's policies sometimes changed before the book was even off the press.
And so the site was launched in 2011 in hopes of remedying a lamentable situation. Original intent was to offer viewers a more nuanced appreciation, history, and critical analysis of the rare jewel that is Stewart Springs.
Initially it also invited others to share their own thoughts and experiences. The latter didn't pan out, producing only three write-ups, and so over time the site become more blogcentric (while continuing critical analysis) beyond the various reposted online articles and reviews, transcribed feature newspaper articles and book excerpts mentioning the place.
The new goal became to alert public -- and mineral-spring spa aficionados in particular -- how the new absentee stewards (isn't that a choice oxymoron?) legally seized the place. How they've effectively stolen it from the public, taking it even further away from the founder's original nonprofit-in-spirit, love-of-service operation every mindful first-time visitor seemed to readily sense and naturally resonate with...
...how it heedlessly erased the old-timey, down-home cultural climate just to try remaking place to suit their own conservative mindset and serve as Pneuma Institute's world headquarters and related retreat center...one seemingly hoping to become subsidized by the public on some level (lately only group-event bookings sans spa amenities). And possibly, if giving credence to the worst fears of some, eventually privatizing place outright, slamming front gates to the entire general public after 145 years of mostly offering selfless healing service and an unassuming hospitality. (see new intro to Rants and Raves)...
...also, crucially, to convince mostly international 'owners' that they might be far happier -- and restore a good measure of now-tattered integrity -- moving their Pneuma scene to a more suitable location, once taking the time to find new appropriate steward(s)...ones who'd be tickled to resurrect the operation and land back to its original DNA roots: a down-home, nonprofit (in spirit or in fact) refuge and public trust dedicated to natural purification, healing and rejuvenation, merrily focused on serving the greater good of ailing humanity.
Hope is that the massive de facto boycott and social media alerts -- perhaps eventually also a lack of support from even the outfit's own cadres once learning of the extreme bad karma its heads created, and (dare one hope) 'owners' read the writing on the wall -- will put to a merciful end the current, misguidedly dreary plans for the place, whatever they they might be...
..that, barring their hearts melting and radically changing tune, they'll throw in the towel, being conscious enough to realize that though they created a lamentable situation that instantly painted themselves as villains in the eyes of countless Springs fans around the world, they can yet redeem themselves by 'selling' the special healing land to new, appropriate stewards...
...one(s) who will naturally see the wisdom of bringing back the modest service-loving spirit of the essentially nonprofit operation's first 78 years by the Stewart family and a few legal stewards and/or managements since...ones who would enthusiastically rescue the realm, working towards service operation reflecting the place's original spirit...updated with present-day growing holistic awareness, mindfulness, and diversity, reflecting the emerging enlightened, ultra natural lifestyles of a fast growing segment of the public mainstream...
...thereby enabling people around the world trekking up the hill to once again enjoy the bohemian retreat as the lighthearted, service-based healing and cultural center it has so long been...the place at long last freed of off-putting money-hungry vibes and/or inappropriate repurposing schemes, both with all their sundry spirit-crushing service disconnects and short-circuiting of the land's enormous healing properties.
If enough fans visualize and pray for this -- present 'owners' at last recognizing their folly and the need to let go of a place they'd (possibly only unwittingly) misappropriated, unmindful of its legacy and widespread public sentiment as a treasured healing and rejuvenatory realm...then, with crucial help of the right angel 'investors' and volunteer local and regional aficionados, plus re-energized visitor support by the growth-minded, nature-loving public, the place can once again serve to uplift humanity.
Especially with the radically shifting societal dynamics precipitated by the recent pandemic: a wracked economy and historic racial-injustice time of reckoning together creating a triple whammy meltdown, all but obliterating the former lah-de-dah business model that viewed visitors as little more than 'consumer units' to seduce and manipulate, and prodding awake former asleep-at-the-wheel mindsets...all giving way to people learning to share this strange yet wondrous planet we currently find ourselves sojourning on.
While the last 'owner' held place's innate free spirit captive on certain levels for 34 years by a profit-generating focus, putting the damper on any more enlightened, service-dedicated scene, two of the six post-Stewart-family legal stewardships lasted only a very short while indeed. (see History)
(Last 'owner' John Foggy's great redeeming quality was letting the long-time-local managers run things according to their lights -- reflecting community lifestyle values that, serendipidously, more or less coincided with the venerable healing and rejuvenation tradition of place -- just so long as the money kept rolling in.)
May this become the third short-term stewardship, clearing the way for the magical SEVENTH.
Pages here form a varied, ever-evolving zine collection and blog -- history, re-posted articles, personal experiences and reflections, rich embarrassment of online travel review excerpts...informed and semi-informed analysis and opinion, wild speculation...plus occasional news, photos, quotes, anecdotes on anything Stewart Springs related deemed worthy of notice.
By offering diverse takes on an extraordinary place -- albeit one with a pronounced checkered history of light and dark energies since the advent of so-called civilization, with all its glaring perfidies -- the hope is to foster a deeper knowing for the place's fans, and provide a introduction to those who had perhaps never even heard of the place til now; to help it realize its greater potential as the extraordinary healing realm it is...once a loving universe manifests the perfect legal keeper and hands-on operation, liberating the spot to serve humanity again.
Site launcher, again, is me, Stu Ward, former steward of Stewart's. (Yes, synchronicity gone wild.) Though naturally resonating with the name, I suspect I'd have loved the place -- as it was and is meant to be -- almost as much had it instead only been named Henry's Mud Flats.
The Springs enriched my life so much that I wanted to give back, is all. Enable others, through knowledge of the place -- plus a penchant for writing and sometimes out-of-the-box thinking -- to grok the extraordinary realm on new levels...gleam the bigger story, one so long shrouded in the mystery of vortex energies that has reflected and amplified the imprints of the myriad visitors over the ages...from sleepwalkers to the awakened, nature destroyers and culture killers to Gaia venerators and peace-loving idealists.
Since launching, the site's received over 100,000 visits around the world, maybe 75,000 or so from actual humans, vs. crawling search engines. Some left fast, no doubt looking only for additional in-house info that dutifully did a sizzling song and dance to try to woo one's business and concluding "Well, this site's useless; obviously some lunatic fringe". (Trivia aside: that term was coined by U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt.)
Or assume writer is just going down memory lane (certainly true in part); or is just some disgruntled ex-employee with an ax to grind; or built a vanity site to bolster a fragile ego and brag how he covered himself in glory in a bygone era; or is some whack nudaholic pushing the river over radical body freedom...more than, beyond any such human foibles or obsessive cause interests, is one of the countless devoted Springs fans who appreciates how, on the Spirit plane, the past-present-future are all one and so wants to seize the moment to catalyze positive change for the treasured realm....so that people might once again enjoy its bountiful blessings and rendezvous with kindred nature-loving spirits.
Other viewers perhaps lingered on the site, soaking in Stewart Springs tales and re-posted comments of hundreds of visitors, perhaps sampling writer's endless ramblings -- some well-informed, some speculative, others intuitive, using a cracked but at times still serviceable crystal ball.
Though formerly trying to keep the tone tenuously positive and upbeat -- place having taken numerous slams over the years (many justified) -- site was NEVER a whitewash, never some dubious shill effort designed to simply drum up more revenue for the 'owner'.
With the place having a life of its own, the site's perspective has always tried to be one transcending any given stewardship -- especially those seen by dyed-in-the-wool spa purists as totally inappropriate.
Here I'll add in full disclosure that before the 'owner' change and de facto boycott, writer got unlimited free saunas and a few free baths a year in exchange for both volunteer cold plunge management and doing things like shoveling snow off the sundeck, bringing back grounds' overgrown paths, building tent platforms, picking up litter, etc... So writer naturally felt a judicious need to pull punches and only try to tell it like it was between the lines, lest forces that be got ticked off and clipped my wings and made me pay like everyone else or even be banished.
After having with grave reluctance 86ed myself from place once becoming radicalized over the unspeakable developments, there was at least one positive result: I became free to fully speak my mind. I could at long last talk out of school that I was self-expelled from, revealing operational secrets that discretion (and self-survival) once forbade me from ever sharing with the public.
Though writings might sometimes have a know-it-all vibe, that was far from the intent, for truly grokking the place involves a shared group understanding and pool of knowledge of what has made the place so great (rather than a any one person's own knowledge or experiences). That said, for better or worse I doubtless probably know more than most about where the bodies are buried, as the saying goes. At last sharing it here is a welcome unburdening.
Focus of the site has always been on critical analysis, including ideas how to possibly further fine-tune the place and manifest new 'owner' change (see New Day Dawning), and, like anything or -one cherished, try to remember to see it as already perfect within its imperfection.
Admittedly that's one rough row to hoe now with present interests pulling the place ever further away from original healing spirit of founder's family then it's ever been by so willfully ignoring its 145 year-old DNA... a public-minded DNA that forever awaits reactivation.
(Stray thought: ever tease apart the word 'realty'? It's 'reality', blinded and depersonalized without the seeing 'i'. In such property transfers, it's the land that's sold, not the business operation itself or any well-established ways and customs, even if steeped in the place for generations, in extreme cases like this, amounting to what one might rightly call something akin to legal thievery. Natives are old hands at understanding that one.
Meditating on the Springs through time as a balanced whole might enable a fuller understanding of the place's lingering gnarly karma and the non-progressive energy patterns with which it's so long been plagued...patterns to be recognized, brought about, dealt with and banished, in order to let realm's healing properties flow freely again, awakening the place to benefit any and all visitors who might find their way up the hill again in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.
Goals: manifest new,
nonprofit stewardship; resurrect bathhouse;
ban the nudity ban;
return the sacred sweatlodge
First fans suffered clothing-optional ban, then kicking out of the sweatlodge. Both tested the forbearance of legion of free-spirited fans' love of place to the breaking point and de facto boycotting it. Dismantling the bathhouse only confirmed the dire situation, in giant day-glow lettering, for any slow to grasp the writing on the wall.
Countless -- including the writer -- years ago vowed never to set foot on property again until either 'owners'' hearts melt and they ask forgiveness of the legion of devastated former supporters after returning clothing-optional spa service and inviting sweat lodge back...or, worlds more likely -- they finally see beyond an obtuse disregard for the spiritual realities and altruistic heritage of the place and muster the grace to feel chagrined, give up their dubious, diversionary pursuits, divest, and finally redeem selves by finding and selling to new, public-minded steward(s).
Ones who, with support of both longtime and new fans near and far, restore its soul to serve again as an affordable, free-spirited, NONPROFIT, culturally-diverse healing and rejuvenation refuge...
...one of, by, and for the people.
The first strike came in late 2016 with banning clothing-optional at the bathhouse compound, suddenly forbidding the time-honored tradition of merging with elements in the creek and sauna and on the sundeck, huddled masses happily shedding unneeded covers, stimulating the exhilarating release of feel-good endorphins (and thereby enabling more effective purification and healing).
Such personal and social freedom and enhanced healing potential had made the place an incredibly popular destination for over a generation. Take that away and, in many people's minds (check visitor feedback to the late 2016 clothing-optional ban - scroll halfway down), the place essentially once again became hostage to a convention-locked, body-alienated mindset.
It quashed any more profound enjoyment of the place for countless free-spirited and bohemian-friendly people around the world.
In times when any rural mineral springs operation in the northwest U.S. worth its salt allowed some measure of mindful body freedom in course of spa (beyond any private tub/shower), Stewart's became just another watered-down, conventionalized, clothes-minded rural springs tourist trap...out of resonance with its natural setting, healing waters and the place's original dedicated focus on purifying, healing, and rejuvenating.
Second strike came in December 2017 with emptying the creekside spring gazebo's altar of years' worth of heartfelt prayer and love offerings, replaced initially with a cheery sign barking, 'No Trespassing - Violators Prosecuted'...a peoples' shrine destroyed.
Third strike: also in December 2017: scrapping the 45-year-old Native American weekly sacred sweat lodge ceremony...frosting on the cake in new 'owners'' seeming aspirations to either mainstream/upscale place or shut out public entirely to better pursue their own private shtick...or some unwieldy variation thereof...which they might've been playing by ear and mostly by remote from thousands of miles away, as given feedback by on-grounds management...until pandemic came along and threw a giant curve ball into the mix and they used it as an excuse to scrap spa service entirely and re-purpose the bathhouse to something more dear to their hearts: more workshop, classroom and private event space.
Regardless of actual intent, it was three strikes and you're out -- LONG before scrapping the bathhouse. Out of favor with thousands of former fans who spread word to tens of thousands more, generating so much ill will and bad press that any plans to selfishly use the once incredibly popular (albeit often woefully mismanaged) healing retreat just to support their own gig would fail abysmally over time -- even if closely-guarded intent actually included trying to shut the gates to general public and privatize the former quasi-progressive-minded paradise in order to serve exclusively as some international Pneuma headquarters and retreat.
In the last scenario, it's impossible imagining them ever enjoying one shred of peace of mind or any open-flowing heartsongs for knowing that by shutting gates of the beloved institution they will have broken the hearts of untold thousands around the world.
As mentioned elsewhere, the hope of the then in-denial writer had been that a new, more fine-tuned c/o policy would SURELY emerge once the new stewards came to appreciate how mindful clothing-optional policy was an essential offering. One appreciated by an overwhelming majority of the visitor base.
A perfect fit for any genuine rural mineral springs retreat.
Especially being in progressive-minded, nature-loving rural northern California...and, most especially, one near the world-popular, quasi-bohemian haven of the City of Mount Shasta and that upper-chakra tickling, big rock candy mountain of Mount Shasta.
Writer's now long-abandoned hope was based on four things: (1) hearing from outgoing manager that they basically liked the place just the way it was; (2) that they'd promised to pour every cent of net profits back into improvements during the first two years; (3) that they'd raise the rates of workers to a more livable wage; and (4) crucially, reading on the website that one of affiliated outfit Incarre's stated spiritual aims was dedication to helping people realize "profound re-integration of body-mind-spirit on higher levels."
Of course, towards such a supposed goal no other aid can likely be anywhere NEAR as powerful, effective or as easily implemented as giving Springs visitors the option to enjoy simple mindful nudity during their spa regimen, thereby enhancing the healing process on all levels -- body, mind and spirit -- by becoming magically one with nature's elements.
Writer believed the future of Springs as a true healing place hinged on the legal stewardship realizing this obvious fact and promptly re-instating clothing-optional on a newly-focused, mindful level.
They'd acknowledge simple nudity's profound reintegrative powers. And be open-minded enough to embrace the place's long tradition of cultural diversity and universal spiritual seeking to find a solution to the fire/liability insurance issue of the sacred sweatlodge that ostensibly caused the group to have to leave in the first place, unable to afford the reported Hobsen's choice of covering the $2,000/month fire/insurance
rider clause quote if wanting to stay. (Such exorbitant amount was no doubt sparked by participant deaths in pseudo sacred sweatlodge near Sedona, Arizona several years earlier by some White new-agey entrepreneur.) Writer's later understanding was that since the new 'stewards' had their own shamans, they no longer wanted or needed the local medicine wheel turning there, totally ignoring its revered place in the history of the region and continued value in healing the land's lingering psychic scars.
So much for wistful hopes. Obviously, soon all bets were off. By remaining adamant on the nudity ban, taking down the gazebo altar, and kicking out the sweatlodge -- and reportedly STILL only paying minimum wage for non-management gigs -- again, they proved themselves villains in the eyes of Springs fans everywhere.
(see New Day Dawning and
And of course it got worse. Grounds masseuses took a pay cut, gift shop consignees had a bigger slice taken from sales, and employees no longer received a monthly free bath -- not even a discount.
And, tragically, dozens of mature pine and cedars -- some no doubt growing contentedly while founder Henry was caring for the place before World War I -- were mindlessly cut down to make way for a new bathhouse greywater septic system, the need of which surely could've been met in a far less disruptive, more creative and ecological way rather than blindly caving to outmoded, environmentally hostile, conventional means. (Maybe it was in part a dramatic move to show, in no uncertain terms, that there was a new sheriff in town.)
No doubt, before the pandemic many people visiting for the first time -- never having experienced the earlier days, which, in rarest moments, could approach a blissful, heaven-on-earth communion with nature -- might've still enjoyed themselves, having nothing to compare the then-current social climate and policies to.
For the place indeed had charm to spare.
But any the least bit sensitive and intuitive among even uninformed newbies might've sensed murky, disruptive energetic undercurrents afoot, ones mindlessly bent on erasing place's former vibrant bohemian culture and replacing it with a restrictive, bland, "more refined" culture.
This, while still taking dollars of a lingering, non-discerning public, unwittingly funding the rank diversion -- along with the support of remaining masseuses and employees who remained dependent on place for making the rent or mortgage, no matter how much it galled the spirit or crimped one's heartsong...
...and longtime annual, ostensibly spiritually-focused event organizers, who appeared loathe to change locale despite being all too aware (or in abject denial) that all
hell had broken loose, on both the subtle and the not so subtle planes...until one day they either got priced out, got hooked on the Kool Aid, or themselves become disheartened and repulsed by the scene...
...or the imposing front gates slammed shut outright. Then any clueless would-be soakers and overnighters merrily zipping up hill would be greeted with growling signs: Private Property, Go Away - Violators Prosecuted - No Peak Experiences for YOU - Transcend Yur Sorry Little Selves Elsewhere
A bit of my own story
& the site's evolution
For what it's worth anymore, following is a brief history of my own involvement with the Springs over the decades for any curious about my bona fides, background, and/or the site's evolution.
Rambling includes a sidebar on employee burnout and a random sprinkling of Springs history. (Some written long before the current crisis so parts might have a more leisurely, all's-well-relatively-speaking tone.)
Stuart discovers Stewart's
Native San Franciscan, I first stumbled onto Stewart Springs in late 1983, five years after moving to the region following seven years of dharma-bumming around the West.
It was for a full moon evening sweat with Karuk medicine man Charlie Thom. (He flew away October 8, 2013.) One of about twelve in a modest sweat lodge, I'm a Springs dinosaur to most, a relative newcomer to others, whose brains I sometimes picked for old
stories and missing puzzle pieces...like late springs aficionado Jonathan Wolfe, who once shared a fond memory of 1970's co-owner Carole Goodpasture greeting him at the far end of the walking bridge with a cup of mineral water to drink and so begin his spa treatment.
With Charlie lovingly sharing his timeless wisdom and deep roots in the land with our small group, I was instantly smitten by the powerful magic of the place... And saddened when, soon after, the absentee 'owner' closed the gates to the general public for several years over want of finding responsible management willing to work cheap to drum up the slack visitor volume and so not have to worry about the place being vandalized and robbed and sometimes squatted on. (The extended family of Suzy, Mary, Pat, Cece, aunt Mary, and in-law Linda came along to rescue the place. See their story, which includes writer eventually coming aboard and reinforcing their dedicated efforts.
The same-elevation off-grid patch of juniper-and-sagebrush high desert, across Shasta Valley from Springs (in the rural, often-controversial Mt. Shasta Vista development), has been home most of my adult life. I built an off-grid cabin mostly by myself from the ground up, without power tools, over a leisurely three-and-half year period.
I'd gone from growing up in the most densely populated spot in the State to one of the sparsest (that is, until the 2015 discovery by growers ). Burned out on city living and always a nature boy at heart a bit of a recluse, I happily embraced living in the middle of nowhere, hoping for a circle of kindred spirits to share the realm with over time.
A sporadic duty freak, I felt blessed to become the Spring's resident volunteer groundskeeper and man Friday to ambitious late general manager Mary Hildebrand during a historic turning point in the place's evolution, from late 1999 through early 2002. The place was going year-round, soon to be clothing-optional, the restaurant reopening, bathhouse hours increasing, a majorly upgraded hot-water system installed, the place booking a flurry of new workshops, concerts, and group retreats... It began to feel more down-home and happening (if still lame around the edges for the absentee steward demanding management's off-putting, rigid profit preoccupation) than anytime since the momentous Goodpasture stewardship during the 1970s. see History
Blessed because there'd always been an amazing spiritual force afoot there. One that could super-ground and envelop any receptive dedicated worker. That is, barring any gnarly internal politics, questionable 'owner' directives or seriously misplaced workers or visitors.
It enabled one's spirit to at once ground solid and soar like an eagle in the joy of service while communing with nature. Some believe the Springs has had its own angel watching over place. (If true, we perhaps need only be patient, as it teaches us not to ever take such a place for granted.)
Also, I did two runs as paid bathhouse attendant in 2002 and 2005. Joy of service buoyed efforts there as well, unalloyed by any gnawing financial needs for having a small inheritance,a growing small home-biz, and living simply on my own land, no always-looming rent or mortgage or utility bills to sweat (just an annual property tax bite).
Not that I didn't cause management headaches; of course I did. Over time I got fired not once but twice. Long stories, but essentially for high -- okay, borderline quixotic -- service standards, inextricably tangled up with with romantic fantasies and delusions over various co-workers, both interfering with business as usual.
Though by 2015 I hadn't earned a cent as staff in over a decade (still sold pumice and obsidian stones in the gift shop), until late 2017 I still kept an oar in the waters through work-trade, helping Mario maintain the cold plunge, my former wheelhouse, having created and maintained the plunge for 14 years, until a hernia from over-ambitious boulder moving (going undiagnosed for six years of mysterious pains) finally forced my stepping aside.
In light of the triple whammy inflicted on genuine spring lovers by the current, woefully misguided absentee stewards -- apparently tone deaf to the extraordinary public-minded healing tradition of the realm, unwilling to tune in to and continue supporting resort's unassuming public-benefit heritage -- writer could no longer aid and abet the heartbreaking scene.
Suddenly not able to skinnydip in the very plunge I built and often worked on in the buff, sometimes along with others, in annual volunteer work parties, was galling beyond measure. It took irony to a whole new level. I actually got busted for bathing nude for all of five seconds on New Year's Day, 2017, in the low-key manner that had long been allowed by last' owner' -- even before his liberalizing clothing-optional policy change in 2000. No one was around to possibly take offense...except a new dutiful underling, who of course happened to come down right then to re-fill a foot-dip basin in the creek and so promptly reported me. I was called into inner office for a surreal, very unsettling reprimand.
THEN junking the sweatlodge ceremony -- so crucial in helping erase the place's severe karmic blot of the slaughter of indigenous peoples in 1870s who had long revered the land as sacred (see History) on and around very lands -- plus tearing down the prayer and love altar in the spring gazebo. It finally made unplugging from the place a no-brainer years before the bathhouse ever shut.
While still dedicated to posting relevant review excerpts (seemingly scarce to nonexistent now, and no wonder), gleaning first-hand reports, and spouting my own, evolving reflections and understandings of the place.
The de facto boycott by myself and others was a spontaneous gut reaction to an intolerable situation.
Suddenly countless c/o fans found themselves up a tree as far as partaking in their long-accustomed freebody-friendly spa visits.
Every aficionado of course had their own relationship with the place. The unorganized de facto boycott had no leader...least of all some doofus like me. Watchwords of a Nobel laureate of literature: "Don't follow leaders / watch the parking meters."
An acquaintance once called me not unkindly "the ghost of Stewart Springs." Whatever influence I once had is nonexistent now, beyond serving as historian, chronicler and creative analyst...and perhaps playing Jimminy Cricket, haunting 'ownership's' ostensible conscience for having foolishly turned their backs on the revered realm's time-honored, public-minded dedication to affordable purification, healing and rejuvenation. BOO!!!
Fun fact: Park Creek's coldplunge temperature varies widely over the year...from too-chilly-for-words 30 degrees F. during major winter cold snaps (flowing water freezes at lower temp.) to a thoroughly pleasant and linger-able 70 degrees F. during summertime's 100 degree F. heat waves.
Long released from day to day operational cares, writer supplies a perspective integrating 16 years of volunteering, 30 months of that living on the grounds as custodian and groundskeeper, plus weekly or better use of spa for over a quarter century...along with a diligent research of the place's buried past, a now-sketchy acquaintance with the present, and elusive psychic glimpses of a possible unborn future.
Never being dependent on the place for income always always kept my perspective crystal clear, being free of any monetary interest whatsoever.
Main story thread continues after another long rambling sidebar
Take this job...
on employee burnout
Sadly, no more than few of the place's countless former employees -- it seems everyone and their uncle worked at Stewart Springs sometime or another -- still visited before the momentous December 2017 sea change. More than once in a blue moon, anyhow.
Some got so involved hustling for the paltry paycheck that they forgot to enjoy the amenities (or never bothered to learn how) and thus refresh their spirit, the place becoming just another time-punching gig until something better came along...or work pressures got so gnarly they ran off screaming.
In happy contrast, during Goodpasture stewards' more leisurely reign in the 1970s -- simpler times and more modest visitor flow, for sure -- everyone, resident legal stewards and commuting employees alike, did a daily bath and sweat, thus keeping in resonance with the spirit of the place and reason for being.
Work burnout could easily take its toll, in time creating a pronounced disenchantment with the operation. Especially if strapped for cash and feeling disheartened busting a gut at twenty-five cents over minimum wage and an undersized staff.
Wages were reportedly raised first thing by the new, 2016 owners, the given reason for prices going up, supposedly to cover more decent worker pay, but apparently only for upper-level positions...serving perhaps as incentive to follow strict orders, no matter how outrageous...work becoming almost purely for pay than out of any abiding affection for the place or desire to turn others on to it.
That said, the former two-bits-over-minimum-wage reality often made it all but impossible for those hoping to cover rent or mortgage to experience anything remotely approaching the ennobling feeling of toiling in the vineyards in service of their fellow man.
ESPECIALLY if being forced to work off the clock and not always getting state-mandated work breaks.
About 2005, the writer was invited to join a group of livid ex-employees who were filing grievance claims with the State labor board over the former shady practices.
I opted not to even though claimants were eventually well compensated in owner fines (one for $5,000). Reason: others, spitting-nails mad, had burned their bridges with the place in total disgust -- hadn't seen one there in a decade -- whereas writer, again, never dependent on the place for income, had the time
of his life playing working class hero. I wanted to stay welcome, not become persona non grata for having joined the whistle-blowers over then-managers' owner-father's dubious labor practices. Not so much noble as practical.
The place could be one super-demanding juggernaut of operation, regardless of pay -- especially during former peak seasons and any holiday weekend. Every employee who was on the ball and hoped to last soon learned to work double-time when need be, sometimes even triple-time -- hopefully while keeping a positive attitude locked in service mode. The only alternative was being left wanting the number of the truck.
Writer was spared such burnout or getting thrown under the bus only for being volunteer work-trader first and foremost. And having the ability to mobilize energies when needed. It was the only way I could keep my enjoyment and veneration of place intact. (One big exception, mentioned elsewhere: things got so gnarly at the front desk in summer 2015 with an over-her-head, control-freak of an employee that I completely detached from the place, taking this then mostly tribute-focused site offline for a full year, feeling ZERO tribute was merited at the time, and staying away for four months until hearing the person was gone. Turns out it was during the stressful period of property-transfer negotiations wrapping up PLUS co-manager Ted was in the final throes of his terminal illness, dying two months later. (see Management in More Rants & Raves)
It was incredibly disheartening seeing dedicated workers give their all -- the place inspiring more mindful workers to do their best -- only later to quit in disgust or be fired over petty internal politics. Conflicts created by the former sometimes trey contentious work climate, which was, in turn, the product of aforesaid over-focus on profits by the last absentee 'owner', with on-site salaried managers scrambling to do his bidding. The resulting often-graceless exploitation of overworked, underpaid workers could quash any effort to offer any heart-centered, relaxed healing service, as so behooves such a de facto public-benefit enterprise.
Examples: one office worker got fired for being too friendly and personable with visitors at the front desk, perhaps making others, especially managers, look too UNfriendly in comparison. And a conscientous housekeeper, wanting to deep-clean a cabin in desperate need of it, fell behind in the mad-scramble work pace that disallowed any such laudable efforts to make visitors' stays more pleasant; she was instantly sacked.
Tawdry but True Dept:
My own second firing
While sauna-ing one night in 2005, hoping to unwind off-duty, writer spotted a roving young sexual predator who'd years earlier been banned for life. He'd just begun molesting a fellow off-duty female employee alone in sauna at night before someone came in and he aborted efforts; he was nearly arrested. Ages had passed since the incident. With all-new workers and managers, no one recognized him -- except me, of course, being a springs dinosaur. I shifted gears in a heartbeat. Managers were by then gone for day, so, only the recourse was to alert the office.
Alas, at moment it was run by man with a long history of sticky-finger proclivities who would soon get caught and imprisoned for plying his shadowy trade at Stewart's. Earlier I'd cautioned co-manager Astra from keeping him the second I learned he'd been hired, but to no avail. As scrambling newbie managers, they were hard-pressed for help -- any help -- at the start of a super-busy peak season that would often completely overwhelm them.
Indifferent to what might prove a notorious incident giving the Springs a black eye, he acted as if there was no problem at all, saying dismissively, "Hey, he paid his admission." Bit then he hatched a diabolically clever revenge plan on me, as earlier he'd learned how I'd blown the whistle on him once manager confronted him with sticky-fingers allegation (they didn't see fit to protect my anonymity). He'd acted all chagrined, humbly professed to have mended his ways, become a better person, ad naseum.
Now, totally ignoring the red alert of a banned sexual predator on the loose around vulnerable nude patrons, he instead fabricated his OWN red alert, delivered to manager later that night after I'd gone, of receiving a heated desk complaint of ME egregiously misbehaving in the sauna.
Already out of management's good graces, having almost been fired once for unrelated reason, it seemed they were then looking for ANY excuse to get rid of me in their willy-nilly revolving door of staff...which fact he knew and slyly exploited.
I was summarily fired the next day on coming to work, psyched up for another service stint. I was also banned from grounds for six months. And would never even get an apology, even after he
was soon thereafter caught pocketing restaurant receipts and sentenced to three years in state prison, obviously proving himself a liar as well as a thief. That's how crazy and dispirited things got.
I received a miserable bit of consolation soon after when in town he gleefully bragged to a casual girlfriend of mine -- whom he also knew and who'd in fact been the one alerting me of his past job thievery -- how "I just got Stuart fired!" He had underestimated her regard for me and no doubt forgotten her part-Cherokee hair-trigger temper. She up and punched him in the mouth.
It used to be fun raking
the place over the coals
Disillusionment and outrage over the former sometimes astonishingly gnarly energies had tarnished memories of many, as it easily might've done me had I been dependent on job for filling my belly. It could ruin one's ability to ever enjoy place again, short of letting go, forgiving, and pushing a grand re-set button.
It seems some actually preferred staying mad at place, enjoying the piss-and-vinegar rush of righteous indignation they got raking the place over the coals. Before the pandemic, when the new 'owners' upped the ante to insufferable levels for many former fans, one could either give up on the place in sad resignation, suffer the sorry changes and go into denial while still trying to cop another long-accustomed soak and sauna now and then, or shun place altogether and spread the word on the tragic developments, while at same time envisioning a more positive future for the treasured realm.
Then the plague hit, and bathhouse operation closed down by state mandate and soon 'owners' announced the intention to scrap spa service completely. Now one can either visualize the (unlikely) miracle of current 'owners'' hearts melting...OR the manifestation of new, appropriate stewardship resurrecting the scene. One ambitious. resourceful and visionary enough to, perhaps, even build a new, thoughtfully laid-out bathhouse (and separate office), especially since the current 'owners' have already gutted the tubs to repurpose the building.
Place has a life of its own
Anyone the least bit aware soon learned to appreciate how the Springs, rare earth phenomenon that it is, is worlds more than any 'owner', manager, staff member, person, or operation overlay.
It has a life of its own. One saddened by those who don't recognize or appreciate its extraordinary healing properties and gladdened by those who do...enough to want to work in harmony with its gifts to freely share it with as many others as possible in lighthearted service.
Given a future enlightened stewardship, everyone setting foot on the land with mindfulness would serve as a handmaiden helping redeem place from over-worldly focus and diversionary use, aiding and abetting the rebirthing of the sacred healing and rejuvenation grounds for a greater humanity.
my story, cont'd
time capsule project
Sporadic writing freak, I'd long felt pulled to cobble together a book on such an extraordinary place. The idea first took hold in 2000, at the start of my two-year groundskeeper stay in the little abode above the Cottage and the apartments #1-6 row.
It was then called the shed; it later became called Henry's -- for good reason.
As some know, this modest structure, the closest to the creek of any, is believed the very first one on the grounds. Its earliest form was built by none other than the founder himself, Henry Stewart (1827-1914), along with some friends, soon after the start of the last century. Hard to believe now, but it actually served as the first-generation bathhouse.
It had long been relegated to musty storage and a semi-feral cat hangout by the time I set up my makeshift lodgings in it. Having electricity but no plumbing or kitchen, it nonetheless held a rare treasure -- the best river song in whole place, bar none. You swung open the big window and sweet thundering creek music flooded the room, charging the air with negative ions and white-noise supreme. Such a historic and meditation-inducing atmosphere, immersed in so long, had no doubt at last sparked a profound interest in the place and a keen desire to learn where it was actually coming from.
I became the first of many resident workers staying there over the years. (Now plumbed and enlarged, it served as extra office many years; then a combination office/staff residence, like next-door Cottage. Now, no idea.)
The wood floor planks beneath multiple layers of curling linoleum were old. An official, yellowed county health department notice tacked on a wall was dated 1934 and warned of the unlawfulness of more than 34 people ever cramming into the tiny structure.
Being super-impressionable, and, like TV Frasier's Daphne Moon, a bit psychic, I felt I'd tuned into Henry on some level. I sensed he'd maybe like his story told...especially in light of the fact the place still bears his name (if now only in the past tense, as in 'formerly Stewart Springs'). Like many, I wondered what his story actually was, beyond the sketchy legend of being rescued by natives in the 1850s, his life in peril, and brought to the waters to be healed, and decades later buying the property to dedicate the rest of his life turning others on to it. see History
Who needs a
Initial book enthusiasm evaporated after exhaustive research revealed that little written history seemed to even exist. Daunted, I abandoned the project and went on to craft and self-publish two factional novels, on body freedom and cruelty-free diet, thus at least sating writing lust for a while.
I'd concluded that maybe the place didn't need a book after all. It seemed everyone was all right without one or it would've been written. Anyhow, history accounts can be so dry, so not here-and-now.
Last flash before abandoning project was to cobble together a book of everyone's written experiences with the place, ala Studs Terkel's shared-bio collection approach on a given experienced subject. It also went nowhere. Perhaps it was my then at times off-putting manic enthusiasm, which could leave others precious little room to ever get excited
themselves...or others' disinclination to write, seeing little value in such a pursuit in our seemingly post-literary world (especially if not getting paid for the effort, only the cheap thrill seeing one's byline atop their efforts). It was frustrating. Many had been made to feel they couldn't write, some probably due to a long-ago English teacher from hell, convincing them of such. But it's said oftentimes the best writing is simply writing the same as one speaks, so, one might say that anyone who can talk can write.
Over time the site has, as said, by default of de writer, become blogcentric. It wasn't capable (or this builder of words, desirous) of enabling instant posting ala Facebook, in order to attract others to contribute their takes on the place or share a noteworthy experience. Besides not liking the appearance of the nuts-and-bolts platform structure required to allow such a feature, I didn't want to get into the all too common devolution of snarky, uninformed comments that too often came to plague such sites.
That said, the original site vision WAS of the place's fans doing at least some version of just that by contributing their own perspective and unique stories.
On that note, if anyone ever feels pulled to add their own write-up on the place, here's an email link:
One offbeat story heard in January 2020, from a woman who visited her first (and only) time around 2012: Apparently some gay men's group had swooped in for a retreat, bacchanal or some such, and had taken over the bathhouse, wildly chasing each other about in naked glee. She'd left assuming the place was always that way.
The Springs seems to be natural mystical realm everyone adopts as their own medicine grounds. At it's best, deeply personal, inward -- sometimes even celestial -- experiences could be had there, ones which elude being verbalized, let alone being put into print and read by unknown others.
It's the kind of place that, neglected and/or abused for so long, people built protective feelings about...a mystical place in which everyone effectively directed, scripted and starred in their own private super-natural movie, sometimes slipping out of rational temporal mind and into timeless realms, grounds serving as rarefied portal. "All right, that's a wrap on eternal soul memory #7,472."
Stewart Mineral Springs is steeped inside a vanished past, a convoluted mystery of man's light and dark impulses, wrapped inside nature's dreamlike forces.
Words could often fail to do justice in explaining the staggering life-changing episodes some have experienced there.
It's the kind of place that can spark an awakening from slumber, sometimes getting a painful realty check. Like thinking one's all right, then suddenly find themselves gazing into the eyes of true love and the nameless fears of yet-to-be processed shadow self flooding in, causing paralysis and suddenly being cast into outer darkness...
until finally pushing the re-set button, flushing demons away and moving on and experiencing a new reintegration of being...though keenly saddened for having blown such a predestined moment so miserably.
Some were naturally disinclined to share their more out-there tales for fear of sounding too woo-woo-ka-choo. Long-ago veteran office manager Cece, for instance, was one day convinced a flying saucer had landed on the grounds. (Who knows? Maybe a scout ship actually did, though there's precious little landing room; maybe at the favorite wedding-site clearing, above Conference Hall and A-Frame.)
Trivia: Restaurant building in Mt. Shasta now known as Lalo's was built in the 1970s by then Springs owners Carole and Winston Goodpasture and family. It briefly served as town compliment to the thriving natural food restaurant on the grounds, which they also built. The latter was deemed by many the best restaurant in the entire county at the time.
After dedicated resistance to pursuing any online creation -- being a die-hard book lover and preferring the physicality of inked words immortalized on dead trees -- I was finally won over. (Losing a small fortune in self-publishing ventures helped a lot.)
Electronic compilations like this are worlds easier to create, vastly cheaper ($22./month, my dime), and allow instant free global access. Plus, one can change, re-arrange, add or delete text and pix anytime. How spiffy is that?
Not least of all, they can be super green: having lived off-grid since 1978, 98% of time without generator -- sunshine or bust -- all site work is powered by bottled sun rays from a modest photovoltaic array. (Such a setup teaches energy conservation and efficiency fast).
First imprint on the land stays forever
To metaphysical thinking the earliest human imprints on a given land stay forever embedded in it. For sure, the Springs still resonates with the Stewart family's nearly 80 years of dedicated service, from 1875 to 1953.
see History...also, alas, with the earlier tragic Native American massacre taking place about grounds before family purchase -- but, saving grace, before that with the earliest, peaceful, harmonizing energies of indigenous peoples revering land as sacred healing ground for time untold. That being the earliest imprint keeps it the dominant one, no matter what subsequent overlays might obscure it.
THAT'S a deeper understanding of the place, lending hope that it can indeed be restored in the future to a nonprofit, public-minded, community-active stewardship...resurrecting it as much as modern times allow -- with a current, growing state-of-consciousness twist and teeming lifestyle diversity -- to its peaceful, pre-historic healing sanctuary lands vibration.
The Springs is like a giant onion. It continually invites one to peel away layer after layer and reveal ever deeper understandings -- of the place, of life and one's own self. The more one groks the essence of place, the more it becomes a no-brainer to want to revive it.
A few site credits
While most Stewart Springs snapshots are mine, a few are re-posted from the Internet by photographers unknown. (Credit here to Minna C. of L.A. for nice close-up of now-gone gazebo altar.)
All, mostly vintage, nudist pictures are from the site nudistfun.com. (caution: it's a non-secure site and now, sadly, apparently has been taken over by video marketeers clearly intent on catering to pedophiles. Access to its one-time exhaustive simple freebody picture files seems to have been stopped).
Thanks to all who have contributed or given permission to re-post/reprint writings; they anchor the site. Springs aficionados can appreciate hearing diverse takes on place. The more unique takes are shared, the better the chance of building the critical mass needed to manifest a grand turnaround of the realm. That's why new postings on the place are always sought for re-posting.
Though no formal network exists, together devotees constitute a protective loose-knit mystical lodge, a de facto Friends of Stewart Springs, if you will...better yet perhaps, a Liberate Stewart Springs Collective, growing and fine-tuning within the planetary oversoul.
For it's a stone fact: even if one last visited 20 or 30 years ago, precious, sometimes life-changing, memories of the place stay locked in the gourd.
As the writer keeps hammering and yammering, it's CRUCIAL since the draconian changes that true-blue fans visualize the place gaining new stewardship and re-harmonized energies if ever hoping to enjoy the place again.
Now more than ever, with global energies shifting so radically. May current 'owners' realize they'd be much happier doing their thing elsewhere, seeing the light and handily redeeming themselves by seeking out appropriate stewards, ones who'd be totally stoked to meet the creative challenge of resurrecting the place as (ideally) a legal nonprofit healing/cultural center.
In any event, think mini Breitenbush, Harbin or Jackson Wellsprings.
One must never assume it's inevitable that the treasured place is doomed.
Demand a miracle. Great spirit will have other plans IF hearing a big enough chorus of heartsongs from all who have loved and cherished the realm and visualize its resurrection as a place more magical than ever.
~ Defending the once and future healing realm ~
< A-Frame front door's stained glass inset, artisan unknown
An Independent Stewart Springs watchdog, tribute & blog site since 2011