Review Rants & Raves
"Oats were great, but I got the feeling horses were no longer welcome. And made to wear a blanket on a hot summer day? Neigh, I say."
-- Gallumpher, Globetrotter Quarterly
"It's a shame what has happened
to the once-wonderful establishment"
-- Michael B., Santa Fe, N.M., Yelp review
"...this place is a blessed piece of Mother Earth"
-- Luizasso - Instagram
"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
"Something old world and mysterious lurks about here, setting the imagination adrift..."
-- Jill B, San Luis Obispo, 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
Please note: For some reason, this page alone didn't successfully migrate from Vistaprint to the new Wix platform. It is now in the slow process of being reconstructed by moi. Until finished, the long intro is abruptly interrupted. Thanks for your patience.
- first, pre-new-owner times (before 2016)
- second, post-new-owner meltdown
Part I - rustic nature - former friendly staff - soak limits - water quality - countercultural flavor - laid-back or not?
Part 2 - hours - signs - creek music - body freedom
Part 3 (click) - online review headlines - most recent reviews - grounds restaurant - select classic reviews
Part 4 (click) - dire grumblings on former management - big-picture overview - calling for new stewardship
Original Introduction (updated)
Analysis freak at heart, I started this page in 2013 to try making sense of the polarized online travel reviews of Stewart Springs posted over the previous 15 years. Soon branched to address frequent visitor concerns, and the page grew like Topsy (whoever Topsy is). Then added SMS Facebook reactions to the 11-1-16 nudity ban. Then the furor over the sweatlodge eviction. Then...
In time the page got so long, I had to split it into the current three 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 (sorry to use 'm' word) management. It attempts, finally, to demystify place a bit by offering Big Picture metaphysical overview.
In-depth, post-meltdown introduction
(Note: Scroll down if just wanting to scope some of the countless rants and raves posted about the Springs over time; same with the many rambling asides added in among them)
Unimaginable disaster has befallen the once-magical, culturally-diverse, fitfully open-minded healing spa refuge known around the world as Stewart Mineral Springs.
Anyone with the least bit of bohemian leaning visiting since 11-17, when the clothing-optional policy of 16 years was banned, or especially since the sea change of December 2017 with kicking out 45-year sacred sweat lodge or later 2020 scrapping of spa operation, is all too aware how intolerable things have become. Many posters of ecstatic raves below, should they have tried visiting again in recent years, would've felt like rescinding them in heartbeat, loathe to encourage any patronage whatsoever as things stood.
"The illuminati have taken over the Springs!," wailed one early on. Don't know about that exactly, but it didn't take too big a stretch of imagination to sense that Springs somehow seemed to have gone over to the dark side, new conservative ownership manipulating and intellectualizing spirit to suit their own, singular mindset.
And to make the place a better fit to perpetuate its Pneuma Institute -- a peculiar international amalgam of quasi-new-age/conventional-religion/psychoanalytical shtick wrapped up in smiley-face.
In the process, it's indifferently erased place's former free-spirited, all-inclusive, progressive-minded culture, which they apparently didn't understand, appreciate or respect. One that managed to evolve and thrive, if fitfully, despite the last longtime S.F.-based owner's relentless profit focus and often-tight-wound management, which could seem all but clueless to the ways of genuine west coast rural mineral springs culture with their simple spa devotion to radical purification, healing, and rejuvenation.
Indeed, while suffering a light countercultural foothold on the place for over a decade, all along they envisioned 'refining the culture' (old manager's pet phrase). No surprise then that she, serving as broker for land sale, might attract energies sharing similar bland bourgeois ambitions for the place.
One of their own Pneuma website statements offered a clue as to where they were 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 our three-day class intensive, this week only.
Formerly, self-empowered and spiritually-disciplined visitors gained such discernment on their own, thank you. No need to pay one blessed cent past bathhouse admission or lodging rental, the staggering healing power of realm's special natural forces being the greatest teacher of all for free.
The writer's own previous, copious rants on the former, inappropriate ownership focus, interspersed with rants and raves of others, were hoped to be ancient history by now and long ago deleted.
The new absentee ownership -- again, only peripherally involved in spirituality via its Pneuma Institute and its affiliates -- was given every benefit of the doubt for nearly two interminable years -- despite the absurdly repressive clothing-optional ban which instantly threw the place into profound mourning over the loss of treasured body freedom and the enhanced spa benefit it easily fostered.
Thinking was that they'd been sadly misinformed, taken in by the Machiavellian wiles and wonky upscale visions of the last, longtime outgoing manager. Can practically hear her having pitched, "The upside potential's enormous!" and "Everyone hates clothing-optional except for a few wild, low-spending locals; it's killing business, I tell ya!"
Now long-abandoned hope: that they'd naturally come around once realizing the wool had been pulled over their eyes, that they were unwittingly destroying the substantial support base of those seriously into genuine rural healing and rejuvenating spas, plus droves of others primed and ready to give time-honored clothing-optional regimen earnest try.
Nope. Turned out wool was over writer's eyes. Current owners seemed sold on her "Project Refine / Homogenize Culture", but then, fatally, added their own, deal-breaking, egregiously public-unfriendly twist -- one they waited a good while to spring. They were indeed intent to 'cultivate' the place's culture (i.e. turn more bourgeois-friendly) and devolve the former quasi-bohemian paradise into just another conventional, lah-de-dah, "Your water is drawn, madam" retreat. (For a while, at least.)
But then, critically, after indifferently scrapping spa service and repurposing the entire bathhouse, they worked to transform the place into their own private Pneuma Institute international headquarters and non-public-minded retreat centre, a place for holding various specialized classes and indoctrination workshops...maybe let in a few groups now and then IF they think they can maybe deal with them a while -- and vice versa-- long enough to make the chunk of lucre exchanged worth the nuisance.
"The public....aghhh!. Why do they keep acting like they still own the place? Can't they accept the fact it's our, all ours, now? I mean, honestly."
(Note: more of this intro to be re-added )
Rants & Raves over the decades
Rustic nature - Soak limits - Water Quality - Former Friendly Staff - Countercultural Flavor - Laid Back or Not?
Surfing through various trip review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor before the 2016 owner change, you'd 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 that some reviews were posted ages ago. Different times, different managements, different owners. Stewart Springs, like people and the planet as whole, is always changing. It;s had its good moments and bad moments; its good days and bad days; good years and bad years -- even good decades and bad decades. Plus, everyone brought their own unique awareness into the mix -- often with expectations, reasonable or not, which were then either happily fulfilled, wildly exceeded or utterly crushed.
Is 'rustic' a bad word?
That said, it might still seem odd how two people visiting thesame day might be 180 degrees apart in experiences and estimations. This could lead one to conclude some reviewers were perhaps a tad snooty, not in touch with their inner bohemian, holding up unreasonable expectations and irrelevant comparisons to more upscale spas and amenities impossible to provide -- many roundly undesired anyhow by the stewardship -- while others were more easy going, nature-attuned and rural friendly, open to embracing rustic environs and focused on enjoying the main events: experiencing a therapeutic spa and drinking in 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 of us relished the feeling]
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, countless happier campers raved:
"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)
"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)
"It's a place I return to over and over..."
"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. (lost attribution)
< Former office manager Danielle with late 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) (2006)
"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)
Conclusion: Some relish the experience of being immersed in nature and seriously unwinding, perhaps building a fire in ta simple cabin's wood stove to keep cozy on the cold snowy night. Others take uber-urbanized umbrage for having to resort to such primitive labor-intensive heating methods, as if expecting conventional amenities and constant pampering, even in the middle of the woods, and living to gripe about no hair dryer or wi-fi and the hordes of shameless naked people despoiling the otherwise charming landscape.
Split-focus makes operation
challenging -- schitzy too
Diverse visitor expectations bring to the fore the split focus and constant challenge of even the most dedicated mineral springs resort. So it terminally over-complicates things when owner directives cause a manic preoccupation in generating maximum profit, as Stewart's had done since the '80s, making for seriously offputting schitzy management energies affecting the enjoyment of one's stay -- sometimes to the point visitors posted their "Never again!" sentiments in no uncertain terms.
Again, even if this isn't the case, running both a healing day mineral springs spa and a comfortable overnight lodgings can be trey tricky. Unless one's stay intent includes relaxing into a focused spa experience and/or meditative communing with nature and/or mindful workshops/retreats --as mindful visitors to dedicated mineral spring resorts lean towards -- then the resulting disconnected visitor energy can all too easily muddle the management team's focus. It pulls it in two directions at once: Healing place, Motel 6; healing place, Motel 6...
A would-be flowing organic scene turns hopelessly disjointed and watered down, as the drive to generate profits at every turn eclipses the original focused purifying and healing dedication.
Visitors expecting your typical amenity-loaded lodgings with a spa perhaps being only an offbeat bonus -- or, especially, if coming for lodgings alone -- are bound to be disappointed at the basic accommodations. Those visitors, however, intent on purifying, healing, rejuvenating and enjoying immersing in nature -- age-old vision of the place and, lest one forget, the original reason for its being, with lodgings developed solely to support spa treatments and unwinding in the woods -- such are more than willing to take a break from TV, phone, wi-fi, etc. and embrace simple lodgings, no matter how bare-bones, so long as basic creature comforts and amenities are covered, as part and parcel of the backwoods healing retreat experience Stewart's has so long provided, largely due to the extraordinary influence of the elements at work there.
Can the place's original
intent be re-activated?
The original dedicated purpose of Stewart's - - offering healing waters and restful rustic retreat -- had been gradually fading over time, due to no more of six ownerships resonating better with founding vision since pioneering Stewart family's dedicated 78-year reign ended in early 1950's. To the point the place seemed to have segued into more of quirky, relatively cheap, fashionably off-beat, rustic quasi-resort with the extra-pay option to take the waters.
More's the pity. Writer had hoped the newest absentee ownership, together with fresh dedicated management, would at long last put the cart to back of the horse and reclaim the vision of the namesake, wife and daughter, who, between them, essentially ran down-home non-profit service operation for four generations. They'd emulate their profound reverence for the special realm, echoing that of natives before them for time untold, and re-energize the genuine, relaxed service focus as likewise observed by Masons in the 1950s and 1960s, and last by the Goodpastures in the 1970's (see History). One that enabled visitors to partake of the realm's sacred healing and grounding power without any off-putting over-commercial headwinds or serious re-purposing intent putting a damper on the potential for profound healing and life-changing experiences.
Obviously, writer's no longer holding his breath in light of the drastic changes of the new 'owners', who have effectively disconnected the very heart of the place.
Paging the lucky seventh steward. We know you're out there. Destiny awaits.
As evem the right for-profit owner(s) would instinctively know, there must be a magic balance by ownership in seeking that elusive sweet spot between making a reasonable return on tied-up capital and visitors most fully benefiting from the place. If lacking, if inappropriate monetary and/or narrowed focus and privatizing intent dominate, then the chaotic and sorrowful karma of place's tragic massacre of original soakers in 1870s re-surfaces as sure as night follows day.
Better yet, urge the universe to manifest an awakened soul with an embarrassment of riches, who would be tickled to rescue such a place from the jaws of the current ruinous privatization and legally establish a forever non-profit operation. One that might eventually become self-supporting as a reinvigorated refuge dedicated to purifying, healing and rejuvenating greater humanity.
Odds are in our favor it's not too late. Of the 143 years of Springs stewards, 54% were under the dedicated efforts of the founder and daughter Katy, another 17% were under earnest stewardship of Masons and Goodpastures, for a total of some 70% -- versus only 30% for the more recent, profit-driven and/or private-shtick-minded focus.
Greater long-term momentum of the place overwhelmingly remains towards re-energizing the dedication to serving as a public-friendly non-profit spa, retreat and cultural event center.
The amazing free-flowing energy the grounds foster, serving the greater good, could be re-activated IF enough fans of the place insist on it...by holding the realm's energy and collectively visualizing with stone-pure intent the manifestation of a dedicated, wakened new ownership. Or alternately, one happy to support the efforts of dedicated locals to resurrect the realm to ag
"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 [emphasis added]."
Another qualified rave: "I love this place! It is not fancy, schmanzy but a great woodsy, spiritual place.
...the moment you come into the grounds you feel yourself relax." (Carla C., Weed, CA.)
< Amazing gravity-defying river rock cairn by the cold plunge, summer of 2012, builder unknown. Like to think it was playful earth spirits, who crafted it overnight just to blow the mortal mind
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)
Others of course were not so charitable. One felt that rich barbaric 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 brought into realm, it's no wonder such diverse reactions occur. People from all walks of life are 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...
Some campers have been disappointed at lack of amenities, no handy drinking water or bathroom better than porta-potty anywhere:
"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)
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 the A-frame accommodations, sauna not hot enough, mineral water irritated skin, but enjoyed the plunge and so was left to ponder, "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
About the place's
limited mineral water
On the surface, time limits on tub soaks mightve appear an understandable concern. Especially considering that most rural mineral spring resorts in the Northwest U.S. 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 for more coin than Stewart's more leisurely 75 minutes. But any limit can be off-putting if the bathtub enthusiast is hoping to relax and 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 in with fresh), and their full-strength hot mineral pool twice a week; even showers are mineral water. They have hundreds, if not thousands ,times more mineral water to play with, as probably do most others in the wider region. If we did too, there'd maybe be less time restriction and more tubs. (But probably not, for a reason soon to follow.)
Many spring enthusiasts, given the choice, would far prefer a communal soak experience in the sunshiny out-of-doors over private indoor private bathtub in an open-topped, low-ceiling-ed, noise-echoing hallway stall. Stewart's might've long ago developed a mineral water pool. too, if only it had enough water to play with. (Though, being cold water, an ambient-temp pool mightn't be popular except in hottest weather.)
But the magic elixir wells up at a super modest clip, sometimes only a gallon or two a minute, requiring close rationing. And it must be propane heated, at no small expense to boot (yes, it 's a cold mineral spring), making each drop even more precious.
To the main point of such a time limit: The 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. So, the tall claim posted on the sign inside the entrance is perhaps less than your typical mineral springs hyperbole.
Some people perhaps hadn't yet learned to appreciate how various mineral springs' waters can differ greatly. The unaware, especially your bathtub enthusiasts, addicted to soaking for hours and merrily scrubbing away, could 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 could be pushing one's luck unless well-attuned to the water properties, the proper way to soak, and listening to the body...or has the hide of a rhinoceros.
It could 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 the sauna. (See list of minerals from analysis in Emile Frank's article, Part 2.)
Also, while not a justifying reason in itself, setting a time limit did allow more people to enjoy a soak when things got mega-busy (one formerly could count on it during any three-day holiday weekend, year-round), there being only a dozen tubs. Plus, it serves as a way to track hygienic cleanliness of the 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 super slow days with the time-stopping luxury of claiming tub for four to six hours -- real oldtimers, for the entire day -- who leisurely stretched out mini-soaks, leisurely acclimating to the water's power and proper soaking method. Or had the hide of a rhino.
There was a rural legend that an outdoor communal mineral soak once existed on the grounds. For sure, there was an over-sized indoor tub in '70s -- eventually becoming tub rooms 3 and 4 after earlier being two dressing rooms -- big enough for three or four. Legend has it in its heyday more than a few
doobies and vino jugs were merrily passed around.
It's the Water!
Many noted the singular quality of the 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)
"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)
Dr. Emoto's team photo of Stewart Springs water's molecular structure. Some think it looks like a circle of little blissed Buddhas
"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_Doughboy)
"...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.)
Many visitors raved about the place's dedicated 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 trailed her close behind like ducklings in a pond as she made her 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)
"The staff were very friendly and helpful" (Lizypeterson, 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)
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)
"...the tender loving care of the Goddesses in the Bath House are something beyond words." (Shasta Visitor) (from Netherlands)
yet another rambling aside
Some might not realize that the Sixties countercultural movement, with its radical lifestyle changes by untold millions creating a global cultural impact, was in fact the exponential expansion of an earlier turn of 20th century movement begun in Germany known as the Natural Man movement.
And THAT earlier movement was, in turn, a widespread protest over the massive disruption created by the industrial revolution which had uprooted an increasingly city-bound humanity from living in long-accustomed proximity and relative harmony with nature. The situation over time had become intolerable it sparked a popular revolt.
The movement included celebrating 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 a lot like late '60s/early '70s, no?) Including such luminaries as Herman Hesse and Isadora Duncan, it laid a solid energetic groundwork for the later back-to-nature countercultural
movement, which, despite gross media distortions and snarky dismissal as some flaky, ephemeral social trend, succeeding in spreading a more natural, holistic, liberated mindset onto the global level. (Check out the 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.
But, again, what IS "alternative culture" anymore?
Fifty years ago, trying to discourage Spring visits from rebellious wild hippie-types, -- due to their often low spending habits, smash-the-system attitudes and (then) shockingly free ways -- might have seemed a valid effort to ensure making the Springs operation inviting and safe to more respectable and solvent mainstream visitors.
No longer. Since then, the essence of the harbinger countercultural influence has gone viral, spreading like wildfire to the fringes of mainstream consciousness, the diversified lifestyles of growth-minded people everywhere en masse seeking more mindful, holistic ways of living.
Witness the present soaring interest in yoga, transcendental meditation; conscious, plant-based diet; cannabis and hemp healing, recycling, pre-cycling, alternative energy, appropriate livelihood, simpler living, tiny houses -- ALL championed ages ago by the hippie counterculture... along with, of course, the increased unabashed delight in getting nekkid in nature on sunshiny days.
Flash: Over the last half century, such countercultural influences have been transforming mainstream culture -- the ever-expanding life-affirming part of it -- as if awakening from a long sleep.
Radical body freedom is obviously no longer the sole domain of so-called hippies, naturists, and stereotypical gated volleyball-ing nudists. Not so subtly proving the point, shown here is Spencer Tunick's art installation, with some of 6,000 naked people in Mexico City, happening 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, all around the world.
Hence Stewart became such an incredibly popular go-to spot at the dawn of the new millennium. Besides being set in a charming region, rich in history and possessing extraordinary mineral water, it was one of a select few spas open-minded and enlightened enough to permit visitors to experience the simple yet profound joy of being socially nude in a harmonious surrounding, enabling taking a mini-vacation from a depressingly perma-dressed society, regaining simple childlike innocence and becoming one with healing elements among kindred spirits, amping palliative benefits of mind-body-spirit reintegration.
Even if one opted to keep covered, the liberated air was itself a healing force.
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
San Francisco reviewer Byron Gordon groused, "Beware. This place operates on limited hours..." He and his arrived at four on a day the 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 ("Make them stop")...
On the former limited water,
hours, & staff
The place in the 1990's hobbled along for a seeming eternity on a water-heating system so anemic, it often only supplied three tubs' worth at a time. This was due largely to owner reportedly buying a damaged heater at 90% off, trying to save money, and hoping it would work. Alas, it often didn't. Countless would-be soakers were kept on hold in the sauna so long, while more water slowly heated, that they finally gave up and demanded refunds.
Manager Mary wisely saved all the refund receipts and presented double fistfuls to Foggy during his annual visit to show it might be good business to spring for a system upgrade -- at which point he went whole hog and had the late, great plumbing ace Matt Reed custom design and build a grand heating system, one enjoyed until the present occupational force ceased spa service. Certain special-made plumbing components had been imported from Germany that wouldn't be affected by water's mineral content.
Thank goodness such disconnects appeared only sporadically. The rest of the time the place could run like clockwork. Among other operational refinements, the bathhouse (and office) since 2000 began staying open evenings on Thursday through Saturday during peak season. (Roughly May thru October)
Of course, for a long time it used to get far fewer visitors. The place wasn't on the map, receiving the merest trickle of the later visitor volume that could sorely tax mineral water supply.
Again, Stewart's mineral water was far more limited than places like Orr, Harbin, Breitenbush, and Jackson Wellsprings. Reducing operational hours helped stretch the water supply, so expectant visitors all day on the road were less likely to be told, "Sorry, we just ran out." (But, alas, sometimes instead finding the place closing at a seemingly ridiculous early hour.)
A former, trey dubious, way to stretch the mineral water briefly, done years ago -- much to writer's shock -- was to dilute it with fresh. Rationale was that the water was often too strong anyhow. Maybe a few times it actually was -- at times it could seem almost industrial strength -- but veterans realized the potency fluctuated and adjusted their soak accordingly, and newbies would be strongly cautioned. Couldn't help but be reminded of a shady dive watering down their pricey drinks. Full-strength mineral water is what people paid a chunk of change for and so should get.
Shorter hours and closed days off-season were cutbacks started during the fun-filled Great Recession of 2008-2009. Fewer visitors came, though conserving water supply was no doubt one reason for continuing shorter open time since the so-called jobless recovery. There were other possible factors. Perhaps the owner liked the reduced labor overhead it allowed and/or management got used to the 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 the new standard long after the economy rebounded and visitors had returned.
Skeleton staff abused by bone-headed management
At times it seemed any higher standard of operational integrity was deemed purely optional, for chumps. The place as directed appeared to pursue the old-school hardball business model of always milking the most revenue from a thing for the least outlay, bending labor laws whenever possible and breaking them if one thought they could get away with it.
One might've concluded that such bold operation practices would cause the bottom line to suffer, but it didn't seem to, not unduly, for developed mineral springs were a seller's market, as it were. But only for being a well-positioned and renowned mineral one, able to coast on a historic reputation and, again, being in a seller's market.
The unfair and dispiriting practice ended only after the owner finally got busted and fined a good chunk of change by the state labor board around 2006. A furious group of ex-employees filed complaints for being forced to work off-clock and have to slave through work breaks when things got busy, the undersized staff not allowing for relief workers.
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 the 'Office' sign posted on the wall a few feet from the sauna maintenance door, no arrow indicating that the office was actually around the corner. She was about to have a crazy Alice in Wonderland experience as she met up with a withstand-in for the testy Mad Hatter who'd breathed in too many mercury fumes. It was Ted, the late operations manager, dying of liver failure and no doubt wanting to cop all the alone time he could in order 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?!""
Oh no, not another aside...
On the lack of critical signs...
and a 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. The back door was kept unlocked during open hours for an emergency exit.
A group might be sweating away in still near-darkness and -- suddenly! -- the backdoor, one many didn't know existed, flung open wide with a blinding flood of daylight. Confused reactions of inadvertent intruder was usually good for chuckle once startled reaction subsided, appearing as visitor from another dimension: sudden flash,
mumble of "Oh..sorry, I thought this was the office," door shutting and returning room to dark silence, all in three seconds. One's imagination reeled at notion of the dim roomful of often-nude people sweating away actually being the office: "No, but it is the Springs think tank and social salon. We've been waiting for you. Take a load off and give us your take on chem trails."
For some reason, getting all the grounds signage logical and clear often proved a hopelessly elusive goal or little cause for concern. Perhaps it was the result of the former unbridled profit focus to the detriment of any more relaxed interaction with visitors, along with periodic labor shortages and log-jams of daily chores and maintenance tasks, all contributing to the ungracious treatment the reviewer experienced.
Also, again, the manager was facing a decade-long terminal disease, dire straits that could make anyone who'd really rather not check out more than a bit testy or indifferent to all but a small trusted circle.
Needless unfortunate energy wedgies could make for spacing out the need to supply any such thoughtful directional details. The Springs, again, being in the believed energy vortex it is, could well have swirling forces stimulating a non-rational spirit state that at times could wreck havoc on such mundane matters. It might've thrown off the ability to get any better handle on small but critical matters like creating the accurate and pleasant guiding signs that grounds manager Josh W. began remedying nicely a bit later.
Maybe it's just human nature. Writer at Oregon's vast Britenbush grounds once got lost on a snowy cold day on returning from the distant parking lot -- even with their far more generous placement of refreshingly artistic signage -- and started freaking, until finally finding my way back. Management and seasoned staff members of any such resort 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?"
Case in point: the missing "Apts. 1-6" sign on the post at the turn into the parking area went unreplaced for years. Post sign, of course, pointed the way to the one unrentable place, The Cottage. (A manager abode/office space after 2005, chef's residence earlier; rented before that, hence a lingering sign.)
Another example: For decades, a large historic routed wood sign inside entrance at a road fork pointed the former route to the bathhouse, straight ahead uphill, rather than turning down right and crossing the creek bridge. It was a quaint outdated relic from days before the car bridge was built, changing approach.
Its arrow guided people up to the restaurant area and a covered walking bridge over to the bathhouse. The route still works and is a pleasant sheltered walk over the creek, even if there's limited roadside parking. After years of unintended but uncorrected misdirection, one day the owner of large camper possibly did place an unintended favor by backing into the sign and demolishing it.
Then there have been other kinds of signs, the No-this, No-that, and Don't-even-think-about-it variety, found in plenitude posted around bathhouse, at gates, gazebo, in lodgings, you name it.
These would seem unfortunate result of decades of mostly green, flying-by-seat-of-pants management (the very reason your writer ever got to assume so much responsibility) -- all perhaps former owner could get for low salary and wages offered. It seemed they could never get any solid, assured handle on the operation that might allow a more nuanced, artistic signage, reasonable in tone and pleasing to eye, instead of unfortunate reactionary growls.
rants and raves, cont'd
"...found the signage...unfriendly", said Kirstine 2013, Albuquerque, NM, tripadvisor)
And at2522 of Eugene, OR, noted how the scene seemed lacking in the "...abundance of 'yes we can' energy" successful operations thrive in; he doubtless spoke for many on 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..."
A Creek Runs Through it
One thing everyone agreed 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. 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)
On Body Freedom,
Or the Lack Thereof
(Scroll bit further for feedback after nudity ban took effect)
Reviewers often commented on the former checkerboard zones of permitted and verboten nudity in effect between 2000 and late 2016. Before acclimating it could create a schitzy feeling indeed: while it was okay in sauna, tubroom, outer deck, and around coldplunge, it was "Uh, you need to cover up" from the attendant elsewhere...or realizing from stares that one was inadvertently streaking between the okay zones. Persons were left with the feeling it was okay to get buff -- kinda, sorta, just a little, but best be ready to cover up fast lest the nude police cometh...(as they finally dideth)
"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, the website claimed this without specifying the 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 the late founder of The Naturist Society, Lee Baxendall, who in turn had coined the very term "clothing optional.")
< Think place was always clothing-optional? Old signs rescued from trash tell a different story. They were posted around the bathhouse until 2000, when things dramatically liberalized.
Checkerboard policy of allowable zones was a progressive minded Euro-style compromise to try accommodating both those wanting to enjoy body freedom during their spa regimen and those who weren't sure, or for sure didn't want to, thank you very much...with predictably mixed results, given thebathhouse having non-optimal set-up for creating chill freebody environs as did 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)
A 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."
"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 [sic] 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, the percentage choosing the option over the long-term varied from indeed practically everyone (whether out of genuine preference or feeling the urge 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 his 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."
A similar warming up to skinnydipping was shared by Ronet G of Novato,CA., who went from an initial "...shock of seeing naked people strewn about...the 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!"
The seventeen-year clothing-optional policy evaporated into thin air at the stroke of midnight on Halloween 2016 (in synchronicity of bummers, exactly one week before t-rex snagged the national election). The former royal carriage of body freedom then turned into lowly pumpkin -- ironically signalling it was time to don costumes. Many assumed we'd established a permanent beachhead, far away from the masquerade of society that demanded keeping souls' physical temples covered in public no matter how appropriately natural the setting or innocent the intent to shed unneeded apparel.
Many voiced stunned concern, heartbreak and livid, sputtering outrage on SMS's Facebook review page -- the 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."
"So sad they dropped the clothes optional -- the dip in the river after the sauna doesn't work with a wet sheet clinging to you. Changed the wonderful feel of the place."
-- Didi Balboa
"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 F. 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?..."
-- 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
"Can't believe I'm only giving place one star - really can't. It was a cherished destination for ages. Tucked deep in nature near Mt. Shasta, magical healing mineral water, creek rushing through grounds, huge wood-fired sauna...
So what's not to like? Place went mandatory cover-up. If there's a better way to experience the healing power of place than by getting free of cumbersome clothes and enjoying the experience with others, I don't know of it...
It's just not the same anymore. If new rule doesn't bother you, don't get me wrong; it's a great place to experience. But if it does bother you and you prefer clothing-optional mineral springs, chances are good it will REALLY bother you."
--- Lost attribution and source :-(
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
A couple of the very few early posted votes of approval for the change brought out your more perma-dress minded and Pneuma shills:
"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
"I'm happy it's no longer clothing optional. That wouldn't be my thing..."
-- Karen R., San Jose Yelp review
Note: if wanting to skip the writer's following mega rant on the nudity ban, get to Parts 3 and 4 of What Happened and lots more re-posted excerpts and commentary by clicking here
A need to rethink the nudity ban
for the good of all
Making the place un-barable
made the 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 analysis on a perennially hot button issue. Take was formed by writer's 20 years of weekly visits or more until December 2017, plus having low-keyly rallied for clothing-optional in the late '90s, before it even existed. (Some writing reflects a time when the bathhouse was yet open; I left most of the skeletons intact, as one can only keep updating so much without going nuts.)
It would almost appear some bizarro alternate reality had befallen Stewart Mineral Springs under the new 'absentee stewardship' takeover of early 2016.
In draconian over-reaction to the supposed isolated incident of some idiot mindlessly jacking off on sundeck, using the event as handy excuse -- or, more likely, the manager inventing the supposed incident out of whole cloth -- a plague of de facto enforced body shame once again swept over the quasi-bohemian grounds. Banning clothing-optional after 17 years of body freedom thoroughly discombobulated the realm's magical air.
It was an enchanted atmosphere, largely made manifest by the chance to experience low-key social and solitary nudity amid nature during one's spa regimen -- or not, everyone's choice -- experiencing a liberating break from the depressingly perma-dressed world at large, often in the process regaining a sense of simple, unashamed childhood innocence while fostering a sense of being closer to nature spirits feeling a profound oneness with all Creation.
It distressed and dumbfounded countless now-alienated fans of place for it to have abandoned longtime policy that 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, and rejuvenating. (Sometimes, especially in Germany, the birth land of the modern freebody movement, in nude-mandatory areas like saunas one could get in trouble for wearing anything, even footwear, inside.)
Not only were stateside visitors staggered, but, as can be imagined, also many would-be European and other international visitors who came to Stewart's because they preferred the familiar enlightened spa option of getting free of unneeded cover and enjoying profound relaxation and palliative effect the popular, open-minded policy allowed.
As shown by some quoted comments posted before what countless felt was an absurdly repressive change, even various first-time visitors initially put off by public nudity soon enough came around and enjoyed the opportunity to publicly skinnydip and sunbathe and sauna au naturel. Others didn't -- though, tellingly, few online rants against the formerly allowed nudity ever posted over the years, perhaps from concern they'd appear prudish or uptight. One suspects some took out their displeasure over the greatly disconcerting freebody scene, by ranting instead about not enough towels in the cabins or a lack of toilet paper.
Visualizing Future Enlightened Ownership
Body acceptance and radical body freedom made giant strides in recent decades, albeit at times progress seemed three steps forward and then two back. (Obviously, the Springs took two GIANT steps back.)
Growing numbers think it's a good thing -- even crucial -- that various appropriate natural public and select private settings be designated clothing-optional -- especially rural mineral springs, most especially those in free-spirited northern California's nature-rich environs.
If not availing for themselves, then for others for whom it's either an integral part of chosen lifestyle or a chance to experiment and reclaim body acceptance after a lifetime of body suppression, false modesty, and other trips over one's biologic reality.
But the way things stood, Stewart Springs, though deep in nature, perhaps only provided half-way optimal conditions for visitors to make better peace with their earthly temples and further their personal spiritual evolution through more relaxed spa regimen that simple, conscious nudity fosters.
Bathhouse layout was
part of the problem
Nudity often felt tenuous around the edges at Stewart's during its last c/o run. The old manager, not attuned to the benefits of mindful radical body freedom, most probably dismissed it as a hopeless, distasteful situation she was left saddled with. She likely leaped at the excuse of some rare incident -- or, again, shamelessly made it up out of whole cloth -- to paint an alarming picture of massive visitor disapproval of the low-key freebody scene, naturally making new misinformed 'ownership' want to change the policy post-haste.
Whatever in fact prompted the sorry change (before junking the spa altogether), the bathhouse layout was a major culprit in the situation. Every other rural mineral springs resort in the northwest allowing some measure of clothing optional has a dedicated zone in which to enjoy a liberated and blissful freebody state while purifying and rejuvenating, if one so chose.
Not Stewarts. Under the same roof: soaking tubs and sauna, employee break room, busy office, laundry room, housekeeping supply... So much going on, it was a constant uphill battle to get in -- and stay in -- a comfortable zen state nude OR wrapped. Add wound-up employees coming in to pour tea in the hallway and massage meets, along with the bathhouse attendant scurrying about with armloads of modesty-preserving sheets and towels, clothed visitors picnicking on the sundeck, separated c/o zones between mandatory wrap-up, etc., and textile vibes always dominated the bathhouse. Hence the required cover-up in it beyond tubs and sauna.
It could leave those trying to enjoy a bit of super-relaxing body freedom over the course of their spa treatment feeling frustrated -- sometimes made to feel like exhibitionists by smug and judgmental 'textile chauvinists' remaining sensorily muted, bods armored in cloth, feet shod.
Whether or not such a lamentable bare-not policy is ever rethought, re-energized, and fine-tuned, to re-accommodate much of former dedicated visitor base under future stewardship, no doubt there were always those who viewed such slippery efforts to try accommodating different mindsets on the polarized issue striking newcomers as oppressively restrictive or utterly shameless.
For some will always want the freedom to be nude without restriction in a bathhouse compound, or at least have the option available for self and others. They will always grumble about enforced body shame if made to cover anywhere in a spa compound -- especially on cold wintry days while in a toasty 180 degree F. sauna or on warm sunshiny days perfect for skinnydipping and sunbathing, and, regardless of season, having to cover up going from the then c/o sauna to tub or out to the sundeck and river plunge.
Motto: "Lose your clothes and lose your woes."
Others, not yet rediscovering their inner nudist of one's yet uninhibited infant and toddler years -- before socially programmed body shame eclipsed it, locking it up and seemingly throwing away key -- will remain forever uncomfortable or at least severely awkward around any simple everyday nudity. Especially if rude behavior like mindless gawking and idle-amusement cheesecake/beefcake posing goes on for lack of a pro-active, chill management that builds a positive, conscious c/o climate to prevent such behavior.
At worst, one could feel forced to endure feeling left around shamelessly naughty people, if not out-and-out deviants. Even with a together c/o scene, the same perma-threaders, though far fewer, would still balk at those with the temerity of being out of uniform, as it were, boldly disobeying conventional regime's dominant cover-thy-shame edict, making seemingly bold exhibitions of their essential physical beings. Undoubtedly it served as an uncomfortable reminder as to how much one was bought into society's systemic body alienation and shame.
Then again, how many such would bother to visit? People going to Harbin or Breitenbush know full-well before arriving how mindful nudity is sanctioned, the practice well established. Stewart seemed to have only flirted with such bohemian atmosphere all along, and as a result had an ongoing civil war between freebodies and perma-dressers, all loving the place but at perpetual odds over the proper way to enjoy it: in or out of uniform.
The latter sub-group might as well have a bumper sticker reading:
"Cover-up junkie and proud; 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 more open-minded rural mineral spring resorts.
Breakdown on attitudes towards social nudity
Were writer to hazard an educated guess on the 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!"
Again, writer attributes the focus-switching decision to the absentee owner possibly being fed exaggerations and misinformation by the lingering manager. Never resonating with the legion of freer spirits who championed the progressive clothing-optional set-up, she pounced on a sorry isolated incident -- or, again, shamelessly manufactured it -- to convince the new owners (if they evwn needed it) to junk the policy post haste.
Clearly a misguided effort to try to make the place more attractive to the adamantly clothes-minded and more culturally refined (that is, deeper-pocketed) visitors. Mo money, mo bettah. Plus those, both local and travelling, who though perhaps actually enjoying select nudity in better manager-supported environments, found Stewart's latter-day c/o scene so sketchy at times that they grudgingly approved of the nudity ban.
The Naked Truth: for some, Stewart Springs has always been viewed as a potential gold mine to be commercially exploited or used by a few as a private shangri-la, rather than an invaluable healing realm to be cherished and beneficial to all.
Possible positive side
to (a now-moot) sorry situation?
Playing devil's advocate now, taking the wild card of nudity out of the situation could've possibly evened out the social-energy field some -- if only on a 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 their children -- who are naturally the biggest nudists -- being thrown off their cultural brainwashing regimen for witnessing public nudity of grown-ups who
should know better, and possibly become the interest of stray pedophiles attracted to the place for want of positive intent by management and visitors. (To solve the last concern and keep clientele diversified, hour-away Oregon's Jackson Wellsprings has cover-up required during daytime for family enjoyment, and becomes c/o (and adults-only) around nightfall.)
Granted, with textile modesty barriers in place, it slows or stops any possible over-excited pheromones from dancing mad fandangos that being publicly nude sometimes causes for sheer liberating feelgoodness of it all after lifetime of body suppression, plus prevailing hard-wired equation of nudity = sex. So it might've discouraged 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), sparking draconian ban. (Altho, as one male pointed out, women's abbreviated outfits, like thong bottoms, can actually distract and idly arouse more than outright simple nudity.)
At the risk of repeating the point (okay, that ship's sailed), such incidents could in no small part be attributed to former management seeming only to tolerate c/o rather than working to build a more conscious climate. No signage on the former policy's specifics was ever posted.
The explanation of okay and not-okay areas was always verbal by the attendant and front desk -- as if putting anything in print would legitimize it too much as a real policy rather than, say, the temporary suspension of management's better senses. Barring any more focused effort to elevate and reinforce awareness and enlightened nude etiquette, the place was left wide-open for potential untoward behavior to creep in. This included, most commonly, mindless bold gawking, some from a 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 the place a try with the ban, they could've just as well done so with the owner establishing cover-up and clothing-optional days. There would've remained the potential awkwardness of clothed employees threading through re-established c/o zones of sauna, deck and plunge area, but that could be lived with, as it had been for 17 years, perhaps this time lessened with more mindful intent infused in the renewed nude policy).
Even if renovating and moving office, laundry room, etc. elsewhere, there's a further snag to making the place fully self-serve compound like other c/o rural springs in the wider area, one conducive to a more chill freebody climate: the place's powerful but limited supply of mineral water.
Without an attendant monitoring the limited mineral water's use, the place could run out in no time on busiest days Some, left to their own devices, might mindlessly drain and refill the tub between rounds. Short of, say, installing a meter with an automatic shut-off to ration dispensing once a set amount was reached, a sign coming on saying, "No more water for you!", the bath attendant served a vital function.
One 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 the now-quaint, century-long tradition at the place, of visitors being waited on, couldn't be easily changed to soakers cooperatively helping selves, as every single other popular regional rural springs had done. Especially with new no-nudity policy
encouraging even more visits by those who weren't serious about intensive cleansing but liked the idea of hot bath with personal attentive fussing, just like at similarly-compromised, lah-de-dah city spas. Serious inertia prevailed at the place always having provided staff assistance and not being any more, "Hey, help yourself, ya lazy gat, and keep prices down."
Clothing-Optional Days? (now-moot suggestion)
Many have treasured the place over time who, for sundry reasons, were not into going au naturel. For them, radical policy change itself was no problem. Others who were initially put off by the change, either grudgingly or gracefully accept more restrained body freedom -- as, indeed, most did during the last cover-up period, which started roughly about 1980, after the Goodpastures left, and lasted until the place went clothing-optional in 2000.
One became philosophical about it, as in "This too shall pass."
In time --especially if the bathhouse changes made with a future, appropriate steward(s) -- a new more workable and all-inclusive compromise could be fine-tuned, like at other places. Some had suggested having clothing-optional days.
With such a policy well-advertised and well-posted, including a prominent "Today is a Clothing Optional Day" sign both outside and inside office and online, the place could accommodate the broadest Springs' visitor base. It'd let visitors know the exact policy upfront rather than attendants wasting time and breath explaining it to each newcomer: "Ya can be naked here and here, but don't even think about it there." But likely, with the former reality of so many clothed employees being around and the office right there ,with clothed visitors entering lobby all the time, only the formerly allowable zones -- sauna, outer deck and plunge area -- would again be c/o.
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've prevented excluding any Springs fans from enjoying place according to druthers (so long as it fit schedule). For those who didn't care one way or other, likely the greatest number, they'd merrily continue visiting any day, no problema.
Even without changing the layout, renewed accommodation of those valuing a nude option by having clothing-optional days made sense business-wise. And, like Wilfred Brimley said, "It's the right thing to do."
As it stood, one was left with the muffled feeling that 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 couldn't enjoy sweating in a 180 degree sauna covered in clammy, constrictive, bacteria-breeding cloth... that if, instead, one longed to embrace nature's elements free of the supplied, man-made, pesticided cotton and coal-oil-based polyester cloth, or even their own natural covering... well, sorry, it was simply unacceptable.
"Hope you understand our cover-up policy. Please bear with us...no, wait, don't."
Stewart's has been that rare environ which for the first 16 years of new millennium it distinguished itself from the dominant body-phobic world at large, including majority of nation's mineral spring resorts. While a pity that policy was no better embraced by former owner and management, no better focused, energized, and gently but firmly enforced, even such as it was, Stewart's became low-key clothing-
optional oasis for untold thousands -- locally, nationally, and globally. Visitors could more thoroughly enjoy therapeutic benefits of place nude if they chose, embracing positive body acceptance and liberation amid tranquility of nature and kindred nature-loving spirits.
It's the hope and prayer of countless that under new future enlightened stewardship,a clothing-optional spa returns to Stewart Springs.
Ghost dancing? Magical thinking? The impossible dream? Waiting for Godot?
Maybe, maybe not. The simple truth is that with enough Stewart Springs fans -- through holding the Springs' energy and visualizing a positive future -- we can in time manifest the resurrection of the beloved realm...
...and once again have a special place in which to enjoy simple nudity while purifying, healing and rejuvenating amid the glad tidings of nature.
An Independent Stewart Springs watchdog, tribute & blog site since 2011