My Favorite Clothing-Optional Hot Springs In The Southwest

Natural Hot Spring Soaking In The Great Outdoors

Having grown up in the midwest, I had no clue about natural hot springs – let alone clothing-optional hot springs – until the winter I got a job at one. It didn’t take long until I was hooked. Now I enjoy a hot soak whenever I find myself traveling near a hot spring. Here are my four favorites in the southwestern United States.

If your only hot spring experience is in an enclosed room at a resort, I encourage you to try soaking in an outdoor natural hot spring. It’s amazing to relax in the hot water under the stars. You don’t have to wait for a sunny day; soaking outdoors while it’s raining will make you feel like a kid again. And it is utterly exhilarating in cold weather.

Don’t be shy about visiting a clothing-optional hot spring. No one will force you to get naked if you don’t want to. And if you think you might be embarrassed to see other people in the nude, make your first visit during the week when you are more likely to have the place to yourself.

There’s really no reason to be self-conscious, though. Most people who visit hot springs are there for the relaxation. I’ve never experienced anything but respect from other soakers. Of course, there was a time when I had reservations too, and I’m grateful that I had a clothing-optional hot spring job where I learned to be accepting and comfortable with my body.

El Dorado Hot Springs

A Desert Oasis In Arizona

El Dorado Hot Springs may be just 45 miles west of Phoenix, but it is, as they say, “a million miles from Monday.” Soaking in one of their tubs is a blissful experience that can drain away the week’s tensions and make you believe that Monday might never come.

El Dorado is a commercial hot spring conveniently located just off Interstate 10 in Tonopah. A variety of private soaking areas, each with its own charm, offers an opportunity to relax and unwind in peace and solitude. The communal soaking area contains multiple soaking tubs, a lounge area, and a shower. Here you can choose to visit with other soakers or claim a quiet corner for meditation.

While the entire El Dorado property is not clothing-optional, there is a fenced section set aside for naturists. This naturist section is the communal soaking area, and it’s actually not clothing-optional, either – it is clothing-prohibited. This no-clothes rule puts everyone on the same level and assures that no one is there just to gawk.

From the moment you drive into the parking lot, you get the feeling that El Dorado Hot Springs is special. The entire property is encircled by thick bamboo-like reeds. Overflow from the soaking tubs runs along a perimeter ditch, so the area is surprisingly green with plants, trees, and shrubs. The motif is rustic and the open-air soaking areas let you enjoy the fresh air and hummingbirds. You won’t find anything pretentious here; the mode is natural, and the people are friendly.

Unlike some springs, the hot mineral water at El Dorado is odorless. It is naturally heated to about 107 degrees, and its pH is 8.2. Soaking tubs are cleaned daily, but during operation no chemicals are used. The water is allowed to flow continuously through the tubs, so there is always clean water and you can enjoy a healthful, chemical-free soak.

It is easy to find El Dorado Hot Springs. Just take Exit 94 off I-10, go south over the overpass, and turn right on Indian School Road. The hot spring is on the left, within a quarter-mile. Gas stations, convenience stores, and a restaurant/lounge is a short walk away. Parking for trucks and large RVs is just across the road at the truck stop.

Gila Hot Springs

A Mountain Hot Springs Getaway In New Mexico

If you don’t mind driving a little farther off the main road, you can enjoy hot spring soaking in the mountains of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Gila Hot Springs is 40 miles north of Silver City and just 4 miles south of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Gila Hot Springs has several sand and mud-bottomed, rock-rimmed pools of varying temperatures, 105-110 degrees. One of the pools is lightly screened from view for clothing-optional soaking. The actual spring is on the other side of the West Fork of the Gila River, and the water is piped across to fill the soaking pools. Primitive camping (not advisable for large RVs) is available — first-come, first-served — with drinking water and pit toilets nearby.

The shortest drive to Gila National Forest is on Highway 15 from Silver City. It’s 44 miles, but it can take 2 hours to drive because of the road’s steep, winding mountainous nature. Any vehicle more than 20 feet long should use the alternative route, Route 35 north from 152, east of Silver City. It’s a longer drive, but just as fast since it’s not as winding.

Registration at Gila Hot Springs is self-serve. The rates and rules are posted at the sign-in kiosk, along with envelopes for your payment. A day visit is $4 per person; camping is $5 per person per night. Pay your fee, pick your campsite, and enjoy a relaxing soak.

The hot spring is part of nearby Hot Springs Ranch, which offers cabins and RV sites. Supplies are available at Doc Campbell’s Post (the ice cream is a treat on a hot day). Take some time while you are there to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings and enjoy the scenery of the mountains and the river.

Verde Hot Spring

An Arizona Hot Spring With History

Even farther off the main road, and not for those in a hurry, is Verde Hot Spring beside the Verde River. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff, it requires a long, slow drive on a bumpy, dusty dirt road, but the reward is a shady campground and a hot spring soak in a beautiful setting.

In the 1920s, Verde Hot Spring was a popular resort with a hotel and soaking pools. It burned in the 1960s, and all that is left is some foundations and a couple of pools overlooking the river. The original access is no longer available, so after the long drive, you’ll still have to hike a mile and ford the river.

The main pool at Verde is deep enough to soak standing up, and has a temperature of about 98 degrees. A shallower and hotter pool is nearby, enclosed by walls. Over the years, visitors of an artistic bent have decorated the area colorfully with paint and tiles. There are no rules concerning nudity at Verde Hot Spring, and most visitors opt to soak in the nude.

To reach Verde Hot Spring, take exit 287 from Interstate 17 and turn right on AZ-260E for about 10 miles. Turn right onto Fossil Creek Road for 14 miles, then right on Child’s Power Road for 7 miles. The dirt portion of the drive is rough; there may be times when 4-wheel-drive is necessary. I drove there in an Astro van and was generally okay, although I did get stuck briefly on the way out. My heart was in my throat when I approached the steep drop into the campground by the river. I wondered if I would get back out, but I did with no trouble.

The riverside campground is primitive, so take all the supplies you will need. Big trees shade the campsites, and you can camp for free. Be aware that the campground is not clothing-optional.

At the end of the campground, a rusty sign marks the trail to the hot spring. Follow the trail downstream to the river ford, then back upstream to the soaking pools. When I was there, the water was knee-deep. Please don’t risk the crossing if water levels are high; someone drowned there a few years ago.

Highline Hot Well

Convenient Hot Spring Soaking In California

Highline Hot Well is almost the exact opposite of Verde Hot Spring. I don’t know how a free natural hot spring could be any more accessible than Highline. Of course, being right off the interstate means it can get crowded, but if you’re in a hurry or if you’re driving a large RV or truck, you take what you can get. It also means that this one is not actually clothing-optional, but some people get away with it by going for a soak late at night.

Located on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, Highline Hot Well is right next to a long-term visitor’s area, where many snowbirds from the north come to spend the winter. During the cold months, you’ll find the camping area densely dotted with Rvers who enjoy hot soaks. Anyone can camp on the BLM land free in the summer; in the winter there is a fee. There is no drinking water or sewer dump, but there are toilets by the hot well parking area.

Two concrete soaking tubs are available at Highline. One is about five feet deep and 102 degrees; the overflow from this tank goes into a shallower tub that is also cooler. The tubs are drained and cleaned weekly. A length of perforated PVC pipe has been installed to create a sort of shower effect; this pipe can be rotated to aim the shower in any direction. Behind the soaking tubs is a palm tree-lined lagoon for the run-off water.

It’s easy to get to Highline Hot Well. About 11 miles east of El Centro take exit 131 off Interstate 8. Take the first right just north of the interstate and follow the frontage road to parallel the highway. Right after crossing the canal you’ll see the BLM long-term visitor’s area to the left and then the hot spring parking lot on the right. Note that there is a curfew from midnight to 5:00 a.m. at the soaking tanks.

Too Many Pots Ruin The Cook

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If too many cooks spoil the broth, could too many pots on the stove ruin the cook? I have a habit of trying to do too much and not getting much of anything done. I try to focus on one or two main projects, but I’m always coming up with ideas for other things I want to do. Then my attention is divided, with the new ideas simmering on the back burner. But just how many burners can a person keep up with without spoiling the whole works?

Most home ranges have four burners. Perhaps there is a reason for that, beyond cost and space. Maybe that’s all most people can keep up with. Or four is all that most people need. My endeavors are more entrepreneurial. I need a professional range with six burners.

The pots that I’m always stirring contain my writing and my online retail business. I have a hard time keeping up with those two things, let alone anything simmering in the back. Some time ago, I decided that whenever I came up with a new idea, I’d write it down. That way I’d get it out of my head, but I wouldn’t forget it. It worked, to a point. But I found myself buried in little scraps of paper with all my notes. It actually just frustrated me more.

It all overwhelmed me nearly to the point of paralysis. Everything seemed to take so much time, and I could only manage to accomplish the bare minimum to keep things cooking. I’ve been giving most of my attention to building my retail business. In fact, I’ve found the fire under my writing pot has nearly gone out. Not much is happening there.

Now I find out that the platform where I have most of my writing, and which earns me a little trickle of income, will soon cease to exist. Squidoo has been sold to HubPages. I think most of my articles will transfer to HubPages, but they will all need a lot of work to bring them into compliance with the requirements at their new home. Quite a few of them are not a good fit for HubPages, and I’ll have to figure out what I want to do with them. As if I don’t already have all my burners full.

I could just let it all go. The income from those articles wasn’t a lot. But it was something, and I spent too many hours writing them to just give it up. There’s even a chance that the articles will eventually earn more at HubPages. So I really do want to keep that pot on the stove.

Even six burners aren’t enough to simmer everything I want to do, but it’s time to really be firm with myself and admit that I can’t do everything. On my front three burners, I’ll keep the retail business, the writing, and health and fitness. Simmering on the back three will be the tasks that support the main endeavors. I will have to change the way I run the business and stop procrastinating.

Oh, yes, there’s also my day job. That doesn’t need a lot of attention. I’ll just put it in the oven.

I Need A Reset Button

A long backpacking trip is good for shedding excess baggage — materially in what you carry, in body weight, and emotionally. All the things weighing you down just aren’t so important after a couple hundred miles of living with the bare basics. For me, it’s a kind of “reset” button. Afterwards I can usually start life anew with a new outlook and confidence.

That’s why I had planned the Long Trail hike for this July. I needed a psychological reset. Now that it’s cancelled, I can’t lose the physical or emotional baggage, and I really feel it’s affecting the way I’m functioning in my life.

Coincidentally — or not — since I didn’t hike, and settled into an apartment instead, I’ve begun to be surrounded by more material things, too. Not so much new things, but things I already had in storage, and am just now getting back out. This stuff doesn’t necessarily weigh me down, but it does anchor me. It’s no longer so easy to pick up and move — to change or redirect my life.

Anyway, since I didn’t hike, I wasn’t able to “reset.” And I find that I have no confidence. I feel incompetent in my job. And I’m frustrated and pessimistic in my outlook. I’m guessing no amount of dayhikes strung together can effect a reset.

Make Use of Your Mind’s “Muscle Memory”

If you perform a certain activity for awhile, and then don’t do it for a long time, you might think it would be hard to start doing it again. Particularly something like working out. You remember how hard it was the last time you started, how much those sit-ups hurt, and how long it took to reach a level you felt was respectable. (And then you probably think about how quickly that fitness fizzled when you stopped.) So, even though you want to start doing it again, you procrastinate.

When you finally do get yourself down on the floor and try some sit-ups, you’ll find that you were right — it is hard, and it does hurt. But do it again the next day, and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is. Keep going, and you’ll wonder why you’re leveling up so much faster than the last time you undertook a fitness program. That’s muscle memory.

Muscles “remember.” Do something often enough, and the motions become ingrained, even if you don’t do it for awhile. Like tying your shoe. Or riding a bike. You don’t even have to think about it; your muscles just do it for you.

I used to bicycle a lot. Then, there were about two years when I didn’t have my bike and couldn’t ride. Last weekend I finally got my feet on the pedals. And it was hard. It wasn’t even a difficult route, I was just so out of shape. But I managed 7 miles. And didn’t have a chance to ride again all week. Yesterday I went out again. The same route was noticeably easier! It was more than just building a little more strength; my muscles remembered what I expected of them and organized themselves to deliver.

I think our minds might have their own version of muscle memory. In a way, muscle memory is a habit, since habits are things you do without having to think about them. So if there’s a mental exercise you’ve let fall by the wayside, but want to start up again, do it. Maybe you made an effort to practice positive thinking, but one day you realized you had stopped. Your mind’s muscle memory slid back into its old habits without you even noticing. That’s okay, just start again. It will be easier the second time. And keep starting again and again until positive thinking becomes your mind’s habit.

I need to consciously call on my mind’s muscle memory. Several months ago, I had the habit of writing for a couple of hours every night before bed. Then after I published that book, I took a break and started reading at bedtime. It was a good thing to rest my brain for awhile, but now it is past time to get started on writing the next book. Trouble is, reading is now my habit. If I can just make the effort to sit with my notebook one evening, I’m sure I can switch gears from reading to writing.

It’s just like riding a bike.

Image by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

I Write

personal growthWhen I first went to look at my new apartment in hopes of renting it, the landlord asked me what I do. At that point I hadn’t gotten my job yet, and I wondered what would be the best response. I mean, who would want to rent to someone with no steady job and a very low informal income that fluctuates month to month?

Usually, I downplay what I do building small webpages and promoting products online, as if it’s not a serious endeavor. This time I heard myself simply and confidently say, “I write.”

I thought about that later. It’s the first time I’ve seriously presented myself as a writer, and I did it without even thinking. I feel like it’s some kind of shift in the way I see myself. Now, if I attempt to live up to that definition of what I do, I’m sure to improve.

Ah, yes, this new chapter in my life is going to be awesome.

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The End of an Era?

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My planned backpacking trip is cancelled. I just was not able to do the physical conditioning I needed, and I decided it would be foolish — even dangerous — to attempt the hike. Aside from that, I had to admit I wasn’t that excited about going. So after months of tedious planning, I called it off.

What I did instead was return to Ohio to decide what to do next. If I couldn’t hike for miles in solitude, I’d have to find some other way to become reacquainted with myself and heal my spirit. I thought maybe it could be a bicycle trip — a week or so long.

One thing that has never changed is my desire to have a homestead of my own, with a garden and maybe some chickens. And, after living in other people’s spaces for most of the past ten years, I was really ready for a place of my own. I knew that in order to do that, I’d need to get a job to supplement my online income.

The thought of even looking for work was depressing. I had no confidence for entering a new situation and learning a new job. I doubted I could find an affordable apartment. I thought I’d be living with my mother for a long time to come.

Imagine my surprise when, within a week of arriving in Ohio, I had both a job and an apartment! The job is at my former workplace, so I already know much of what I’ll be doing. It’s parttime and flexible, so I’ll still have time for my online work. The apartment was an amazing find — perfect for me, and affordable with just my online income so the job will be extra that I can save toward my homestead.

I now have no doubt that the decision to cancel the hike was the right one. I am way more excited about my apartment than I ever was about planning the hike. I’m taking that as sort of a clue that it’s time for me to stop wandering and settle down. The era of my nomadic wandering may be closing. I’m anticipating the start of a new chapter in my life.

Solvitur Ambulando

I’m preparing for another long hike. Every now and then I just need to get away to spend an extended period of time in the woods. Lots of people wonder why I do it. There are various reasons, and it goes way beyond just going for a walk in the woods and camping, beyond getting “in touch with nature.”

“I walk chiefly to visit natural objects, but I sometimes go on foot to visit myself.” –Alfred Barron, Foot Notes, Or, Walking as a Fine Art,1875

The past three years have been hard on me. Several things came together at once and left me wondering who I am. My inner peace is gone, and I’ve been slowly sliding into depression. One thing I do know is that problems can’t be solved by continuing to do the same things. In order to heal my spirit, I must remove myself completely from my current flow of life and get into a different environment.

“Solvitur ambulando” — Latin, meaning “it is solved by walking.”

For several months now I haven’t even been able to think. My brain has been too full of “stuff.” I can’t follow a single thought through. For that I need solitude…and walking.

“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.” –Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Confessions, 1782

Ever since my Appalachian Trail hike in 2001, I’ve recognized that I gain insights into problems and possibilities whenever I walk for a long time. Usually it doesn’t happen just walking around the block. I mean walking for hours, miles, days. Especially days. It can take a lot of miles just to shed the tension that’s keeping my mind tied up with issues. Only then can I relax into walking meditation. Only then do the solutions reveal themselves.

You can read more about the benefits of walking — even just short walks — at The Art of Manliness

A Reason To Be Negative

Finally, my natural inclination is vindicated! I can’t help it, I’m a natural pessimist. People tell me to not be so negative, and I try. Sometimes I even pull it off, though it can be exhausting at times. Now, a German study contends that pessimism is healthier!

Monte Morin of the Los Angeles Times writes that the German study shows that “people who are overly optimistic about their future actually faced greater risk of disability or death within ten years than did those pessimists who expected their future to be worse.” Hah!

The study analyzed surveys conducted every year from 1993 to 2003, and involved 40,000 German subjects aged 18 to 96. They found that the younger participants tended to overestimate how satisfied they would be about their lives in the future, while older respondents underestimated. The adults in the middle predicted their futures more accurately.

Then, the optimists suffered more disabilities over the years. Of adults 65 and older, “the older pessimists seemed to suffer a lower ratio of disability and death for the study period.”

Okay, so I’m not going to stop trying to be positive. But when I have a pessimistic moment…or week, or month, or year…I’m not going to beat myself up for it. Trying to be something I’m not is too stressful. I’m just going to be the best me I can be.

Read the Los Angeles Times article.
Read the study for yourself.

Solo Travel

Here’s a good thing to have confidence in, especially for women: solo travel. If you can travel alone, you can do anything. And in my case, if I didn’t travel alone, I’d never get to go anywhere. I live alone, and my friends and family are busy with jobs and kids…it’s just too hard to coordinate everyone for trips or excursions. But I like to travel, so I’ve learned to do it alone.

When you think of traveling alone, you might first be concerned about safety. Maybe you worry that you’ll be bored by yourself, or that you’ll be too intimidated. Those are things that you’ll figure out after you’ve put yourself out there a few times. It’s not that safety isn’t an important concern, but just apply the same common sense you’d use at home. “There” is not that much different than “Here,” and people everywhere are really good and helpful.

One thing you might not think about is how to get where you’re going. Unless you’re going on a bus tour, you’ll need to be able to navigate your way around in unfamiliar territory. Even if you fly somewhere, you’re likely to need a rental car to get around at your destination. But think about this: how do you drive and read the map at the same time?

Oh, sure, you could rely on a GPS unit. But what if it doesn’t work? The batteries die or something weird just happens. What then? Part of the confidence that comes with learning to travel solo is knowing how to handle anything that comes up. I think the best way is to rely on your brains instead of an electronic gadget. People have been navigating with maps for ages, and maps still work.

The question still remains — how to drive and read the map? I have a system for navigating without electronics that has worked for me on many trips. The key is in a little preparation that you should be doing anyway. Study the map. It’s good to have a feel for the lay of the land. What’s north of your route? What’s south? What’s the next big city? Then take notes. Write big. Put the notes where you can see them easily while you drive. It’s such a simple system, and it has never failed. Try it on your next solo trip, and see if you don’t gain some confidence and maybe even feel more connected to the areas you’re driving through.

Who inspires you?

Who inspires you? Someone famous? Someone you know personally? An athlete? A spiritual leader? It’s important to have people we look up to, someone to inspire us to achieve our own greatness.

The people who inspire you don’t have to be famous. They don’t have to have huge achievements to their name. They don’t even have to be public figures. Maybe they are family members or friends, or just acquaintances.

I am most inspired by strong, independent women. I admire confidence and self-reliance. When I read about women who strive to be their very best and don’t let nay-sayers stop them, it encourages me to aspire toward my best self. Not all the women I admire are well-known. Some are just friends who have a quiet strength. But I find that the women who inspire me most are out there in the world. I know it takes even more personal strength to do whatever you do when you’re in the public eye.

And that encourages me to keep on dreaming and doing.