According to Yelp the owner pulled guns on those who didn’t pay and sometimes on those who did. I was driving to a naked hot springs nestled in the San Bernadino foothills of Southern California. It was accessible via the PCT or a trail starting from a private ranch which cost $5. Though it was on the honor system the owner chased down deadbeats and threatened them with a pistol. He even shoved it in the face of a man who paid but came too early. With a fiver in hand I hoped to avoid a similar fate.
I drove for miles on dusty gravel through desolate land to hit the ranch. It dipped up and down over potholed roads and massive, winding hills that wanted to be mountains. The SoCal summer heat was here and with no AC I was cooking. I passed many gated ranch roads before finding the one I was looking for. It was far from town, a lone spot in the foothills of a vast mountain range. I pulled up to a pay gate with a string crossing guard. To my surprise it was manned. A woman whose skin spoke to infinite cigs and unkind years greeted me. Her words came unfiltered through a mouth missing most of its teeth. She was to the point but not rude, someone grounded though unencumbered by social grace.
“You steal snakes?” She asked as if this were a common question.
“I…don’t steal snakes,” I replied. This caught me off guard.
“We have rattlers here. People drink and think they’re pets. If you see one stay back. They bite.”
I assured her I wouldn’t be stealing rattlesnakes nor any other animal. She gave me a garbage bag and asked I collect trash at the springs. No problem. After handing her the cash for both entrance and camping I drove to the trailhead. The road was dirt with washouts, ruts, and massive rocks. I took it slow but still my car bottomed. I arrived at the campground which was really just a dirt lot with cinder block fire pits. I picked a site off on its own, an area stacked with plywood for burning. The boards were full of fangs, rusty nails ready to poke. I set up my tent as wind kicked dirt to my face. I could feel the grit of earthen powder sticking to me, the kind you scrape from pores and assholes for days.
I loaded my backpack with food, booze, and water, then set down the two and a half mile trail to the naked hot springs. Before me the earth unspooled a series of dry and barren hills, the vistas rolling off into infinity. They were littered with scrub brush and caked in a yellow-brown soil. It was hot and dusty but I plodded along. My feet were fucked, torn to shreds and swimming with pus. This was from hiking a week before but my feet refused to heal. Each step was a pain but I thought of the hot waters, how I’d strip and sip, a naked soak enhanced with Four Loko. With this I carried on.
I passed people heading back up the hills. They’d had their day and were partied out. Most were young, early twenties, the men often shirtless. I was coming down in late afternoon and planned to stay ’til dusk. After a few downhill miles I made it to the springs and the sandy land before it. I was greeted by the ass cheeks of a naked old man passed out beside his obese and equally old gal pal. They were tanning or drunk, maybe both. The man’s skin was red and rubbery, elastic but tough, its leather texture the sun’s revenge for mooning the sky. Ahead of me was a pool of water in a rocky cove, all part of a stream that expanded here but narrowed after a fifty yard stretch. At the back of this pool the earth formed a rock wall with parts like a staircase. each step holding its own hot pod of water. These were the springs. Hallelujah.
I stepped to the water’s edge and looked to my left. On a rock ledge of another wall sat more naked old people. Peering ahead to the spring pools I saw others my age but they were in swim suits. This place was populated by more than a dozen yet only a handful were naked. I didn’t know anyone so stripped myself bare and grabbed a drink. I sparked the top of my candy flavored malt liquor and gave myself a sip. The sun shone hot on my naked body as the booze washed through me. It soon mingled with blood in its inebriation ritual. It felt good to be here, to live this moment.
I stepped to the pooled river water and was surprised at its warmth. If strewn with sinew and salt Goldilocks would be on her knees with a ladle. It never got deeper than my neck so I made way to the spring pools with steps and one handed doggy paddling, ever careful to keep my drink above water. I’d read this river had high levels of bacteria, fecal and otherwise, and would make you sick if swallowed. With little effort I got to the first tub, my gut unencumbered by the piss and shit of others.
I climbed out of the water to a rocky floor beside the tub. In there sat a group of young men and women. Beer cans, soggy underwear, single shoes littered the area. It wasn’t from them but some other partiers. People came here for a reason but not everyone treated this place the same. The staircase of rocks led to another pool. The stones were slippery but I stepped careful and made way to my own circle of hot water. There was another above me but it was occupied. I gave the water the toe test then slipped in. This felt great on my aching feet, the sore muscles so wore down from schlepping backpacks and sleeping in car trunks. I tipped the drink to my face and filled my mouth with booze filled sugar. What a place.
The crowd from the first pool left and in stepped a naked couple somewhere in their late twenties. I was happy to no longer be the sole under sixty nudist. I’d been in my own pool for quite some time and needed to cool down so walked back on the rocks to the river. I set down my drink and had a nice swim. When I came back to the pools I joined the couple. Soon a beautiful black woman hopped in too. She was my age and naked. With the booze cruising through me, the sun shining off her figure, I enjoyed the sight for a moment before returning to my own little world. That’s not what these places are about but at times the human instinct takes over.
In time we were joined by two others, a young hetero couple, both naked, each sporting dreadlocks. They told us they dropped acid on their first date and now were traveling out of a van together. They seemed a bit bonked and in their own world. The lady lay on top of her man and started making out. He held a GoPro in one hand and they’d make faces to the camera as they filmed themselves naked and unhinged in front of us. She ran her tits down his body which caused her feet to kick near my face. She didn’t notice so I slid away. They kept at this off on and for a long while. I was surprised they didn’t fuck in front of us.
After seeing the last of the pools I picked up a bag of trash, put on my clothes, and started hiking back to camp. I started late and dusk was early. It was beautiful to walk these hills at this hour, the golden sun casting pink light over desert land. But I was tore down and tired, feeling the after effects of an afternoon of swimming, drinking, and cooking in the sun. My pus fucked feet still ached and I was hauling a heavy bag of trash. The path veered in places but I made it back to camp just after the light went to black.
I lit the plywood fire and sat in my mesh tent staring to the stars. The particle boards crackled then painted the earth in orange. The entirety of the day hit me and soon I was asleep. An hour later I woke to the loud sounds of sex. Porno sex. Unhinged, fucking in the nowheres of nature sex. But this wasn’t really nowhere. I could tell it was the GoPro acid couple. They were completing the act started at the springs. In the still of night their sex was comically loud with no attempt to hide it from the other campers in our dirt lot. I gave myself a couple cranks but was too tired so felt content just listening in. He didn’t make much noise but she moaned dirty talk each time he placed the D on target. She nearly screamed when announcing it was her time to cum. Her orgasm didn’t stop their act nor quiet her down. After ten minutes of this I popped in earplugs and did my best to sleep, their sounds of passion now but a muffle.
I woke early the next morning and decamped. I drove down the dirt road and back out to the world through the winding desert hills. I was on a big road trip and had other places to be. A day or two later I felt a bumpy rash on my ass. I didn’t think much of it but as the weeks went on it persisted. It turned red and itchy, sometimes bumpy, others not. It eventually spread to my back and hips, stopping just short of my junk. I was living on the road and had no access to real medicine. Each night as I went to sleep I spread salve on my foot blisters and ass mold.
In time the blisters healed but the mold persisted. I looked up the springs and learned others developed rashes after swimming there. This fungus, this mold, this load of jizz from the GoPro hippies stayed on my body all summer. I wound up living in a moldy camper on my sister’s driveway in Portland. Each night in the falling apart camper I’d rub dollar store fungal cream on my ass and hope for the best. When I rode naked with thousands of bicyclists I tastefully painted my mold in glitter. It waxed and waned, almost disappearing then coming back with force. It took nearly three months but in time I killed it. I was happy to see my mold patch go. I could finally be naked in front of others without having to explain that I wasn’t riddled with STIs. Could finally go a day without scratching my butt fifty times. This was good. I missed the springs but I no longer had mold on my asshole.