After a twisting journey up mountain roads or through vineyards, about two hours north of San Francisco Bay area or northwest of Sacramento, and tucked up the side of a mountain, flows the hot springs of what is now Harbin Hot Springs.
The 112-degree Fahrenheit hot springs, one of six distinctive pools of varying temperatures, are the centerpiece of Harbin Hot Springs, a center to experience nature’s beauty while exploring our potential as human beings. A Mecca for healers, sun-worshippers, intentional community seekers, yoga practitioners, over-wired Silicon Valley wizards in need of a break, and droves of people who seek a therapeutic and restorative soak in the springs, embraced by nature.
Historically, the springs have drawn Native American shamans and LSD-tripping hippies. In the 1880s, invalids journeyed to the Harbin Hot Springs Health and Pleasure Resort by stagecoach. Today, Harbin Hot Springs is a thriving intentional community of 175 year-round residents and a growing crowd of over 100,000 visitors each year who come for a soak in the waters, a massage, some bodywork and healing, educational workshops, hikes on some of the 1,160 acres of hiking trails that meander the 1,700-acre property, or some lounging au naturale on the sun decks after cooling off in the pristine, spring fed pool. This is a place to embrace nature, reconnect with your inner self, and enjoy the convivial community.
During the hot springs’ latest evolution, Harbin Hot Springs has emerged as perhaps the most sustainable community yet with its members distancing themselves from the controversial hippy period of the 60s, opting, instead, to embrace the hopeful, spiritual, and diverse perspectives so needed in this century.
You’ll discover rather quickly that’s not about the money at Harbin Hot Springs, operated as a non-profit retreat center by the Heart Consciousness Church. Instead of making it some elite and exclusive resort, the Harbin Community welcomes visitors of all backgrounds and economic means to the springs. Most of the visitors camp alongside the Harbin Creek while visiting, though accommodations are also available in comfortable cottages, private rooms and dorms, sixty rooms in all. In the summer, you can even sleep under the stars on a deck like my wife and I did.
“It’s a very spiritual community here,” explains Linda Miller, a twenty-three year resident who held the distinction of being the first female advertising executive at a New York agency before searching for a better way of living that ultimately landed her at Harbin Springs. “We live alternative lifestyles that express our spiritual connection to each other and all life. There’s more to life than material sense so promoted by our mainstream culture. We’re not here on Earth to make a living. We’re here to make a life.”
You’ll need to join the Heart Consciousness Church, at least for your visit to be able to enter the grounds. The community is gentle on advocating their Church’s New Age perspective, defined by the human potential movement, the holistic, natural movement and universal spirituality. The community’s magnificent temple, constructed of strawbale and cob, hosts meditation events, yoga, and experimental dance – if you embrace trying new things like my wife and I often do. Beside a labyrinth, many guests and residents enjoy walking though the biodynamic gardens.
The springs are often taken as a series, the tension-relieving 112-degrees Fahrenheit hot spring is usually followed by the plunge into the 60-degree Fahrenheit cold pool, then a meditative float in the warm pool. The local springs provide over 50,000 gallons of mineral water for the retreat center, purified with a state-of-the-art peroxide-ultraviolet light filtration system. An entire building provides rooms for various massage treatments and bodywork. There’s also a steam room and dry sauna, but there’s no barbells scene of Venice Beach to contend with.
A common kitchen allows guests to bring and prepare their own meals (vegetarian). Their Stonefront restaurant features mostly local, organic vegetarian (and vegan) cuisine as well as serving chicken and fish. Produce comes from Glo Anderson, a local farmer in nearby Hidden Valley, and Veritable Vegetables, featuring California-grown produce. Dairy products are from the local Clover Dairy, while their organic, free-range chickens are the Rosie brand from Petaluma Poultry.
Harbin Hot Springs reflects the growing interest in transformative and restorative travel, if not also the growing ecotourism industry. Having completely restored the once dilapidated resort, the management — which consists of various interdependent managerial circles that employ consensus-based decision making — continues the center’s evolution to incorporate various sustainability practices, including a small photovoltaic system, use of recycled or sustainable building materials and seeking to grow its selection of organic, local foods served on site.
As a stark reminder of just how far the community has come together to share their bit of paradise with others, there’s a list of rules, some of which include no alcohol, no cell phones, no cameras, no smoking (other than in one specific area). Clothing, however, is not required in the baths or surrounding sun or massage decks – so, this is not the kind of place to bring along the whole family. Plans are in the works for a separate family-friendly facility on the property.
“People come here because they know the waters can heal what ails you,” admits Elke Murphy, one of the Managing Directors of Harbin Hot Springs. “They return because of how good the waters feel.”
Photo Credit: Harbin Hot Springs