Most RVers journey to Desert Hot Springs in California in search of warm weather and to escape the freezing winters but they soon discover the hot water spas. Vacationers come from all over the world to bask in the desert sunshine and enjoy pools filled with therapeutic mineral waters from deep below the earth’s surface.
Nestled in the Southern California foothills between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, Desert Hot Springs sits on a large, underground mineral springs aquifer. This unique desert city gets its name from the pure, natural, and completely odorless mineral-rich waters that percolate deep beneath the ground and then are cooled to a comfortable temperature for soaking.
Slip into a natural hot mineral pool and your cares float away. You hear the almost mandatory “ahh” as the soothing waters welcome you. Soakers with their eyes closed seem to be in a state of bliss.
Some pools are equipped with jets that gently massage your body and aerate the water, allowing you to breathe in the vapors. Water temperatures range from 99 to 104 degrees and some resorts will have several pools with just one degree of difference between each so you can find your perfect temperature.
The therapeutic pools provide a great opportunity to socialize with fellow vacationers and get some firsthand information about what’s going on around you.
Soaking in this marvelous water soothes the body and calms the mind, but therapeutic benefits do not stop there. Many believe the hot springs can improve their physical health, but don’t tell the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA forbids any advertising touting the mineral water’s medicinal value.
But it is obvious that the warm waters bring relaxation and relieve stress. After spending 20 minutes in the pool, you may be so relaxed that you will have difficulty mustering the energy to pull yourself out.
According to contrarian medical doctor Andrew Weil, and many other health care professionals in Europe and Japan, mineral hot springs are an accepted and popular treatment for arthritis, high blood pressure, eczema, nasal congestion, poor circulation and several other complaints.
Dr. Robert Bingham, who heads the Desert Hot Springs Arthritis and Medical Clinic, says your blood flow increases two or three times when you enter a pool at 100 to 104 degrees. As a result you are getting more blood, more oxygen, more white cells and more reparative cells to remedy the inflammation and damage that arthritis does to the bones and joints.
Although our modern day spas have their origins in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, over three thousand years ago the Native Americans who occupied what is now known as Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas knew of the magical powers of mineral water. The tribe there still considers the hot baths a sacred and integral part of their culture.
Doc Holliday, the famous gunslinger from the OK Corral, ended up in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where he used the hot springs to treat his tuberculosis in the late 1880s.
In Europe and Asia, balneology, the therapeutic use of baths, is incorporated into routine medical care. The benefits are the result of naturally occurring minerals that interact with the water as it percolates through several layers of earth and clay. These minerals are absorbed as you soak in the pools. Mineral compositions will change, depending on the depths of the wells the relaxing waters are drawn from. The most common minerals found in the hot springs include sodium, calcium, chloride, iron oxide, aluminum oxide, fluoride, magnesium, bicarbonate and sulfate.
The Desert Hot Springs water comes from the snow runoff on nearby Mt. San Gorgonio. It travels by way of underground rivers and years later arrives beneath the desert surface, where it is dammed up and heated by a series of earthquake fault zones that impede the downhill flow. Technically there are no springs above the surface. Most spas have their own wells that pump the healing waters into their pools.
It is widely believed that Desert Hot Springs is situated in a vortex that promotes health and wellness. The natural elements of mineral water, desert expanse, mountain elevation, earthquake faults, wind and sunshine create a significant energy field.
The town caters to international visitors who come each year to make use of the abundant natural hot mineral water, and there is no shortage of resorts with mineral pools. There are 24 unique “spatels” that have their own charming character and there are also numerous RV parks with their own mineral pools. Some spa/hotels have as few as six rooms. They resemble inns found in a Moroccan casbah, a hacienda in Mexico, or a spa in Germany’s black forest. These resort spas usually offer a full range of services that include massages, facials, skin treatments with oils and lotions, and aromatherapy. Some hotels are equipped with rooms containing personal spas. Several hotels are built into the Desert Hot Springs hills offering remarkable views of the San Jacinto Mountains.
The El Morocco Inn and Spa is Arabian inspired and contains a sultan’s tent that is used for yoga, massage and meditation. Sheers dance in the breeze and the abundant use of rich colored imported fabrics and lots of pillows add to the exotic authenticity. The Humphrey Bogart classic film, Casablanca, plays continuously in the lounge. All 11 rooms are outfitted in fabrics and furniture of the Arab nations.
The spot for dog lovers is the Dogspa Resort and Wellness Center. This tiny eight-room spa is owned by a holistic veterinarian who has a rescued pit bull mix named Brad Pit. Your room has people-sized beds and dog-sized beds. There is a pet nanny on duty to care for your dog, allowing you to get away during the day, and there are no extra pet fees.
The Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa is notorious for containing Al Capone’s western fortress and desert hideout in the 1920s. You can rent his famous stone bungalow with the original furnishings, including a mirror drilled by a gangster’s slug.
The Anahata Springs Spa and Retreat is clothing optional and operates with a Zen philosophy designed to “expand your heart.”
RV campgrounds in the Desert Hot Springs area are available at many different price ranges and levels of comfort. We like Sam’s Family Resort and Spa. It is a few miles outside of Desert Hot Springs and has hundreds of RV spaces that provide lots of camping room and also has plenty of hot mineral water pools. There are four big soaking pools that will accommodate 20 people at one time, although I’ve never seen that many there. The pools range in temperature from 99 to 105 degrees. Additionally, there are two heated outdoor swimming pools.
When you get done soaking in the mineral pools, there is plenty to see and do in the area. During the winter, the Palm Springs area is in full bloom and a continuous series of events and activities are under way. Starting with the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the PGA’s Humana Challenge in January, entertainment abounds in the Coachella Valley. Several casinos offer top entertainment. There are over 150 golf courses in the area. An unlimited number of restaurants serve cuisines from all over the world. Several museums feature art, aviation, natural history and many more items of interest. For those who love the great outdoors, there is plenty to see and do along the many desert trails, and not far away is Joshua Tree National Park, the land of strange trees and even stranger rock formations.
So why spend another winter in the cold and snow?
Before retiring in 2006, Doug Imberi operated the public affairs office at a military distribution center in Tracy, California. He is an award-winning home brewer, and lives in Salida, California, when not traveling in his fifth-wheel with his wife and two mini dachshunds.
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.