Monday, September 27, 2004

Hot Springs Etiquette

Take one tired body, wash thoroughly, marinate for two hours in sudorific, brackish water, rinse, dry and put to bed for eight hours.
Paul Murray writing for the TravelDish website on Japanese Onsen Culture & Etiquette

When I was stationed in Japan in the early 70s, my Japanese pen-pal from grade school (whom I never stopped corresponding with) convinced me to join him on a trip to an onsen or hot spring in the central volcanic mountains of Japan. Our first attempt was at the Komaki Spa in Misawa, where I was stationed. Komaki is a huge rock pool where hundreds of soakers can take a bath at the same time. It was noisy, bustling and crowded with naked humanity.

My second trip to an Onsen came about because I was dating a Japanese girl in Hachinohe and her family disapproved. Her name was Michiko; her friends, where she worked as a tour bus guide, called her Chico. We were getting pretty serious about each other and yet nothing would happen without her family's approval, which wasn't coming. Only her older brother, who was much more cosmopolitan and Westernized, understood. It was suggested that I meet him. That meeting was prearranged at an old Ryokan inn on the side of a mountain that paid host to some of the most serene and tranquil hot springs I will ever see in my lifetime. I won't bore you with the details of that aborted love story. The point is that the culture of the hot spring (onsen) is important and needs to be respected.

The ritual of the bath strips titles and status symbols. One never knows if the individual soaking nearby is rich or poor; whether that individual has the power to shape economies or is barely scraping by. It doesn't matter. In the bath, all are equal . . . lord and serf alike. I met my girlfriends' brother on the sacred neutral ground of the Japanese onsen. That is pretty much how I approach natural hot springs thirty years later as I rediscover the joys of soaking. The hot spring, like the onsen, is a sacred place; expectant of rituals and respect. Out of the Japanese rituals come the common-sense rules of conduct, or etiquette, for the Hot Spring. So on to the rules . . .

Rule # 1

Kanji for RespectRespect for others. We go to the springs to escape the stresses and pressures of a crowded, urban existence. We go to relax and enjoy the therapeutic joys of mineral-rich hot waters. It is not unlike soaking in your bathtub at home, locking out the days distractions and letting your mind empty of problems. The byword of hot springs is tranquility and you should endeavor not to disturb the tranquility of fellow soakers. Interaction in the pool should be low-key . . . not high-energy.

Rowdiness and partying are out of place in the pools. So is the boom-box and loud music. We want to hear the flutter of birds in the nearby trees . . . we want to 'hear' the quiet with our minds. That is why we drove miles from the city to escape the pressures and noise of modern civilization.

First-time visitors are often taken aback at the easy-going, clothing-optional nature of remote, natural hot springs. That's fair. After all, we all have our hangups and public nudity is just one of many. If you think about it though (ritual and culture aside) slipping into the hot pools au' natural makes a lot of practical sense . . . particularly if you have made a long, hard hike just to reach the springs.

Rule # 2

The Hot Springs are not baths. They are not places in which to wash yourself off. They are places of relaxation. In Japan, upon entering the onsen, you disrobe and with a small towel (usually draped on the head), you go to a soaping area outside to pools. Often you sit on a small wooden stool and completely soap yourself up from head to toes to cleanse your body. Then your douse yourself with water from a large ladle. Only then can you properly enter the pools and enjoy your soak. You respect the hot spring by entering clean. The towel is not for modesty but is rather to help cool the head through evaporation as you soak in those superheated waters. They also are used to cover ones face and direct contemplation inwards as you soak.

In practical terms it makes sense. Why do we shower before getting into a hot tub? Why do they ask us to shower prior to using a public swimming pool? The water in the springs is communal . . . shared . . . and you must do everything you can to keep it clean. Soaping is not practical at informal natural hot springs nor is it environmentally proper. However, we can rinse ourselves off before we step into the pool. Often there are containers set aside for just this purpose. As most natural hot springs are located in the wilderness and require the effort of a hike to get there, we should not pollute the beneficial powers of the springs with our sweat, sunscreen oils and insect repellents. Dip a jug into the water and douse yourself before getting in. Pay particular attention to the dirt you may bring in with your feet.

Rule # 3

Stop ogling her!Expect Nudity Communal bathing is a common practice in much of the rest of the world. Part of the reason is because bathtubs are a luxury in all but the most affluent countries. Japan is a prime example of communal bathing and the extension of that ritual to soaking at the numerous 'onsens' or natural hot springs dotting the volcanic backbone of that country.

Sharing a bath is a delightful custom and although a normally prudish North American might disdain the naturist or nudist lifestyles as unacceptable for them, attitudes often quickly change when presented with an inviting natural hot spring and a clothing-optional custom. Very often, these same prudish individuals will disrobe in front of perfect strangers and slide into the relaxing waters with them. Your reaction will determine how a new arrival behaves. If you are accepting, non-judgemental and respectful, you will find that you are treated the same. Gawking is taboo because you add an unwelcome and unexpected element to the experience that is often perceived as sexual.

Boys will be boys. Last week I was soaking up at Scenic. In the pool with us was a stunningly attractive young lady on only her second ever trip to a hot springs. She had come up accompanied by her boyfriend. She was hesitant at first but eventually disrobed and joined us all in the pool at which moment all thoughts of her nudity nudged back and we engaged in nice conversation. Later on a group of young men came over the trail, headed for the springs. They spotted us . . . and then the lady in the pool with us. They stalled on the trail above the pool, some turning back to the others. Eventually they came down with our friendly gestures to join in.

We call the newly-annointed female soakers 'goddesses' and accord them special place at the springs. Just a custom particular to Scenic that helps bond the regulars and makes them welcome. Our newly-appointed goddess and those in the pool exchanged knowing glances but kept straight faces because we knew what to expect. First the gawking . . . at her, not us. Then the uncomfortable milling about, delaying. We made room, invited them to join us. Eventually they began to disrobe . . . very slowly and at a distance with backs to us. To underwear and then into the pool as we made way for them.

Boys will be boys and they had to situate themselves where they could see our goddess (who, I have to admit, was eating this all up). If the water didn't turn them beet-red, their discomfiture certainly would (and did). And one thing you cannot hide under briefs is an erection. They never did fully shed the last of their clothes the whole time we were up there, and I imagine they hiked all the way back down wearing wet underwear.

The point? They equated nudity with a sexual connotation and reacted accordingly. I admit that on occasion I have gotten aroused because of some gesture or look of a lady but I accept that and go on, neither hiding nor displaying what she has provoked (and by provoked, I mean that appreciatively). Nudists and nude soakers are neither celibate nor neutered, but we do approach soaking with a respectful acceptance of others.

Scenic has been traditionally clothing-optional and since it is relatively obscure and difficult to reach, those who do come up are aware of the custom. Not all hot springs are like this and you must be considerate of those already there. Ask first if the pool is full of people wearing shorts. Usually, they will not object but if they do, respect that statement. Often, it only takes one person to get everyone else shedding their clothes as well and really enjoying the soak as it was meant to be. I always carry a pair of shorts with me just in case my fellow soakers are uncomfortable with the idea of nudity. Once in the pool and bonded with my fellow soakers (the threat is gone), a casual and friendly observation about soaking au' natural is usually enough to change objections. Remember . . . respect others first.

Be extremely respectful of couples and family groups. The protective urge comes to fore when an unaccompanied male appears, strips and slips into a pool with young children or wives and girlfriends. Again, ask. Or seek another pool if possible.

Keep sexual innuendo, sexual banter, gawking and displays to a minimum and everyone can relax and enjoy.

Rule # 4

Do Not Trash the Site Natural hot springs are often in remote areas with few, if any amenities. So it is up to us, the users, to keep the site in as pristine a condition as possible. Despite the custom of serene soaking, there will be parties and happy gatherings, and that is fine as long as it does not disturb the enjoyment of others.

Do Not Bring Glass Anywhere Near the Springs. Period! The reason is obvious. One accident and you have to drain the pool before someone seriously injures them self.

Pack Out What You Bring In Better yet, pack out just a little more. Don't assume that because it is forest or wilderness that you can just toss that beer can down the slope and it wouldn't matter. It does and those beer cans quickly add up. When I go to a hot springs, I take a 33 gal trash bag with me. While I soak, my pack and clothes sit safe inside the sack protected from moisture. When I'm done for the day that same sack can carry down a lot of garbage that invariably accumulates around every hot spring by those less considerate.

Wilderness ToiletUse sanitary facilities if possible and if not available, go into the tree-line well away from the springs to relieve yourself. The general Forest Service guidelines are 100ft from any open source of water. Since hot springs often spontaneously emerge out of the ground, I would add "and not above the springs" to prevent contamination of the springs.

Carry a small roll of toilet paper with you and something to dig a cat-hole no more than six to eight inches deep to take advantage of the soils natural ability to decompose human waste. Make sure you completely cover everything up with soil. When you return to the pools, do us all a favor and rinse yourself off before getting back in the pool. Think about what would affect you and behave accordingly. Obviously, don't piss in the pool.

Become a Steward of the Springs Teach through example. Natural hot springs are often unmaintained or at the best by a few people who take an interest in keeping the site functional and open. Someone cleans those pools. Someones repairs the rock walls or liners, constructs the trails, builds little amenities to make the experience a little better. Learn from these people and pitch in a hand occasionally.

A hot spring pool should be completely emptied and scrubbed clean at least once every three days otherwise microorganisms and algae will grow. The only way to combat this growth in the wild is to scrub those pools clean and then completely drain them. If you are a frequent visitor to a spring, learn how to do this and offer to help. Do not use any chemicals or bleach or detergent in the pools as they will contaminate the runoff below . . . kill fish . . . and get the place shut down real fast.

Rule # 5

Soak Safely and make soaking for others safe. If you have to hike into a natural hot springs area then you are probably in reasonably good health. However, there are some important considerations for healthy and safe soaking.

The communal waters of hots springs are not chlorinated and maintenance on the pools is often hit-and-miss. Growth of microorganisms like algae, protozoa and bacteria are a real concern. Despite the good intentions of the volunteers that try to maintain the springs under primative and rustic conditions, contamination can and does happen. The hot water has taken a trip deep into the earth and is probably as clean as any artesian well, but it must make its' way into the pools and that is where contamination can happen from animal and human waste.

Soakers often revel in the wildlife and get into the bad habit of feeding the chipmunks and birds without consideration of the consequences. Yes . . . they are cute. But where do these animals live? Where do they make their droppings? Hot spring waters are ground waters, sometimes traveling very shallowly below the surface. An abundance of 'tamed' wildlife has an adverse effect on the bacterial levels in hot spring pools. Please do not feed the wildlife!

Since natural springs are not regularly maintained, there will be some growth of algae in the pools. Volunteers get into the habit of scrubbing the pools every couple of days or so, and then completely draining the pools if feasible. The turn-over rate of water has an effect on how often this is necessary. However, you cannot rely on finding a pristine, clean pool. The rocks may be extremely slippery . . . the waters less than clear. You must be prepared and decide: is it safe? Just a note: the high mineral content of many springs will also often make surfaces slippery.

Don't become a Typoid Mary. Do not slide into a communal pool with open cuts or sores. If you have a communicable disease . . . stay out! Do not compromise or infect others . . . that is an assault!

Heat ExhaustionTake heat seriously. Pool temperatures range from tepid to scalding hot and you can easily be mislead about your tolerance for the heating effect on your body. It is not unsual for a soaker to stand up and then promptly faint from 'head rush'. It happens all the time and to the most unlikely people. Learn your tolerance and don't overdo it. In the hotter pools the temperatures often reach 110 to 120 degrees F. That is heating your body to that temperature over time and 104 degrees F in the brain is heat stroke, a serious medical emergency. Learn the symptoms of too much heat.

Heat exhaustion is due to a lack of water, as funny as that sounds. You sweat and start to dehydrate yourself as the hot spring waters heat you up. You get a little chill, maybe a slight headache. As heat exhaustion progresses, your blood electrolytes drop and the blood thickens. Your skin make get pale and cramps begin. These are warning signs and you need to take action. Soak and cool. Drink plenty of water.

When the core body temperature reaches somewhere around 104 degrees F, you start to shut down and go into heat stroke. You skin is red-hot, no perspiration. Your body has given up and this is a serious life and death emergency. Your blood pressure will pulmet and you will probably pass out right there in the pool. Treatment is cooling as rapidly as possible and then getting medical help.

I mention heat problems because they are very common; especially among neophyte soakers. Alcohol needs to be mentioned because it is common to have a drink or two or three at the special nature of hot springs. But alcohol can make heat problems worse but masking some of the symptoms . . . or hastening them along. Treat drinking and soaking much the same as drinking and driving. Have someone stay responsible to watch out for problems as they may develop. You are in wilderness, often a very long way from emergency help should something happen.

Rule # 6

Respect the Property Owners Rights and Rules Whether it be private property or public lands, there are expectations.

One, you don't own the property and you are there at the owners pleasure. Most private property owners don't mind people enjoying the springs if they are respectful of just about everything I've outlined above. Some will post their property but imply the use of the springs is okay. The property owner is responsible and liable for what happens on his or her property and posting is one way to limit that liability should something happen. Get a feel for what's allowed before heading off onto someones' private property.

Don't go around making 'improvements' to the springs. Nothing torques the property owner more than finding vast deck construction in violation of building codes. That is what closed Scenic Hot Springs, arguably one of the best hot springs in the area. You jeopardize the owner and you will get access removed real quick for everyone.

On public lands the restrictions are often more severe. Building pools (no matter how rudimentary) around naturally-occurring hot springs in Wilderness Areas and National Parks is a felony and can get you jailed. If you are going to insist on those activities you must keep them as low key as possible. Rangers might cast their attention aside if it remains in consonance with the surrounding but don't push your luck. Read my article on Olympic Hot Springs for an example of a successful co-existence between Park Rangers, the natural hot springs and the volunteers who keep these springs going.

Many other activities are restricted or controlled as well. Camping overnight is often not allowed except with permission. Fires are almost always forbidden. The short of it is: you are on the property owners land at his or hers sufferance. Respect that!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Olympic Hot Springs Visit

It's been a long day and Sunday is going to prove to be no less but I wanted to post a quick synopsis of my visit to Olympic Hot Springs on Saturday.

Not a particularly long drive . . . two and a half hours if you opt for the ferry across the Sound. It has been years since I was over on the Olympic Peninsula and I don't remember all this urbanization, particularly around Port Angeles.

Arrived at the Elwa River gate and had to pay ten bucks. Forest Service Pass no good here so I opted instead to upgrade my pass to include National Parks ($35 more). Now I'm good on any Federal land (I hope).

The Elwa River has been in the news the last few years because of an old dam which is finally going to be removed. Driving into the Elwa River Valley through the Olympic National Park, I couldn't agree more with the dams removal. There is such beauty here that begs the river to run wild once more.

The drive is paved all the way in . . . about ten miles of constant switchbacks up into the mountains overlooking the Elwa Valley. At the trailhead I had to hunt for parking. Is Olympic HS so popular? True, the trailhead served other destinations as well but I think most were for the springs. I set out on the 2.4 mile hike up to the springs.

Easy stuff. Even the trail is more or less paved and level, though damaged in places by landslides and erosion of parts of the trail down the steep mountainside. But the grade is basically level with a few stretches of 10-15 degrees. Easy stuff. There is one ford to make but the creek was running low and it was easy enough to step from stone to stone. Another was crossed by a very well-made rustic log bridge over a washout and active creek. And a third by a more conventional wooden bridge near the split between Campsite and Hot Springs. Here and there there are large white sling pouches stuffed with chunks of asphalt awaiting removal by helicopter. The trail is being reverted back to a more natural state.

My memory of Olympic Hot Springs is of seven pools. I counted seven pools before I even reached the main area! Aficionados have been active. At a guess, I would say there are at least fifteen pools of differing size and temperature over the several acre area of the springs. Everywhere, steaming streamers of spring effluent deposit their high mineral content as white, feathery trails across every surface. Slippery especially on the rocks of which every pool is built of.

There are two-person pools tucked away in crannies off either side of the trail . . . and there are larger pools holding 10, 15, even 20 or more. Temperature range from tepid to quite hot. Ever-present is the sulfurous smell of their volcanic origin deep under the Olympics.

I finally met my friends at one of the larger and higher pools, stripped and slipped thankfully into the hot waters. The water is heavy. You can feel the minerals on your skin . . . alkaline and slippery . . . a slight yellowish cast to the water. I thought to myself that no self-respecting mosquito would dare alight on my skin because to the after-smell of sulphur and then noted that despite the nice weather and the dampness of the entire area . . . not one mosquito have bothered me during the trek up. Unusual. But it is the same at most other natural hot springs with a heavy sulphur smells. They must not like it, which suits me fine.

Wildlife the same, especially the birds including a mated pair of ravens. They knew and expected us humans to make or leave offerings of food for them.

We soaked nude in the upper pool and it must be a favorite because several times groups approached and seemed disappointed. All ages including little ones with parents came up, looked over the pool as if calculating room and then went off in search of another pool. We invited all and a few joined but by a large they were looking for room for larger groups to claim a pool to themselves.

No one complained about nudity. Natural to all. A group of young Ukrainians followed me up the trail. About ten young men and women. They wanted our pool and were hugely disappointed, even checked back several times to see if we were still there. I noted on my outbound trek that they had snagged one large pool lower down and were totally enjoying themselves au' natural. I stopped by and said hello. Ukrainian women are some of the most stunning beautiful women around although the guys seem protective of them (I had flirted with one girl at the trailhead earlier when their two vans arrived and disgorged next to my car).

Despite the numerous pools about, that area remains rustic and wild. The pools are all set back off the main muddy trail . . . secluded is a good word. There are no amenities so you set your pack and clothes where you feel they will remain dry and impervious to marauding birds. The pools are all rock lined. Many leak . . . or seep (the trails of white mineral tracks muddying the area). One or two have had plastic liners put in but most remain natural rock with a bed of black schist chips from ages of outflow and settling. Most pools also have stone seating inside. The depth varies but is usually around one to two feet. Adequate to sit in and alternatively lay back. Many pools have an ingenious pumping system to control the temperature.

I soaked and enjoy the company of friends until four pm when I had to leave and get back to Seattle. My body had been thoroughly heated and stepping out to dry, I felt rubbery. Not lightheaded like Scenic because of the whole body immersion in hot water . . . Olympic is not as hot nor deep as the remaining Scenic pool. The water is different as well and I felt the protective coating all over.

As I headed back out, more people were headed up into the springs than were leaving. Olympic seems to be popular during the late hours and I imagine many were camping overnight at the ancillary campgrounds nearby. Note, that you do need a camping permit to remain overnight in Olympic National Park. That permit is available at the same Ranger Gate where you enter the park.

The drive back was enjoyable though somewhat dangerous as I was so thoroughly relaxed I caught myself nodding off as I drove. Window down full. I spent the entire ferry ride back over to Edmonds on the foredeck letting the clod, crisp cut of sea air wake me up.

Olympic I would recommend. Though guidebooks recommend a bathing suit on weekends, we had absolutely no problem with anybody and most pools were a mix of nude and shorts. Do carry water. There is none drinkable available. Carry a pack lunch and a small camp stool and make a day of alternatively sitting in the pool and walking around (in shorts and shoes). The many pools are all little oases and people tend to congregate around their groups but I had some nice conversations and everyone seemed very friendly and not the least bit self-conscious. I even caught and held the sparkling eyes of the same young woman I had flirted with hours ago at the trailhead. She looked even better now in the pool. :-)

Driving Directions

Edmonds-Kingston Ferry Schedule


Saturday, September 25, 2004

An Early Autumn Nude Hike

Who says that summer is over? What a glorious day it turned out to be and I just had to get out and enjoy it. There are plenty of nooks and crannys on the Iron Goat Trail to enjoy naturism.

When hiking nude you don't always have to search for those out of the way trails to get out and enjoy nature au' natural. Today's hike was totally unplanned. No extensive plans . . . I just happened to be driving back from an appointment and felt the need to enjoy the late afternoon sun. I turned off for one of the more popular trails around. A hike I wanted and knowing this trail was always in use I expected it would be a textile hike; which was fine with me. A hike, even clothed, is good for the soul.

Iron Goat. Level, easy, no grade. And empty today. On the way back I got reckless and stripped to enjoy the nice weather. Then I found it . . . the perfect sunning spot. An area of blasted rock on both sides of the trail, up above and over the lip was an area exposed to the full sun . . . and completely unobservable to anyone on the trail. I lay out and just soaked the sun in for almost two hours, even napping several times. No one came by the trail down below.

I've added this spot to my list and will probably be doing another autumn trek before the cold weather dumps on us. But not tomorrow. Tomorrow is Olympic Hot Springs and Sunday is Scenic where I hope to meet up with a friend (female :-) ) of mine. I'll give you a full report when I get back.


Friday, September 24, 2004

[Humor] A simple question? Arousal and etiquette...

Just a little light reading between members of the NudistResorts Forum and a "baiter" (one who makes controversial remarks just to stir up anarchy and discord).

Hello everyone,

I have a question that has some philosophical undertones. However, please forgive me if at times I sound as a simpleton.

(Premise) I have tried nudism a few times in the past on the philosophical premise of:
"what separates Man from beast is the human asset of intellectual sophistication. The test of being "Human" (IMHO) should be a measure of ones ability/mastery of maintaining *self-control* (and intellectual clarity) while in their nude state"

(Question) My question relates to simple yet critical issue of etiquette (expected behavior) in nudist areas.
Particularly: It is my observation that males are always instructed so as to be prepared In the event they experience an unexpected erection. The instruction is to always err on the side of inconspicuousness.

The question at hand is:
"What is the importance of inconspicuousness" ?
Based on the afore mentioned philosophical premise It should NOT mater whether a male (or female) has become aroused (regardless of sexual thought or other Physiological reasons) as long as they maintain composed and they do not *act* upon those instincts.

. . . and on and on for 12 hilarious pages. The link is here


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Wreck Beach Needs Your Help!

One of the nicer clothing-optional beaches in North America is Wreck Beach near the UBC Campus in Vancouver, BC. The University of British Columbia has been planning to erect two tower buildings that overlook the beach area. Besides the environmental issues and the lack of public comment, the construction of these building will probably destroy Wreck Beach as a clothing-option destination. A petion for consideration is being circulated and the organizers are close to their minimum 20,000 signatures. We can all do our part by making the drive up to Vancouver today (Friday) and showing support to Save Wreck Beach. Information follows:

Hi, Everyone, from Judy and James. Hope you have survived the rains lately,
but this weekend promises to be sunnier with a good chance to fund raise and
obtain the final 700 signatures needed for the 20,000 goal on our
stop-the-towers petitions.

We are gathering at 11:00 a.m. on the south side of the Art Galley
fronting on Robson Street and plan to stay until 3:00 p.m. You're welcome
to bring musical instruments and your own chairs. We'll have a card table
up and clipboards with petitions in order to catch the lunch hour crowd.
Come for as short or long a time as you can manage. Friday, Sept. 24, 11:00
a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Art Galley steps facing Robson. Look for our cardboard
tower and hoist a placard for freedom! Thanks in advance


Location: Vancouver Art Gallery 750 Hornby St (Near Robson) Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H7 Canada Map

Sign the Online Petition: Save Wreck Beach from the Towers (online) Petition

Wreck Beach Location

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Scenic: Call for Historic (and not so historic) Photos

Okay, so maybe I'm getting too obsessed with Scenic but it's not my obsession alone. There are cries for information and high interest on the history of Scenic and I'd like to compile and present that history here.

So, if any of you have old pictures of the springs in use around the turn of last century, or know of any interesting stories about the hotel or all the various name changes of the years . . . let me know. For instance, did you know that Deception Falls used to be called Nippon Falls? There is a story in there that I'm working on getting clear in my mind.

Stories and recent photos are welcome too. Heck, I might be in some of those photos. I might be the brunt of more than one embarrassing story as well. Scenic Hot Springs has been gone for three years and seemingly faded from memory. Likewise, there is the new generation who will be making their marks soon enough and deserve the opportunity to experience the springs.


Kudos to the Soakers (Scenic commentary)

You're just great!

I was coming up the trail to Scenic last Saturday when I met a young couple coming back down from their soak. We nodded, smiled and said hello as we passed but more importantly, the couple was carrying a plastic trash sack back down with them and were picking up odds and ends as they continued on down the trail. I like to see that people care about something as beautiful as Scenic and take it upon themselves to take some of the responsibility for its' care.

I go up maybe once or twice a week because I like the short hike with relaxation promises at the end. I no longer get quizzical glances when I'm scrambling downhill from the tub picking up beer cans or broken bottles. Some join in and camaraderie is heightened.

Most are intrigued at the vacuuming system we have in place to clean the pools and I teach them all. We, as a group . . . whether you be nudists or just the occasional skinny-dipper . . . whether you be an old-time soaker or a young person from the new generation discovering Scenic for the first time . . . we, make the springs and I thank each and every one of you for pitching in. It's not about 'what's in it for me'. We already have that just for the privilege of being able to visit.

Thank You,

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Courtesy Sign: Nude Hikers Ahead

Posted by Hello

Fair warning (and polite), you do fellow hikers a courtesy by posting a warning sign

If you hike to a destination where you plan to skinnydip, sun or relax nude, consider posting a warning sign like the one above at a reasonable distance up the trail and perhaps at a location where you can observe hikers approaching in advance. Give your fellow hikers the opportunity to either continue on the trail or make a detour around via another trail. Forewarned, they will appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness . . . and oft-times will react favorably by continuing on and joining you. There have been occasions when a swim at an alpine lake has turned into a group of never-before-nudists stripping down and enjoying nature with me. It's up to you to present an non-threatening environment that lowers the inhibitions of all concerned.

Feel free to copy and use this sign in your own adventures into the wilderness. Original idea came from the Sunlovers Under Gray Skies (SLUGS) of Seattle.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

Meager Hot Springs (Closed)

Meager Creek Hot Springs
(aka Cayley Hot Springs)
GPS Coordinates (WGS84)
N50.57548 W123.46486

The new owner of Scenic Hot Springs is Mr. Mike Sato who has experience developing hot springs in Canada. In light of the sensitive nature of Scenic and any potential development up there . . . much as we wish we could go back to the past . . . I thought it might be informative to explore Meager Hot Springs and Mr. Sato's involvement in that project.

At present and for the foreseeable future, Meager Hot Springs is closed due to a washout of the bridge over Meager Creek and the lack of funds to replace that bridge. This is the official BC Forest Service Closure Notice

Meager Creek Hot springs sits in a deep valley on the eastern edge of glacier-covered mountain ranges of the southern BC coast. It's a region of past volcanic activity and present geologic activity. Steep terrain of volcanic ash and river gravel makes this an area of landslides, floods, and avalanches. It's also a area full of wildlife.

The area has had a varied history best detailed in this report by a lover and long time visitor to those springs.

The area sits on active geothermal fields which the government of BC is intent on developing. Naturists and nudists have always flocked to Meager despite BC government attempts to ban or control them. Unable to outright ban the hot spring aficionados with warnings, gates across logging roads and the such, they at first attempted to control them with an independent contractor to maintain the site.

In 1996 a legal opinion was passed down that determined that all natural hot springs in BC crown land (akin to our federal land) came under the regulations in effect for swimming pools. Suddenly there was a panic about liability and no money for filtration, changing rooms, sanitary facilities and chemical treating of the natural hot spring water. The springs were closed again and the pools destroyed to make them incapable of holding water. It wasn't long before devotees once again repaired the damage and quietly got the pools going again . . . this time without a contractor to maintain the site. The BC government gave up and changed to language of the Swimming Pools Act to exempt natural hot springs.

In 1999, Mike Sato of Osen Sea to Sky and the BC Forestry service signed a lease giving Mr. Sato development and management rights to the springs and soon thereafter Japanese-style rock pools and waterfalls were built. In October of 2003 during last years heavy winter storms throughout the Pacific Northwest, the bridge (and sole access) over Meager Creek was washed away and remains so to this day. There is no money in the BC budget to reconstruct this bridge so Meager Hot Springs remains closed except to the hardy who will ignore warning signs and enter the unstable area.


Photos of Meager Hot Springs

(Photos "borrowed" from various places under the Fair Use provisions of the Copyright Act)

Japanese style rock pools with hot waterfalls replaced the old wooden tubs in 1999

A view of the Changing Room and Wooden Benches near one of the pools. © Toby Haynes, September 1999

Meager Creek is fast-flowing and close to the soaking pools. © Toby Haynes, September 1999

That's all she wrote folks. Meager Hot Springs is closed!

Hike to Dishpan Gap in the North Cascades

Well, I just got back from a particularly brutal hike to Dishpan Gap and back. Rained practically the whole time and despite the claims of the makers of my $200 rainsuit, I stayed soaked and cold the whole two days. But it is a good conditioning hike for the much more brutal PCT hike we are going to do next month.

No. It wasn't a nude hike. You think I'm crazy? Besides, my two friends wouldn't understand anyway. Too mainstream and conservative. But they're good companions on the trail . . . far more experience than I have.

We had originally planned on meeting at the Quartz Creek trail head at the end of the Index River road on Wednesday night, camp out beside the North Fork of the Skykomish River and then enter the trail bright and early the next morning. That never happened; John ripped his tent packing it and frantically cancelled. I got the message halfway down Highway 2 to Index.

He got his tent fixed the next morning and we managed to meet up and get on the trail around ten in the morning. Things just got worse.

Quartz Creek is a pretty rough trail. Not a great deal of elevation changes but the trail is not well-maintained. It's narrow . . . it's full of snags and dropped trees across sections . . . and there are a lot of creek fords to accomplish.

Did I mention it was raining? The last time I did this trail I could hop from stone to stone to ford a creek. Not this time. Two, in particular, were roaring, raging cascades of white water averaging a foot deep. Narrow trail? Little room to maneuver? Heavy pack keeping me off-balance? Delays while we removed boots and socks and slipped on aqua-sox for the challenging ford. Suppose I could have tried it with my hiking boots as they were already rather soaked anyway. But I changed while my more experienced friends debated safety measures. Meanwhile, we're already feeling the cold from the dampness. This is poncho weather! Off in the distance I heard the deepthroated rumble of thunder rolling up the valley from the south.

The rope came out. I have never used the coil of climbing rope I carry on the outside of my backpack. The rope came out. The water was just too swift and the downhill ledge too close . . . a drop of twenty feet or more onto solid granite. We roped together and anchored one end . . . then one by one made it across the frigid rush of water. I was cold before, now I was shivering. I swear, freezing water managed to course it's way up the inside of my rainpants and freeze my balls off!

We did that two more times on normally tranquil creeks. Our timing couldn't have been worse. Ahead, the U-shaped head of the valley became a bowl for a menacing boil of dark clouds. We headed into the dark mists, losing the light of mid afternoon as we finally made a broad valley meadow and the juncture to the Cadet Trail at the other end.

This was where I met my bear the last time I did Quartz Creek. I'm sure my hand hovered frequently on the can of Bear deterrent next to the Buck knife on the pack waistbelt. I'm sure my friends also snickered up ahead. We made lunch at the Indian ruins . . . took the opportunity to make some sorely needed hot coffee and do a change of socks. Quartz Creek is only five miles yet it took us the same number of hours to do it. Not a very good rate of travel. Above us, the mountain crests and ridges promised faster times and clear hiking . . . once we scrambled up the mountainside before us. We dallied and recalculated our expectations. We COULD make Dishpan if we made no more stops and did a couple of hours in the dark. Or we could forget Dishpan and overnight the nearest peak.

Believe it or not, water was a consideration now . . . despite the rain showers and overflowing creeks. Once we were up above the treeline and on the crests of PCT there would be no water sources until the two small alpine lakes before the Gap . . . our expected camping location. We wasted more time filtering water into containers . . . then set off uphill. Wonder where the bear was. Probably all curled up nice and warm under a dry ledge. But then again, that bear doesn't have a nice expensive, $200 rainsuit like I do.

The spur of Cadet Trail was worse here. Skree and overgrown vegetation made footing and staying on the trail difficult. By five pm we made the first crest . . . above the worst of the clouds and rain. The going was pretty good and we made up for lost time. We dropped back down on the trail and switchbacked up onto the next ridge. The light was failing and the wind picking up. Headlamps came on. We now knew we could make the sheltered and protected lakes. By nine-thirty we turned to the north over the ridge and entered the caldera of some forgotten volcano. Mercifully, and methodically, we set up camp.

What a difference a change of dry clothes make. And a hot meal. The rain gods heard us and let off . . . at least on this peak. A fire would have been nice . . . but hey, candle lanterns do warm up the inside of a small tent . . . and the inside of that tent was dutifully dry as always. Boots came off and we stretched halfway out of the three tents arranged facing each other in a tight circle. Bobs' small flask of bourbon came out and a made the rounds of our coffee cups. Dinner was Alpine Chili . . . or so the pack said. Somehow, dehydrated foods never really rehydrate properly. It was more like a spicy mush except the corn kernels were still semi-rubbery. But it satisfied the hunger and there were a few other snacks to be had in our food pouches. No bears this high up. No trees either. So we didn't bother hanging the food bags off the ground. It wasn't long before I was all cuddled up in my sleeping bag and finally feeling warmth after so many hours of bone-chilling dampness.

We all got up early the next morning. We had actually accomplished our goal (or close to it as Dishpan Gap was less than a quarter of a mile away). The sky looked promising and I kept telling myself that the trip back was going to be easier than the trip inbound. My next disaster. Where was my camera? Then the sinking feeling. It's on the passenger seat of my car back at the trailhead . . . still attached to the charger. F*ck!

The view through Dishpan Gap to Glacier Peak. Prominent is the ridge that makes up a portion of the PCT in this area. This picture is from a previous trip.

I followed in a bad mood as we made Dishpan in under half an hour. They took pictures . . . I didn't. We all 'signed' the summit log and dallied just a while to enjoy the view. Then it was the trek back, bypassing the spur to the lakes to save time. What a difference one days weather makes. No rain . . . clouds high. We stayed in high cheer even as our knees complained about the steep downhill trek . . . never able to really stretch the legs out fully because of the slope.

I did not look forward to fording those streams again. We trudged down and into the Quartz Valley. Miraculously, everything was back to normal . . . except for the muddy trail. We stepped from rock to rock over the once-more-tranquil creeks. We were leaving it all behind . . . the trailhead getting closer.

The sun came out . . . humidity rose and the mosquitoes arose from some fleet of aircraft carriers in an ephemeral pond in search of a meal . . . us. We were tired and in no mood to enjoy the wilderness anymore. Our cars with heaters were ahead and they promised to take us home for a long, hot soak in the tub. I emerged into the open clearing of the trailhead right behind my friends just as the sun was giving up the last of its ruddy light to the evening. Few words were spoke. We were tired, cold, hungry, thirsty and pockmarked in impossible locations from Kamikaze insects. We went straight for our individual vehicles . . . engines first, heaters full as boots came off and aching feet slipped into softer shoes.

We espied each other from our metal sanctuaries . . . knowing glances. Thumbs up. We had a great time! Beside me on the passenger seat all by itself, the charge indicator on my digital camera winked steady. Full charge. That's nice to know I thought as I pulled the gear-shift back into reverse and backed out of my spot to join the other two sets of taillights already bouncing down the narrow forest service road back to civilization. Yes, that's good to know.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Scenic HS: How It Got Closed the Last Time

Since I've been posting so much material on the possible renovation and reopening of Scenic Hot Springs I thought a little history about the original raid by the sheriff's department that closed the springs for three years, was in order. The story below, while slightly tongue-in-cheek by the reporter, essentially recounts what happened from the King County Sheriff's Department perspective. Many, including myself and those present and familiar with the raid, feel differently and I will attempted to present another viewpoint on the overhanded actions by our county government. My comments are in red and italicized . . .Rick
Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, circa 1890
The Original Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, circa 1890
The original Scenic Hot Springs Hotel on the Great Northern Railway, photo from the MOHAI Collection, Fair Use

Hot springs bathers left high and dry

Sheriff's deputies raid mountain spa's illegally built tubs

Saturday, October 27, 2001


SCENIC -- For decades, Scenic Hot Springs has attracted bathers from around the Northwest and the world. Many are lured here by countless stories and photographs.

But sheriff's deputies have now thrown cold water on the hot springs.

Last weekend, they raided the place in eastern King County. Turns out the decks and the tubs were built without county permits on property owned by someone else.

The day Sheriff "Beaumont of Skykomish wagged his judgemental finger at the bathers in Scenic Hot Springs!
(Image is not part of the PI story. I 'borrowed' it from Mooncrows site

Police chased bathers out of their tubs and threatened them with arrest for trespassing. Signs have been posted to keep people out. Yet to be determined is whether the group's "clothing optional" rule had anything to do with it.

"They informed me that they had plenty of plastic handcuffs," said Derek Scovell of Shelton.

Scovell and his wife, Louise, are longtime volunteers at the springs and members of a loosely organized caretaker group called Friends of Scenic Hot Springs, which is meeting today to sort out the problem.

"We're hopeful we can work something out," Scovell said. "I met my wife at Scenic Hot Springs. I asked her to marry me there. It's a special place for a lot of us."

The springs take their name from the village of Scenic, last stop on the Great Northern Railway before it climbed the switchbacks over Stevens Pass more than a century ago.

The old village once featured a hotel where travelers soaked in hot tubs fed by the springs.

Forbidden to use hotel facilities, Chinese railroad laborers got their baths anyway. They hiked up the mountain to where hot water bubbled from the ground.

The spa stayed mostly natural -- if muddy -- until the 1990s, when Friends of Scenic Hot Springs began building a series of decks, pools and stairs to hang over the 40-degree slope.

The water cascades down the hillside from pool to pool. There are four in all.

In one, called the Lobster Pot, the water reaches 114 degrees. The Monster Tub is a tepid 98.

Seats trim the railings. Blue plastic tarps line the vats, and the views stretch to the north and west into the Skykomish River Valley.

King County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Urquhart said Jim Beaumont, the Skykomish deputy who led last weekend's raid, was only doing what the owners asked him to do, nothing more.

"The owners don't want them there and asked us to issue a trespass notice," Urquhart said. "Apparently some people are upset about it."

Among them is one of the owners, Jim Piper of Kitsap County, who has mixed emotions about the closure.

"When I was a kid, a buddy and I used to dig out little sand pits to soak in. I hadn't gone back in years, but I did a few years ago, maybe 1996, and that's when I saw all those decks and got concerned.

"There are liability issues involved, absolutely," Piper said.

Okay . . . now I have to step in.

Deputy #1: Damn Soakers! This is the third call today about some kid breaking into a car. I just wish they would quit using our pristine wilderness . . . it's not for the people.

Deputy #2: Yeah . . . and you know what them fornicating hippies are doing up in those pools, all naked and such. Why just last week I was watching a bunch of sweet thangs jumping around all naked in the pool.

Deputy #1: Dang. All I saw was a bunch of naked men. You get all the luck.

Deputy #3: Hey guys, any more donuts?

Deputy #1: Go back to sleep Rufus. Shifts not over yet.

Deputy #2: Wonder if the Sheriff's gonna do anything about it this time. I got better things to do then drive up to Scenic everytime someone breaks into a car. It's damn cold up there.

I know I'm not be particularly kindly toward the deputies, but what the heck. What they did was a travesty.

. . . . . . . . . .

Mr. Piper (the owner of the Scenic property at the time): . . . but I don't mind them enjoying the springs, Sheriff . . .

It is unknown exactly what took place at that meeting but many believe that the Sheriff's Department brought pressure to bear on Mr. Piper, essentially threatening him with legal action for the code restrictions and then 'suggesting' a way out. Mr. Piper was 'urged' to have the site posted. The moment that happened, the deputies had the authority they needed to enter the property and arrest people.

The wanton destruction of the decks and pools was uncalled for and probably illegal. As to this date, the original code violation for the construction is still open and unresolved and I can find no order in King County official records calling for the dismantling of the tubs. The only authority the sheriff's deputies had on that fateful day and the subsequent following days, was to enforce the 'no trespass' signs and arrest those who violated them.

The springs have been in Piper's family since 1964, and no one has challenged their use -- until now.

Through a corporation called Scenic Springs LLC, Piper and a partner, Hal Griffith Jr. of Mercer Island, now own the springs and the 40 acres of timber that surround them.

Vandalism of cars parked along Highway 2 near the springs' trailhead at milepost 51, one mile east of Scenic, apparently triggered the notion that the springs had become a nuisance and an attraction for troublemakers.

The deputies were just too lazy to do their jobs. Instead of going after car vandals they made it 'illegal' to enjoy nature. Cars get vandalized all the time at the Seattle Center parking lots. Do they declare the Seattle Center a public nuisance?

"I wasn't privy to a lot of this information until lately," Piper said. "But once I found out, I had no choice but to do what I've been told to do by the sheriff, and that was to post the (no trespassing) signs."

Notice that Mr. Piper said he had 'no choice but to do what' the Sheriff's Department told him to do? I thought government worked for us, nit the other way around.

In magazine and newspaper stories over the decades, Scenic Hot Springs has been a recommended stop for anyone able to negotiate the two-mile trail.

But that publicity has proved to be more negative than positive, said Robert Verdecias, a Brooklyn-born Ballard resident known at the springs as "The Naked Gourmet."

"That's what they nicknamed me," he said. "Love to cook, fix stuff for people, people from all over. But I never wear my shorts when I'm up there."

As tired hikers finished the last mile of their ascent, which got steeper as they went, the Naked Gourmet was there to greet them -- often from the Lobster Pot and often with fresh tortillas filled with rice, beans, cheese and vegetables.

The food was free, though donations were welcome.

Verdecias blames "the rowdies, the kids, the late-night crowd packing in their booze. ... They're what's changed the place," he said.

"We don't have supervision there 24 hours a day, so we often find a mess there that we have to clean up."

King County code-enforcement officer Bill Turner said the facility fails to conform to numerous building, development and environmental laws.

It is perched on a sensitive steep slope. The used hot springs water flushes into the Skykomish River, a stream that contains endangered salmon and steelhead.

As the water has for hundreds of years . . . the temperature of the stream further down is as cold as any other stream nearby. That water is a natural occurrence and an argument could be made that stopping it would also have an adverse effect. In any case, the kicking out of soakers and the destruction of the tubs did nothing whatsoever to change the fact that hot water was still coming up out of the ground and flowing down the mountainside as it has for at least 80 years.

I think it is a testament to the skill of the Friends that most of the foundation work and the one tub authorities couldn't easily destroy, remain soundly in place all these years later. Engineers could learn a thing or two about construction on a steep slope from the Friends of Scenic.

By the way, the streams sluice into the Tye River, not the Skykomish. The Tye is a tributary of the Skykomish. And to the best of my knowledge, salmon and steelhead do not work their way up into the Tye River because of Alpine Falls just before the Skykomish River.

"You can't even go out there and cut vegetation without approval. And those privies ... How do you clean those out without sluicing it down the bank?"

It's private property, dude. Mr. Piper does not need approval to cut down vegetation. And it's not old growth . . . no spotted owls here . . . just friendly blue jays.

As for the privies (toilets, dude . . . don't be so anal), I agree. At least someone thought about providing a toilet instead of having all those soakers doing their thing all over the mountainside.

Turner said fines are possible, if not probable, in this case, at least at this point.

"Winter's coming. I'm not sure how you'd disassemble what they've got up there and remove the material. My feeling is you'd have to pack it out."

Packed in -- up the two-mile trail -- was how much of the material got there. A back road best negotiated with a 4-wheel-drive rig in good weather brought the rest, but still left a half-mile hike for those carrying tools and sacks of concrete.

Today, those who use the hot springs remain as hopeful as they were resourceful.

Dale Wallace, president of Friends of Scenic Hot Springs, said he is hoping "to reach an understanding between all parties so that this beautiful resource can be preserved for public use."

"We'd like to get reasonable minds together on this," he said. "There ought to be a way to make everybody happy."

Turner isn't so sure.

"I can imagine the permitting process would require a lot of review and probably would be long and expensive," the code officer said.

Yeap, that's how our government works. Make it expensive and way drawn out and nothing gets accomplished. I can imagine the self-righteous smirk on your face as you said that.

"I'm kind of dumbfounded about it all. I mean, holy cow! If these 'friends' are really environmentally sensitive people, what were they thinking? They are friends of who, of what?"

Now who are the "friends of the environment" Mister Turner? King County Deputies proceeded to trash the place with wild abandon and left the mess of their destruction laying there. Only the civil disobedience of the former soakers made a semblance of cleaning up the site so that it was not such a scar on the mountainside. And there it sat for three more years . . . rotting.

Scenic Hot Springs Commercial Development?

During one of my visits to Scenic Hot Springs I got so disgusted with the trash irresponsibly tossed down the slopes from the one remaining pool that I posted a sign on the railing for everyone to see . . . and hopefully take to heart. The sign said:








and I signed it with my email: BANGED_UP_SHINS @ YAHOO.COM

The new owner saw my sign and later contacted me and we have been communicating about my opinions and his deveopment plans for Scenic Hot Springs. We have 'walked' his property from top to bottom and enjoyed a few soaks together in the one remaining pool. Recently, he gave me permission to talk about what we discussed during those many hours on his property; and I'd like to share them with you.

In general, the new owner of Scenic Hot Springs envisions resurrection of three pool areas . . . the Honeymoon Pool, the Meadows complex (perhaps relocated to the other side of the trail . . . which is now an access road) and the original upper pool area.

Diagram of proposed development at Scenic Hot Springs

He envisions smaller pools in cascading fashion in these areas made of natural rock material taken locally. The lower pool (Honeymoon) would be to satisfy disabled access. Each area would have showers and toilets as required by code. The Meadows area would have what he calls 'Romance Pools' . . . a number of smaller pools mongst trees with privacy screens.

The Upper Pools would become two or three larger pools and perhaps be relocated slightly to the west where slope conditions are more favorable. An additional cold water or tempered water pool would also be build. The existing pool (which is still under threat of an open King County enforcement action) would remain for the present until a replacement pool can be constructed. New trail access would be provided that
does not take users above the pools (this is a practice to avoid contamination of the source waters).

Of concern to the owner is the capacity of the springs, which he feels are adequate at the upper level (barely) but not so lower down. Capacity will have to be explored before the lower pools can be fully planned.

He also envisions picnic areas either to the east or west of the upper pools. Undecided is the problem of parking and he discussed several possibilities on his property, none of which I feel comfortable detailing just yet. Even he is not sure what will work or not and what King County will allow. The thread is 'just how far can a car get up here and how do we deal with handicapped access'.

A caretaker will be hired and a caretaker cabin built perhaps at the upper pool area . . . the responsibilities of the caretaker to control access, perhaps collect the user fee (which is envisioned at $10 a day (or more to rent a private pool), and to
perform property and pool maintenance including frequent draining and pressure washing of the rock pools. Like Cayley, the caretaker will have a satellite phone for emergency communications.

Development is envisioned roughly in two stages with the upper pools first and if water flows can be secured in sufficient quantity, the two lower areas . . . at which time a second possible caretaker would be hired, depending on where the final parking area situates.

Any plan requires EMS and LE access, which is part of the reason the trail has been bulldozed to a one lane road. It may also be necessary to bring in drilling
equipment to find the best hot water flows for the lower pools.

The owner plans to take a cautious approach to activities at the springs, based on his experience at Cayley/Meagher. There, the rougher element took control and resulted in many LE calls and he doesn't want that to happen here. He feels a one or two year limited operation and then he may develop camp areas in the less-sloped areas of the property to open up the springs for night use. The initial use would be
daytime-only with control by the caretaker.

The City of Skykomish, according to him, has asked that the springs be 'family-friendly' and he agrees with that approach as he feels more people would use
the springs if they weren't perceived in a negative light as for naked people only. Scenic will not become a nudist colony. However, the owner is Japanese and the tradition in Japan is for clothing-optional bathing in hot springs. When I asked him about the contradiction he said that he would like the higher and less accessible springs to stay clothing-optional but controlled . . . in retrospect, the envisioned picnic area would be close to those upper springs. The owner and I enjoyed the pool in the afternoon and he showed no problem with soaking au' natural . . . which is encouraging.

There are many regulatory measures impinging on his development plans . . . from
environmental impacts, property access for the public and emergency response, capacity of the hydrothermal field and the scope of development, to code
restrictions on where he can build on the slopes. Details of them are meaningless because they change every time he talks with officials. But he does have
a reasonable plan in place from which changes can be made to address issues. (Personally, I like the plans because emphasis is completely on making this place as
natural as possible)

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Protecting Your Skin with Sunscreens

With the uncertainty of the weather for the next few days my nude hiking activities are being curbed . . . it's not worth it to get caught in a sudden thunderstorm in the mountains. Instead, I'm sitting here after a long day, staring at my suntan and I thought, might as well post some material about suntanning that might help future sun-whorshippers . . . even if they now have to wait till next summer to catch the rays. The material in this post is adapted from an article by Sue Frederick at

Most of us realize the risks of sun exposure. However, a healthy, active lifestyle often keeps us spending time outdoors for walking, running, hiking or enjoying other leisure activities. It's essential to understand how to best protect your skin from harmful rays. Natural sunscreens have many advantages for skin protection. Here's why…

As everyone knows, the sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays stimulate the skin's pigment-producing cells to produce extra melanin, our skin's defense against burning. This process takes several hours, and it's usually two to three days before tanning from a single day completely appears. Your skin continues to produce new cells until the sun's effects are eliminated. This is the reason your tan fades after a few days out of the sun.

The more your skin is exposed to the sun, the more it produces protective cells. If you burn, your skin works overtimes manufacturing cells, and you eventually peel.

On the other hand, building a tan gradually with several 15-minute to one-hour exposures allows the skin to slowly create new cells that stay around much longer. Then you'll have a nice summer tan.

Repeated sun exposure can age skin. The sun's rays penetrate your skin's inner layers, damaging the collagen and elastic fibers, causing wrinkles. Plus, just as your bathing suit dries quickly on a sunny day, your skin loses moisture, increasing risk of skin wrinkling. How can you best play in the sun safely?

Apply sunscreen that matches your skin type and Sun Protection Factor (SPF). A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rating system, SPF indicates how much more time you can spend in the sun without burning. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 7 should let you stay in the sun seven times longer than you could without sunscreen. You'll find SPF factors ranging from 2 to 40 and above.

You should also know your skin type before purchasing sunscreens. Type 1 skin burns and freckles but never tans. If you're red haired with blue or gray eyes, you may fit into this category and should use a sunscreen with the highest SPF rating.

Type 2 eventually develops a tan but always burns after 20 to 30 minutes in the sun. Type 2s are light blondes with blue or green eyes and should stick to a high SPF sunscreen.

Skin cancer occurrence drops drastically at Type 3. People with this skin usually have dark blond or light brown hair and blue, green or brown eyes. They can develop a dark tan but will burn moderately, so should begin with a high SPF sunscreen and gradually work down.

Type 4 is naturally dark complected, has brown hair and eyes and always tans dark brown. Still, they can burn minimally and should start tanning with an SPF of 12 and work down.

With Middle Eastern or Latin American ancestry, Type 5 hardly ever burns but should use a slight sunscreen of SPF 4.

Type 6, with black hair and dark skin, usually never burns but should play it safe with a sunscreen of SPF 4.

Benefits of Natural Sunscreens

High-quality, natural suntan and after-sun products are found in abundance at natural foods stores or on websites such as From avocado oil to botanicals such as rosemary and comfrey, these ingredients soothe and protect your skin. Many also are waterproof.

Some plant oils contain natural sunscreens. Sesame oil resists 30 percent of UV rays, while coconut oil, peanut oil, olive oil, and cottonseed oil block out about 20 percent. Mineral oil, derived from petroleum doesn't resist any UV rays and dissolves the sebum secreted from oil glands that helps inhibit water evaporation from the skin.

Cocoa butter can moisturize and soften your skin. As an ingredient in sunscreens, it offers protection from drying sun and wind. Vitamin E fights free radicals, helping to prevent skin damage from too much sun.

For additional protection, most suntan lotions contain PABA (Para-Amino-Benzoic Acid), a sunscreen that's part of the B-vitamin complex. A few people experience allergic reactions to PABA, so be sure to test new products on a small patch of your skin. There are PABA-free lotions using benzophenone as an alternative sunscreen.

Aloe Vera is included in many natural sun-care products for its soothing, healing qualities. Known as the burn plant, the gel from aloe is believed to stimulate skin and assist in new cell growth. Use it to relieve sunburn, blisters or heat rash, or mix with PABA for a moisturizing sunscreen.

Australia's tea tree oil, an ancient Aboriginal remedy, is an effective antiseptic, fungicide and germicide. It's a component of many sunscreen lotions and after-sun creams and may relieve sunburn by increasing blood flow in capillaries, bringing nutrients to damaged skin.

Northwest Gray Skies at DogFish Point Nude Beach

Only a true Puget Sound nudist like me could enjoy these gray skies, drizzling rain and cool temperatures

Wednesday afternoon and the clouds are on their way in over Puget Sound in true Pacific Northwest late summer fashion. It's going to be rainy the rest of the week. Business and a new personal naturalist project have kept me busy all day with phone calls, meetings and a hurried trip up to Bellingham to remedy someone elses' crisis. I'm tense . . . I'm wound up . . . and I'm tired. Seattle is an hour away and I'm in no mood to deal with traffic. I need to unwind and relax . . . get back to basics. I dump the freeway in favor of coastal Chuckanut Drive.

Dog Fish Point is one of those lesser known habituates of the bare skin ilk. Though well known to the local nudists, few outside of the Bellingham area know of it's closely held location for fear that popularity will bring irresponsible activities and another crackdown and forced relocation.

Indeed, the first time I visited during the 90 degs days of July this year, it was obvious that the pairing of naked men going off together into the trees the other side of the railroad tracks were not going there to explore the flora and fauna . . . except each others. This got to be irritating to me as I watched several males approach each other on the beach, chat for awhile and then head off together for awhile in the woods and return separately later.

This surprised me because during that visit there were also quite a few college age females sunning nude on the beach. The Point didn't have the feel of a "sausage parade" or homosexual meeting place. Fortunately no one approached me and I remain decidedly "hetro" and safe.

Aside from those activities that took place on the northernmost rocky outcrop of the beach . . . I did enjoy myself and met some interesting characters including a sort of unofficial caretaker who is slowly, rock by rock, sculpting the point with rock salt pools, fire-rings and stone benches . . . a veritable rock garden.

Dog Fish Point bisects two sunning areas . . . the southern one with it's rock garden and the northern more open stretch where one can spread out a towel and soak in the rays. It is not a true beach in that there is little sand and a lot of crushed oyster shells. Footwear is an absolute around here. The point itself (where I am sitting in the picture above) is a solid piece of granite a good twenty to thirty feet high and jutting forty feet into the water. Up top there are lots of moulded, salt water eroded depressions to sit or lay in and you feel protected and embraced as you enjoy the view out toward the San Juan Islands near the horizon.

I arrived near four in the afternoon . . . to an empty parking spot above the bluffs. The skies were occasionally sputtering rain drops, the breezes off the Sound gaining strength. Not idyllic weather for the nudist . . . or was it? Well, that's how you separate the Californian transplants from the natives. I stuffed a towel into my day-pack alongside a thermos of Starbucks dark roast drip coffee . . . and headed down the trail.

The trail's not hard . . . couple hundred feet of reasonable grade. At the bottom you have the hard part . . . a walk of about a mile on the railway tracks to Dog Fish Point. Hard because it is not great footing negotiating railway ties along with loose, crushed rock in the bed. Unnerving because the trains do not stick to any predictable schedule along this stretch. To the south behind you you can see a train approaching a long way off as it rounds Oyster Creek Point (assuming you had eyes in the back of your head because your headed the other way). But to the north there is a blind curve. Regulars told me not to worry because as a train approaches the tracks 'sing' and when they do, you have eight seconds to bail off the tracks. Eight seconds seems to be cutting it kinda close. In any case, there were no trains today and I arrived safety at the Point.

There was a clothed couple there on the northern side (college age) . . . tentatively toying with the idea of going into the seaweed-infested high tide. I didn't see them at first and had stripped off expecting the place all to myself. I try to be discrete until I figure out if my nudity bothers anyone. I didn't have the chance with this couple but they took it all in stride and we chatted for awhile. They were gracious enough to take pictures of me for my collection. Eventually they left and I had the place all to myself. I scrambled back up on the rocky protuberance and found a depression comfortable enough to sit down in. A cup of coffee in hand, I just soaked it in.

The sea breeze felt great on the bare skin and I let it permeate me taking thoughts of deadlines, meetings and ever-evolving crisis' away. Feel the cold of granite through a thick towel, heady kiss of salt air on the skin, the iodine of seaweed in the nostrils and you close your eyes and let the tranquility of it all make you forget why you were tense and uptight in the first place. A drop of cold rain . . tiny. then another and another. Feels good and you smile.

Eventually, even my thick skin can chill no more and I stretch, get up and head back down to the tracks. It's raining now. Not hard but I'm wet. I hike the rest of the way back without clothes as if somehow daring a train to force me to bail. No such luck. The shorts go on mere feet from the trail entrance. The car and warmth is waiting. Time to go home to the next crisis.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

What Happened to Kennedy Hot Springs?

This autumn had been planned as the date for my long awaited backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail North Cascades Section . . . approx. from Stevens Pass to the eastern flanks of Glacier Peak where me and a couple of hardcore backpackers would be picked up at Owl Creek Campground and be driven back by Forest Service Road through Darrington and then on home. One of the highlights of the trip was to be an overnight stay at Kennedy Hot Springs and a nice long soak in the tepid waters there before the final five mile leg to our pickup point. As a prelude to that trip, this Labor Day I was going to drive on up to the camp ground, hike in to Kennedy along the White Chuck, and get some GPS readings as part of the planning. Of course, soaking in the pool was one of the primary objectives as it has been years since I have been back. The scenery is gorgeous at the confluence of Kennedy Creek and the White Chuck River . . . and if for no other reason, a visit is always worth it for the photo opportunities.

The view of Kennedy Creek near the former springs © QT Ling,

Not so much a nude hike as the trail from Owl Creek to the springs is (or was) very popular this time of year. I planned to take my opportunities as they came . . . and certainly take advantage of the clothing-optional springs once I got there. And there are lots of little spur trails along the White Chuck that just cry out for some au' natural hiking and sunbathing before the afternoon wanning sun begs one to return to civilization or pitch a tent and stay the night.

I drove through Darrington from which there are two possible approaches to Kennedy. I chose the southerly section of the Mountain Loop Highway (gravel road really) because of the scenery along this stretch. I really didn't pay much attention to the signs as I'd been this route before. Nor did I bother to GPS it which I wish I had now. About ten miles into the wilderness the road ENDED!!!! Nada, nothing. Just some concrete barriers across the road and a chasm beyond! There were no detours . . . no alternatives. Used to be you could drive all the way around and end up back in Darrington.

Actually, I must have looked pretty stupid stand there beside my open car door scratching my head. Campers had set up a semi-permanent looking camp beside the river . . . decrepit motor home, blue tarps, all the accouterments of home set up, including a gas-fired BBQ. Looked like they planned to stay awhile so I walked on over. My car wasn't blocking anything sitting in the middle of the gravel road . . . there was nowhere in front of it to go.

Not a bad bunch. Fishermen and beer drinkers and they were having a great time. I asked them about the washout and I guess we've paid the price of last years winter storms. The money isn't there in the budget and there was just so much trail and forest service road damage. My only choice was to go all the way back to Darrington and try my luck from there. No . . . they didn't know if I would encounter another washout of the northern section of the Mountain Loop. I wished them good luck with the fish and turned my good ole' dusty Civic back around . . . pushing my luck here . . . this adds hours to the trip.

I decided not to tempt fate and stopped by the Darrington Ranger Station once there. Being Labor day it was closed but there is some information on the district maps outside. Here's what I learned:

The north route is still open and drivable. So is Owl Creek. But in October, 2003 when six inches of rain inundated Darrington overnight, both the White Chuck River and Kennedy Creek flooded. As those who have been to Kennedy know, the springs sit at the confluence of these waterways and there is not much of a barrier should either jump its' banks. That day, both of them did in a raging, course-changing torrent of timber, rocks and mud. Kennedy Hot Springs was right in the way and it now sits at the bottom of yards of mud. There is no visible evidence it ever existed. According to another trail seeker, there are absolutely no plans to resurrect the springs (budget woes).

Kennedy is a favorite for the foot-weary Pacific Crest hikers and as I drove back to Seattle late in the afternoon I felt cheated and depressed. Where is all my wilderness going? Does anyone care?

How to get to Kennedy Hot Springs . . . or Directions That Don't Mean Much Anymore

From Darrington drive southeast on the Mountain Loop Highway nine miles, jump chasm of washed out road, then turn left onto Forest Service Road No. 23 (also known as the White Chuck River Road). Drive 10 miles to the end of the road and the parking area for the White Chuck River Trail, elevation 2,300 feet.

Trail detail
The White Chuck River Trail (No. 643) heads east into the valley along the north side of the river before beginning a gentle uphill climb. In about a half-mile, the trail climbs and begins a long traverse toward the Kennedy Creek Basin. Near the two-mile point, Pumice Creek is crossed. This also is an area where you may encounter mudslide or avalanche debris.

A half-mile beyond Pumice Creek another slide area is encountered on a steep slope with the river below. The final three miles are generally easier as the trail enters Kennedy Creek Basin where the flooding sediment buried everything.

The trail crosses a tributary of the White Chuck River and crosses Kennedy Creek to reach the ranger's cabin (unknown if it is still there) and several nearby campsites. Back over the White Chuck River and slightly upstream is where the hot springs used to be.

If anyone has any photos of the springs themselves I would love to obtain a copy for my collection and nostalgia. You may email them to me at

Activists in Seattle want to Create a Nude Beach

In Seattle, where I live, nudity, per se, is not illegal . . . which is great or else none of us would ever take a shower or bath and the whole city would stink to high hell. But there is an ordnance making it illegal to be unclothed if that nudity offends someone. Catch-22 for sun-worshippers.

In a city that encourages and even condones alternative lifestyles . . . a city that practically supports nude bike rides on summer solistice event like the Fremont street fairs, we do not even have one place where those would would like to frolic and enjoy themselves au'natural on the beach.

Last Saturday, a group calling itself the Body Freedom Collaborative along with several other naturist groups in the area, scheduled a get-together on an isolated section of Seattle's Discovery Park called North Beach. The intent was to challenge the obcenity interpretation and to bring more public awareness to the desire of citizens for a place where clothing optional is the norm . . . such as Oregon's Rooster Rock State Park which is the nation's only government-sanctioned clothing optional beach.

The event was heavily publicized and of course, all the media showed up along with two police patrol boats just offshore and uniformed officers standing by on the beach. The one ingrediant to make nudity illegal was provided by one rich beach-front owner down the way who stood by prepared to declare that nudity offended him should anyone dare strip down. The police officers made it clear that if anyone went nude they would be promptly arrested. One did . . . and he was carted away in handcuffs under the greedy eyes of television crews and newspaper reporters.

However, the point was made and the rest of the day turned out to be a good time for all who kept their clothes on and enjoyed a sunny afternoon of games and camaderie . . . while police resources were wasted . . . just in case another nudist dare show himself.

The event served a purpose even though the nude swim didn't happen. It raised awareness and as of this writing, is still making the rounds of the radio talk shows . . . pros and cons being 'discussed'.

There is a straw poll being conducted that at the moment is runned 75% in favor of nude beaches.


Sunday, September 5, 2004

A Partial Listing of Hot Springs in Washington

Natural springs


Baker Hot Springs in 2002

This 104-degree pool on the edge of Mount Baker is easily accessible and popular despite often being a bit murky. Mineral waters bubble up from the ground into the pool, which varies from 4 to 10 feet wide and is about 1 1/2 feet deep. For those who soak nude, discretion is advised because the Forest Service sometimes fields complaints. From Mount Vernon, head east on State Route 20, take a left on Baker Lake Road and drive north to the lake. Across from Baker Lake Resort, go left on FR 1144 and drive 3.2 miles to a turnout. Follow a path uphill about 1/3 of a mile.

UPDATE ON BAKER HOT SPRINGS It has been some time since I was in the Baker Springs area but Baker Lake suffered extensive trail damage from last years winter storms and I am unsure of whether the springs are still accessible.


Goldmyer Hot Springs

On privately owned land surrounded by the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, this beautiful spring flows from a cave in a cliff along a crash-ing, roaring creek way up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road outside North Bend. It is operated and strictly controlled by the nonprofit group Northwest Wilderness Programs. The cave entrance is dammed to create a 110-degree pool, and two rock pools below are about 102 degrees. It is best to make a reservation. Fee is $10 per day; (206) 789-5631.

UPDATE ON GOLDMYER HOT SPRINGS The forest service road that services Goldmyer Hot Springs will be decommision later this year and you can no longer drive almost to the springs and instead will have to make a five mile hike in. Best to plan your trip there soon.


The view of Kennedy Creek near the former springs

A favorite soaking spot for hikers on the flank of Glacier Peak, a 4-by-5-foot plank box surrounds the springs, which bubble up from the ground and average just 92 degrees. The water is yellowish from iron oxide, but the springs are popular among day-hikers and those traveling the nearby Pacific Crest Trail. The hike in is about 5 1/2 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet. From Darrington, head south on Mountain Loop Highway about 10 miles, turn left onto dusty White Chuck Road (FR 23). Follow that 11 miles to the parking lot. Follow the White Chuck Trail (FR 643) to a Forest Service shelter. A side-trail passes campsites before reaching the springs.

UPDATE ON KENNEDY HOT SPRINGS It's gone! In fact, most of the trailwork in the North Cascades is gone from the winter storms of 2003.

In October 2003, when frost-nipped backpackers usually linger to soak beneath yellow alder leaves, a record-smashing rainstorm lasting nearly a week drenched nearby Darrington with 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. The storm unleashed a slough of mud, rocks, and timber that crashed down the overflowing White Chuck River and Kennedy Creek, burying the hot springs.


One of seven pools at Olympic Hot Springs

These springs bubble up into seven small, 98- to 105-degree pools, set in scenic rock outcroppings and forest near the Elwha River in Olympic National Park. A permit is required for camping and is available at park headquarters in Port Angeles. From Port Angeles, head west about eight miles on Highway 101, and take a right on upper Elwha River Road. Follow that about 10 miles to the road end. Walk the old road about 2.2 miles to Boulder Creek Campground. A short trail leads to a bridge across Boulder Creek and heads downstream to the pools, some tucked away and hard to find. On busy weekends, it is best to wear a swimsuit.

Scenic before destruction in 2002

Scenic as it is today

Scenic it is, on a mountainside overlooking the Tye River Valley. There were four wood-framed and plastic-lined tubs of varying temperatures, from 98 to 114 degrees. Scenic is privately owned, free and used to be very popular. In 2002, armed with complaints of car vandalism King County sheriffs tore down most of the deckwork and three of the four hot, citing the place as a public nuisance. Scenic is undergoing an unceratin future with the pending sale to a Canadian hot springs developer (see my udate post about Scenic here

Wind River:

German tourists Patrick Wachsmuth and Tina Weber enjoy one of the small, natural pools at Wind River Hot Springs. Photo by Paul Joseph Brown / P-I

These scenic but tough-to-reach springs bubble up among the boulders at the edge of the Wind River just north of the Columbia River Gorge. There are two main pools: one large enough for about six people and which is about 105 degrees; the other will hold two people and is about 103 degrees. Both pools are shallow and become submerged when the river is running high. The parking area is privately owned and there is a fee of $2 per car and an additional $3 per person (free for Native Americans). Visitors' attire is about evenly split between bathing suits and birthday suits. Follow SR 14 in the Gorge about five miles east of Stevenson, then head north on Berge Road. Shortly thereafter go left on Indian Cabin Road, which turns to gravel and quickly reaches the river and parking area. From there the route -- not really a trail -- follows a bluff dotted with poison oak for several hundred yards. Before a slide, drop to the river and clamber about a half-mile upstream on rocks and boulders. Caution: It is slippery when wet and not advisable for children or the infirm.

Developed springs

Carson: This is the last of the old-time hot springs resorts in Washington. Visiting the hotel (circa 1901), bathhouse and cabins (1923) is like stepping back into the 1930s. Bathhouse visitors are ushered into separate male and female soaking rooms, each lined with several old, claw-foot tubs. The $10 hot mineral bath includes a 20-minute soak followed by a warm body wrap (drinking a glass of springs water is recommended) and shower. In addition to the cabins, there is a restaurant and adjacent 18-hole golf course. The resort, (800) 607-3678, is just north of the Columbia River Gorge. Follow SR 14 east to the Carson turnoff, head north into town and take a right on Hot Springs Avenue.

Doe Bay: The springs at this small resort on a scenic Orcas Island cove are piped from the beach into two tubs on a deck above and are about 110 degrees. A third is used as a "cold plunge" tub and there is also a sauna. The resort is a rustic collection of cabins and campsites. You can drop in and soak for a $6 fee, and the tubs are "clothing-optional." Call (360) 376-2291. Take the San Juan ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island. From the ferry landing, follow signs to East Sound, Olga and then Doe Bay.

Sol Duc: This resort on the Olympic Peninsula was built in 1912 and was renovated a few years ago. It now offers full accommo-dations, a restaurant, swimming pool, three tiled soaking pools and four indoor hot tubs that range from 98 to 106 degrees. It is a great spot for families with kids. Day use is $6.25, swimsuits required. For reservations call (360) 327-3583. From Port Angeles, head west on U.S. 101 past Lake Crescent, then go left on Soleduck River Road for about 12 miles.

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