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Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown, California.

October 21, 2000.

The paved road ends at Harbinís gate house where you pay the fee and obtain your car park validation. They provide a map of the area and you will need it because they have numerous facilities. Itís about a block to the parking area from the gate house. You then proceed uphill past the small smoking deck and through an ornate Dragonís Gate that protects the premises at night. You pass the office as you walk up a slope to a gazebo on the square. At the square are a vegetarian restaurant, coffee house, small store, theater, and a sundeck. Just ahead are residential buildings for overnight guests. Campsites are scattered along the floor of the valley out of sight.

As you walk another half-block, you see a low wooden building that houses the massage office and several massage rooms. Some of the massage rooms are down a narrow path and overlook the valley. Just past the massage office is a low gated wooden fence that opens into the pool area. Although clothing optional is the rule except in the restaurants, kitchen, cafť, and in sight of the main road, most people are covered except in the pool and sundeck areas.

Left of the gated fence is the co-ed undressing room with bins and lockers and three private toilets. Just outside are four showers. Two showers have shutter doors, the other two are open air. Next to the showers is the large (18í x 24í) and popular warm pool. The smaller hot and cold pools are in tandem just up the slope with only a few steps between them. The warm pool is a heavenly 98-100 degrees for a nice long soak. Most people find a spot around the edge while some couples perform Watsu (water massage) in the middle of the warm pool. Whispering only in the three pools.

You take four steps up at the far end of the warm pool and enter the enclosed area of the hot pool (112 degrees). After a hot soak, go to the cold 60 degree pool and dunk briefly for a refreshing rush. Itís really amazing and yes, you can stand it! Adjacent to the warm pool is a dry sauna that comfortably seats 8 to 10. Past the dry sauna is the shallow heart-shaped warm pool. It is used for children and Watsu instruction most of the day and more of a quiet conversation pool in the evenings.

The large swimming pool is also about 60 degrees, really too cool for a lengthy stay but there is a snack bar at one end and a large wooden sundeck right across from the pool. The deck overlooks the whole complex and hillsides. A second large sundeck is just about fifty feet up a dirt path.

There is a constant movement between the pools, decks, showers, and undressing room. Itís like a slow, continuous unchoreographed dance where naked people move in a relaxed rhythm. The water fountains have the same cool 60 degree spring water used in the cold pools. The water tastes great after a long soak.

There was roughly a 50/50 male to female balance. The age range is wide with a concentration in the 25-40 range. I noticed more natural, untrimmed body hair and only three women wearing bathing suits. All the men were nude. Of course, you see all shapes and sizes. A number of couples enjoyed the closeness of relaxing in the warm, loving atmosphere. No overt sexual activity is allowed, however.

I scheduled a Swedish massage and was led to a small room overlooking the valley, with a screen door and open French doors at the other end that allowed a gentle breeze. I was in an atmosphere of pure nature combined with a gentle touch that worked out all the kinks and knots. My masseuse was into the exercise, seemingly enjoying a personal experience as she closed her eyes and worked on my body. There was no need for the covering towel or sheet you find in hotel spas.

Dirt trails lead around the 1,100 acre property to get to the campgrounds and permanent residences. There are overt new age religious overtones with icons near paths, pools, etc., but nothing pushy. Some people paid homage as they entered or left the pools.

Tents near the gazebo and restaurants sold caftans, accessories, psychic readings and other items. Yoga sessions and spiritual events are offered but there is no effort to involve guests unless they specifically inquire. The overall atmosphere is one of quiet relaxation and natural surroundings. Harbin is a great place to experience a naturist environment in a beautiful natural setting. I hope to return again in the future.

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