Carson Mineral Hot Springs: A Resolutionary Experience

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I prefer to take periodic pauses to take stock, reflect and evaluate. Four times a year at the beginning of each new season, I try to make my way just over the state line to “take the waters” at Carson Mineral Hot Springs & Spa. On the surface this place is rough, to say the least. But besides my garden, it’s one of my favorite places on the planet, and the perfect spot for me to cleanse, detoxify, commune with the ethers, express gratitude for successes and blessings, and spiritually regroup.

Believe me, this “spa” is no place for the faint of heart. Despite its location in the gloriously pristine Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the ancient bathhouse is little changed, manicured or even nurtured since Isadore St. Martin finished building the now condemned three-story hotel on the spot in 1901. St. Martin discovered the natural mineral hot springs while hunting, and his wife, who suffered from neuralgia, found relief from her ailments in the superheated, sulfur-smelly waters. Soon, of course, word spread, all manner of health claims were made and people flocked to the resort.

When surrounded by the smells of the forest and rotten eggs, it’s easy to envision natives using this spot, with a sense of far greater reverence than St. Martin and his contemporaries. That’s what keeps me coming back for more. I have introduced many unsuspecting friends to a bath and a good cleansing sweat in the rustic, crumbling rooms. Perhaps it speaks to the character of my enlightened friends, but every one of them was able to look past the old red-stained and streaked claw foot tubs and duct taped ceilings and feel the tremendously healing energy of the place.

It’s the beginning of a new year (and decade) and it seemed an important time for my husband and me to make the trek to Carson and to celebrate all that Will Be.

Our own Carson ritual goes like this: We rise early and drink lots of water to let the cleansing begin. Of course, no shower is necessary, so I don a cap to hide the bed hair. Part of the joy of the journey is the 45-minute drive up the magical Columbia River Gorge, a place of palpably positive energy. Last week, the waterfalls down the basalt rock faces were frozen and stunning. There’s a powerful energy in the gorge that I think everyone who visits it feels.

After checking in at the old saggy floored, decaying hotel (long condemned for use as a hotel), we make our way to the adjacent, and just as shabby, bathhouse. The sexes do not commingle, as they certainly did not in 1910, so we go our separate ways. The small ladies dressing room is cold despite the efforts of the space heaters, and there are just a couple of mismatched chairs and simple cubbyholes for clothes. Because of the hand lettered and scotch taped “Quiet Zone” signs, only whispered niceties and hand signals are exchanged with the very few other guests who have also ventured there to partake of the healing waters.

Shivering and wrapped in a frayed towel, I make my way to a clean but well used claw foot tub and lower myself into very warm, boiled egg scented water, a flimsy shower curtain dividing my bathing experience from others. I immerse, drink as much of the pungent water as I can convince myself to swallow from a generously provided paper cup, and visualize each cell being renewed and refreshed.

After about half an hour, heart rate elevated and core temperature increased, it’s time for the sweat. The attendant gathers me up in a fresh towel and escorts me to the adjoining room appointed with institutional looking cots and cracked vinyl floors that is vaguely reminiscent of a scene from One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest. By this time, all but the doggedly determined participants question their sanity for even agreeing to proceed to the next stage of the ritual. But I know that my courage is about to be rewarded. I’m wrapped in a flannel sheet and two layers of wool blankets, tucked in tightly from head to toe, and left to sweat, meditate, and release toxins from every pore.

The forest surrounding the place is silent and beautiful. Remarkably close to civilization, the layers of man-made glory, from the ancient hotel to the odd newer buildings trying to gentrify the place, can’t cover up its startlingly spiritual energy. The river flows with crystal clear water from mountain springs and snow melt, the woods are rife with healing herbs, and of course, the stinky water is magical. It’s gloriously gratifying, renewing and healing. Sometimes a New Year’s resolution is just reconfirming the resolve to do more of what makes you happy. This ritual is one of those.



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