The hot water came out of the hillside scalding and ran down a narrow crevice in a domed hill of rock. It branched into smaller rivulets, cooled to bathtub temperature in the open air, and finally dribbled over a rounded ledge into a series of crude stone and mud pools built alongside an icy, rushing stream. This place was Buckeye Hot Springs, and we were presently sitting in these pools with a tableau of naked strangers as the sun was setting over Sawtooth Ridge in the Eastern Sierra.
We’d come here at the suggestion from our friends Charlie and Kelli, whom we’d met at the RV park here in Bridgeport, and on a Sunday afternoon Courtney and I decided to drive out the dirt BLM road into the foothills to find the place.
There were a few sightseers in swim trunks taking a dip when we showed up, but as the sun got lower those folks left and an earthier set arrived. These new people seemed to know each other, or at least they knew they were of the same tribe. Some were long-term campers, set up in tents or vans on the ridge opposite the springs. Others appeared to be locals who came here all the time. Everybody in this group bathed in the nude, and so we followed suit.
The first to arrive was an unassuming middle-aged woman in a baggy t-shirt, along with an elderly yellow Labrador retriever named Zelda. When the woman got in the spring, Zelda followed suit, stepping one paw at a time into the pool, then easing into the warm water down to her shoulders and gently closing her eyes.
Then came a couple about our age from Washington, who were here living in a van. They had brought a bottle of sake, and when they passed it our way, we drank. They were accessorized like many folks here, wearing sunglasses and feather-bedecked, wide-brimmed hats, and nothing else. The man, scrawny and bearded, was a massage therapist, and he struck up a conversation with another gentleman with slightly bloodshot pale hazel eyes. He was into energy healing, and produced a spliff which he shared with the Washingtonians. A buddha-shaped man with tan skin arrived, greeted the others, disrobed, and sat on a rock near the river’s edge to smoke and meditate.
Everyone relaxed in harmony, and Courtney and I enjoyed blending in with these eccentric folks. It occurred to us that to them we were probably pretty eccentric too. And when everyone is unusual, nobody seems strange anymore. It was the same with the bodies there in the springs. They were all different shapes, shades, and textures, but taken together they were all just bodies, and we felt completely comfortable among the naked scene.
Then there was some commotion up above on the domed rock where the spring came out of the ground. Suddenly, the water that had been cascading onto Zelda’s owner’s head slowed to a trickle and reappeared flowing into a different pool. Some newcomer had rearranged some bean bags up above to divert the water, and the unassuming middle-aged woman was pissed. She got a scowl on her face and resolutely rose out of the pool, glared up the hillside, and in a strong, gravelly voice, shouted, “HEY!” Her quiet demeanor from when she’d arrived was gone. Standing now on the rock before us, fist shaking in the air and forest of pubic hair dripping in the dying light, she looked like a warrior, like the queen of this spring. We regarded her in awe, then looked up toward the ridge, expecting to see a contrite face peer over and realize they’d wronged the empress. When none did, the woman tossed on her t-shirt and nothing else, and marched up the trail to fix the situation herself. A few seconds later the falling water went back to where it had been before, and harmony was restored.
—June 24, 2018