photo: Ricardo Vacapinta under a creative commons license
As colder temperatures crept into the Bay Area this weekend, and my toes began to get cold, I started to dream about hibernating until Spring. One place that can alleviate this feeling is Wilbur Hot Springs. I'm reluctant to sing Wilbur's praises, for fear that it will soon become too difficult to obtain a same day reservation, but the natural, hot mineral waters, and lack of cell phone reception, make it a perfect winter weekend escape from rainy day blues. Wilbur Hot Springs are located a 2.5 hour driving distance from San Francisco, tucked inside the mountains between Clear Lake and the Sacramento Valley, so it is surprising that more people don't come here. The most common way to get there from the Bay Area is to drive north through Vacaville, and then drive west on a scenic highway that meanders along Cache Creek. There are not any signs to alert you to the springs, until you have driven four miles along an unpaved road and then see a historic silver bridge. Eventually, you will see a wooden welcome sign and smell the slight scent of sulfur. Wilbur is not a place you end up by accident.
The springs are of course the main draw. The water that is used for the springs is simply diverted from a geothermal source, held temporarily in "flumes," and then returned to the creek, without any chemicals, such as chlorine, added to the water. The water is channeled into three long "flumes," with average temperatures, respectively, of 98, 105 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water in the flumes is enhanced by views of the surrounding hills. For those uneasy about naked people, one should be forewarned that clothing is optional in the flumes, sauna and deck areas. Clothing is required everywhere else on the grounds, and the mood is one of introspection and respect for others.
The springs are surrounded by an 1800-acre private nature preserve in Bear Valley, an area that is filled in the springtime with wildflowers, especially bright orange poppies. The meadows and hills make for excellent hiking and biking. The original springs and hotel grounds were only 300 acres. The longtime owner, Dr. Richard Miller, who prefers to call himself a "caretaker," purchased an additional 1500 acres in 1999, and designated the area as a nature preserve. Since 2006, Wilbur has been working with U.C. Davis ecologist, Craig Thomsen, to restore native plants to the area. (Wilbur offers lodging in exchange for guests who work with Dr.Thomsen for at least five hours a day).
Wilbur is 100% off the grid, powered entirely by solar panels and propane. The stoves in the kitchen, and the fireplaces, which heat the hotel in winter, are powered with propane. The rest of the electricity is solar powered. I ate my lunch in the picnic area while staring at the solar panels.
What truly made me feel like I was living off the grid was the lack of cell phone reception. Before you even turn on Bear Valley Road, the signal is gone and no one can reach you. It gave me the opportunity to share and connect with an old friend in a relaxed space without the constant interruptions and distractions of the modern world