This hot spring comes in second only to the "Incredible Hot Spring That Is Too Awesome to Be Named". Upon first glance, and given its location on the side of busy Highway 8 in a dusty part of Southern California, you wouldn't think that this hot spring was anything special. We certainly didn't think so the first time we dipped our toes into the very hot water of the main pool. When you arrive, you pull into a gravel parking lot next to a pit toilet outhouse. Sandwiched between the toilets and the highway is a cluster of tall palm trees through which you can see a chain link fence and the concrete pad area in which the pools are located.
There are two pools: one large and very deep (at my 5'3" stature, if I am not on my tip toes, the water is just below my nose, or higher if there are many people in the tub). Cinder blocks are located in the corners of the pool for those who - like me - risk of not being able to breathe while soaking.
Before you can take the plunge, though, you must shower off first. In a design of true innovation, the water that feeds the large pool does so through a sprinkler like system that can be pivoted away from the pool to:
a) cool it off by preventing the fresh hot water from falling into the pool; and
b) to shower off new-comers outside of the pool before they join in the fun. The water is always hot (a welcome treat for overlanders who don't always know where their next shower is going to come from). No soap though, please, keep it clean, and keep it green. If you'd like to have a sudsy shower, you can fill up a bucket with fresh hot spring water and hide on the other side of the palms (in full view of the highway truckers by the way), where there is a small table and - the last time we checked - a hand mirror hanging from the branches of a tree. Hey, beggars can't be choosers.
The second pool is a small tub with room for about three seated people. This tub is also significantly cooler, since it is fed from the overflow water of the main tub. Both tubs could be scrubbed more regularly, but once a week the pool is cleaned and the water is completely drained and refilled. We learned that it's best to show up around noon on a Tuesday for the freshest possible water, though the tubs are busy all week.
So why do we love this place so much? Well, first, it's free, but more importantly, the people here make this place so much more than it is. Mostly elderly retired folk, or people who live overlander lives like ourselves flock to this hot spring and are eager to meet up with old friends and make conversation with new ones. Each person here is a "tall tale teller", who enjoys regaling others with stories of their youth. But they are also fonts of wisdom. Having lived on the road for many years, or at least during the winters for many years, most of the bathers here are eager to share highly useful information about places to go, things to do, and helpful hints about living from a vehicle. It was at this place that we learned about our all time favourite hot spring from other travel savvy van-lifers (more on that later).
If it were not for Holtville, we would never have found ourselves there of our own accord. And, at Holtville, if you're lucky, you'll even find yourself a member of a small audience intently listening to the Bach Suites played on a mandolin by a hippie in a leopard print Speedo.
While many people pop in for an hour or two, many others camp around the springs in a large section of BLM land that surrounds the tubs. In these "Bureau of Land Management" areas, you can park your rig for up to two weeks for free, but often times, no one's counting, so two weeks can easily become a whole winter if you're not careful.
Cleanliness - 2
Amenities - 3
Exclusivity - 2
Scenery - 2
Community - 5
Camping - 4