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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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A Pleasant Surprise
Surprise Valley Hot Springs, Cedarville, CA

Story by Steve Clary

Photos courtesy of Surprise Valley Hot Springs

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all and relax? Are you tired of flying to an interesting destination to get away from the "Rat Race" just to discover hundreds of other Rat Racers had exactly the same idea? Have you ever wanted to be one of the castaways on Gilligan’s Island, but just couldn’t work out the logistics (like how to do it while keeping your job and spouse at the same time!)?
Suppose I told you there was an exotic place here in the Southwest USA that will satisfy your quest for isolation. A place where you and your significant other can truly enjoy one another’s company, without the stresses and interruptions of your normal lives. All this while being pampered beyond your imagination. Suppose I then told you this place was not only accessible by general aviation aircraft -- it actually caters to the aviation community.

Now before any of you recommend I get my flight physical a little early this year (with an emphasis on the drug screen), let me assure you I’m not hallucinating. Though it may sound too good to be true, this place does exist -- in a wonderful oasis in the high desert of northeastern California called the Surprise Valley Hot Springs.

It all started when SW Aviator asked if I could cover this story for them. The Editor’s email included a press release from the Surprise Valley Hot Springs that immediately peaked my interest. The press release proudly proclaimed a "Fly-N-Soak Pilot Package," then spelled it out: "Land at the Cedarville, California airstrip and escape to your own private hot springs. Package includes one or two night accommodations, courtesy car, and one 30 minute massage." Now those are activities I have enjoyed singly at other venues, but to do them all at the same place, and at the same time… perfect! The press release also included the word "Rejuvenate." Being in the 40-plus age group, I could not afford to pass up an opportunity to do that! This certainly sounded like the ultimate retreat, so I eagerly accepted the mission to see if this paradise for pilots really existed. I told my wife, Terri, about the place to see if she was interested in going. For some reason, I had no problem convincing her to accompany me on the assignment; in fact, she even offered to pack.

The Surprise Valley Hot Springs is a small resort located roughly 120 nm north of Lake Tahoe, in the geothermaly active area of Modoc County. Natural mineral hot springs abound in this high (4600 feet msl) valley, which is bordered by the Warner Mountains to the west, and the Hay Canyon Range of Nevada to the east. The valley is the ancient home of several Indian tribes, who for centuries enjoyed the natural healing abilities of the waters. The Surprise Valley is also part of the Lassen trail, which was the primary wagon train route to California’s gold rush in the mid 1800s. The Hot Springs, as the locals simply call the resort, are located only five miles from the pioneer town of Cedarville, California, population 800. Many of Cedarville’s residents are descendants of the original settlers in the area.

The Hot Springs is a fourth generation family-owned and operated business. It was originally established as a hunting lodge by "E.E." Rose in 1952, due to the abundant game and waterfowl in the area. The Hot Springs has transformed over the years and through the generations into a high quality 10-room health and rejuvenation resort. E.E.’s great-grandson, Curtis Rose, currently oversees the Hot Springs. His stories of the decades-long transformation of the Hot Springs are fascinating, and inspiring proof of the will and determination of the pioneer spirit, which still permeates the entire area.

One of the first technical difficulties the Rose family overcame was how to cool the water, which spews from the ground at 208 degrees Fahrenheit, to a less lethal temperature. A cooling tower was utilized in the old days -- back when the potable mineral water was bottled and sold commercially -- but the system was inefficient and limited in volume. Curtis explained that things really started to come together in the late 70s when a pipe was run several miles to a cold water artesian mineral spring on the property. With the availability of cold water, the springs could be used safely with an almost unlimited volume. Today, a continuous fresh mineral waterfall pours into the resort’s hot tubs, with the overflow piped into holding ponds that support both plant and fish life. This constant-flow system allows the safe and sanitary use of the tubs without adding any chemicals to the water. Of course, the staff still drain and scrub-down the tubs after each use, just to be on the safe side.

When I called to make a reservation (877-WarmH2O), I learned all of Surprise Valley Hot Springs’ rooms are theme oriented. I had my choice of the Buckaroo, 1920s, Americana, Greek, Cabin, Pilot, or Sports themes. I naturally chose to reserve the Pilot room. The considerate, helpful reservation staff arranged for the courtesy car to be waiting for us at the airport, and reminded me there was no restaurant at the Hot Springs. Our room would have a kitchen, however, and there are several restaurants in Cedarville, along with a grocery store.

On the much-anticipated arrival day, we eagerly climbed into the plane after a typically stressful workday. We were definitely ready for an escape. The late afternoon flight to Cedarville was beautiful, and thankfully devoid of the convective activity one occasionally finds in the high desert this time of year. After landing, I quickly located the courtesy car already parked on the ramp, making it easy to off-load our bags directly from the aircraft into the car. The keys were left in the ignition (I love small towns!), and written directions to the Hot Springs were conveniently left on the dash.

We first stopped in Cedarville for supplies and dinner. Everyone waved at us as we drove slowly through town. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be transported 50 years into the past? Cedarville is a classic mid-50s farm/agriculture town. The Mayberry of the high desert. The pace is slow, and the people are friendly. And it is no act or tourist gimmick. What you see is what you get…these people just really like people!

Terri and I had an enjoyable home-style meal at the Cedarville Café. (Warning! Huge portions. If you are on a diet, you are in BIG trouble.) Afterward we went to the nearby Senior Center, where we enjoyed a country/folk/gospel music jam session featuring 19 musicians, singers, and a cowboy poet from the surrounding areas. We were already having a blast, and we hadn’t even reached our destination.
After the jam session we drove out to the Hot Springs, located five miles east of Cedarville off Hwy 299. The entrance road is a well-marked 5000-foot dirt road, which served as a runway in years past. The resort truly is an oasis protruding from a desolate dry lakebed. Green manicured grass, mature trees, and tranquil ponds surround the complex.

Check-in was quick and easy. The staff treated us like old friends, and we were escorted to our room in minutes. I can’t fully describe the room, except to say…WOW! It was a combination between a WWI ready room, and a 1930s era pilot’s apartment, complete with nick-knacks one would expect from an airline pilot flying the international routes. There is a separate sitting room with a futon, and a TV/VCR. There are no phones in the rooms, and no cable or satellite television reception, though the office has a large assortment of VCR movies for TV addicts who risk a mental breakdown if they go cold turkey. The room opens onto a beautiful rear patio with a mineral water hot tub, which is enclosed for privacy, but still affords a panoramic view of the mountains. Actually "hot" tub is not quite accurate, since the water temperature can be controlled to suit the guest’s preferences from cold to quite HOT! We found the tub very usable and private during all hours of the day and night. The tub has a retractable umbrella for shade when needed. The rooms are equipped with evaporative coolers for summer, and are heated with hot water flowing through wall-mounted radiators in the winter. The concrete deck surrounding the hot tub is also water heated, so they do not accrete snow or ice in the winter.

The next morning, Curtis gave us a tour of the facility. There are 10 theme rooms, with plans to build two more. The décor in all of the expertly appointed rooms is vibrant and exciting. We could have spent hours just checking out the guestrooms! Our hat’s are off to Curtis’ wife, Kim, who did all of the decorating. The main building includes an enclosed great hall, which used to house an Olympic sized swimming pool. The pool has since been filled in covered with a water heated concrete floor. The room is ideal for group meetings and small conventions. Planned improvements to the great room include a commercial kitchen, big screen TV, weight room, carpeting, and furniture much like a ski chalet. Currently, one end of the room boasts an oversized chessboard with two-foot-tall game pieces, and an oversized chair. It gives the whole room an Alice in Wonderland feel, helping to further get your brain out of its sense of established reality.

After the tour, we drove into Cedarville to enjoy a wonderful breakfast at the Country Hearth restaurant (their homemade whole wheat bread is to die for!). We then explored the area by foot and car. There is so much history here that it is literally everywhere you look, especially in the nearby pioneer towns of Eagleville and Fort Bidwell.

We returned to the Hot Springs for a pleasant afternoon soak, and then availed ourselves of the expert masseuse in the Garden Spa room. A variety of massages are available, as well as other therapeutic treatments including stone, herbal, and acupuncture therapies. After a truly rejuvenating massage and a quick trip to town for yet another excellent dinner, we retired to our room for another soak late into the evening. The stargazing was spectacular from the hot tub in this pollution free, high altitude environment.

Our departure day rolled around all too soon, and I was so relaxed that I nearly had to slap myself conscious to fly home. Without a doubt, the Surprise Valley Hot Springs delivers on their promise; a paradise for pilots really does exist! Terri is already planning another stay there next spring… maybe we will see you there!

Steve Clary is a senior pilot with Crescent City, California based Cal-Ore Life Flight, flying their new turbine powered Piper Cheyenne II, as well as their Cessna 421s. Terri Clary operates the Hertz rental car franchise at the Crescent City airport (CEC), conveniently located in the Westlog Aviation FBO building (707-464-5750).
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