In the “All Together”
Before the age of hot tubs, an underground breed of wild hot-spring soakers began sharing secrets of obscure, little-known springs by word of mouth and through magazines and books.
Historically—and even today throughout much of the world—soaking is done “au naturel,” even by sober folks, with both genders present, in a decidedly nonsexual way. Tolerance for nudity varies community by community, and, not surprisingly, Utah falls far on the conservative side. But regulations against public nudity were enforced only occasionally at most wild hot springs until recently—even in tightly wound Utah County. Nude soaking was a common practice, even in daylight, at Diamond Fork; if officers showed up, they often just asked naturists to put on a bathing suit.
But the 2009 arrest of eight Forest Service firefighters changed that dynamic [see “Skinny Dipper Crackdown,” Dec. 16, 2009]. While celebrating the end of fire season, soakers were approached in the dark by sheriff’s deputies shining flashlights on them and given misdemeanor citations for lewdness. Never mind that they were submerged up to their necks water that was opaque in the night.
But there was a glitch: A 3-year-old U.S. Forest Service trailhead sign noted, “Nudity is not prohibited.” The firefighters, like so many others, had assumed they were safe soaking in the nude if they used discretion around families and Scout troops, as the sign requested.
Spanish Fork National Forest District Ranger Doug Jones had erected the sign at the encouragement of several soakers. It was later determined that, in this instance, local laws pertaining to public nudity trump the federal policy tolerating nudity on federal lands. The case received national attention, and naturist organizations volunteered to aid the defendants. In light of the contradiction, the Utah County Attorney later dropped all charges [see Hits & Misses: “Naked Justice,” July 22, 2010].
The new level of enforcement isn’t sitting well with those who’ve enjoyed “non-textiled” use of Diamond Fork for decades. Some now restrict soaking to two harder-to-get-to pools above the main pools. A few keep bathing suits close by to slip on at the approach of law enforcement-looking types. Others hope for a warning. But a few intend to challenge the legitimacy of Utah’s lewdness code.
Janae Bird (the subject of City Weekly’s June 2, 2010, cover story “Jailed for Sexual Healing”) has been holding spiritual and meditative religious services in the nude at Diamond Fork for years. She and members of her Church of What Is Real continue to perform those rites in possession of ID cards issued by the Okleveuha Native American Church and assert that they’re protected in worshiping sans clothing. They may be onto something.
Tim Taylor, a prosecutor with the Utah County Attorney’s Office, admits there may be merit to these naturists’ argument. He said that nudity in religious services may be “somewhat analogous” to a case the government lost to James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney over the use of peyote in Native American ceremonies. Taylor says the county will show “extreme caution” and “remain circumspect in not violating religious freedoms.” Coincidentally, the nudity-advocating Okleveuha Church is headed by Mooney.
Other naturists who’ve requested anonymity plan to, if cited in the future, mount a selective prosecution challenge to Utah code 76-9-702, which reads: “A person is guilty of lewdness if ... the person ... exposes his or her genitals, the female breast below the top of the areola, the buttocks, the anus, or the pubic area.” They’re prepared to argue that the exposure of women’s breasts is not inherently indecent because the same law provides a blanket exemption for nursing mothers. They contend that many swimsuits expose ample portions of the breasts and derriere, but police aren’t showing up at public pools to cite bikini wearers.
Prosecutor Taylor says the Utah County officials “don’t want to be the fashion police.”
But according to the Utah County Sheriff Chief Deputy over enforcement Jerry Monson, “Nudity isn’t the main problem at Diamond Fork, nor is it the reason for occasional patrols there.” Of more concern are “underage drinking, illegal drug use and break-ins into parked vehicles, especially overnight.” But he says it remains within an officer’s discretion to cite nude bathers even if they’re forced to get up out of a cloudy pool in the dark to be seen naked by flashlight.
Bird and other naturists hope a compromise at Diamond Fork can be reached, such as “an exemption for nude use of the more secluded upper pools.” Others suggest night-only nudity if all present consent, especially if clothed individuals show up after nude soakers are already there.
Paying to Play
For those looking for a tamer experience, a developed resort may be the ticket. At first glance, Crystal Hot Springs (an hour’s drive north of Salt Lake City) looks like an older municipal pool complex, complete with water slides and kids everywhere.
But then there’s the water. High mineral content is considered ideal for balneotherapy—the practice of treating diseases through soaking in hot baths—and is highly regarded in Europe and Asia, where mainstream physicians often prescribe trips to hot springs. Balneotherapy advocates believe the dissolved minerals in hot spring water pass through the skin or are carried by vapor into the lungs and have a curative effect. Science has yet to prove that balneotherapy is more effective than the placebo effect, but recent studies have shown that placebos are nothing to sneeze at. They work almost equally as well as anti-depressants.
Crystal assistant manager Adam Nelson says a lab analysis showed that Crystal’s water contains over 46,000 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved minerals like calcium, fluoride, iron, lithium, silver, potassium, magnesium and iron. Ninety percent is salt, probably because the Great Salt Lake is the source. But even factoring out the salt, Crystal’s water has about 4,600 ppm minerals. Anything over 1,500 is considered high.
Nelson checked online to compare Crystal’s mineral content with other well-known hot-springs resorts around the world. Here is what he found: Arkansas’s Hot Springs National Park, 264 ppm; California’s Living Waters, 1,164; Lava in Idaho, 1,584; Wyoming’s Hot Springs State Park, 2,502. Only Blue Lagoon Spa in Iceland—also featuring salt water—comes close, at 25,800.
The May 2009 Better Homes & Gardens listed Crystal’s as one of the world’s “six remarkable healing waters.” Its 5 percent salinity is just under that of seawater and almost exactly that of amniotic fluid. Rebirthing, anyone?
Crystal is one of the few places on earth where a hot and a cold mineral spring emerge in close proximity. The two are mixed through a network of valves to provide temperatures ranging from 70 degrees up to 104 in seven pools.
Crystal could be a pricey, world-class destination spa, but the current philosophy is to keep it affordable and family-oriented. Groups can make reservations for exclusive after-hours use and set their own tone, but nudity, alcohol and glass containers are still prohibited.
Four and a half hours south of Salt Lake City in Hurricane, Pah Tempe Hot Springs provides another unique experience. Nestled on a ledge above the Virgin River and below commanding bluffs, the resort operated for more than a century and served as the community’s baptism spot. After a five-year shutdown, the resort’s interrupted water flow has been restored and it is again open and operating on a reservations-only basis. Groups can pretty much set their own tone during private sessions.