November 15 -18, 2012
After a few nights in a motel in Las Vegas and days of tasks and errands, we escaped, sneaking back into California to camp at a hot springs. We planned to return to Las Vegas on Sunday for me to give a talk with the Lotus in the Desert Sangha.
Chris stumbled into this area a few years ago and has wanted to return. It is just below Death Valley National Park, a flat desert expanse with hot spring pools and creeks, dried lake beds and ringed by stark mountains. There are several places to stay that offer maintained hot springs. We chose the county owned, Tecopa Hot Springs Campground and Pools. A hot springs guide describes the “vibe” of all the places in Tecopa as “snowbirds RV park” which is accurate. Have we officially become snowbirds?
The whole area reminded me of a poorly maintained parking lot, crusty, white parched earth with a smattering of trees, shrubs and RV hookups. Nearly everything in town was either an RV, trailer or trailer home, some permanently settled into the ground surrounded by “lawn” (sand, carefully placed rocks and a few cacti). We found a pleasant spot among some scrubby trees and enjoyed the warm days, mild nights, and the opportunity to sit in the springs. Rather than natural open air springs, the waters are pumped into separate men’s and women’s buildings into square concrete pools. You are required to soak naked because clothing affects the quality of the water. This gave the place the ambiance of a bathhouse.
Most of the people there were Asian. Other cultures seem to be more familiar with the tradition of the public bathhouse. While indoor and outdoor swimming pools are common in America, bathhouses are not. I recall the important role the public bathhouse played in the wonderful Japanese movie, “Departures”. My first bathhouse experience was many years ago in a Turkish bath in Istanbul. That was truly memorable.
This site was originally Paiute land and was considered healing ground for all tribes. Apparently, when Chief Tacopa gave this land to the county, he declared that the healing waters were to remain open to all people at no charge. Now, there is a small fee to keep it clean and safe.
There is a Native American center in town as well. One morning was welcomed in with a sunrise drumming ceremony. Classes are often held. Basket weaving and native herbs and food were offered while we were there.
Just behind the bathhouses is a cone shaped rocky hill with a trail up one side and down the other. On its peak is a large white cross, calling this “Mary’s Hill” and suggesting prayer. There is also a wooden bench for taking in the view. I walked up the hill each sunrise and sunset to see what spectacular display the sky had in store. One late afternoon, there was a partial rainbow, looking like God’s own paint stroke.
As I gazed over the view the second morning, a woman hiked up and joined me there. She paused at the cross and crossed herself. We chatted for awhile. She eventually revealed that it was her daughter Mary’s birthday, her daughter who had died recently from a long bout with cervical cancer. Mary was 27-years-old when she died, that day she would have been 28. She left behind six children, or as her mother called them, grandbabies. This woman was taking some time off, on a road trip, to sort things out for herself.
As I pondered her situation and how this death would effect so many people, a brew of emotions and thoughts bubbled up. It reminded me that the weight of loss and hardship that people carry is so often unknown to us. If I had passed this woman on the trail with only a smile and a hello, I probably would not have given a thought to the possible suffering this stranger was struggling with. It fostered my commitment to remember the secret vulnerable heart within each of us.
This hill with its white cross reaching toward the sky was for me a sacred tor. Perhaps it was sacred to the Pauite as well.
One afternoon, Chris went for a bike ride along the main road to the next tiny town to see what was there. He rarely comes back from anywhere without some treasure. Back at the campsite, I saw a furry tan foot sticking out of his pack. What’s that, I asked. Along a remote section of road in the “middle of nowhere” he noticed something brown perched in a desert shrub maybe 20 feet off the road. Ever curious, he stopped and found, as if carefully placed, a new (with tags still attached) stuffed animal. An African lion holding a red heart-shaped pillow with “Love” embroidered on it. This little beast has become our trip mascot. You may not believe this, ESPECIALLY if you know Chris, but he has a soft spot for stuffed animals. We call this fuzzy feline many names, Mr. Love, The Love Lion, and Love Buddy.