Sunday, March 11, 2012



I shall return.
General Douglas MacArthur
(although the General was not referencing this specific destination)

Third in a series, thankfully, of only three.

THERE IS A VORTEX we travel through – sometimes on a motorcycle, sometimes only in our dreams – a vortex that leads us to some curious and special other side. Maybe it’s time travel. Maybe it’s Eden. Maybe it’s just to a place where time doesn’t matter, the cell phone doesn’t connect and neither does talk radio. It may not be Iowa, but it just might be heaven.

A few hundred yards from where California State Route 16 tees into Route 20, a nicely compacted gravel road exits north and follows the course of Bear Creek through the eastern foothills of California’s Coast Range. These mountains are older than time. Their folded strata are formed by pressure some 4500 miles east as the mid-Atlantic trench pushes all of North America a few millimeters a year closer to China. You can look it up.

It isn’t just pressure and folding. The Coast Range sits on the North American edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire – a natural phenomena that June Carter Cash did not write about. Spotted throughout these grass and oak studded mountains are geo-thermal sites fueled by molten rock fairly close to our earth’s crust’s surface. The cracks formed in that on-going folding process allow the heat to escape – or at least play tricks on the surface water that seeps downward.

(c) Wilbur Hot Springs
BACK IN 1865, when the color had played out in the Sierra and the transcontinental railroad was still only a gleam in the eyes of four who profited from the gold rush, someone stumbled across a hot spring along the western edge of Colusa County. The pungent sulfur smell and warm temps of the naturally occurring creek clued that someone to something special here. The waters are natural. Their impact divine. And the one-percenters of 140 years back, folks from Sacramento, San Francisco and points undefined found their way to Wilbur Hot Springs.

An inveterate NPR listener, I’d heard of this place through a sponsorship promo placed by the current proprietor. I knew the Leesville, Lodoga, Stonyford intermountain area, but I hadn’t ventured up the road that leads to these living waters. Until last Sunday. With a family celebration due in mid-May, I was curious whether this venue might accommodate.

I TOOK THE LONG WAY HOME after my trip through the Capay Valley. Following Bear Creek, I zigged across State Route 20, finding myself on a Prius or Civic-able stretch of nicely grade gravel road. The late winter hills still wore cloaks of rust and gold; but tiny shoots of green pushed through. The occasional clump of lupine spoke to the unending rhythm of the seasons. And the purple redbud blossoms, somehow, didn’t cause me to think of Judas. I just rode.

Four miles on, substantial steel bridge crosses Bear Creek. The intersection is marked Wilbur Springs Road. Clever. I would not be lost this day!

A mile west stands a sign and a steel gate. I paused to ponder. An afore-mentioned Prius pulled up. An occupant stepped out, opened the gate, answered a question I posed and drove forward. I followed.

THE WILBUR SPRINGS resort consists of a turn-of-the-century hotel, a couple of newer buildings and a series of baths fed by a fluminarium sourced at the vent from which the naturally heated water emanates. All is tucked in to a voluptuous fold through which a creek flows from a valley just a few turns up the road.

A courteous sign asked that I remove my boots before entering the hotel. Ample “cubby” space is allowed on the veranda just out the door from the cozy and inviting lobby. A young lady worked a reservation computer just across the counter, but, in this neck of the woods, I have no idea what it could be plugged in to. Proprietress Meg graciously walked me through the various rooms of the century old hotel. She shared about the communal kitchen and the accoutrements found in each of the 20 rooms – each period appointed, harkening back to a simpler yesteryear.

She accompanied me across the road to the spa area, commenting knowledgeably about my BMW, parked where I knew I shouldn’t have parked it. She pointed westward toward the 1800-acre preserve that followed the upstream course of Sulfur Creek, which, later I would investigate on foot.

Across the way, several pools are spaced – each maintaining a different temperature of mineral-infused waters ranging from 107 degrees to 98 degrees. Attire is optional.

ENCHANTING THOUGH THIS SPOT IS, it would not be the right locale for the family get-together I was scouting. The bulk of the grandkids are under four and there are no jungle gyms or sand boxes for their amusement. Still, come some November, when the Sacramento Valley is cloaked in a bone-chilling fog and the sun will not appear for about a dozen weeks, Wilbur Springs is a place I will visit (with spouse) for some rejuvenation, relaxation and escape.

Meg had shared: “We have no internet up this way. No cell coverage either. Sometimes, we ask folks to simply leave their watches in their vehicles.” I drove away thinking about the vortex and how easy it would be to slip through to the other side.


TODAY’S ROUTE: North on SR 16 to 20; west on 20 about 675 yards, right on Bear Valley Road; four miles. Left on Wilbur Springs Road. One mile to gate. Unlocked. Resort is a few hundred yards beyond. Alternate return route: Left on Bear Creek Road to Leesville, east on Leesville-Lodoga Road to SR 20. East to Williams and I-5.

RESOURCES: Check out Wilbur Hot Springs informative website at The link shares area history and available accommodations. See you there! (Just probably not “nekked.”)

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Delighted to read your intriguing account of your Wilbur tour. We hope you'll return to experience our unique hot mineral springs... rejuvenation, relaxation and escape, this is the place. "In all the world, no waters like these". Each season has its own charm.

    We are also on FaceBook:




    -Jacqueline from Wilbur

  2. You know, I don't know who you are, but I have your business card on my desk at home and, this morning, I opted not to throw it out, feeling compelled by the words on the card.

    Do we know each other?

    Meg at Wilbur Hot Springs

  3. Hi Meg,

    Hello Meg:

    Yep: Six or eight weeks ago, you were gracious enough to show me the wonderful Wilbur facility as I was searching for a place for a family style reunion. The "Springs" would not be the ideal location for this particular event, but I plan on a visit with another couple in October.

    Thanks again for your courteous tour. Will see you soon.