Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Orr Hot Springs’ creepy crawlies

Orr Hot Springs is a beautiful little hippie retreat near Ukiah in Mendocino County. Little cottages called yurts and creaky old crumbling rooms give the place a rustic feel. The hot springs complex is wedged between a hill of daffodils and a tree-covered cliff, and is the perfect place for nudists to flaunt their flesh and hop into communal tubs and bathroom tubs, soaking up the piped-in waters from the springs. A communal kitchen affords guests a place to store and prepare food, and a common room welcomes guests to gather and play games, play with the cats (stay away if you’re allergic!) or listen to music performed by a local legend.

The water smells a bit like it has high sulfur content. Or at least that’s what I thought it was. It turns out I might have been sitting in a tub full of infectious diseases.

I am scratching. The last time I got a rash all over my body was from Splenda, which pissed me off enough to name my ejournal Splenda Sucks. Now I’m trying to figure out if I need to secure I went to the doctor who told me I have a lovely case of bacterial folliculitis as a result of my time in an unclean tub. Considering my butt started itching within two days of leaving Orr Hot Springs, both the doctor and I are pretty confident that Orr is to blame. Little pimple-like bumps appeared at the base of each hair follicle on my tummy, and in patches on my chest, and under my arm. Add to that itchiness on my scalp and legs, I’m scratching away.

Of course, now I have a wonderful topical antibiotic, and a steroidal spray, priced for those without insurance at $266 a can and $403 a bottle, respectively. Fortunately, with my insurance, and a handy discount card the friendly Dermatologist Sam Ellison gave me, my out-of-pocket expenses were minimized. Now I just need to apply both medications twice each day and hope that my rashes fade as quickly as my desire to ever return to Orr Hot Springs.

My trip to Orr Hot Springs wasn’t especially wonderful. The bed in the old room was the worst I’ve slept in, and just trying to fall asleep was a challenge as I heard every other word that was muttered in the room next door. “Rustic” is a nice term to use, but I think it’s fair to add “uncomfortable” and “not very peaceful.” People were chatty in the group tubs, making it hard to find a quiet, private space. I suppose you can find privacy if you want to bathe in one of their bathrooms, but I can do that at home. In clean water.

Don't tell. Since I’ve acquired this lovely rash, a couple of people advised me to call Orr Hot Springs and tell them that they are spreading disease (and one encouraged me to call the Mendocino County Health Department), but others told me not to do that: that I shouldn’t let them know, because there's nothing the folks at Orr will be able to do about it. A friend of mine, on her way to Orr today, took my warning, but drew from her background in biology and expertise in pathogens to acknowledge getting folliculitis is a risk anyone runs by going to places like Orr. In a discussion I recently had with a few friends who’ve frequented Orr in the past, everyone agreed that the tubs take a long time to drain and people probably don’t wait around for them to drain (and to scrub them), instead plugging tubs back up, keeping the water ripe with dead skin, fecal matter and nasty floaties.

So I will take the advice of my doctor and avoid sitting in dirty water at Orr Hot Springs. I begrudgingly will keep my complaints -- and scratching -- to myself, just like I always do.


Kathleen said...

you are one funny guy! LOL!

I like your humor.


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I have a hard time coming up with a mechanism for an infection to spread in the tubs at Orr. All of the tubs are drained every day from 8-9am and cleaned with a high pressure washer. I know because it was my job after high school (I'm now an engineer). The washer they use would not leave any residue on the inside of the tubs. If you held it too close it would actually cut concrete. In addition, all of the tubs are constant flow types so there would never be any standing water. In fact, given the fill time and my knowledge of chemical process engineering I can tell you that the time any particle would spend in even the biggest tub would be about 15 minutes. Certainly not long enough to start multiplying and infect a bather.

The worst case scenario I can think of would be that some bacteria would be able to avoid the pressure washer in the crevices of the redwood tub and infect your bum or back when you sat down or leaned against the side. Especially if some tiny splinters pierced your skin in the process. But you said you were infected on the tummy and chest. Granted, I don't know exactly what you were doing in the tub, but I find it difficult to come up with a scenario in which you are rubbing your stomach on the bottom of the tub.

The other option would be the sheets in the bedding. But those are laundered and replaced just like any other hotel so I don't know how viable that theory is. I also wonder if it was not another allergic reaction to something in your environment. Perhaps even the sulfur in the water. Anyway I just wanted to say that you are probably more likely to get an infection from a door handle at the mall than the tubs at Orr.

Sorry about the uncomfortable bed. I never slept there.

Unknown said...

My boyfriend and I had a horrible experience at Orr. I'm not surprised to hear that your trip there was less than satisfactory. When we were there, drunken kids at the springs kept us up half the night (noise carries directly to the campsites) and when we complained to the night staff guy, he did nothing about it. Not only that, when we asked for our money back the next day, the owner refused to give it to us, saying it was our responsibility to contact the night staff guy a second time. How many times were we supposed to get up in the middle of the night to complain? Orr is awful. I don't recommend it to anyone!

Anonymous said...

I also would like to add, I am quite skeptical of your rash coming from infectious stuff floating in the hot tub at Orr.

I've been in just about all the hot springs in the United States (excluding Alaska), even in Japan. Trust me, bacteria would have a tough time surviving in the hot water. And yes, that IS sulfur you were smelling. It's the same smell in the hot springs in Thermopolis, WY.

About you hearing everything in your lodging, and the terrible bedding. Hey, my bed was great. Its supposed to be rustic.

And the wild college students? Yeah, they were there too. I'm a university professor, I'm used to it. Hey, its one of the few places kids can legally be naked!

Orr is a great place. Maybe it just ain't for you.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree that Orr Hot Springs is a GREAT place, and although it may not be for everyone, I can say that all the times I have been there I see that they take very good care of the facility and cleanliness is a priority. Also, the staff is very nice and even refunded my camping stay due to rain!!! I can't wait to go back!!

There are drunken idiots almost everywhere in the world... so yeah. tough!

Anonymous said...

I've been going to Orr for 20+ years. It's been getting increasingly crowded. I won't talk about how much I love it anyway and why -- the more people who gripe, the better for me!

However, if you think you had a problem there, I can't fathom why you don't just call them and let them know (nicely) about your experience. You can still be sarcastic and funny even without the "I'll keep my mouth shut like I always do" attitude.

Hope the itchies went away quickly.

Kate said...

I can't say whether or not the rash you got had to do with the tubs at Orr. I was actually only there once several years ago, but it was all kept very clean. My guess was also going to be an allergic reaction of some sort.

It's hard for me to imagine the drunken college kids, though. ;) My dad helped build Orr back in the 70s with a bunch of hippie buddies. It's a lot different now than it was then, but still maintains a certain charm. Rustic is definitely a word I'd use to describe it. And in that way, it's not the Four Seasons. Still, it's too bad you left feeling negatively about it, and even though you might not head back there soon/ever, your concerns are valid.

You could always call and ask how well they clean their pool/tubs. But it kind of sounds like (anonymous) up there explained that pretty well. ;)

Take care!

Larry Buzbee said...

I'm a bike-packer who cycles the deep hill country in the vicinity of Orr Hot Springs. Why? Because wherever I ride, there's hot water, steam and highly effective relaxation for sore muscles and weary soul nearby. Orr is DEFINITELY not for everybody, and thank goodness for that. If your comfort level plummets when your feet depart pavement, then I recommend staying within your zone. The highly civilized/citified should avoid such places, what with the creepy crawlies and sub-standard social controls, by all means.

On the other hand, for those who are revived and re-oriented by intimate (sometimes "uncomfortably" intimate) contact with the deep forces of nature that push water through cracks in the earth and heave trees and mountains hundreds of feet into the sky, what better recommendation could there be than the chorus of "ewww"?

Having been there many times, hanging in my hammock tent between the trees behind the sauna, I can testify from personal experience that the staff steams and pressure washes the bejeesus out of every nook and cranny every night/morning, for about three hours. Fortunately the combination of physical exertion, hot, hot steam and cool, cool water under the stars and moon render the 4AM sterilifest nothing more than a reassuring background, like the sound of waves at the beach, and somewhere in the back of my mind I'm vaguely pleased to know that when I plunk my bare buttocks back down on the bench for my morning pre-ride tune-up nothing will greet them but warm cedar.

In addition to the regular as clockwork pressure washings, bird sounds and the shwooshing of the wind in the branches, I've also heard the sounds of lesbians making love in the woods at night, boisterous and strangely accented laughter and the soft pop of the occasional wine cork. On the other hand, never even once have I heard a siren, a car alarm, police helicopter, domestic dispute or high speed car chase. Any or all of these things could happen there, they just seem not to. So, to each his, her or that's own. For me, a soak at Orr Hot Springs is like directly connecting my internal electrical system to that of the whole planet, something eminently worth a little discomfort.

Brandrew said...

Unless EVERYONE gets sick, Orr is not to blame. Bacteria is everywhere, and its up to your own immune system to keep you healthy. If Everyone who went to Orr got sick, sure blame the nasty petri-dishes that people are soaking in. If only a few people get sick, its the individual immune systems to blame.

Anonymous said...

Well, you're not REALLY keeping it to yourself, are you?

Mr. Dude Wrangle said...

the place was super clean, the staff was beyond helpful, the water was super hot since the new well.... the music in the main dining room in the evening was sublime....
paradise itself....

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