The Fire at Harbin Hot Springs

Posted on in Features by Rob Sidon

Wildfires are an intrinsic part of California life. Part of one of the worst droughts on
record, the summer of 2015 was particularly painful. Beginning on September
12, the famed Valley Fire wound up charring over 76,000 acres in Lake County
and with it our beloved Harbin Hot Springs.

To the Miwok Indians, Harbin was eetawyomi, the sacred “hot place” that welcomed all tribes for shamanic rituals and seasonal celebrations. The baths were commercially developed by settlers in the 1860s. The resort was promoted in the 1920s and ’30s and gradually fell into disrepair after it was a commune in the late ’60s—a place where rock stars once frolicked. In 1972, the property was bought by Robert Hartley (aka Ishvara) and expanded as a nonprofit church. As a deeply nourishing clothing-optional oasis for healing and transformation, Harbin came to mean so much to so many people who routinely visited from all around the world.

The power of nature teaches priceless lessons. From the ashes of destruction emerge the sprouts of gratitude. I was exclusively invited to tour the property to witness, pay my respects, and take some personal shots with my pocket camera. The landscape is forever changed there. As both the rains and bulldozers come, so will rebirth. Plans are underway for Harbin’s renaissance, and we await.

These amateur photos, rapidly captured in a walkthrough one month after the blaze, were never intended to be the subject of a pictorial. The idea came to fruition later, with permission. Special thanks to our friends Ishvara and Julie Adams for letting Common Ground readers experience these. It is my hope that the images, however raw and mournful, will help bring closure—and a souvenir of gratitude—to a bygone Harbin that remains magically entrenched in our hearts.


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