Surprise Valley Hot Springs

April 18, 2008

I sat in the Surprise Café and Java Bar, consuming a veggie burrito and using the café’s wireless Internet access. An extensive collection of coffee pots stretched along high shelves, a product of 40 years of collecting by the Rotary Club. Locals stopped in and greeted each other, exchanging tidbits of gossip and news.

I had driven more than seven hours to reach Cedarville, a quaint little town in the northeast corner of CA. It had been a long day of driving, and I was ready for some time off the road. The high desert Surprise Valley, nestled between California’s Warner Mountains and Nevada’s Hays Range, would be my resting place for the night.

Five miles east of Cedarville on Hwy 299, Surprise Valley Hot Springs sits in the midst of a vast expanse of empty land. Like an oasis in a desert, it appears unexpectedly, off to the side of the road.

Four generations of the Rose family have owned and operated the facilities. Old photographs show the lodge and grounds as they appeared in the 1950’s and 60’s, back when an Olympic sized swimming pool drew visitors to soak. Though the pool was closed and filled in during the 1980’s, the mineral waters, as well as the Rose hospitality, still remain to beckon guests seeking relaxation and renewal.

There’s something adventurous about the sound of gravel underneath a car’s tires, and I listened to the scratchy crunch of the unpaved road as I approached the property. A jack rabbit scampered across the driveway as I pulled up to the office, disappearing into the shrubbery of the valley floor. A sweet, older dog wandered across a nearby field, occasionally pausing to chase a wayward bird.

Technically, check-in is only offered from 3-5 in the afternoon, but keys are left taped on the door for later arrivals. I slid in just in time to pick up my key inside the office, where I grabbed a few of the complimentary DVDs that can be checked out by guests.

The old motel rooms at Surprise Valley Hot Springs have been turned into “villas,” each one unique and decorated with a different theme. A main lodge building is located in the center of the property with more spacious accommodations inside. But I always yearn to get a feel for the quiet history of a place, so I had my eyes on the smaller “villa” section.

I headed across the grounds to a fairly nondescript single-story building, not sure what to expect inside. To my surprise, I found that my “Bistro” room was amazing. Some type of decorating magic had served to reinvent these older rooms, using just the right colors and accessories to give them new life.

I would be spending the night in my small room at the very end of the building. The European style decor featured many small touches, including colorful bistro prints on the walls and luxurious bedding. It was cozy and comfortable, outfitted with everything necessary to withdraw from the world: a full kitchen, VCR/DVD player, private bath with shower and, best of all, a private outdoor patio with mineral tub.

Creative diversity is due credit here, as other accommodations feature themes such as “Out of Africa,” “Far East,” Buckaroo,” and “English Garden.” I had a chance to peek into several of these and each one was magazine perfect. Every aspect of the décor blended into the theme – furnishings, accessories, framed art, and use of color throughout.

A trip into Cedarville led me to the Surprise Café and Java Bar on Main St, an unexpected treat to find in a small town of approx. 800 people. This upscale café with down to earth prices offered excellent food, homemade baked goods, and java to rival the best of any big city. Friendly staff, comfortable tables, and an artistic flair that ran throughout the café all made it a fun place to hang out. Steps away, Floating Island Books offered a selection of reading material, and a variety of other businesses dotted the street in both directions.

Driving the five miles back from town it became clear that the area was capable of bringing about some soul-searching. There was something in the air, almost a magic that was capable of peeling away layers of the stuff that clutters our brains in everyday life. So entranced was I in these thoughts that I zoomed past the entrance to the hot springs and had to brake and backtrack in reverse, easy to do without a soul on the road for miles in either direction.

Evening fell, and I stepped out into the private patio and slid into the warm mineral tub. Above the water’s surface, the cold desert air whispered across my face, as wisps of clouds floated across the sky. An almost full moon played hide and seek with the clouds, stars sparkling in the background. Both moon and stars appeared to move across the sky as the clouds began to travel in the opposite direction.

The air held an ethereal quality aside from the soothing power of mineral water. It was blissfully quiet, save for a few birds calling to each other, though I did have the luxury of being one of only a few guests that night.

Knowing that breakfast wasn’t provided with lodging, I’d picked up lemon-blueberry scones from the cafe, which I brought out in the morning, adding a few apple slices and a cup of coffee. Had I wanted to whip up something more exotic, it would have been possible to do so, having the benefit of a full kitchen. As it was, the light meal was the perfect was to start the day.

After checking out, I backtracked over Cedar Pass to Alturas, where I was able to pick up 395 North. My destination was either Oregon or Idaho, I wasn’t entirely sure. But it was a good trip so far and I was enjoying the journey.