What remains of Harbin Hot Springs Resort after the devastating Valley Fire swept through September 13th, 2015 (Photos by Kurtis Alexander Sourced from SFGate):
A lot of people loved to joke about Harbin Hot Springs. Including me! Although my husband and I discovered Harbin just three years ago, we quickly agreed we would spend our anniversary there every year if we could. We loved the privacy and affordability of the tent cabins, the hot spring pools were truly therapeutic and it was part of my inspiration for The Healing Farm (and hopefully still will be).
That said, As news started coming in about the destruction of Middletown and the surrounding area due to the absolute firestorm that became known (and is still not contained as I type) as the "Valley Fire" we held our breath and checked the Harbin Facebook page and waited for news holding out hope that this very special retreat would be spared. As you can see from the pictures above it was not only not spared, but it was leveled. The springs are still springing and Harbin has an amazingly dedicated community of both "residents" and true-blue Harbin clients so I don't doubt it will be re-built, but it will take years for the flora and fauna to come back and we can never bring back the darling original victorian cottages that made up the lodging in the central part of the resort.
The reason I'm so inspired to write about Harbin is because it really has been a huge inspiration for why I want to start The Healing Farm. We visited Harbin the first time as part of my research for The Healing Farm concept. I admired the Harbin business model in that they had varying levels of affordability so EVERYONE - truly EVERYONE could enjoy these lovely springs. If you could afford it, you could rent one of the Victorian cottages and have your own bathroom, be centrally located and purchase and enjoy the incredibly good locally sourced organic meal selections. On the other end of the spectrum, you could pitch your own tent or even sleep in your car in the parking lot! You could stay in one of the dorm type buildings and cook your own meals. You could even become a Harbin resident, live communally and work on the property.
What I didn't so much like about Harbin is that it really is easy for people to make fun of. It had a reputation as being a pickup place at the clothing-optional pool area (in the public areas of the rest of the resort clothing is not optional - it must be worn). We never experienced this because we really didn't socialize and we always went to the pools as a couple, but I could see it being annoying for single women for sure. We also thought it was a little overboard when people started naked yoga circles by the pool. There's nothing you would rather NOT see than a naked man from behind doing downward facing dog. Believe me. So although we could handle it and giggle and talk about it when we returned to our private tent cabin I recognized that most Americans would NOT be comfortable with this situation and such open nudity.
What I finally realized in all of my business research is that there are wellness spas, resort and retreat centers at the more affordable end of the spectrum but often they are a little too new age, hippie dippy or sometimes even too run down for most people to feel comfortable. At the other end, you have a gazillion wellness resorts, spas and retreats that are catering to the luxury market, but as far as I know there is a missing link. There is a whole swath of an American demographic that would LOVE to have a tasteful spa-like experience at a retreat center or property that has varying levels of accommodation and affordability. The Healing Farm would be that place.
Harbin Hot Springs will survive. I have no doubt that, maybe not as soon as next June, but two years from now, Brennan and I will go for our 9th anniversary. We likely won't yet have that lovely fig tree hanging over us as we meditate in the corner of the warm pool together or may not even enjoy tent cabin number five with it's treehouse-like feel perched on the hillside and partially covered by a California Oak, but I'm sure Harbin will be back inspiring me to propel forward with The Healing Farm concept. Maybe The Healing Farm will even already exist servicing a whole lot of people who want that tasteful and affordable spa/retreat experience! The Healing Farm. Cultivating practical wellness!
I'm rooting for Harbin and hope for a quick recovery for them.