Nothing says naked like the serendipity of a free afternoon in San Diego on a beautiful spring day! A little too chilly on the coast to seriously consider Black’s Beach (which remains on my bucket list, but alas…) So the next logical choice was a one-hour drive into the high desert for an excursion to the DeAnza Springs Clothing Optional Resort!
A brief disclaimer seems in order at this juncture, as I have to say, the people at DeAnza Springs are among the friendliest I’ve met at any American naturist site. The word on the street is that they are even willing to let hikers in who wish to experience the southerly most entrance to Anza Borrego State Park, offering them a safe place to park the car for the day. The park, stretching for hundreds of miles, literally backs up to the resort property line. Having read this, my wife and I visited last fall to scope the place out. But this time, I was traveling solo, so I emailed in advance to see if they had any of typically draconian policies limiting visits by single males. No such policy exists. “C’mon up. Well be happy to see you!”
All that said, should you read this and suddenly feel inspired to drive to Jacumba, California, doff your clothes, and sprint into the desert, – especially if you’re a rookie at the clothing optional thing – be prepared that DeAnza Springs will likely exemplify every cliché you can imagine when people make water cooler jokes about “that nudist colony place out by the highway.” The RVs surrounded by various landscape contraptions, goofy road signs like “skinny dip ahead” or “bare right,” and a variety of quasi-sculpture-caricatures of naked people with bicycles, walking sticks, and tennis rackets – each with somewhat exaggerated features and euphoric facial expressions that I think are intended to reinforce the subliminal message that nudists are familiar, friendly, and most of all, fun! Every time I visit a place like this, I can’t help but relive David Sedaris’ account of his visit to a similar “nudist colony” in Pennsylvania. (See: David Sedaris, NAKED). It’s the stuff upon which satirical writers and water-cooler comedians thrive.
Strangely enough, on this beautiful May day, the sign-post caricatures were about the most animated beings on the property! A few retirees were buzzing around in their golf carts, but by the time I got to the pool, only a handful of locals were to be found. In other words… a real high desert ghost town! I’ve always thought the desert to be a little eerie under the best of circumstances. Even more so with this odd assemblage of pre-fab houses and mega-extravagant motor homes, along side a few old trailers, one of which must have fallen victim to some horrible catastrophe that caused one entire side to blow out into a pile of twisted aluminum; a heap of unsightly wreckage that appears to have been lying there for quite some time. Given our visit last fall, and so many similar experiences at other US naturist vacation destinations, none of this seemed even remotely peculiar to me, though I always find myself playing the “I wonder what my friend “_________” would think of all this?” Maybe not the place to bring the ‘first-timer – curious about social nudity’ friend for his first naked outing.
If you are a desert person, (and already comfortable in your skin), the place sits in a remarkable location, near the town of Jacumba, literally a stone’s throw from the Mexican border (evidenced by the border control officers who patrol the dirt road that leads to the gates of the resort). The famous rail line – at least amidst train buffs (no pun intended!) – of the Carrizo Gorge runs along the perimeter of the DeAnza Springs property. Despite a plethora a faded signs and snarls of barbed wire that send the foreboding message to stay away from the tracks, the resort owner identifies the rail bed as the preferred local par course for the daily ritual of walking the dog. To be sure, walking naked across a creaky trestle, measuring each step as some of the ties have simply fallen away, while others give noticeably under your feet, defines a whole new level of vulnerability. But there are plenty of trails crisscrossing the scrubby, boulder-infested mountains, and there are many accounts floating around about those who have spent the day ‘free-hiking’ (a term that somehow got assigned to wilderness walks in the altogether) well into the Anza Borrego State Park with scarcely a nod from the seldom encountered rangers.
On this day, after nearly two hours of ‘free-hiking,’ I seized the opportunity to enjoy the more sophisticated amenities of this remote garden of Eden; a beer from the snack bar, a dip in the pool, and a soak in the hot tub, followed by a couple hours of reading by the late afternoon sunlight. As the evening zephyrs started to chill, it was time to jump back in the car and make my way down the hill to San Diego to catch the red-eye back to the dreary weather on the east coast.
Despite nearly twenty years of what one might call research on this topic, I still struggle in my efforts to reconcile the differences between American and European versions of the nudist/naturist experience. To be fair, were I to visit any of the French naturist centers this early in the season, it would likely be too cold to go au naturel, and they would also feel sparsely populated, I suspect, as it simply isn’t the season yet. But there are palpable differences that transcend those attributes, much of which seem to be centered around ‘nudist colony humor.’ There is something in the American ethos that can’t manage to handle a conversation about “naked” without making some self-deprecating joke, even if you are the one who is advocating for the right and the privilege to be naked. I don’t know that this is uniquely American, but with only a couple exceptions, it has been the common denominator in nearly every clothing-optional place we have visited in the United States. I can’t imagine finding a seaside bar at a French or Croatian naturist resort with a name like “Bottom’s Up,” or making sure that everything on the lunch menu has some anatomical double entendre. In this way American nudists have become the “butt” of their own jokes.
Which I think will likely segue nicely into my next intended post on this blog, lifted directly from that Hollywood classic, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the famous line, “Everyone I know has a big butt!” French, German, Asian, or American – this much we know is true.