Tassajara Hot Springs

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Coordinates: 36°14′01″N 121°33′00″W / 36.233614°N 121.550093°W / 36.233614; -121.550093

Tassajara Hot Springs is a collection of natural hot springs in the Ventana Wilderness, within the Santa Lucia Range and Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County, California. The hot springs have been the site of various resorts since the 1860s. Since 1967, the hot springs have been the site of a Buddhist monastery which is opened to visitors during the summer months only.


Tasajera is a Spanish-American word derived from an indigenous Esselen language, which designates a "place where meat is hung to dry."[1][2] It has also been known as Tassajara Springs, Tesahara Springs and on mining claims as Agua Caliente.


The hot springs are located 28.3 miles (45.5 km) from Carmel Valley Road. The springs are currently privately owned by the San Francisco Zen Center which operates the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center on site. The last 8.2 miles (13.2 km) of the road into the springs is extremely narrow and steep, so much so that visitors are encouraged to use four-wheel drive vehicles or take a shuttle from Tassajara Hot Springs, California at Jamesburg, California, where the Zen Center maintains offices. Jamesburg is at the foot of Chews Ridge, 13.8 miles (22.2 km) from the hot springs.

The springs[edit]

In 1918, the state mineralogist from the California State Mining Bureau[3] produced a report detailing the large amount of hot water that issues at Tassajara Hot Springs through about seventeen thermal springs in the bed of the creek and along its southern bank. These range in temperature from about 100 °F (38 °C) to 140 °F (60 °C) and vary from mere seepages to flows of 8 US gallons (30 l) a minute.[4]

Thermal waters issue from a gneiss exposed along the creek for a distance of 600 feet (180 m) or more. Above and below this exposure the rock is granitic and in some places contains small garnets. The crystalline rocks are overlain by a series of shales, sandstones, and limestones, whose structure in the area north of Arroyo Seco is shown by the beds of massive buff-colored sandstone that dip northeastward at an angle of about 45°. A western limb of this structure has not been recorded but may exist in the mountains further towards the coast. The observed dips at least suggest that Tassajara Hot Springs issue at a locality where Arroyo Seco crosses a zone of intense pressure in the underlying crystalline rocks.[4]

The springs have been known and used for many years and were visited early on by campers when the only access was by means of a difficult trail. In the early part of the 20th century, a well-graded wagon road was built southward from Jamesburg across the mountains and down into the canyon, and by 1918 the springs were easily reached by stagecoach. In 1904 a stone hotel was built, and other improvements added yearly so that by 1909 there was ample accommodation for 75 people, although a larger number were put up in tents. Water from two of the largest springs has been piped to tub and plunge baths, and a vapor bath constructed over the hottest spring, which issues from the creek bed.[4]

Analyses of two of the thermal waters showed them to be noticeably sulphuretted, and only moderately mineralized. The water of the arsenic spring has a distinctly yellow color, which in a few other springs has been ascribed to alkaline sulphides in solution. At the north edge of the creek, a few yards above the hot springs, there are two cool springs in which iron is deposited. An analysis of the easternmost of these springs was also made.[4]

The two hot springs apparently issue from the same general source and show only slight differences in composition. Primary salinity and primary alkalinity are the chief stable properties, but the waters are characterized by high subalkalinity, of which silica is the main component. The carbonate radicle reported is presumably calculated from the alkalinity determination and doubtless includes sulphides and possibly silicates. The apparent absence of arsenic in the so-called arsenic spring is noteworthy.[4]

Of markedly different character from the hot springs, the cool iron spring is less than half as concentrated and has secondary alkalinity as its dominant property. Subalkalinity is not reported, but is probably relatively low. The spring is probably of essentially surface origin, and not directly related to the thermal waters.[4]

Algous growths in the creek below the hot springs are recorded, as the growths are related to the sulphuretted character of the water. Although they are common to thermal sulphur springs, the relatively large volume of water in the creek at Tassajara Hot Springs, its comparatively slow cooling, and the presence of both swift currents and of quiet pools, affords an unusually good opportunity to observe growth variations.[4]



The springs were first used by native Esselen people who occupied the area for at least a thousand years before the Spanish colonial period. According to some historians and accounts, many of the local Native American people were subjugated by Spanish missionaries in the California Mission system under Father Junípero Serra.[5] These claims are contested by the Diocese of Monterey.[6] By the time of the American Civil War, the Europeans who came upon Tassajara found few traces of the Esselens' earlier presence. A few Esselen apparently continued to live in the region until at least the 1840s, escaping the harsh conditions of the mission and disease due to their remoteness.[7]


The springs were discovered by Europeans when a hunter found the springs in 1843. Frank Rust founded the public baths in 1868.[8]:4 In 1994, a skeleton was unearthed at Tassajara, and research suggested the individual had died about 150 years ago.[9]

In 1863, there was a brief "silver rush" in the Tassajara region. Eighteen mining claims were filed by 135 men ("supposed to contain gold and silver") in the "Agua Caliente Mining District." The first mining claim for the area was recorded during the period of May 1–25, and it was named the "Vulcan Ledge", including "the stream of water called 'Agua Caliente'" (i. e., Tassajara Hot Springs).[9]

Visitors in the late 1800s traveled by stage over a rocky and steep road, and the last section was so steep that a 20 feet (6.1 m) long pine tree trunk was chained to the rear axles to slow the four horse stagecoach on the steep downgrade.[2] During the early 1900s, a stagecoach ran twice weekly from Salinas to the springs, bringing visitors from all over the country to the springs[10].

The road is steep and narrow, such that a modern four-wheel drive vehicle can take an hour to cover the rough, winding 13.5 miles (21.7 km) dirt-and-rock road leading from Jamesburg, California at 1,722 feet (525 m) over 4,881 feet (1,488 m) high Chews Ridge to the resort at 1,637 feet (499 m).

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors designated the trail to "Tesahara Springs" as a "public highway" in June, 1870, but work on a one-lane wagon road over Chews and Black Butte Ridges was not started until the spring of 1886.[11][notes 1]

The hot springs were completely surrounded by the Basin Complex fire in 2008. Five semi-trained staff members chose to remain behind, against the advice of professional fire-fighting personnel, and successfully defended the resort from the fire.[12]

The Horse Pasture[edit]

A section of land 160 acres (65 ha) near the springs was nicknamed The Horse Pasture because the flat meadow was once used by wranglers to pasture livestock when passengers used a stage coach to visit the springs. The land, an inholding within the borders of the Ventana Wilderness, was still owned by the Beck family in 2007. The land is a mixture of chamise-dominated chaparral, mixed oak, Coulter Pine forest, and meadow.

The watershed offered obvious recreational opportunities and the potential for development as a wilderness retreat. The Wilderness Trust identified the parcel as a high priority for conservation and addition to the Ventana Wilderness. In partnership with the Big Sur Land Trust, they bought the land for $1.1 million.[13][14][15]

The Wilderness Trust later conveyed to the United States Forest Service for inclusion in the wilderness[16][17] within the Santa Lucia Mountains in Monterey County, California.[18]

Zen Center[edit]

Menu board from the Tassajara kitchen.

The springs and surrounding property are privately owned by the San Francisco Zen Center, which purchased the land from Robert and Anna Beck.[18] The site, now formally known as Zenshinji (Zen Heart-Mind Temple) is used year-round as a training monastery by Zen Center. From Memorial Day to Labor Day each year, SFZC rents the simple monastic accommodations as well as allowing day visitors to use the hot springs.[19] Otherwise, it is used exclusively by the monks for intensive practice following a traditional schedule established in Tang Dynasty China.


  1. ^ See also: Chews Ridge & Black Butte photographs, John Fedak, February 2006


  1. ^ Gudde, Erwin G. (2004). California Place Names: the Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names (fourth ed.). Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24217-3.
  2. ^ a b Janet Fullwood (November 29, 2006). "Serene escapes: Where less is more". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013.
  3. ^ California State Mining Bureau (1918). Report of the state mineralogist. California State Mining Bureau.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g California State Mining Bureau (1918). Report of the state mineralogist. California State Mining Bureau. p. 610-612.
  5. ^ Tinker, George E. (1993). Missionary Conquest. Fortress Press. p. 79. ISBN 0-8006-2576-5.
  6. ^ Catholic Church, Diocese of Monterey (Calif.) (1986). The Serra report. Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.
  7. ^ "History - Tassajara - San Francisco Zen Center". Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  8. ^ Jeffers, Garth (Autumn 1992). "Hands" (PDF). Robinson Jeffers Newsletter. California State University Long Beach and Occidental College.
  9. ^ a b David Rogers. "A History of The Caves Ranch". The Double-Cone Quarterly, Fall Equinox 1999, Vol. II, # 3.
  10. ^ "Winter{{|}}Sprlng Practice Period at Zen Mountain Center, 1969" (PDF). Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  11. ^ David Rogers. "The First Passenger Wagon to Reach Tassajara". The Double-Cone Quarterly, Winter Solstice 2000, Vol. III, # 2.
  12. ^ "Tassajara Fire Information". Retrieved 2009-11-20.
  13. ^ "Horse Pasture Preserved". www.cuke.com. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  14. ^ "LAND WITHIN CALIFORNIA'S VENTANA WILDERNESS PROTECTED". Wilderness Land Trust. 24 August 2007. Archived from the original on 6 August 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  15. ^ COUNTS, CHRIS. "Land trusts team up to buy historic wilderness pasture" (PDF). Carmel Pine Cone. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  16. ^ Nedeff, Nicole. "Horse Pasture Preserved". The Wilderness Land Trust. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  17. ^ The Wilderness Land Trust (28 February 2007). "Land Within California's Ventana Wilderness protected". Archived from the original on 6 August 2007.
  18. ^ a b David Chadwick (19 February 2002). "Interview with Robert Beck". cuke.com.
  19. ^ "About Tassajara". San Francisco Zen Center. San Francisco Zen Center. Retrieved 31 March 2016.