Welcome to Jacumba Hot Springs

The Picnic Grounds in 1924.

Looking north into the picnic grounds in 1924 (San Diego Natural History Museum).  The bathhouse, which still stands is just to the right of the area seen.

This blog is mainly about birding in Jacumba Hot Springs, a small town in southeastern San Diego County.  The town’s name was recently changed to attract visitors to the Jacumba Hot Springs Spa.  Previously it was Jacumba.  I’ll generally use the shorter version of the name in this blog.  I may digress onto other matters, but I promise not politics or what goes for religion.

First off…. here’s a link to my  Smugmug Bird Galleries  – from the home page navigate to the Jacumba Gallery or explore my entire photo library, interesting maps and assorted documents.

http://egk.smugmug.com/Photography

The basics – services and facilities in Jacumba

Cellular service in Jacumba is spotty.  AT&T is almost impossible to use in town – don’t bother. Verizon (4G LTE) works pretty well for voice and internet with Ipad download speeds of (up to) 26mbs. Radio reception is limited.  The KPBS-FM repeater KQVO-FM97.7 in Calexico works pretty good.

The Jacumba Hot Springs Spa is now open and offers high quality accommodations including free wi-fi, a very good restaurant which opens at 7:00 am., a bar (the only bar in town), motel and hot spring-fed pools.

A new (2015) Southern style restaurant has opened which specializes in ribs and BBQ chicken – closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch and breakfast currently served. Dinner served, usually only to about 5pm or when they run out of food. It is very popular with sheriff’s deputies, fire fighters, highway patrol and border patrol officers. They have excellent fish tacos on Friday and Saturday.

There are restrooms at the two 24-hour gas stations located at the I-8 Corrizo Gorge exit, and more at Desert View Tower. The community park also has restrooms.

The market in town has the important things that a small town must have in order to survive: beer, wine, hard liquor, cigarettes, rolling papers, cat food, toilet paper, and lottery tickets.

A rumored bakery never materialized  A tattoo parlor opened in June 2015 and  was burglarized and then closed soon after.

The old firehouse. It would make a great bar and patio.

The old firehouse. It would make a great bar and patio.

 

Jacumba is chiefly notable for its hot springs and spa, and a large nudist resort.  A massacre that occurred in 1880 has been largely forgotten. The town has a population of about 550.  It is located 70 miles east of San Diego on Old Highway 80 about 5 miles west of the Imperial County line and ¼ mile from the Mexican border.  Jacumba lies at 2800′ in a large valley, most of which is in Mexico. A stout metal fence runs along the border just south of town.

A detail from the USGS "Jacumba" Quad map 1959 revised in 1975

A detail from the USGS “Jacumba” Quad map. 1959 revised in 1975 – Click to open this map up to full size .

 

1939 USGS Quad

1939 USGS Quad

 

To get to Jacumba, the best, but not shortest or most direct route, is to take I-8 east from San Diego and exit at Carrizo Gorge Road.  Head south about 1 mile until you reach Old Highway 80, then go right, west, about 2 miles until you reach Jacumba proper.

If you turn left at Old Highway 80 and continue about 3 miles east and go under the freeway you will end up in In-ko-pah. In the 1960s there was a small San Diego County park and a bar there. They dried up and blew away in the 70s. Today In-ko-pah has a few industrial operations and truck sales.

Continuing east you will be delivered to the famous Desert View Tower, aka Boulder Park, a charming roadside curiosity with interesting stone sculptures, wind caves, “springs,” and the museum-like tower with its great view of wind generators in the Imperial Valley desert to the east.  Page from 1956 Thomas Brothers map book.

Page from 1956 Thomas Brothers map book.
San Diego County in 1899.

San Diego County in 1899. The county extended all the way to Arizona in the east and Perris to the north in present-day Riverside County. The Salton Sea had not been created.

If you had stayed on I-8 rather than exiting at Carrizo Gorge Road you would go for a wild ride down Mountain Springs Grade to the desert floor below.  Continuing east about 40 miles will land you in El Centro.  But by this time you’ll realize that you’ve gone way too far.

The history of the Jacumba area is discussed in other articles on the web and I have no desire to repeat information that can be found at Wikipedia except for the comments which follow.

There is a major issue with the reported historic population of Jacumba.  An oft-repeated web article says that Jacumba had a population of 5000 in the 1920s to 1940’s. Today the population is estimated at about 550.  So, if there were 5000 residents not that long ago, where are the old homes?  There are not hundreds of abandoned homes or building foundations or heaps of rubble that could account for the missing residences.  There are two subdivisions which include perhaps 500 lots.  Few of the lots in the older subdivision are used individually for homes, most use a minimum of two lots, some more.  Many of the lots show no sign of ever being developed.  In 1999 there were about 250 homes in the area of the subdivisions and the immediate vicinity.  Examination of Assessor’s maps for the vicinity shows  parcels outside of the subdivisions, but nowhere close to the number that would be required to allow for a population of 5000.  Indeed, a county visitor’s guide from 1945 in my collection lists a population of 400.  The data is probably from the 1940 census. If Jacumba had a population of 5000 in the 20’s to 1940 it would have been larger than Escondido, El Cajon or La Mesa!  It would have been the fourth largest population center in the county following San Diego, National City and Coronado. It is possible that events held in Jacumba attracted 5000 people, but 5000 residents is not realistic.  Also included here is information from a Rand-McNally commercial atlas from the 1930s.  It shows a population for the Jacumba “township” of about 1157 people based upon the 1930 census.  The 1940 census indicates a population of 1214, again for the township.  The township includes more territory than the town proper.

 

Tabler from 1946 Visitor's Guide to San Diego County

Table from 1946 Visitor’s Guide to San Diego County

Detail from text in 1930 Rand-McNallt commercial atlas

Detail from text in 1930 Rand-McNally commercial atlas

 

The most notable historical event in Jacumba’s history is the long ignored Jacumba Massacre of February 17, 1880 where 15 of the local Kumeyaay ended up dead. This event marked the end of the long-time occupation of Jacumba by native Americans.  Prior to this there had been armed opposition to white settlers by the Indians, who were robbed of lands and livelihood by the early farmers and ranchers.  There had been trouble between the Indians and whites going back to the early Spanish in 1785.

crumbling n relic of the southwest

Jacumba was a popular tourist stop and destination beginning in the early part of the last century.  The hot springs and a first class hotel were popular.  Farmers from the Imperial Valley built homes in Jacumba, at 2800′ elevation, to escape the scorching summer heat in the below-sea-level valley. Old photographs testify to the prosperity of the town.

 

Jacumba in more prosperous days

Jacumba in more prosperous days

The glory days of Jacumba ended in the late 1960s when I-8 was opened which bypassed the town.  The economic base of the town was gone and Jacumba went into a decline. The last insult was the 1983 fire that burned the grand Jacumba Hotel to the ground. Candles left unattended burned down a wing of the structure.  It could not be fixed and brought up to current code economically.

The Jacumba Hotel in its prime

The Jacumba Hotel in its prime

Mary Worth Cafe - a popular stop on US 80 in Jacumba

Barbara Worth Cafe – a popular stop on US 80 in Jacumba

Looking east on Old US 80.

Looking east on US 80.

 

Today, all that remains of Jacumba’s past glory are the newly refurbished and remodeled spa, about 250  homes in various state of repair from new to dilapidated, the ruins of an old bath house and bathing pools, a swamp, small pond, a small restaurant, grocery/liquor store, three churches, community center, community park and library, middle school, fire station, water district office and system, post office, the chimney of the old hotel, county airport (glider port),  a railroad yard with lots of classic and/or obsolete rail stock, tumbled-down commercial buildings and a mobile home park.

The old Jacumba Railroad Station.

The old Jacumba Railroad Station

 

The ruins of the bath house in 2013

The ruins of the bath house in 2013

The bath house abut 1920.

The bath house about 1920.

 

Detail of the ruins

Detail of the ruins

A few iconic homes exist, the most interesting is the red “Chinese Castle.”  Several other rock houses are perched on the south side of  Old Highway 80.

the red Chinese Castle

the red Chinese Castle

The castle without Mao

The castle without Mao

The Jacumba Hot Springs Spa has recently re-opened after a complete remodel and renovation The spa includes a motel, hot spring-fed pools, restaurant with a large patio, and bar.  The previous owner of the spa and area of the swamp and pond had allowed the pond to go dry and let the spa deteriorate.  The new owner of the spa, who also is the owner of the nearby De Anza Springs nudist resort, began refilling the pond from an open tap in the hot spring in February 2012.  At this writing, the pond is about one-third filled.  The pond is a favored habitat for the rare tricolored blackbird, and there is talk that the Audubon Society will take over the management of the swamp and pond wetland area.  As of September 2016 there have been no reports of progress on this proposal.

Tricolored Blackbird

Tricolored Blackbird

The nudist resort is about one mile north of I-8 on Carrizo Gorge Road. It is one of the largest nudist resorts in the US.  I’m not sure if “largest” refers to the number of members or the area of the resort, about 470 acres (500 acres according the resort’s website) of picturesque desert scrub and unusual rock formations.  The curious reader may inquire at the De Anza Springs web site and arrange to visit.  Bring a hat, dark glasses, sun screen, and sandals. There is a restaurant and bar there.  Also, cabins may be rented by the adventuresome.

Just north of the nudist resort  is the famous Carrizo Gorge.  The old San Diego & Arizona  Railroad constructed a rail line down the gorge around 1920.  The course includes numerous tunnels, one almost ½ mile long, and a gigantic wooden trestle, reportedly the largest in the US.  There has been some talk of the rail line reopening. I won’t believe it until I see it. The wooden trestle is described in several web articles to have been constructed in 1936 to replace a collapsed tunnel. From the trestle one can see the old tunnel.

The wooden trestle over Goat Canyon

The wooden trestle over Goat Canyon

South of In-ko-pah there are several interesting, but isolated, attractions –  Smuggler’s cave and Elliot mine.  The road to this area can be seen from the underpass at the freeway.  Four-wheel drive, an off-road motorcycle or a mountain bike is necessary to get to either of these spots unless you want a long hike.  The Border Patrol will interview you, too.  The cave and mine are shown on the USGS In-ko-pah quad map.

Jacumba has a large population of loud barkers.  Most of these animals are fenced and some are chained up in yards. The Border Patrol maintains observation posts on the hilltops around town and is a constant presence. Jacumba is infested with gophers who devour most anything the hopeful gardener plants.  The cats are too lazy to catch the gophers, as they are well fed by the local citizens.

The pond

The pond

For several years up to July 2012 the town had a problem with eye gnats. Very annoying and almost invisible creatures who made it uncomfortable to venture out of doors during much of the year and  especially when there was no breeze to keep the buggers down.  The locals took to wearing mosquito netting or employing the “Jacumba wave” to shoo-off the gnats.  The source of the gnats was the Bornt Farms agricultural operation.  This large “organic” farm operated on about 600 acres which adjoin the town to the east.  The farm used well water liberally to irrigate and a consequence was that these tiny gnats thrived and multiplied into the billions. The farmers refused to use pesticides because they had official “organic” status. The issue of the gnats eventually made its way to the County Board of Supervisors who told the farmers to deal with the gnat problem or they would be declared a nuisance and closed.  In the summer of  2012 the farmers gave up and closed the farm.  The gnat problem went away. Today the farm is just a giant tumbleweed field.

Being 70-or-so miles from San Diego and 40 miles from El Centro, the night skies are dark and the area is all but ideal for gazing at the night time skies or for more serious astronomy.

 

Jupiter and four of its moons photographed from my backyard

Jupiter and four of its moons photographed from my backyard

The nebula in Orion 3-28--15 from my backyard

The nebula in Orion 3-28–15 from my backyard

My main interest in Jacumba, besides being a cheap place to retire, are the birds that can be seen in the area.  Jacumba is far enough east of San Diego  to have a some species that are not usually seen in the western parts of the county.

a fixer - priceless

a fixer – priceless

Bird species that are seasonally regular in Jacumba and not very common in the western parts of the county include vermilion flycatcher, Scott’s oriole, ladder-back woodpecker, red-naped and red-breasted sapsucker, sage thrasher, Lawrence’s goldfinch, loggerhead shrike and pine siskin.

Vagrant birds, birds that are not usually seen but wander around the region seemingly lost, such as a swamp sparrow, evening grosbeak, Williamson’s sapsucker, and northern waterthrush this last fall and winter. Last summer saw an Inca dove and several yellow-headed blackbirds.

 

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

 

Vermillion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

 

Canvasback pair and Gadwall Drake

Canvasback pair and Gadwall Drake

 

Bobcat

Bobcat

Scott's Oriole

Scott’s Oriole

Being just beyond the edge of the Imperial Valley makes it easy for vagrants from the Valley and Arizona to show up at the “oasis” of Jacumba.  Jacumba is the first sizable patch of green that a vagrant bird will encounter as it travels west, either blown in by storms, on their post-breeding dispersal, escaping the heat in the valley or on their travels from the Salton Sea to the Pacific.

 

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

December 2012,  an evening grosbeak appeared at my feeder and hung around town until early April. There are few records for this bird in San Diego County.

Evening Grosbeaks 3-9-15

Evening Grosbeaks 3-9-15

In February 2015 a pair showed up and stayed until at least March 28.

In September 2013 a very rare Inca dove arrived in my yard.  I believe that this was only the eighth report of this dove in the county.  The dove stayed around for about 2 weeks.

Inca Dove

Inca Dove

 

 

Brown Thrasher 10-30-14 at the community park

Brown Thrasher 10-30-14 at the community park

A Brown thrasher, common in the South and East up through Oklahoma and eastern Colorado, but very rare in San Diego County, showed up at the local park.  It hung around for about two weeks.

Who knows what “fancy” birds and county/state record birds have escaped detection when they stopped by in Jacumba to fuel up or spend the Winter?  I intend to find out…

Visit my gallery at smugmug.

http://egk.smugmug.com/Photography

Eric Kallen

 jacumba - crumbling relic sepia

8 thoughts on “Welcome to Jacumba Hot Springs

  1. barb meding

    Love to see “your” tricolored blackbirds over the 4th of July weekend. Will they still be around? Where should I look? I am confused between the lake and swamp areas.
    Thanks for any help you can provide
    Barb

    Reply
  2. Cherry

    Hey Eric,

    You took some really great photos especially the bobcat…it looks like the female that I call Sheba. Where did you take her photo?

    FYI, I am currently collecting historical info about Jacumba for a history book that I am writing for the Jacumba Women’s club. I had not seen the population figures that you found in the old atlas. With your permission, I may include them in the book.

    Reply
    1. pat cincotta

      My family stayed at the old hotel in Jucumba in about 1968 and visited the spa. At that time, the whole town was up for sale. I am wondering if it was bought and who bought it. Do you have information on that? I loved that area. My kids were only about 8 and 10 and we all had a great vacation there. It seems to me there was a quaint restaurant in the hotel. My memory has faded on where we got most of our meals.

      Reply
      1. eric@trs-sandiego.com Post author

        Pat: the hotel is gone, burned in 1984. In 2012 Dave and Helen Landman purchased most of the commercial property in town including the motel/restaurant/bar along with the rights to the hot springs. They also own the nearby DeAnza Springs Nudist Resort.

        The newly refurbished motel known as the Jacumba Hot Springs Spa is a very nice facility. Visit if you get a chance. E

        Reply
  3. Tom Miko

    Hi Eric,
    I would like to visit, and look for the Harris’ Hawks some time in the next 3 weeks (or sooner), and wanted to get the latest intel on their location from you. I have looked for them in the past, along that frontage road that is very close to the border fence, and I saw no Harris’ Hawks, but got pulled over by the Border Patrol, who wanted to know why I kept driving up and down the same one mile of road, and staring at stuff.
    Tom Miko cell: 909.241.3300

    Reply
  4. Marty Reed

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for the excellent updates and pictures. I spent a few hours in Jacumba yesterday listening to music and having dinner at the Spa restaurant. Food and ambiance was great, the pools and rooms looked inviting, I highly recommend a visit there.

    I hiked around the ponds and wetlands, what a diamond in the rough! I was blown away by all the Indian grind holes in the granite surrounding the wetlands, clearly an Indian (Kumeyaay?) village for thousands of years! Located right next to the main street through town access is so easy. If restored and enhanced one would think San Diegans would be interested in weekend trips to the area, only a one hour drive from downtown.
    Hopefully Audubon will jump in to help restore and manage the area, looks like the owner is doing all he can, possibly by himself?
    How about the Kumeyaay tribe? A small cultural display there would be a natural and very nice in m y view as well.
    I wish the new owner all the best success in his efforts to restore the wetlands and revitalize the town. What perfect storefronts for small artists and artisans to display and sell their works.
    All the best to the future of Jacumba Springs!
    Marty Reed

    Reply
  5. john mood

    I’m not a birder, but I am a long-time lover of Jacumba, esp the hotel, where my wife & I stayed many times. In point of fact, we were staying there the night it burned down & we have photos & news clippings of it. It was NOT due to arson, but to a room where a candle was left burning unattended. My wife & I were the last to get out of the hotel. Quite a loss.

    Go, desert!

    John

    Reply
  6. Jon Light

    Very interesting! My Great Uncle, Bert Vaughn owned Jacumba and built most of it I believe. I know that he owned the old hotel and built the Desert View Tower. We used to visit Uncle Bert in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we were on vacation in California. At that time he lived in Point Loma in San Diego and he had a personality that was bigger than life.

    I remember that way back in the 50’s he had a switch wired into his favorite lounge chair so he could turn off the sound on the TV when a commercial came on. Uncle Bert was full of stories about the famous guests at the old hotel, and he claimed to be a personal friend of Wyatt Erp. He was also at one time a member of the California State Road Commission.

    Reply

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