PHOTO COURTESY AGUA CALIENTE CULTURAL PLAZA
Long before Palm Springs was incorporated as a city or even had its name, a natural hot mineral spring was effervescing from below its surface at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Located on Agua Caliente Indian Reservation land at what is now the downtown intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Indian Canyon Drive, the spring provided sustenance and healing to the area’s first inhabitants, the ancestors of today’s Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
The Hot Mineral Spring, called Séc-he (“the sound of boiling water” in the Cahuilla language), was sacred to the ancient Agua Caliente people. It was the heart of tribal life: a place to gather, heal, and pray. Since time immemorial, the spring has remained central to the Agua Caliente, whose name aptly translates to “hot water” in Spanish, and they have remained its guardians to the present day.
The first bathhouse, built by Dr. Welwood Murray in 1886.
PHOTO COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
History of Healing Water
Since the late 19th century, when non-Native settlers became aware of the Hot Mineral Spring’s health-supporting qualities, the Tribe has been sharing the spring, first with those who came to cure sickness in the late 1880s to those who came to relax on vacation in the 1950s and beyond.
Over the past 150 years, four structures — three bathhouses and a spa hotel — have occupied the site. In 1953, a collection tank 10 feet deep and 20 feet in diameter was installed to protect the water from being contaminated during a road-widening project. In 2014, after an inspection determined the collection tank needed to be replaced, the Tribe conducted a complete retrofit of the steel collection ring and system to ensure the Hot Mineral Spring would be maintained for generations to come.
In addition to the spring’s historical and spiritual importance, the water’s specific mineral content makes it uniquely special — and why so many over the years have sought the Hot Mineral Spring for regeneration. Because the skin absorbs trace minerals, soaking in the thermal mineral-filled water can be beneficial to health. For instance, bicarbonate has been known to help with cardiovascular disease, improve circulation to the extremities, and relieve hypertension; chloride can help ease arthritis, rheumatic disorders, and postoperative pain; sulfur can work as an anti-inflammatory and help to relieve rheumatism, liver problems, and various skin conditions; magnesium can assist in creating smooth, clear skin; sodium can diminish swelling and pain in joints and aid the lymphatic system; and potassium has been shown to improve skin health. All these minerals, and more, are contained in the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring.
Daniel Spencer, spa director at The Spa at Séc-he.
PHOTO BY IAN SPANIER
A New Vision: The Spa at Séc-he
In 2023, the Hot Mineral Spring will again be open to visitors, this time housed by the 45,000-square-foot Spa at Séc-he — part of the 5.8-acre Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, which will also include the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, gardens, and walking paths — all a reflection of and honoring the Tribe’s heritage.
Just as the Hot Mineral Spring (Séc-he) is the heart and soul of the Tribe, so it will be for the spa, which will offer 22 private mineral baths to guests. “These will be freshly filled up for each guest’s private personal soak,” says Spa Director Daniel Spencer. “The water will come straight from the ground to be enjoyed in its purest state to maintain the integrity and efficacy of the mineral-rich thermal waters.”
The spa will also offer a total of six pools and whirlpools: two outdoor primary pools, one that’s fed by the Hot Mineral Spring, and another larger pool with a dining concession, cabanas, and day beds; a co-ed whirlpool; whirlpools in each of the men’s and women’s relaxation patios; and a private mineral water whirlpool in a VIP Suite.
In addition to the Hot Mineral Spring-fed soaking tubs and pools, The Spa at Séc-he will be full of amenities guests can enjoy. “There will be many experiential relaxation technologies throughout,” Spencer says. “While offering 15 rooms for facial, massage, and body treatments as well as a full nail and hair salon, a health café, and fitness center, The Spa at Séc-he is a purposely crafted experiential wellness spa. It places many relaxation tools in one space where guests can roam from one experience to the next in between services.”
The men’s and women’s lounges will offer luxurious amenities such as aromatherapy showers, cold-experience showers, a eucalyptus-infused steam room, a menthol inhalation dry sauna, a tranquility room with conductive grounded zero-gravity chairs and audio therapy, and an acoustic wellness room with loungers with built-in audio features, including transducers that vibrate with the music to enhance the effects. “Guests will be able to choose from settings such as Power Nap, Re-Energize, and De-Stress,” Spencer says.
The Spa at Séc-he will offer a variety of unique wellness experiences in the heart of Palm Springs.
RENDERING COURTESY AGUA CALIENTE CULTURAL PLAZA
There’s more. The private men’s and women’s areas connect to a coed lounge that offers two halotherapy salt caves, where tiny salt particles floating through the air can ease allergies, asthma, and bronchitis as well as provide general lung support.
Other notable wellness-oriented touches at The Spa at Séc-he include an indoor tranquility garden where guests will be escorted prior to spa treatments; treatment rooms with heated quartz stone vibrational massage tables lined with gemstones that emit healing infrared warmth, as well as conductive grounding pads; acoustic tables that send the vibrations of music through water to your body; and a cryotherapy chamber, which pumps nitrogen-chilled air around the body for three minutes to help ease inflammation and joint conditions and recover from exercise, among other benefits.
Two private zero-sensory flotation suites can help with stress management. “You step into 18 inches of skin-temperature water that’s filled with over 1,500 pounds of salt, which keeps you floating,” Spencer explains. “For best results, you can choose to let the lights and music turn off. The water feeds the body with magnesium while the mind decompresses by removing so many senses. It is a reset for the mind — like an overactive circuit board that needs a reboot. The mind emerges calm and unwound yet clearer and reignited.”
All these therapies can be built into a Day Pass and mixed and matched into each guest’s personalized experience. “It’s a ‘wellness circuit’ that fits where you are that day,” Spencer says. “As a guest comes out of a service they can go sit in the salt cave to clear their head or lie down in the acoustic wellness area to nap. The goal is to help people take better care of themselves, through education and planting seeds of wellness awareness. It’s about bringing wellness to our guests.”
With the opening of The Spa at Séc-he, a new chapter of the Tribe’s history — built on a legacy of stewardship and healing — emerges.
This story originally appeared in Me Yah Whae: The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Spring/Summer 2023.