Friday, July 15, 2005

Naked in Palm Springs
Valley's naturist and clothing-optional resorts gaining broader appeal

Wade Byars, The Desert Sun

Krista Wright left age 18 and her sister, Coryn Wright, 20, both of Chico, walk over the only nudist bridge in the world which crosses Indian Canyon Dr. in Palm Springs at Desert Shadows Inn & Villas in Palm Springs.
Destination: NakedPalm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs are home to more than 30 different clothing-optional and nudist resorts. Here is a partial list:

Palm Springs:
The Triangle Inn (gay): 555 E. San Lorenzo Road. 800-732-7555.

Desert Shadows Inn Resort & Villas: 1533 Chaparral Road. 760-325-6410. Day use: $25/single, $40/couple

Inn Exile (gay): 545 S. Warm Sands Drive. 760-327-6413.

Morningside Inn (couples only): 888 N. Indian Canyon Drive. 800-916-2668.

The Terra Cotta Inn: 2388 E. Racquet Club Road. 800-786-6938. Day use: $25/couple (Mon.-Thu.)

Terrazo (gay): 1600 E. Palm Canyon. 760-778-5883.
Vista Grande Villa (gay): 574 Warm Sands. 760-322-2404.

Warm Sands Villas (gay): 555 Warm Sands Drive. 760-323-3005.

Desert Hot Springs:
David’s Spa Motel: 21-220 Palm Drive. 760-329-1333.

Desert Tortoise Inn: 67-751 Hacienda Ave. 760-329-9090

The Living Waters Spa: 13-340 Mountain View Road. 866-329-9988. Day use: $35/couple

San Marcus Inn: 66-540 San Marcus Road. 760-329-8806.

Cathedral City:
Cathedral City Boys Club (gay): 68-369 Sunair Road. 760-324-1350.

Palm Springs has always thrived on drawing visitors with an odd assortment of attractions: lush golf courses, glamorous film festivals, raucous gay parties, rumbling motorcycle weekend, sappy Frank Sinatra nostalgia. But one of the area's growing tourist draws has been covered up--until now.
Today, more than 30 clothing optional and naturist resorts operate in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City, offering venues where guests can lounge, flirt or play tennis in the buff. Along with cities like Fort Lauderdale and Key West, the Palm Springs area is at the forefront of nude recreation.
Behind high walls or out of sight in remote desert locations, one of the nation's fastest-growing travel industries is quietly thriving here and attracting a new generation of enthusiasts.

"So many people think of nudists as fat, 50-year-old volleyball players, but that's changing," says Stephen Payne, a strong advocate of nude recreation in the valley and owner of Desert Shadows Inn Resort & Villas, a naturist resort in Palm Springs.

Nude recreation began in the valley as a primarily gay phenomenon, says Richard Altman, owner of the Cathedral City Boys Club. Seeking safe places to socialize, gay men in the early 1980s flocked to a variety of small motels in Cathedral City and the Warm Sands neighborhood of Palm Springs, many of which later became "clothing-optional."

But in recent years, nude recreation in the desert slowly has gained broader appeal. At least two new clothing-optional resorts have opened in Desert Hot Springs since 2003, and the Desert Fountain Inn in Palm Springs recently became clothing optional, according to Jeff Hocker, director of communications for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.
Nude recreation is now attracting more families and committed couples, as well as growing numbers of young people who praise nudism as healthy, liberating and just plain fun.

"I obtain a totally different feeling of relaxation being nude," says Coryn Wright, a 20-year-old from Chico who recently came to be natural at Desert Shadows for the second time this year.

"(Naturism) totally changed my self-confidence," she says, sitting comfortably in a metal chair overlooking the pool area. "Every woman that you see in the media is skinny with big boobs. Here you can see people that are actually normal."

Since having her first naturist experience last year, Wright has become a active in spreading the word about her new hobby to friends and strangers, and she says she sees it catching on.

She recently traveled to the Goodland Country Club, a famous naturist park in Hackettstown, N.J., and met many other young people who, like her, are embracing naturist lifestyles.

"One side of my family is outraged" about her naturism trips, Wright says. They have negative misconceptions about naturism and believe that the resorts are filled with older men looking to prey on young women.

There's hardly a predatory vibe in the Desert Shadows courtyard on a recent afternoon. At one table, two blondes, no older than 25, are sitting and conversing enthusiastically with an overweight man in his 40s.
Nearby, a fit, young, Hispanic man paces by the pool while a leathery-skinned biker dude wearing a black bandana, sunglasses, and a graying ZZ Top beard swaggers to a pool chair to catch a tan.

"Some of these people are college students, another is a doctor, one is an actor in New York," says Payne, looking out to the courtyard. "You'd have a hard time guessing which is which."

With more than 100 rooms and villas, spa facilities, tennis courts and sprawling lawns, Desert Shadows is the largest of the local nude resorts. It's also different from most others in one major respect: You have to be naked.
"People come here to be nude," says Payne. It's a rule he enforces so that visitors coming for their first clothing-optional experience won't be intimidated by walking out into a courtyard full of clothed gawkers.

Besides the nudity rule, potentially disruptive guests are also weeded out through a discreet but effective screening process, Payne says.
Other venues, especially the smaller, more intimate hotels, take the opposite tactic, leaving it up to the guests.

"You don't have to jump right into this lifestyle," says Jeff Bowman, who runs the clothing-optional Living Waters Spa with his wife, Judy. Living Waters was recently ranked the No. 1 hotel in Desert Hot Springs by Trip
Located high up above the valley floor, sheltered by white walls and surrounded by mountain vistas, Living Waters is a popular place for those having their first clothing-optional experience, Bowman says. The seclusion puts them at ease immediately.

With just nine rooms, a small lounge and a single, cozy courtyard, the spa has an intimate, familial atmosphere.

One female guest at the Living Waters who preferred not to give her name says she would recommend a smaller place for someone's first clothing-optional experience.

Every resort has slightly different rules of conduct, but for a first-timer, the questions revolve more around simple procedures and etiquette, says Bowman.
When guests first arrive at Living Waters, they press a buzzer on a white wall, and either Jeff or Judy greets them at the door, most likely in a towel.
Beyond a small partition, guests walk into a sunny, open patio offering just what the spa advertises: pools of mineral water, stunning mountain views and, of course, naked people relaxing in the breeze.

Guests can settle in to their rooms and come out at their leisure - clothed or not - to soak in the smaller, shaded, 100-degree pool, swim in the larger, 88-degree pool or just tan on the patio.

Veteran naturists say the key to stepping out nude and taking the initial plunge for a first-timer is to realize that everyone has physical flaws.

"If people can just get past the idea that they don't have perfect bodies, they can do it," says Richard, a recent guest at Living Waters.

Naturism is spreading to new demographics partly because it has started to outgrow some of its old stigmas, particularly as places to find easy hook-ups.
The Web site for the Cathedral City Boys Club, the largest of the gay, clothing-optional resorts, still advertises such attractions as "The Compound, a secluded area for friends to gather and enjoy more private encounters."

Similarly, the San Marcus Inn in Desert Hot Springs refers to itself on a Web site as a "clothing- optional swingers lifestyle club where almost anything can go. 'No' means 'no' and 'yes' means excitement!"

But more and more, Payne says, people are starting to realize that true naturism has nothing to do with sex.

"We have worked very hard to move nude recreation into the same area of the recreation market as skiing," he says, "something you might try for a few days to see what it's like."

For the moment, Desert Shadows and local clothing-optional resorts only rarely advertise in mainstream publications. But Payne hopes some day that could be a commonplace.

In the meantime, he says it's important to offer potential guests the possibility of experiencing nudity in a "totally non-sexual atmosphere" so that naturism looks welcoming to families and committed couples.

Couples, and especially single men, are politely but carefully interviewed when they call to make a reservation, Payne says, to avoid allowing swingers into the resort.

"How did you hear about us?" he asks them, casually, and "have you been to a naturist resort before?"

Offering evasive answers or "I don't know" are tell-tale signs that the person isn't interested in a genuine naturist experience, and it's important to send them "somewhere more appropriate," he says.

Payne says that sex-oriented guests would quickly ruin the unselfconscious, accepting environment that draws so many in the first place.

For women especially, staying at a naturist resort can be a rare time to bare their bodies without fear of harassment or mocking by men.

"I have a hard time being able to go to a beach in a bathing suit without guys ogling me," says Wright, the Desert Shadows guest. "(Here) I'm way less aware of my body."

Wright, who visited Desert Shadows on a friend's recommendation last August, brought her younger sister Krista this time for her first naturist experience.
"It's a little startling when you first walk in," laughs Krista. "The hardest part is the getting naked part. The being naked part is easy."

But four hours after experiencing the mild shock of walking out nude into the sunny courtyard of Desert Shadows, she believes that anyone can do it.
"A lot of people think being nude is being vulnerable," she says, "but I think a lot of people would be better off doing it."


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