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Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Springs – A Story of Healing

agua caliente bath house

The History

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have been conscientious keepers of the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Springs, located in downtown Palm Springs. For the original Cahuilla Indians who inhabited the area – the sacred springs provided irrigation, potable water, warm bathers, and healing powers. The name “Palm Springs” is derived from these hot springs and the grove of indigenous palm trees that surrounded it.

agua-caliente-hot-springs first bathhouse 1910 pshs
First bathhouse, 1910. Credit: Palm Springs Historical Society.

The first written accounts of Palm Springs were from Captain Jose Romero. He and his team were exploring a route to open California to Sonora, primarily for transmitting mail. He recorded in his journal on December 27, 1823, referring to the area as “Agua Caliente.”

“On this day at 11:00 am two gentile Indians were seen, and when they were presented they told me they were Cohahaguillas (Cahuilla), who had already served on the ranchose (group of huts for housing ranch workers), and were called Jose, and the other, Vincente. The latter took me as far as the well, and Jose went to call on his relatives for them to bring us mescal (agave). They brought nine of them, and I gave them gifts of beads. The well is built by the gentiles. It has a depth of about six varas (16.5 feet).”

Through Romero’s journal, we understand the Palm Springs area was used extensively by the Spanish and Mexicans and was fairly well known.

Welwood Murray built the first hotel in Palm Springs in 1886 called the Palm Springs Hotel. It was located to the North from the Welwood Murray Library. To enhance the hotel, Murray leased the hot springs from the Tribe for $100 per year and built a bathhouse. The dressing room was directly over the spring. The lease expired in 1892.

palm springs hotel 1901
Palm Springs Hotel, 1901. Credit: California Historical Society
Edward S. Curtis Collection

At the end of 1902, the Tribe reclaimed the hot springs and in about 1916 replaced the bathhouse with their own. It was a two-room structure with one large enough to cover a pool and allow four people to stand together in the hot curative waters. In 1928, the Tribe built the third bathhouse. The building remained an unpainted pine board bathhouse, with high windows and two doors marked “women” and “men.”


In 1958, the bathhouse was razed to make way for the new Agua Caliente Resort Spa. When opened in 1960, it was considered one of the most beautiful spas in the world.

The Spirit

The Cahuilla legend retold by Tribal elder Franciso Patencio in the mid 1900’s offers this colorful tale about the creation of Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Springs:

“The head man, Tu-to-meet, was tired and sick and lame, so he took his who-ya-no-hut [staff of power], which he struck in the ground. He twisted it around and caused the water of a spring to come out. He named is Sec he, meaning the sound of boiling water, which is up to the earth and on the earth, which is never to dry up, never to go away, but to be there forever and always for the sick.”

Fransico Patencio

Considered a Living Being

The hot mineral spring was the heart of the Tribal life. In Stories and Legends of the Palm Springs Indians, published in 1943, Patencio writes that the native people were at first apprehensive of the spring’s powers and believed the hot waters were a portal to the underworld where the nukatem, and ancient sacred beings, live. Over time, the hot mineral spring became part of the traditional existence, providing sustenance and protection.

Benefits of Soaking

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, soaking in hot mineral water increases heart rate while lowering blood pressure, which provides the same benefits of exercise with less stress to the heart. Bathing in a hot mineral spring can deliver a variety of benefits, which includes increasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body and providing healing to the body. The skin absorbs the minerals, promoting feelings of well-being.

A Great Source of Power

Over the years, many generations have experienced the therapeutic powers of the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Springs. Its water is silky and mild with a very high pH. A 10-minute soak in the slightly sulfuric water is said to relieve stress, ease muscle aches and joint inflammation, and help treat skin conditions such as dryness, redness, eczema, and rashes.

For the Tribe, the springs is a source of deeper healing. Sec he is a place to recharge, connect with the place and the spirits.

Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza will be hub for cultural tourism

The new Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza under construction features a new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, The Spa at Séc-he that celebrates the sacred Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring, a Gathering Plaza, gardens and an Oasis Trail. The new cultural plaza is located at the corner of N. Indian Canyon Drive and E. Tahquitz Canyon Way in downtown Palm Springs. Opening Spring of 2023.

agua caliente cultural_plaza

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