A Brief History of Tassajara
Foreword --- On Producing This Book
Marilyn McDonald's Introduction and
to A Brief History of Tassajara
In the early 1970s I was working at a restaurant in Gonzales, California. The local farmers talked about Tassajara Hot Springs and all the wonders that had happened to them there over the years. I was strongly encouraged to go there. In 1971, four women friends and I headed for Tassajara in my 1958 Volvo. We made it almost to China Camp when the brakes went out and I had a flat tire. This was before cell phones, and the walk down the hill to the nearest help would be a long one, so we sat under a tree and waited for rescue. Along came a man in a station wagon who had been collecting pine cones up the road. After changing the tire, he put his car in front of mine and acted as my brakes going back down the hill. By the time we got to flat ground, the brakes were back and we were all exhausted and ready to go home. Tassajara would have to wait until later.
My first successful trip to Tassajara was in 1972. Everywhere I looked were wonderful old stone buildings. Being inquisitive, I wanted to know who had built them and why. None of the Zen students I asked had answers that were complete enough for me.
I went again in 1974 and met Jack Novcich at lunch. He was from Yugoslavia, spoke with a wonderful accent, and had quite a twinkle in his eye. He had lost his left arm and leg in a work accident in 1914 in Santa Cruz and came to the Springs almost yearly “for the waters.” I borrowed a tape recorder and began my research with Jack that afternoon. His memories were priceless. He had owned Jack’s Cigar Store since 1914, knew everyone, and the list of names he gave me of people to interview was long by the time I left him later in the day.
My early plan was to make a scrapbook for the desk at Tassajara. My husband was a schoolteacher in Greenfield, and he encouraged me to put it all together and see what came of it. As the years went by and I met with more and more people, I began to accumulate photographs, memorabilia, and reels and reels of taped interviews.
Life has its way of changing, and mine did. In 1983, I moved to New Mexico and began in a totally new direction. Tassajara history was put on hold.
Tassajara Hot Springs is about forty-five miles southeast of Monterey, California, in the Los Padres National Forest, at 1637 feet above sea level. It is centrally located in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, between the Salinas Valley and the Pacific Ocean. At one location in Tassajara Canyon there are about twenty springs in the stream bed and along its southern bank. The temperatures range from 100°F to 140°F. An hydrologist working for the Department of the Interior stated:
Hot springs will develop anywhere you have a heat source at shallow depths and faults in the crustal rock which allow water to circulate to depth and be returned to the land surface. The heat source could be either molten rock or proximity to the mantle due to a thin crustal plate.
In March of this year, 1998, I decided to end my segment of the Tassajara history in 1985. With that decision came the idea to make a copy of my manuscript and put it on the counter in the Tassajara office. A fulfilling end to a wonderful project, and here it is for your enjoyment and edification.
Hundreds of people shared memories, photographs, and information with me during the years I worked on this project. The time I spent with these people, and at the Springs, is a high point in my life. Often I recall an incident someone told me about Tassajara and realize how fortunate I’ve been to learn the history of the Springs. What a marvelous experience—to learn about Tassajara from the people who have loved it.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
May 8, 1998
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