U.S. 395

keough sign
Keough's Radium Hot Springs, CA

Following images and text were taken from the July 1988 & February 1993 issues of "The Album"
loaned to me courtesy of Rich McCutchan.

See USE NOTICE on Home Page.

Keough's Radium Hot Springs

inyo register

Keough's Hot Springs Nearing Readiness for Public Service

The big tank at Keough's Hot Springs has been completed by contractor Kufua Cornell, and water will be turned into it this week. It is 38 by 100 feet between walls, and slopes from 2.5 to 8 feet depth. It is arranged so that the surface will be constantly drawn off, while the whole pool can be rapidly emptied through a 12-inch outlet at the bottom.

Concrete sidewalks are being laid around the edge. Work on the dressing rooms, office and concession stands will begin at once.

The establishment is being built with scrupulous attention to the requirements of law and approved practice. A laundry will be in continual operation, and a lifeguard will be kept on duty when the place is open for business. The tank will not be covered over to begin with, but probably will be roofed later and made a winter as well as summer resort.

Seventy inches of water at 130 degrees runs from three groups of cement enclosed springs. This water's taste gives no suggestion of the minerals which chemists say it contains. A cold mountain stream carrying from 100 to 200 inches is available, permitting any desired modification of the temperature of the water supply of pool or other baths.

Vapor baths are also to be provided.

Situated at the foothill base seven or eight miles south of town. In a sheltered dip of land, the site certainly presents almost unlimited opportunity for development into an unsurpassed resort. Many years of occupation have grown fruit and shade trees in profusion, and a grove offers an attractive picnic ground.

Hot water is now piped to the fine dwelling which Mrs. Mowrer built on the place. Electric lights are to be provided, either by use of some of the hot water stream or by utilizing the 700-foot fall of Freeman Creek when brought to the crest of the hill just west.

In addition to the numerous changes planned by Mr. Keough to make it an attractive resort, it is probable that a hot-house enterprise will be launched by E. M. Nordyke. By use of the hot water, there can be a yield of fresh vegetables and flowers in winter as well as summer. This has not been completely planned, so far, but will become a factor.

Keough Hot Springs, Once Upon A Time
[excerpts from Jeff Cook's complete article which is posted below]

During its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, Keough's Hot Springs was a complete health and leisure resort. The natural hot water-fed pools and therapeutic baths were the main attraction, but visitors to Keough's could also fish, dine, dance, and camp out or stay in a cabin. And the well-kept grounds were the scene of every kind of formal and informal get-together.

No one in the Owens Valley would think of celebrating an installation, Independence Day or Easter, the end of school, the beginning of spring or the middle of harvest without a picnic at the Hot Springs with its attendant games and speeches, swimming and dancing. Keough's was a place that now inspires real nostalgia for the good old days.

Of course, Keough's was built because of the water. In the late 1800s, as people of European descent moved into California, they discovered the widespread abundance of hot mineral springs. During this period many health resorts in the European tradition were built around these springs. The natural hot water flow at Keough's is perfectly suited for a resort; by all standards it is superlative. The temperature at the source, a cluster of three springs west of the bathhouse, has been a constant 127°F since it was first measured in 1859. The amount of flow remains an impressive 600 gallons a minute (only six percent of this goes into the pool; the rest is diverted directly into the well-known Hot Ditch). And although the water contains many minerals it has none of the objectionable taste or odor often associated with geothermal water.

Keough's Radium Hot Springs

Native Americans were the first to take the waters at Keough's, which they call u'tu'utu paya. Local tribal members say they've always used the springs for bathing and healing.

Helen McGee, a Paiute elder, says, "Indian people really believe the water is sacred. You pray to it before you use it; you tell those springs about your pain. And you leave something, maybe a coin. It's your Mother Earth."

For hundreds of years the springs were in the middle of a Paiute village. Using a highly developed irrigation system, navahita, or wild hyacinth, and other plants were grown for food. With the settlement of the Owens Valley by whites, with their notion of private ownership, the springs passed into the hands of those who used the surrounding land for agriculture and ranching. The unique looking cabin built against a huge boulder, visible today north of the pool, dates from these early days as shown by its pre-1900s square nail construction.

In 1918 the property was bought by Philip P. Keough, one of the pioneers in the Eastern Sierra. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1857, Keough had come West at an m early age. He worked for the gas stage company that supplied most of the transportation in Eastern California and Southern Nevada, eventually advancing to superintendent of all lines. He moved to Bishop in the 1880s and became a large landowner and leader in civic affairs. In 1908 he opened the City Market on Main Street, which he operated with his two sons.

Keough had a vision. "He always thought those beautiful springs could be developed into something very fine," according to Laura Lutz, his granddaughter, who lives in Bishop today. Keough wanted to build a first class health resort, but more than that he envisioned a complete recreation and leisure center for the people of Owens Valley.

The setting did indeed offer much potential. Situated in a protected dip of land against the foothills and irrigated by nearby Freeman Creek, the ranch around the springs was covered by orchards and vineyards. Tall stands of locust and black walnut trees offered plenty of shade. And the unlimited hot water - Keough planned swimming pools and therapeutic baths, but he also wanted to pipe the water into the dwellings for space heating. He even planned a water-heated hothouse enterprise to grow flowers and vegetables in the winter.

Keough immediately began to spend a fortune on construction. He employed contractors Mike Milovich, Rufus Cornell, and Bill Utter who managed to have the big 48' by 100' pool, food concession, and outdoor dance pavilion completed for the August 1919 opening party.

By the following May, the large children's wading pool (which is now kept hot for soaking) and stone bathhouse were ready. The bathhouse, which is boarded up today, was a wonder. It was built of many kinds of colorful stone representing ore from mines all over Inyo County. The interior was of redwood to withstand the moisture from the steam baths and hot tubs. After a soak and a rubdown, patrons could lounge amid the indoor tropical plants which thrived in the humid warmth.

In those days, hot mineral water was credited with many medicinal uses. Many even took it internally, including Keough himself who drank it with cream and sugar at every meal. People began coming from Southern California to take the cure and stay in the cabins being built.

The grounds in the early 1920s looked very different from today. The large grove of locust trees south of the pool building was kept raked, and tables were built for use by picnickers. The orchards and vineyards were kept up so that

The picnic area at Keough's Radium Hot Springs

Keough Hot Springs
Once Upon A Time

[The complete story by Jeff Cook]

visitors could help themselves to grapes, apples, pears, and peaches free of charge. The large irrigation storage pond to the south (now dry) was stocked with fish for the catching. Flowers graced the stonework that was built around the source springs. Says Laura Lutz, "It's hard for people to visualize how beautiful it was. Travelers would stop just to be refreshed and wander around the grounds. Keough's other son Karl, who later became a State Senator, inherited the ranch property to the north. Keough's death a short three years after he began his project undoubtedly kept much of his dream from becoming reality. Nevertheless, Ches and Karl continued the work and kept Keough's spirit of excellence alive.

In the news reports of the day and in the words of those who remember, we get a picture of just how important Keough's Hot Springs was in the social life of the area up until the Second World War. This is shown by the great variety of activities that took place there. The pool was a focus for fun with regular diving and swimming competitions and a yearly bathing beauty contest for young women. For a time lively boxing matches were held until new laws required that the sheriff stop any fights that got too rough. Said the Inyo Register: "Most of the time the boxers were tenderly caressing each other's anatomy. The limitations imposed brought the contests down to the savageness of a pink tea."

The picnic grounds at Keough Hot Springs

Overview of Keough's Radium Hot Springs

Keough's was always available for parties and special picnics. Farm Bureau picnics were especially colorful, with games for everybody: rolling pin throwing and nail-driving for ladies, tug-of-war and blind-folded wheelbarrow races for gentlemen, and pie-eating, greased pig, and three-legged contests for boys and girls. Babies had their own beauty show. One such gathering in 1926 attracted some 1200 people. Fourth of July every year was celebrated by a fireworks display high up on the hill, and of course much swimming and dancing.

Dancing at Keough's! Today the wooden platform next to the pool is barely recognizable as a dance floor but every Saturday night in the summer throughout the 1920s and 1930s it was packed. People came from Lone Pine to Lee Vining to dance under the stars to a live jazz band. Teenagers were welcome, and they came in large numbers. Children came too, with their parents.

el camino sierra
The old "El Camino Sierra" (U.S. 395)
near the turn-off to Keough Hot Springs

Keough's was a kind of paradise for children. Laura Lutz recalls, The pool was always open to them. I can just picture them by the hundreds streaming in there." There was baseball and family picnics and fishing in the pond. And there were special celebrations. Every year Keough put on an end-of-school party with swimming and feasting and games, staggered on different days to accommodate all the school children in the valley.

Easter was a big occasion too. Women from the community worked for days boiling and dying thousands of eggs which were hidden all over the grounds and in the foothills. On the big day a fan child who was lucky enough to find one of the several dozen "golden" eggs got to take home a live bunny.

But these ongoing activities took place against a background of great change at the Hot Springs. In 1926, Ches Keough sold the property and water rights to the City of Los Angeles. Thus began a long period continuing until today during which the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has leased the resort to various tenants. DWP has never granted long term leases, with the result that no tenant has had the incentive to invest the money required to make Keough's what it was in the early days.

Keough's has changed greatly in physical appearance. Soon after DWP took ownership, irrigation was stopped. The more tender vegetation, and eventually the big trees, died off. Most of the facilities have deteriorated to a point where the big pool is the only original attraction still in use. And today it is in use only by adults. Because of the recent insurance crisis, no children are allowed to swim there.

Keough's Radium Hot Springs

Keough's Radium Hot Springs

Keough's Radium Hot Springs

Keough's Radium Hot Springs entrance sign

Keough Plunge

Frasher's Foto of Keough Radium Hot Springs - 1941

Frasher's Foto of Keough Radium Hot Springs - 1941
(Photo courtesy of the Online Archive of California)


All Fotocards courtesy of Rich McCutchan unless otherwise indicted.
keough hot springs
keough hot springs





desert fence

keough hot springs
I have read this was originaly done at Keough Hot Springs to cool the water before sending it to the pool. The photo was probably taken by geologist Walter Wadsworth Bradley.

Caption: "Photograph of man standing next to one of the springs at Keough Hot Springs in Inyo County, CA - 1932

California Geological Survey

(Photo and text courtesy of Hal Eaton.)

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