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The Reinvention of Jacumba Hot Springs

Is the rapidly revamping East County town the next “it” desert destination—and do locals want it to be?
Courtesy of Nomadic Wellness Resort
Jacumba Nomadic Wellness Resort

Glamping Tents, like the one shown here, are available for reservation at the Nomadic Wellness Center located in Jacumba Hot Springs.

Courtesy of Nomadic Wellness Resort

Driving east on Interstate 8, grassy hills dotted with tangerine poppies give way to what appear to be moon rocks piled precariously alongside the windy stretch of road. Only at Exit 73 to Jacumba Hot Springs does the ribbon of border fence emerge, like a copperhead unfurling.

California’s southernmost hot spring is on the western edge of the Colorado Desert, an hour’s drive east from San Diego. During its heyday in the early 20th century, Jacumba Hot Springs (then just Jacumba) served as an escape for Hollywood glitterati to bask in mineral-rich spring water. But when the 8 bypassed the town by two miles in the 1970s, the once sparkling jewel of East County faded and festered, eventually becoming a dumping ground for sex offenders and oasis for eccentrics hoping to draw inspiration from the desert’s “energy vortex.”

The Heartbreak Hotel Jacumba

The Heartbreak Hotel Jacumba

Photo Credit: Beth Demmon

Now, two groups of investors hope to change that. The idea is to revitalize the town using two of the world’s most valuable resources: money and youth. In 2020, Dave and Helen Landman, the longtime owners of the town and most of its properties, sold the hotel, bathhouse, mineral lake, gas station, and a central strip of commercial spaces to Jeff Osbourne, Melissa Strukel, and Corbin Winters.

The second plot, 500 acres on the north side encompassing the DeAnza Springs Resort—one of the largest clothing-optional resorts in the country and the only in San Diego County—went to Kevin Cho and Luke Wasyliw.

When a friend told Cho, known as Kecho, that the desert property was for sale, he said it was destiny. “I realized this project was going to be my next life project, forever,” he says. He and Wasyliw worked out a seller finance deal with the Landmans and broke ground on Nomadic in 2021.

Nomadic Wellness Resort - 2

Nomadic Wellness Resort – 2

Courtesy of Nomadic Wellness Resort

Kecho describes Nomadic as a sacred space for wellness, healing, artistic expression, and self-discovery. He points to destinations like Joshua Tree, Tulum, and Burning Man as influences. He’s planning an escapist experience: geodesic domes, glamping tents, RV hookups. Gussied up trailers and motel rooms allow up to 1,500 guests to stay onsite for retreats, sound baths, or music festivals between late March and November, all with the picturesque Temple Peak looming overhead. Nomadic isn’t DeAnza Springs Resort, except where it kind of is. A desert wash splits the property roughly in half, separating most of the resort amenities and residential plots from Nomadic. Of the 120 or so DSR inhabitants, about 15 live on the Nomadic side, and the interruption to residents’ long-established way of life has generated mixed reactions, Kecho admits.

The  Sunrise 1960s themed trailer Jacumba

The Sunrise 1960s themed trailer Jacumba

Photo Credit: Beth Demmon

Some long-time DSR dwellers pulled up stakes when the Landmans sold; others, like Mac McKellar, decided to see what the new ownership could do to bring life to their desert gem. He welcomes the fresh blood. He and most of the other residents came out here to find a freer way of life, he says, so how could they begrudge anyone else trying to find the same thing?“They seem like a nice bunch of kids,” he laughs. “Who wouldn’t want to live out here?”He politely dons a robe and swim trunks during our conversation, but the gesture is hardly necessary. Participants in the resort’s annual nude 5K are literally running laps around us, and none of the 28 joggers don anything more than athletic shoes and a healthy coat of sunscreen. Honestly, after about three penises, it’s all just landscape. But I can see where a Nomadic guest, uninformed of the adjacent property, could be taken aback.

The Midday Trailer Nomadic Jacumba

The Midday Trailer Nomadic Jacumba

Photo Credit: Beth Demmon

Still, the profits that larger (and louder) events can bring in will be crucial for the entire property’s maintenance and survival, says Kecho. And those necessary mechanisms are sure to ruffle some feathers.

Jacumba Community Services District representative Cherry Diefenbach says growth is welcome to put their town back on the map—as long as it’s not too much, too fast, with prices out-of-reach for the average Jacumba Hot Springs resident. She just hopes these new development projects aren’t too good to be true.“Long-term residents have seen a lot of big promises from other people,” she says. “We’ll see.”

By Beth Demmon

Beth Demmon is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose work regularly appears in national outlets and San Diego Magazine. Her first book, The Beer Lover's Guide to Cider, is now available. Find out more on

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