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DeAnza Springs sheds the naked life

Kevin Cho's Nomadic lays foundation for psychedelic retreats

He had the wistful expression of someone taking one last look at a love about to be lost.
He had the wistful expression of someone taking one last look at a love about to be lost.

“I have seen more people out nude today than I have in a long time,” said Hawk. “Today” was Thursday, August 31st, the last day that clothing would be optional in of DeAnza Springs Resort’s public spaces, and I was sitting by the pool talking to Hawk and his wife of 20 years, Sparrow. They had been residents of DeAnza Springs for three years. We were all naked.


“Just looking around, I’d say about 90% are nude today,” Hawk continued. He was tall, thin, and tanned, with a long ponytail and the kind of drawn face that seems to be suited for no other hairstyle. I followed his forlorn gaze and glanced around casually, trying to keep my gaze from registering anyone’s genitals, but still nodding in agreement with Hawk. Yes, nearly everyone is nude. When I looked back at him, he had the wistful expression of someone taking one last look at a love about to be lost.

The weather was humid and overcast in Jacumba Hot Springs, about 90 minutes east of San Diego and the home of DeAnza Springs, a clothing-optional naturist/nudist community ever since it was purchased in 1997 by Dave and Helen Landman. But now, three years after the resort was bought from the Landmans by Luke Wasyliw and Kevin “KeCho” Cho, that was about to change.

Place

DeAnza Springs Resort

1951 Carrizo Gorge Road, Jacumba, CA

With us at the pool was Sam, who has worked at the resort in varying roles for 12 years and lived there for 14. He identified as the “naked handyman” and a Christian Naturist: “Christian first, Naturist second.” He told me, “Genesis 2:25 says ‘Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame,’ and that’s the only detail we get about Adam and Eve — that they were naked. Why did the Bible tell us this? Because this is how God wanted us to be, just how God made us. To be free of shame, totally open and transparent.”

Speaking of shame: the topic of the soon-to-be lifted photo ban came up. Historically, it has been considered bad etiquette to take photos in any public areas of DeAnza Springs, due to the private nature of, well, people’s privates. However, the photo ban was being lifted as the ban on public-area nudity was lowered. Some saw this as a subtle threat; even though they could still be nude at their private sites — working in the yard, gardening, or doing other household tasks — until October 30th, as of September 1st, they would no longer be protected from the leer of a camera lens.

Sam disagreed. He said that “photography is the last fig leaf of naturism,” so to speak, and that if anyone were to try and take his photo he would simply ask “How’s this?” and strike a pose. This garnered a few laughs from some residents, but many shook their heads.

Changing hands, then and now

According to Landman, the original owner and founder of DeAnza Springs, “when the park was built in the early ‘70s, it had a country and western nightclub atmosphere; there were one thousand drunk cowboys up there with their RVs every weekend, listening to music. Unfortunately, [Hurricane Kathleen] hit in 1976 and closed the park, until we bought it. We opened it in September 1997 as a clothing-optional resort from the day we signed the papers. But we didn’t have to throw anybody out to do it. It wasn’t like we had to change the venue; we just turned a vacant RV park into a clothing optional destination. We didn’t have obligations we had to meet. We did what we wanted to, when we wanted to, and we didn’t have to answer to anyone.”

Unfortunately, the resort’s new owners, Wasyliw and Cho, didn’t have it as easy as Landman. When they purchased the 500-acre, 311-site RV park in 2020, they inherited its over 100 residents — people who lived on the nudist resort, some who had done so for as long as it had been around. And most of them had expected it to stay clothing-optional when they signed their leases — as some had done just months earlier.

John, a 37-year-old woodworker, told me that he purchased an Airstream and moved out to DeAnza Springs 16 months ago because “it was the only way I could afford to continue to live in San Diego County.” Now, he saw no reason to stay. He readily admitted that as one of its newest residents, the question of nudity was “not my fight to fight.” But he was not alone in his decision; at least four other residents have made their exodus in the last few months, selling their homes or trailing them away to another promised land, possibly Glen Eden in Temescal Valley or Laguna del Sol in Wilton.

New owners Wasyliw and Cho went to the same high school, and both graduated from SDSU; they were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. At 38 years old, Wasyliw has a decade-long background in real estate after switching careers from the tech industry, but buying up a huge resort has been a new type of business venture for him.

This is also a new breed of project for Cho, 32, and his first time owning property. He has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from SDSU, but his resume since then follows a funky, winding road: Apple-certified technician, influencer outreach, nightclub promotion, cannabis packaging and design, current CEO and owner of Microdose Movement LLC. His most recent role, according to his LinkedIn, is owner of DeAnza Springs and “CEO and Creator of Ecosystems” at “The Colony of San Diego (Nomadic).”

The first cover-up

At first, the new owners maintained the clothing-optional status quo. The biggest change to occur between 2020 and late 2023 came earlier this year, when the pool area policy changed from “no clothing allowed” to “clothing optional,” meaning nobody would be admonished for donning half a bikini or swim trunks. The official policy endured until, as Cho told host Chris Nichols on the September 29th episode of the entrepreneurship podcast “Nichols and Dimez,” “it just didn’t work anymore.”

But there were signs of a shift almost from the outset. DeAnza Springs is divided into Red, White, and Blue zones, and in March of 2021, the Red Zone was leased back to Cho. It the became “The Colony San Diego/Nomadic,” an endeavor that he describes as a “Joshua Tree meets Burning Man” festival grounds. According to residents, those living in the Red zone were informally asked to clothe-up if they attended certain events on the property, though some, like May 2023’s Karnival of the Arts, were designated as “come as you are” (read: nude).

This seemed odd, as the Red zone was scantily separated from the rest by a wash, offering no wall or any structure to afford privacy to the “still nude” side. When I asked Wasyliw about this initial change, he vehemently denied that the Red zoners ever had to clothe up, and said that their policy changed when everyone else’s did. In fact, he said, he held a meeting with the Red zone residents about the potential of going clothing-required, and based on feedback, decided to keep it clothing-optional. According to him, if anyone was being unreasonable, it was the residents, who were heard saying things like, “I live in North Korea.” (A loaded reference, given Cho’s status as a Korean-American.)

Exposed tensions

According to Wasyliw, the nudist community ultimately failed because of their own acts: the sabotage and boycott of events, the ostracization of clothed visitors, and general vandalism. “They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” he says, “since the purpose of these events was to bring people in, make money, and subsidize their rent. I tell them when they go on Facebook and start spreading false rumors about us increasing prices by 400% and for people to stay away, to go to Glen Eden instead — that is not helping them when they do go to sell their place.”

Residents received a notice in July stating that as of September 1st, clothing would be mandatory in all common areas, such as the pool, hiking trails, and gym. As of October 30th, clothing would be mandatory anywhere within the park, including private residences and sites.

But if you ask the residents and members of DeAnza Springs — or just peruse the scathing, unrelenting posts on the “Friends of DeAnza Springs” Facebook page — you’ll hear that they were shut out and made “irrelevant” by the new owners. They cite a complete lack of promotion (and sometimes execution) of planned events happening in their own backyard. Some suspected that Wasyliw and Cho were trying to push out “the old regime,” residents who lived there before the change of ownership. (For his part, Wasyliw says he has respected and “grandfathered in” the rates for those residents, which is 25 percent less than what a newcomer would pay.)

These “boycotted” events ranged from the traditional — such as the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) conference — to the more modern ones staged by Cho: music festivals like Karnival of Arts, YouTopia, and Love Machine. Residents have openly admitted to calling the sheriff on these events due to violation of local noise ordinances, even before the clothing change. However, Wasyliw says some went so far as to call the authorities even before the events began, citing nonexistent or mischaracterized permitting issues, or making far-fetched accusations, e.g. “drug tents” being set up at events. He adds that, thanks to the numerous complaints, events held at DeAnza Springs were subjected to restrictions that were so limiting, several event planners dropped out because they could not accommodate the early shutdown times.

The AANR Conference, held July 28-30 of this summer, was a massive failure due to lack of attendance, which residents blamed on the lack of promotion; some said they had “no idea” it was even happening that weekend. Others accused Wasyliw of thumbing his nose at AANR and embarrassing the community by not being present at the event to welcome the organization. The moment felt significant, especially given the policy change that came immediately after.

The announcement

At the pool, a resident who went by “Pinky” handed me a paper copy of the announcement. (She was nude, no pockets to speak of, and I was struck by the fact that she was clutching the notice in her hand.) The notice, dated July 31, 2023 — one day after the AANR boycott/snubbing — declared that “after careful deliberation, DeAnza Springs has reached a significant decision to become a ‘Textile’ park. In the coming weeks, more detailed information will be unveiled.”

The notice went on to outline the important dates: as of September 1st, clothing would be mandatory in all common areas, such as the pool, hiking trails, and gym. As of October 30th, clothing would be mandatory anywhere within the park, including private residences and sites. It ended with sympathy: an acknowledgment that “change can sometimes be met with mixed feelings, and we empathize with those who might feel upset or uncertain about the introduction of this new clothing rule,” and an offer that anyone wanting to discuss the matter with Wasyliw could do so by requesting an appointment. (According to Wasyliw, about ten residents took him up on that.)

Nevertheless, some residents found the announcement deceptive and punitive, especially since, just two weeks earlier, there had been a quarterly Town Hall meeting at which many residents claim to have heard Wasyliw say that the resort would “never change” from clothing-optional. (Some even told me there was a recording, but no one could produce it). Either way, there was no mention of the pending change at the meeting. Those who declined to meet with Wasyliw told me he was absolutely dead-set on the new policy, and so they saw no real purpose in meeting with him.

Labor day doesn’t work

The policy was changed just in time for Labor Day weekend, which residents say was another flop. Woodworker John told me via e-mail that several of the older residents protested by wearing G-strings, and one wore a completely sheer bathing suit. The atmosphere was made uncomfortable for many members by the 15 cannonballing, wailing children by the pool — a highly unusual sight at the longtime adult resort. John wrote that it felt like “this was a big family paradise for [the owners], now that the nudists put clothes on.” Possibly most frustrating thing was that most events were canceled due to poor attendance, including the “movie under the stars” and a barbecue. On Labor Day itself, the bar wasn’t open and no events were planned, even though it was advertised that the resort would be hosting a party that day. All around, John wrote, “frustrations were high, at times.”

Those frustrations didn’t end with Labor Day. They continued to simmer all throug September, with Wasyliw reporting that he was receiving threats from residents, and that he spent at least five hours a week dealing with “frivolous complaints” to the county, and even more time troubleshooting various acts of vandalism, including flooded public toilets and a stolen ping-pong table.

The Town Hall

Eventually, after a full month of Phase 1 of the new policy being in effect, Wasyliw decided to lift the lid on the pressure cooker and hold a Town Hall for the residents and members of DeAnza Springs. I was invited by a handful of members to attend and bear witness. Upon arriving at the entrance to the resort, the first thing I noticed was that the black chalkboard at the front of the resort had been updated. Now, in bold, white letters, it read: “CLOTHING REQUIRED.” (The sign also required that all guests check in at the gate, but as I learned in the town hall later, the gate was broken, and no one had been checking anyone in for months.) This new announcement was confusingly juxtaposed next to another still-standing sign which described DeAnza Springs as a clothing-optional resort.

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As we all gathered in The Oasis bar and lounge, Wasyliw walked in, dressed all in black and flanked by three Sheriff’s deputies. The deputies took their place in the back of the room, resting against a pool table. (I couldn’t help but imagine nude people leaning on it just a month earlier, angling for their best shots). He was also joined by Augie, who Wasyliw described as “the Chief of Operations of shorts” at DeAnza Springs. Stevi, the resort manager, was standing near the back. I also noticed Sparrow and Hawk to my left; I was struck by how different they looked. Not just different from the pool day, but different from one another. At the pool, they were a perfectly in-sync nudist couple. Now, Sparrow wore a floor-length baby blue gown and a stack of long pearl necklaces. Hawk was clad in a baggy t-shirt and oversized terry cloth shorts, probably begrudgingly thrown on in accordance with the law.

The meeting started with housekeeping: the front gate would be fixed on Monday. A resident then asked a redundant question about the gate and followed it with, “Because you’ve already taken everything else away, now you’re taking our privacy away.” That was followed by sparse applause. Wasyliw quickly reminded everyone that the meeting would be “super unproductive” if it continued in that way. Once the floor was opened for questions, a resident reminded the rest of the group that “we will ask nicely,” and someone else shot back “and we will be answered nicely!”

Finally, someone stood up and calmly asked the question we had all come to hear:

“After 30 years of being a clothing-optional resort, why was the clothing-optional option removed?”

After briefly trying to dismiss the question by saying it had already been discussed “for the last six months,” Wasyliw explained that “the short and simple answer is that it was a business decision.” The next resident pointed out that having the Sheriffs in the room felt unnecessary, to which Wasyliw replied, to everyone’s surprise, that he had not called them. He handed the microphone over to an officer, who stated that they had been called by a resident. An unsettled, confused murmur fell over the crowd. Then resident and retired sheriff Rex L. stood up and announced that he had called the officers “for an unrelated reason.”

The meeting rolled on for 90 minutes, with ordinary, legitimate concerns — solar panels, the lack of a landline in event of an emergency, speeding on the dirt roads through the park, and, interestingly, the alleged harassment of alpacas by trespassers in the middle of the night — punctuated by brief outbursts from those wanting to steer the discussion back to the policy change. Most of the residents clearly felt dismissed and confused. Others yelled in Wasyliw’s defense: “He owns the place, he can do what he wants!” At one point, someone tried to start the chant “Chicken, chicken,” but was quickly shut down by fellow residents who wanted to keep it civil. More than once, Wasyliw turned off the mic and threatened to walk out if certain ornery folks would not tone down their aggressiveness, and at one point he refused to continue until a particularly troublesome resident left the room, telling the crowd, “This is over, and you have [person] to thank.”

Kevin Cho stands in the new Red Zone festival grounds he created, “The Colony San Diego/Nomadic.”

Near the end of the meeting, several residents voiced concern over Cho’s absence from the Town Hall and his apparent intention to use “his half” of the property (confusingly dubbed either “Nomadic” or “The Colony,” depending on the source, day, and weather) as a psychedelic retreat center. A review of Cho’s instagram stories — freely posted and criticized on the Friends of DeAnza Springs Facebook page — does seem to indicate his being at least partially motivated by the microdose movement. And in his “Nichols and Dimez” podcast interview, titled “Psychedelic Education and Transforming a Nudist Colony into a Wellness Destination,” Cho says, “This is a space you can come rent out, an amazing, you know, a retro-fitted ‘70s trailer and go on some journeys with some homies, you know what I mean?” He also says, “In my mind, I was just envisioning festivals with friends and cerem— in a space where people are connecting,” stopping just short of saying “ceremonies,” presumably the plant-medicine ceremonies he refers to throughout the rest of the interview. His side business, Microdose Movement LLC, is a coached psychedelic experience for those wanting to take the leap with a hand to hold.

Cho hinted at the possibility of tension with Wasyliw in the podcast, telling the host that “we’ve had our ups and downs, because he has a family and kids and I don’t...and he taught me so much about setting realistic expectations and focusing on one or two things at a time. It took a lot of screaming and battle back and forth, and now we’ve gone through that pain and suffering in our relationship, and he’s like, ‘Yo, KeCho, you’re the visionary, go create content…and tell people the story and help people get out of their funks.” Cho does admit that “my decision-making can be questionable” and that he “let this one festival group take shits in the streets and play music for 72 hours straight…not being conscientious” of the fact that “people have lives here.”

After the Town Hall ended, I spoke with Wasyliw about the experience. He felt it was rather unproductive, and said he had ultimately decided to hold it so he could put to rest many of the falsehoods and rumors swirling about the park: that he was going bankrupt or defaulting on the property, that Cho was “distributing” psychedelics at events, and that the events lacked legal permits, just to name a few. It did appear to have been an exhausting, 90-minute game of whack-a-mole, and when I asked how he processed all of the anger and insults being hurled at him, he replied, “A mentor of mine once told me that nobody who is more successful than you will ever talk down to you. So whenever I am faced with someone who talks to me like I that way, I just remember that.” He also uses the contempt as fuel: “When I just don’t want to do this anymore, I will think back on this, and that’s what motivates me.”

The mysterious Mr. Cho

Along with its name and intention, Nomadic/The Colony is confusing to book. After the Town Hall, I was interested in experiencing a brief getaway myself — for research, of course — but every single “Book Now” button on the TheColonySD.com website led to a 404 or broken link. For a person having a background in promotion and marketing and “a passion for the Digital landscape,” Cho did not seem to be making good on his promise to bring “the next Joshua Tree x Burning Man” to San Diego, three years into the endeavor. And residents agree. John said, “I am not impressed with their marketing skills – I’m not even sure I would call them ‘skills.’ Marketing fumbles, maybe.”

Another recent point of contention and confusion between residents and Nomadic is the inconsistency of rules and expectations. From the website for YouTopia, the regional Burning Man event scheduled to be held at DeAnza Springs in mid-October: “Production has talked to the managers at DeAnza Springs Resort, and while they are firm on their policy, they also understand and respect our event and wish to fully embrace the Burning man Principle of Radical Self Expression. While residents and visitors will have to adhere to DeAnza Springs Resort’s updated nudity policy, no one is going to be on dress code patrol within the perimeters of YouTopia.” Residents reading this could rightfully wonder, Why don’t the ‘managers’ understand and respect our principle of expression?

A week after the Town Hall, I was able to sit down the Cho himself. As I got out of my car, I was greeted by a resident who made a joke I had heard several times in the last few weeks: “It’s too damn hot to be wearing all this!”

Cho and I sat down at his abode in the heart of the Red zone, accompanied by his dog, Noodle. Cho was disarming and genuine, if not a little lost, and he greeted me with a big hug. Cho feels that owning DeAnza Springs is part of his destiny. “Buying a nudist resort was the ultimate test … being nudist takes a lot of balls, and I feel that my whole life I have been working up to this, to being in this environment where there is no judgment and accepting people for where they are at in life … It’s universal, everyone can come here to heal, whether it’s a retreat or a festival or just to hang out by the pool.”

When asked about his absence at the Town Hall, he said it was difficult to know his place, “not living here,” though he had been living here for about two months at the time and had attended previous Town Halls over the years as an owner. When I asked if he was on-site that day, he said no, that he had been off-site for a friend’s wedding, but quickly reassured me that he “for sure” planned to be at future Town Halls. He also shared that, although he lives among the residents now and has for about two months, he has yet to meet with any of them to discuss either the policy change or his intentions for Nomadic, again citing his new resident status, despite owning the property for three years.

We talked about the residents’ frustration that they had been stripped of their freedom for what was cited as a “business decision” and have yet to see any actual booming business in the resort. What was all this heartache for? (Or, as Sam put it, “I don’t see how covering my ass is going to save theirs.”) I brought up the broken links when trying to book a stay at Nomadic. Cho replied that the broken links are largely because DeAnza Springs has been disallowed from major platforms such as Airbnb due to its previous status as a nudist resort. He confidently shared that anyone can now book the RV, motel, and hostel sites at Nomadic through Airbnb, though they would have to go to the app and search for Jacumba Hot Springs to do so. (After we chatted, I tried again to book through the actual website and was still redirected to a 404.) Cho reassured me that he has a plan to ramp out marketing, including through social media, vlogging and “getting my own story out there.” He has plans to work with event producers in San Diego, use guerilla marketing, and spread the word himself as he attends other festivals and events. He reminded me that they are “in this weird transition period” where guests might be hesitant to venture out to DeAnza Springs because it was a known nudist resort in the past.

Another mystery solved: Cho defined his project as “DeAnza Springs presents Nomadic,” with “Nomadic” referring to the venue for concerts and festivals, and the surrounding rentable RVs, motels, and hostels being considered as just an upgraded part of DeAnza Springs. Asked about his plans for the place, Cho started with a story: “When I was a kid, my mom would ask me what kind of car I wanted when I got older. I always said I just wanted a big van, so I could drive all my friends around. I have always been a super-connector, and this place just seemed meant to be.” Meant to be a psychedelic retreat? Finally and definitively, Cho clarified that yes, he would like to see Nomadic used for psychedelic ceremonies — once the modality is legalized. He sees his role as laying the framework for that day, providing psychedelic education and coaching for those interested in this way of healing.

I mentioned how nudism and naturism have long been regarded as a way of healing — getting back in tune with nature and reclaiming autonomy and vulnerability — not unlike psychedelic ceremonies. Cho agreed, but quickly pointed to negative judgements coming from the nudist residents. The barrier he sees is not vandalism or ostracization, as Wasyliw did, but rather a generational gap. “The median age of residents here is 65 years old. Baby boomers grew up in an era where you were supposed to hold on to everything and change was bad.” I let this pass without comment. “There is also that sex appeal when you have young women coming into a space that maybe hasn’t seen that in a while.”

Nudity as therapy

Full disclosure: I have my own experience with nudism-as-therapy. Six years ago, I chose a nudist resort in Desert Hot Springs as the place to celebrate my thirty-first birthday, because I knew that entering such a strange environment was the only way to take my mind off drinking. It would be my first birthday sober in over twelve years. I showed up on the door step of Living Waters Spa armed with a whole two weeks of sobriety.

By the time I left the resort the next day, a realization had washed over me, rejuvenating every cell of my body: I hadn’t come there to drown out the nagging voices, I had come to experience what living life on full volume was really like. What had started as an act of extremism and rebellion — possibly bordering on a game of “let’s see how uncomfortable I can make myself,” an attempt to shock my nervous system back into feeling human again — ended as a practice in the ultimate form of vulnerability. And I showed myself that I could do hard and new and uncomfortable things, things like being naked around strangers and going on vacation alone and being a sober human. I had microdosed on nudity. It saved my life.

Now I am coming up on six years sober — and five months pregnant. I am still coming to terms with my changed and changing body. My belly is bloated, my thighs chafe uncomfortably, and for the first time in my life, I have boob sweat. I am tired. But as we sat by the pool on that last day of public nudity, not a single person mentioned or even glanced at my bulging belly bump. In fact, they asked almost no questions about me or my personal life at all. Instead, they trusted me, gathered around me, and shared their most vulnerable thoughts and feelings for almost four hours straight. This was mutual vulnerability, and it was precious to me.

I am not the only one who has found peace and acceptance through nudism. Mike is 57 years old and not a resident of DeAnza Springs; he discovered the resort just three weeks before the change. “I came here not knowing it was clothing-optional, I just saw the bitchin’ pool online. But once I got here, I saw how every man was a gentleman, and I thought, These people are really cool. I spent all my life working in strip clubs and night clubs and have thrown 20,000 people out of bars for bad behavior toward women. Coming here, I could let that go; I could relax. I was a little nervous to come out at first, but I channeled Arnold in the first Terminator, when he strolled out of the pod naked. I always had hang ups about people seeing me naked; I was chubby growing up. But here, I can just be myself. The other day I was sitting here, and it had only been a month, and I thought, You know what? I feel better about myself.”

A way forward

A general theme that emerged throughout my visits to DeAnza Springs was that residents truly wanted to see the property — and its owners, Wasyliw and Cho — succeed. In fact, Rex looked right at Wasilyw during the Town Hall and said, “Luke, we want you to succeed; we want you to make money and to be happy.” Although they were critical of Wasyliw and Cho’s business dealings, they still wanted to support the efforts. One resident told me that some “low hanging fruit” included holding dances and entertainment according to the business model of AANR, advertising events and the resort more widely, and “number one, to speak nicely to people and ask for help…one bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” He firmly believed that DeAnza Springs “could be the hottest venue in San Diego!”

Sam, the naked handyman, thinks that the existing naturist side could have meshed well with this generation’s current body positivity trend. “Naturism encompasses radical expression, inclusivity, tolerance, acceptance, transparency…” See also: the Burning man Principle of Radical Self Expression.

Sparrow, meanwhile, embodies the enthusiasm that I am sure Wasyliw and Cho were hoping for when they first bought DeAnza: “Come here, dance your ass off, relive your youth, that’s what we do!...We want to see it succeed, we just want the chance to invite our friends and bring business in. I always went over and supported vendors before the crowds came in!” When a geodesic dome on Nomadic caught fire in the middle of the night, it was the residents who ran out to help put the fire out first.

Wasyliw says that when it comes to difficulties in transition, “It’s 5-10 people ruining it for everyone else,” but adds that the words of the majority are not matching up with their actions. Still, a handful of residents (though most choose to remain anonymous) have expressed admiration for Wasyliw and Cho. One long-timer told me he was “grateful for [them] coming in and fixing up what they did; without them, we wouldn’t be here. What was the alternative? What would it look like if the ownership never changed?”

According to Wasyliw, one of the first orders of business upon buying the property was providing major upgrades to the water and electric infrastructure, and the removal of several huge dumpsters full of trash and debris that had been accumulated over the years. “The current site holders were used to taking old desks, toilets, whatever during their remodels, and they would throw the trash into these piles. So we spent ungodly amounts of money on that clean up, because it was 100% necessary to be able to attract groups out here, to increase occupancy rate, the daily use RV rates, etc.”

Cho noted that DeAnza Springs had been largely treated as a residential property, and was not tailored toward short-term travelers. That meant that long-standing maintenance issues, trash piles, and more had gone unaddressed. “We have invested every last dollar back into the place to fix things that people didn’t even know we were fixing,” he said. “No money has ever come out of DeAnza Springs.” Resident Hawk agreed that there had been a decline in maintenance before the change in ownership, as did Sam, who said, “They did a lot of good here maintenance-wise that was lacking.”

But other residents argued that all the upkeep and renewal “was not for us.” When I asked what they saw as a potential resolution, they suggested suspending the clothing-optional policy just during certain events, rather than instituting a blanket policy change. They wanted more advertisement and marketing of the resort, and better communication from the new management. But according to Wasyliw, “There will always be people who are unhappy because I didn’t do it exactly the way they wanted or as quickly as they wanted. I have always been transparent and tried to manage expectations.”

Former owner Landman wasn’t sure how the new vision would work out, since “[the property] has never had a test that I know of where it was strictly run as an RV park or campground.” But Cho and Wasyliw think there is plenty to love. Cho cited Temple Peak, an apparent local vortex. Wasyliw thinks its big draw is the rural environment – a true family getaway on the outskirts of a bustling city. And it’s true that many residents are less concerned about “the clothing thing,” and more about the community that has been cultivated at DeAnza Springs over the decades. That’s what they say will keep them here for years to come.

As I drove out of DeAnza Springs after my third and final visit, I felt a sadness creep over me; San Diego is about to lose something beautiful and unique, a secret Eden tucked away in the furthest reaches of East county. But I was also hopeful, excited to return and see how this place has evolved while maintaining its mission, clothed or unclothed: healing through embracing vulnerability. As I passed through the gate (which was still broken), I saw the sign that bids visitors adieu: “DeAnza Springs … If you can’t stay here, have fun wherever you’re going.”

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He had the wistful expression of someone taking one last look at a love about to be lost.
He had the wistful expression of someone taking one last look at a love about to be lost.

“I have seen more people out nude today than I have in a long time,” said Hawk. “Today” was Thursday, August 31st, the last day that clothing would be optional in of DeAnza Springs Resort’s public spaces, and I was sitting by the pool talking to Hawk and his wife of 20 years, Sparrow. They had been residents of DeAnza Springs for three years. We were all naked.


“Just looking around, I’d say about 90% are nude today,” Hawk continued. He was tall, thin, and tanned, with a long ponytail and the kind of drawn face that seems to be suited for no other hairstyle. I followed his forlorn gaze and glanced around casually, trying to keep my gaze from registering anyone’s genitals, but still nodding in agreement with Hawk. Yes, nearly everyone is nude. When I looked back at him, he had the wistful expression of someone taking one last look at a love about to be lost.

The weather was humid and overcast in Jacumba Hot Springs, about 90 minutes east of San Diego and the home of DeAnza Springs, a clothing-optional naturist/nudist community ever since it was purchased in 1997 by Dave and Helen Landman. But now, three years after the resort was bought from the Landmans by Luke Wasyliw and Kevin “KeCho” Cho, that was about to change.

Place

DeAnza Springs Resort

1951 Carrizo Gorge Road, Jacumba, CA

With us at the pool was Sam, who has worked at the resort in varying roles for 12 years and lived there for 14. He identified as the “naked handyman” and a Christian Naturist: “Christian first, Naturist second.” He told me, “Genesis 2:25 says ‘Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame,’ and that’s the only detail we get about Adam and Eve — that they were naked. Why did the Bible tell us this? Because this is how God wanted us to be, just how God made us. To be free of shame, totally open and transparent.”

Speaking of shame: the topic of the soon-to-be lifted photo ban came up. Historically, it has been considered bad etiquette to take photos in any public areas of DeAnza Springs, due to the private nature of, well, people’s privates. However, the photo ban was being lifted as the ban on public-area nudity was lowered. Some saw this as a subtle threat; even though they could still be nude at their private sites — working in the yard, gardening, or doing other household tasks — until October 30th, as of September 1st, they would no longer be protected from the leer of a camera lens.

Sam disagreed. He said that “photography is the last fig leaf of naturism,” so to speak, and that if anyone were to try and take his photo he would simply ask “How’s this?” and strike a pose. This garnered a few laughs from some residents, but many shook their heads.

Changing hands, then and now

According to Landman, the original owner and founder of DeAnza Springs, “when the park was built in the early ‘70s, it had a country and western nightclub atmosphere; there were one thousand drunk cowboys up there with their RVs every weekend, listening to music. Unfortunately, [Hurricane Kathleen] hit in 1976 and closed the park, until we bought it. We opened it in September 1997 as a clothing-optional resort from the day we signed the papers. But we didn’t have to throw anybody out to do it. It wasn’t like we had to change the venue; we just turned a vacant RV park into a clothing optional destination. We didn’t have obligations we had to meet. We did what we wanted to, when we wanted to, and we didn’t have to answer to anyone.”

Unfortunately, the resort’s new owners, Wasyliw and Cho, didn’t have it as easy as Landman. When they purchased the 500-acre, 311-site RV park in 2020, they inherited its over 100 residents — people who lived on the nudist resort, some who had done so for as long as it had been around. And most of them had expected it to stay clothing-optional when they signed their leases — as some had done just months earlier.

John, a 37-year-old woodworker, told me that he purchased an Airstream and moved out to DeAnza Springs 16 months ago because “it was the only way I could afford to continue to live in San Diego County.” Now, he saw no reason to stay. He readily admitted that as one of its newest residents, the question of nudity was “not my fight to fight.” But he was not alone in his decision; at least four other residents have made their exodus in the last few months, selling their homes or trailing them away to another promised land, possibly Glen Eden in Temescal Valley or Laguna del Sol in Wilton.

New owners Wasyliw and Cho went to the same high school, and both graduated from SDSU; they were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. At 38 years old, Wasyliw has a decade-long background in real estate after switching careers from the tech industry, but buying up a huge resort has been a new type of business venture for him.

This is also a new breed of project for Cho, 32, and his first time owning property. He has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from SDSU, but his resume since then follows a funky, winding road: Apple-certified technician, influencer outreach, nightclub promotion, cannabis packaging and design, current CEO and owner of Microdose Movement LLC. His most recent role, according to his LinkedIn, is owner of DeAnza Springs and “CEO and Creator of Ecosystems” at “The Colony of San Diego (Nomadic).”

The first cover-up

At first, the new owners maintained the clothing-optional status quo. The biggest change to occur between 2020 and late 2023 came earlier this year, when the pool area policy changed from “no clothing allowed” to “clothing optional,” meaning nobody would be admonished for donning half a bikini or swim trunks. The official policy endured until, as Cho told host Chris Nichols on the September 29th episode of the entrepreneurship podcast “Nichols and Dimez,” “it just didn’t work anymore.”

But there were signs of a shift almost from the outset. DeAnza Springs is divided into Red, White, and Blue zones, and in March of 2021, the Red Zone was leased back to Cho. It the became “The Colony San Diego/Nomadic,” an endeavor that he describes as a “Joshua Tree meets Burning Man” festival grounds. According to residents, those living in the Red zone were informally asked to clothe-up if they attended certain events on the property, though some, like May 2023’s Karnival of the Arts, were designated as “come as you are” (read: nude).

This seemed odd, as the Red zone was scantily separated from the rest by a wash, offering no wall or any structure to afford privacy to the “still nude” side. When I asked Wasyliw about this initial change, he vehemently denied that the Red zoners ever had to clothe up, and said that their policy changed when everyone else’s did. In fact, he said, he held a meeting with the Red zone residents about the potential of going clothing-required, and based on feedback, decided to keep it clothing-optional. According to him, if anyone was being unreasonable, it was the residents, who were heard saying things like, “I live in North Korea.” (A loaded reference, given Cho’s status as a Korean-American.)

Exposed tensions

According to Wasyliw, the nudist community ultimately failed because of their own acts: the sabotage and boycott of events, the ostracization of clothed visitors, and general vandalism. “They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” he says, “since the purpose of these events was to bring people in, make money, and subsidize their rent. I tell them when they go on Facebook and start spreading false rumors about us increasing prices by 400% and for people to stay away, to go to Glen Eden instead — that is not helping them when they do go to sell their place.”

Residents received a notice in July stating that as of September 1st, clothing would be mandatory in all common areas, such as the pool, hiking trails, and gym. As of October 30th, clothing would be mandatory anywhere within the park, including private residences and sites.

But if you ask the residents and members of DeAnza Springs — or just peruse the scathing, unrelenting posts on the “Friends of DeAnza Springs” Facebook page — you’ll hear that they were shut out and made “irrelevant” by the new owners. They cite a complete lack of promotion (and sometimes execution) of planned events happening in their own backyard. Some suspected that Wasyliw and Cho were trying to push out “the old regime,” residents who lived there before the change of ownership. (For his part, Wasyliw says he has respected and “grandfathered in” the rates for those residents, which is 25 percent less than what a newcomer would pay.)

These “boycotted” events ranged from the traditional — such as the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) conference — to the more modern ones staged by Cho: music festivals like Karnival of Arts, YouTopia, and Love Machine. Residents have openly admitted to calling the sheriff on these events due to violation of local noise ordinances, even before the clothing change. However, Wasyliw says some went so far as to call the authorities even before the events began, citing nonexistent or mischaracterized permitting issues, or making far-fetched accusations, e.g. “drug tents” being set up at events. He adds that, thanks to the numerous complaints, events held at DeAnza Springs were subjected to restrictions that were so limiting, several event planners dropped out because they could not accommodate the early shutdown times.

The AANR Conference, held July 28-30 of this summer, was a massive failure due to lack of attendance, which residents blamed on the lack of promotion; some said they had “no idea” it was even happening that weekend. Others accused Wasyliw of thumbing his nose at AANR and embarrassing the community by not being present at the event to welcome the organization. The moment felt significant, especially given the policy change that came immediately after.

The announcement

At the pool, a resident who went by “Pinky” handed me a paper copy of the announcement. (She was nude, no pockets to speak of, and I was struck by the fact that she was clutching the notice in her hand.) The notice, dated July 31, 2023 — one day after the AANR boycott/snubbing — declared that “after careful deliberation, DeAnza Springs has reached a significant decision to become a ‘Textile’ park. In the coming weeks, more detailed information will be unveiled.”

The notice went on to outline the important dates: as of September 1st, clothing would be mandatory in all common areas, such as the pool, hiking trails, and gym. As of October 30th, clothing would be mandatory anywhere within the park, including private residences and sites. It ended with sympathy: an acknowledgment that “change can sometimes be met with mixed feelings, and we empathize with those who might feel upset or uncertain about the introduction of this new clothing rule,” and an offer that anyone wanting to discuss the matter with Wasyliw could do so by requesting an appointment. (According to Wasyliw, about ten residents took him up on that.)

Nevertheless, some residents found the announcement deceptive and punitive, especially since, just two weeks earlier, there had been a quarterly Town Hall meeting at which many residents claim to have heard Wasyliw say that the resort would “never change” from clothing-optional. (Some even told me there was a recording, but no one could produce it). Either way, there was no mention of the pending change at the meeting. Those who declined to meet with Wasyliw told me he was absolutely dead-set on the new policy, and so they saw no real purpose in meeting with him.

Labor day doesn’t work

The policy was changed just in time for Labor Day weekend, which residents say was another flop. Woodworker John told me via e-mail that several of the older residents protested by wearing G-strings, and one wore a completely sheer bathing suit. The atmosphere was made uncomfortable for many members by the 15 cannonballing, wailing children by the pool — a highly unusual sight at the longtime adult resort. John wrote that it felt like “this was a big family paradise for [the owners], now that the nudists put clothes on.” Possibly most frustrating thing was that most events were canceled due to poor attendance, including the “movie under the stars” and a barbecue. On Labor Day itself, the bar wasn’t open and no events were planned, even though it was advertised that the resort would be hosting a party that day. All around, John wrote, “frustrations were high, at times.”

Those frustrations didn’t end with Labor Day. They continued to simmer all throug September, with Wasyliw reporting that he was receiving threats from residents, and that he spent at least five hours a week dealing with “frivolous complaints” to the county, and even more time troubleshooting various acts of vandalism, including flooded public toilets and a stolen ping-pong table.

The Town Hall

Eventually, after a full month of Phase 1 of the new policy being in effect, Wasyliw decided to lift the lid on the pressure cooker and hold a Town Hall for the residents and members of DeAnza Springs. I was invited by a handful of members to attend and bear witness. Upon arriving at the entrance to the resort, the first thing I noticed was that the black chalkboard at the front of the resort had been updated. Now, in bold, white letters, it read: “CLOTHING REQUIRED.” (The sign also required that all guests check in at the gate, but as I learned in the town hall later, the gate was broken, and no one had been checking anyone in for months.) This new announcement was confusingly juxtaposed next to another still-standing sign which described DeAnza Springs as a clothing-optional resort.

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As we all gathered in The Oasis bar and lounge, Wasyliw walked in, dressed all in black and flanked by three Sheriff’s deputies. The deputies took their place in the back of the room, resting against a pool table. (I couldn’t help but imagine nude people leaning on it just a month earlier, angling for their best shots). He was also joined by Augie, who Wasyliw described as “the Chief of Operations of shorts” at DeAnza Springs. Stevi, the resort manager, was standing near the back. I also noticed Sparrow and Hawk to my left; I was struck by how different they looked. Not just different from the pool day, but different from one another. At the pool, they were a perfectly in-sync nudist couple. Now, Sparrow wore a floor-length baby blue gown and a stack of long pearl necklaces. Hawk was clad in a baggy t-shirt and oversized terry cloth shorts, probably begrudgingly thrown on in accordance with the law.

The meeting started with housekeeping: the front gate would be fixed on Monday. A resident then asked a redundant question about the gate and followed it with, “Because you’ve already taken everything else away, now you’re taking our privacy away.” That was followed by sparse applause. Wasyliw quickly reminded everyone that the meeting would be “super unproductive” if it continued in that way. Once the floor was opened for questions, a resident reminded the rest of the group that “we will ask nicely,” and someone else shot back “and we will be answered nicely!”

Finally, someone stood up and calmly asked the question we had all come to hear:

“After 30 years of being a clothing-optional resort, why was the clothing-optional option removed?”

After briefly trying to dismiss the question by saying it had already been discussed “for the last six months,” Wasyliw explained that “the short and simple answer is that it was a business decision.” The next resident pointed out that having the Sheriffs in the room felt unnecessary, to which Wasyliw replied, to everyone’s surprise, that he had not called them. He handed the microphone over to an officer, who stated that they had been called by a resident. An unsettled, confused murmur fell over the crowd. Then resident and retired sheriff Rex L. stood up and announced that he had called the officers “for an unrelated reason.”

The meeting rolled on for 90 minutes, with ordinary, legitimate concerns — solar panels, the lack of a landline in event of an emergency, speeding on the dirt roads through the park, and, interestingly, the alleged harassment of alpacas by trespassers in the middle of the night — punctuated by brief outbursts from those wanting to steer the discussion back to the policy change. Most of the residents clearly felt dismissed and confused. Others yelled in Wasyliw’s defense: “He owns the place, he can do what he wants!” At one point, someone tried to start the chant “Chicken, chicken,” but was quickly shut down by fellow residents who wanted to keep it civil. More than once, Wasyliw turned off the mic and threatened to walk out if certain ornery folks would not tone down their aggressiveness, and at one point he refused to continue until a particularly troublesome resident left the room, telling the crowd, “This is over, and you have [person] to thank.”

Kevin Cho stands in the new Red Zone festival grounds he created, “The Colony San Diego/Nomadic.”

Near the end of the meeting, several residents voiced concern over Cho’s absence from the Town Hall and his apparent intention to use “his half” of the property (confusingly dubbed either “Nomadic” or “The Colony,” depending on the source, day, and weather) as a psychedelic retreat center. A review of Cho’s instagram stories — freely posted and criticized on the Friends of DeAnza Springs Facebook page — does seem to indicate his being at least partially motivated by the microdose movement. And in his “Nichols and Dimez” podcast interview, titled “Psychedelic Education and Transforming a Nudist Colony into a Wellness Destination,” Cho says, “This is a space you can come rent out, an amazing, you know, a retro-fitted ‘70s trailer and go on some journeys with some homies, you know what I mean?” He also says, “In my mind, I was just envisioning festivals with friends and cerem— in a space where people are connecting,” stopping just short of saying “ceremonies,” presumably the plant-medicine ceremonies he refers to throughout the rest of the interview. His side business, Microdose Movement LLC, is a coached psychedelic experience for those wanting to take the leap with a hand to hold.

Cho hinted at the possibility of tension with Wasyliw in the podcast, telling the host that “we’ve had our ups and downs, because he has a family and kids and I don’t...and he taught me so much about setting realistic expectations and focusing on one or two things at a time. It took a lot of screaming and battle back and forth, and now we’ve gone through that pain and suffering in our relationship, and he’s like, ‘Yo, KeCho, you’re the visionary, go create content…and tell people the story and help people get out of their funks.” Cho does admit that “my decision-making can be questionable” and that he “let this one festival group take shits in the streets and play music for 72 hours straight…not being conscientious” of the fact that “people have lives here.”

After the Town Hall ended, I spoke with Wasyliw about the experience. He felt it was rather unproductive, and said he had ultimately decided to hold it so he could put to rest many of the falsehoods and rumors swirling about the park: that he was going bankrupt or defaulting on the property, that Cho was “distributing” psychedelics at events, and that the events lacked legal permits, just to name a few. It did appear to have been an exhausting, 90-minute game of whack-a-mole, and when I asked how he processed all of the anger and insults being hurled at him, he replied, “A mentor of mine once told me that nobody who is more successful than you will ever talk down to you. So whenever I am faced with someone who talks to me like I that way, I just remember that.” He also uses the contempt as fuel: “When I just don’t want to do this anymore, I will think back on this, and that’s what motivates me.”

The mysterious Mr. Cho

Along with its name and intention, Nomadic/The Colony is confusing to book. After the Town Hall, I was interested in experiencing a brief getaway myself — for research, of course — but every single “Book Now” button on the TheColonySD.com website led to a 404 or broken link. For a person having a background in promotion and marketing and “a passion for the Digital landscape,” Cho did not seem to be making good on his promise to bring “the next Joshua Tree x Burning Man” to San Diego, three years into the endeavor. And residents agree. John said, “I am not impressed with their marketing skills – I’m not even sure I would call them ‘skills.’ Marketing fumbles, maybe.”

Another recent point of contention and confusion between residents and Nomadic is the inconsistency of rules and expectations. From the website for YouTopia, the regional Burning Man event scheduled to be held at DeAnza Springs in mid-October: “Production has talked to the managers at DeAnza Springs Resort, and while they are firm on their policy, they also understand and respect our event and wish to fully embrace the Burning man Principle of Radical Self Expression. While residents and visitors will have to adhere to DeAnza Springs Resort’s updated nudity policy, no one is going to be on dress code patrol within the perimeters of YouTopia.” Residents reading this could rightfully wonder, Why don’t the ‘managers’ understand and respect our principle of expression?

A week after the Town Hall, I was able to sit down the Cho himself. As I got out of my car, I was greeted by a resident who made a joke I had heard several times in the last few weeks: “It’s too damn hot to be wearing all this!”

Cho and I sat down at his abode in the heart of the Red zone, accompanied by his dog, Noodle. Cho was disarming and genuine, if not a little lost, and he greeted me with a big hug. Cho feels that owning DeAnza Springs is part of his destiny. “Buying a nudist resort was the ultimate test … being nudist takes a lot of balls, and I feel that my whole life I have been working up to this, to being in this environment where there is no judgment and accepting people for where they are at in life … It’s universal, everyone can come here to heal, whether it’s a retreat or a festival or just to hang out by the pool.”

When asked about his absence at the Town Hall, he said it was difficult to know his place, “not living here,” though he had been living here for about two months at the time and had attended previous Town Halls over the years as an owner. When I asked if he was on-site that day, he said no, that he had been off-site for a friend’s wedding, but quickly reassured me that he “for sure” planned to be at future Town Halls. He also shared that, although he lives among the residents now and has for about two months, he has yet to meet with any of them to discuss either the policy change or his intentions for Nomadic, again citing his new resident status, despite owning the property for three years.

We talked about the residents’ frustration that they had been stripped of their freedom for what was cited as a “business decision” and have yet to see any actual booming business in the resort. What was all this heartache for? (Or, as Sam put it, “I don’t see how covering my ass is going to save theirs.”) I brought up the broken links when trying to book a stay at Nomadic. Cho replied that the broken links are largely because DeAnza Springs has been disallowed from major platforms such as Airbnb due to its previous status as a nudist resort. He confidently shared that anyone can now book the RV, motel, and hostel sites at Nomadic through Airbnb, though they would have to go to the app and search for Jacumba Hot Springs to do so. (After we chatted, I tried again to book through the actual website and was still redirected to a 404.) Cho reassured me that he has a plan to ramp out marketing, including through social media, vlogging and “getting my own story out there.” He has plans to work with event producers in San Diego, use guerilla marketing, and spread the word himself as he attends other festivals and events. He reminded me that they are “in this weird transition period” where guests might be hesitant to venture out to DeAnza Springs because it was a known nudist resort in the past.

Another mystery solved: Cho defined his project as “DeAnza Springs presents Nomadic,” with “Nomadic” referring to the venue for concerts and festivals, and the surrounding rentable RVs, motels, and hostels being considered as just an upgraded part of DeAnza Springs. Asked about his plans for the place, Cho started with a story: “When I was a kid, my mom would ask me what kind of car I wanted when I got older. I always said I just wanted a big van, so I could drive all my friends around. I have always been a super-connector, and this place just seemed meant to be.” Meant to be a psychedelic retreat? Finally and definitively, Cho clarified that yes, he would like to see Nomadic used for psychedelic ceremonies — once the modality is legalized. He sees his role as laying the framework for that day, providing psychedelic education and coaching for those interested in this way of healing.

I mentioned how nudism and naturism have long been regarded as a way of healing — getting back in tune with nature and reclaiming autonomy and vulnerability — not unlike psychedelic ceremonies. Cho agreed, but quickly pointed to negative judgements coming from the nudist residents. The barrier he sees is not vandalism or ostracization, as Wasyliw did, but rather a generational gap. “The median age of residents here is 65 years old. Baby boomers grew up in an era where you were supposed to hold on to everything and change was bad.” I let this pass without comment. “There is also that sex appeal when you have young women coming into a space that maybe hasn’t seen that in a while.”

Nudity as therapy

Full disclosure: I have my own experience with nudism-as-therapy. Six years ago, I chose a nudist resort in Desert Hot Springs as the place to celebrate my thirty-first birthday, because I knew that entering such a strange environment was the only way to take my mind off drinking. It would be my first birthday sober in over twelve years. I showed up on the door step of Living Waters Spa armed with a whole two weeks of sobriety.

By the time I left the resort the next day, a realization had washed over me, rejuvenating every cell of my body: I hadn’t come there to drown out the nagging voices, I had come to experience what living life on full volume was really like. What had started as an act of extremism and rebellion — possibly bordering on a game of “let’s see how uncomfortable I can make myself,” an attempt to shock my nervous system back into feeling human again — ended as a practice in the ultimate form of vulnerability. And I showed myself that I could do hard and new and uncomfortable things, things like being naked around strangers and going on vacation alone and being a sober human. I had microdosed on nudity. It saved my life.

Now I am coming up on six years sober — and five months pregnant. I am still coming to terms with my changed and changing body. My belly is bloated, my thighs chafe uncomfortably, and for the first time in my life, I have boob sweat. I am tired. But as we sat by the pool on that last day of public nudity, not a single person mentioned or even glanced at my bulging belly bump. In fact, they asked almost no questions about me or my personal life at all. Instead, they trusted me, gathered around me, and shared their most vulnerable thoughts and feelings for almost four hours straight. This was mutual vulnerability, and it was precious to me.

I am not the only one who has found peace and acceptance through nudism. Mike is 57 years old and not a resident of DeAnza Springs; he discovered the resort just three weeks before the change. “I came here not knowing it was clothing-optional, I just saw the bitchin’ pool online. But once I got here, I saw how every man was a gentleman, and I thought, These people are really cool. I spent all my life working in strip clubs and night clubs and have thrown 20,000 people out of bars for bad behavior toward women. Coming here, I could let that go; I could relax. I was a little nervous to come out at first, but I channeled Arnold in the first Terminator, when he strolled out of the pod naked. I always had hang ups about people seeing me naked; I was chubby growing up. But here, I can just be myself. The other day I was sitting here, and it had only been a month, and I thought, You know what? I feel better about myself.”

A way forward

A general theme that emerged throughout my visits to DeAnza Springs was that residents truly wanted to see the property — and its owners, Wasyliw and Cho — succeed. In fact, Rex looked right at Wasilyw during the Town Hall and said, “Luke, we want you to succeed; we want you to make money and to be happy.” Although they were critical of Wasyliw and Cho’s business dealings, they still wanted to support the efforts. One resident told me that some “low hanging fruit” included holding dances and entertainment according to the business model of AANR, advertising events and the resort more widely, and “number one, to speak nicely to people and ask for help…one bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” He firmly believed that DeAnza Springs “could be the hottest venue in San Diego!”

Sam, the naked handyman, thinks that the existing naturist side could have meshed well with this generation’s current body positivity trend. “Naturism encompasses radical expression, inclusivity, tolerance, acceptance, transparency…” See also: the Burning man Principle of Radical Self Expression.

Sparrow, meanwhile, embodies the enthusiasm that I am sure Wasyliw and Cho were hoping for when they first bought DeAnza: “Come here, dance your ass off, relive your youth, that’s what we do!...We want to see it succeed, we just want the chance to invite our friends and bring business in. I always went over and supported vendors before the crowds came in!” When a geodesic dome on Nomadic caught fire in the middle of the night, it was the residents who ran out to help put the fire out first.

Wasyliw says that when it comes to difficulties in transition, “It’s 5-10 people ruining it for everyone else,” but adds that the words of the majority are not matching up with their actions. Still, a handful of residents (though most choose to remain anonymous) have expressed admiration for Wasyliw and Cho. One long-timer told me he was “grateful for [them] coming in and fixing up what they did; without them, we wouldn’t be here. What was the alternative? What would it look like if the ownership never changed?”

According to Wasyliw, one of the first orders of business upon buying the property was providing major upgrades to the water and electric infrastructure, and the removal of several huge dumpsters full of trash and debris that had been accumulated over the years. “The current site holders were used to taking old desks, toilets, whatever during their remodels, and they would throw the trash into these piles. So we spent ungodly amounts of money on that clean up, because it was 100% necessary to be able to attract groups out here, to increase occupancy rate, the daily use RV rates, etc.”

Cho noted that DeAnza Springs had been largely treated as a residential property, and was not tailored toward short-term travelers. That meant that long-standing maintenance issues, trash piles, and more had gone unaddressed. “We have invested every last dollar back into the place to fix things that people didn’t even know we were fixing,” he said. “No money has ever come out of DeAnza Springs.” Resident Hawk agreed that there had been a decline in maintenance before the change in ownership, as did Sam, who said, “They did a lot of good here maintenance-wise that was lacking.”

But other residents argued that all the upkeep and renewal “was not for us.” When I asked what they saw as a potential resolution, they suggested suspending the clothing-optional policy just during certain events, rather than instituting a blanket policy change. They wanted more advertisement and marketing of the resort, and better communication from the new management. But according to Wasyliw, “There will always be people who are unhappy because I didn’t do it exactly the way they wanted or as quickly as they wanted. I have always been transparent and tried to manage expectations.”

Former owner Landman wasn’t sure how the new vision would work out, since “[the property] has never had a test that I know of where it was strictly run as an RV park or campground.” But Cho and Wasyliw think there is plenty to love. Cho cited Temple Peak, an apparent local vortex. Wasyliw thinks its big draw is the rural environment – a true family getaway on the outskirts of a bustling city. And it’s true that many residents are less concerned about “the clothing thing,” and more about the community that has been cultivated at DeAnza Springs over the decades. That’s what they say will keep them here for years to come.

As I drove out of DeAnza Springs after my third and final visit, I felt a sadness creep over me; San Diego is about to lose something beautiful and unique, a secret Eden tucked away in the furthest reaches of East county. But I was also hopeful, excited to return and see how this place has evolved while maintaining its mission, clothed or unclothed: healing through embracing vulnerability. As I passed through the gate (which was still broken), I saw the sign that bids visitors adieu: “DeAnza Springs … If you can’t stay here, have fun wherever you’re going.”

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