Keough’s Hot Springs 2024

Keough’s Hot Springs 2024

Still as hot a stop as ever

By Christina Reed
The Hired Pen


Eastern Sierra, CA— Just a short seven-mile drive, south of Bishop, CA, finds you looking at a US Highway 395 sign for Keough’s Hot Springs. The indigenous people of the Owens Valley, the Paiutes, were the first to enjoy the benefits of the hot springs, and the place is considered sacred to this day. The historic Longyear and 4-C Ranches surrounded the hot springs for years, with cattle and agriculture. And, later, Phillip P. Keough, who was a superintendent of the Wells Fargo stage line and owned City Market in Bishop, and a considerably wealthy man, built a premiere health resort, called Keough’s Radium Hot Springs, in 1919. Keough had bath houses, guest cabins, an indoor dining room, and a very popular outdoor dance pavilion. Shade trees invited bathers and picnickers to the grassy areas, and two pools were available; one was a kids’ wading pool, the other an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Glory Days of the 1920s and 1930s
Everybody loved going to Keough’s for picnics, and people from Independence and surrounding communities made special trips to the resort for big gatherings. The Owens Valley was a booming and bustling agricultural environment. Going to Keough’s Radium Hots Springs was the height of any trip from outside the area, and many of the valley’s residents met and married their dancing sweethearts at the pretty dance pavilion near the shade trees.

Keough’s Hot Springs ownership changed hands in 1926, when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) purchased the property for its water rights, which continues to this day. Upkeep on the resort wasn’t easy, and eventually, DWP leased the property to George Vonderheide and his wife, Rowena. These two, nearly single-handedly revived the Saturday night dances, and their sons, Harry and George, helped out too. Days of extravagant tropical style followed under Rowena, who had a penchant for keeping peacocks, canaries and 48 pairs of parakeets, in the bathhouse, and there were an abundance of tropical plants too. While the Vondeheides held the lease, they decided not to renew in 1930. Keough’s fate was up in the air, like steam in winter. Several struggled to make a go of it. However, in 1934, Keough’s closed.

They’re back! Despite some considering demolishing the resort…the Vondeheides returned by the end of 1934. Whoopie! And, Saturday Night Dances became a big shindig, with the repeal of Prohibition, Keough’s had a bar built, and it was “Let the good times roll, again.” However, by 1945, and World War II, the Vondeheides said goodbye.

In stepped Dick and Liz Denniss from southern California, in 1955. Liz brought showbiz knowledge, and Dick liked mining and construction, so the couple took a five-year lease from DWP, and they revived the resort again. Dick’s greatest addition was the cooling tower, which allowed for the hot springs to go into the pools, without the cool-down days between cleanings. The Dennisses set up end-of-school-year parties, and swimming lessons began. And, for a time, Keough’s was a “Members Only” establishment.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Keough’s future once again, seemed in peril. Then, in 1998, the Brown family, from Bishop, CA, purchased the place, and the updating and renovating continues to this day. Today, Keough’s Hot Springs has camping and RV sites, rustic furnished tent cabins, the Keough’s Shop (camping and swimming supplies, and souvenirs), a picnic area, a rock garden trail, a snack bar, and two pools. The largest pool is 100 feet x 40 feet, and ranges in depth from three feet to eight and a half feet, and it’s kept at 88-90 degrees. The Hot Pool is around two-feet deep, and is at 104 degrees. The pools are cleaned each week, and around the pool there are comfortable places to lounge and relax. They also have popular water aerobics classes. The pools are open most days of the week, except Tuesday. Keough’s Hot Springs hosts parties, and other family events. And, with camping nearby, with 10 sites (electric, 30 amp and water hookups), dry camping, showers, and tent cabins too…it’s easy to picture yourselves having a fun family year-round stay-cation….

*The Brown family also operate Brown’s Town and Campground, Bishop, CA, Brown’s Millpond Campground, Glacier View Campground, near Big Pine, CA, and Brown’s Owens River Campground.