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Wash cares away under The Springs Resort's gentle waterfall at Pagosa Springs, CO.

In Hot Water
For relaxation, try a soothing soak in naturally heated mineral pools

Story and photo
by Sharon Niederman

One of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts to those of us who live in the mountain west is the mineral-enhanced, thermally-heated waters that naturally flow into the marvel we call hot “springs.” For relaxation, rejuvenation, healing of body and soothing of mind and spirit, the only thing that can top a good soak in an outdoor hot springs is to follow that watery pleasure with a massage. Hot springs may not cure your arthritis or asthma — or your gout or rheumatism, as promised in the old days — but most people feel better after a visit.

While New Mexico has its share of these natural wonder, it’s a bit of an adventure to cross over the state line to Colorado, where you may sample from a selection of 25 commercial natural hot springs in the western part of the state.

You can, for example, leave Albuquerque after lunch and by evening be soaking in the misty, steaming waters of the downtown Ouray Hot Springs Pool, contemplating the monumental San Juan peaks that seem almost close enough to touch, as the Milky Way twinkles overhead.

If you’ve only got a long weekend, you can take in a variety of springs in the Ouray area, with the family-oriented in-town pools, the private springs available to guests only at the Wiesbaden, Box Canyon and Twin Peaks lodges, and the clothing-optional seclusion of Orvis Hot Springs in nearby Ridgway.

You can also stop off en route at the recently upgraded Trimble Hot Springs in Durango, a family pool with amenities.

Flowing from deep within the earth through fractures in the planet’s crust, hot springs are often situated beside places of great natural beauty, such as the Rocky Mountains and rivers.

Colorado’s Springs
Here is a sampling of hot springs in southwestern Colorado:

Ouray Hot Springs Pool
(970) 325-7073
12 pm–9 pm daily
$ 8 daily

Cottonwood Hot Springs
8 am–12 pm daily
$10 weekdays; $15 Fri.–Sun.

The Spa at Pagosa Springs
(970) 264-5910
8 am–10 pm daily
$8 daily

And while most springs have been used for centuries by successions of native peoples, settlers, miners and soldiers for ritual, cure and rest,today their natural assets are boosted by the comforts of spas, where snacks, cafes, showers, massage and overnight lodging are available. Hiking, skiing, wildflower and bird watching, mountain biking, fishing and river rafting are pass times generally convenient to the springs.

Old Meets New

My current personal favorite, for the clarity of the water, the peacefulness and the delightful mineral composition, is the 125 year-old Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista, with five pristine river rock-edged pools of varying temperatures.

The atmosphere is a comfortable cross between an old Western set and California hippie/New Age. The pools are open all night to those staying in the guest rooms, and clothing is optional after dark between May 15-September 15. Twenty miles down the road toward Salida, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, with an historic lodge and restaurant on the premises, offers another hot springs experience, with a comfortable pool. It’s possible to tiptoe down through the rocks and sit in one of several small, comfortably and naturally-heated rock enclosures beside roaring, icy Chalk Creek. And the kids will love Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, Colorado’s largest indoor hot springs pool.

While each watery “hot spot” makes claims for the particular health benefits of its waters, none does so more than the luxurious Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs. Pagosa’s highly sulfurous waters are beautifully arrayed in a series of free-form terraced pools of varying sizes and temperatures overlooking the San Juan River. The strong aroma of hard-boiled eggs almost convinces you the waters must surely have equally strong medicinal properties.

An alternative, The Spa at Pagosa Springs, with its swimming pool kept at between 88 and 95 degrees, degrees is simple, child-friendly and reminiscent of the old days when locals came to “take the cure” for whatever ailed them.

Original owner Nancy Giordano, now age 90, has been taking a mineral bath every night for the past 55 years and drinking a glass of the water each day. “I’m perfectly healthy and under no medications,” she says. “I do aerobics and line-dance.”

This story originally appeared
in the August, 2005 issue
of Boomer Magazine of the Albuquerque Journal

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