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Text and photographs © 2014 by Deborah Frazier All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data George, Deborah Frazier, 1948Colorado’s hot springs / Deborah Frazier. — Third edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-941821-13-8 (pbk.) ISBN 978-1-941821-38-1 (e-book) 1. Hot springs—Colorado. I. Title. GB1198.3.C6F73 2014 551.2’309788—dc23 2014017811 Design: Vicki Knapton Published by WestWinds Press® An imprint of

P.O. Box 56118 Portland, Oregon 97238-6118 503-254-5591



o those long gone who loved the hot springs. To the Utes, who showed the weak and weary the healing waters. The Utes, the springs’ first, longest, and best guardians, who shared the springs and the healing with other Native Americans and the early Europeans. To those who introduced me to Colorado and nature’s wonders—Dale, Barb, Dana, and Leigh Romsdal. And, most important, they taught me to preserve the beauties. To Maria Avila and Dean Krakel for patient and kindly picture editing. To my hot springs traveling buddy Ann Imse. To the great historians, including Patricia Limerick and Glenn Morris, who taught me to question traditional histories and dig until I found the uncomfortable truths. And to Molly Peck, Peter M. Kelly, Peggy Strain, Sheila Adler, and Shelley Lazear, the bright stars by which I navigate. May we all love and protect Colorado’s glorious wild places for the generations to come.

Contents Overview Map 6 Introduction 7 Northern Colorado (Interstate 70 and North) 19 Juniper Hot Springs ..........................................................20 Strawberry Park Hot Springs ............................................25 Old Town Hot Springs......................................................30 Steamboat Springs Mineral Springs Walking Tour ............ 33 Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa .................................38 Eldorado Swimming Pool ................................................. 43 Indian Hot Springs ...........................................................48 Radium Hot Springs .........................................................52 Yampah Spa and Hot Springs Vapor Caves........................ 57 Glenwood Hot Springs Pool .............................................. 61 South Canyon Hot Springs ...............................................66 West-Central Colorado (Interstate 70 South to US 50)


Penny Hot Springs............................................................ 70 Avalanche Ranch .............................................................. 74 Conundrum Hot Springs .................................................. 78 Cottonwood Hot Springs .................................................84 Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa ......................88 Antero Hot Springs Cabins ............................................... 92 Treehouse Hot Springs......................................................95 Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway ...........................................98 Creekside Hot Springs .................................................... 101 Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center .................................. 104

Cement Creek Ranch...................................................... 108 Waunita Hot Springs Ranch............................................ 111 Desert Reef Hot Spring ................................................... 115 Dakota Hot Springs ........................................................ 120 123 Southwest Colorado (US 50 and South) Orvis Hot Springs........................................................... 124 Ouray Hot Springs Pool ..................................................128 Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings ...................... 133 Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs .................................. 138 Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs ................................... 141 4UR Ranch ..................................................................... 145 Dunton Hot Springs ....................................................... 150 Joyful Journey Hot Springs ............................................. 155 Valley View Hot Springs.................................................. 160 Sand Dunes Swimming Pool........................................... 164 Colorado Gators Reptile Park .......................................... 168 Splashland...................................................................... 171 Rainbow Hot Springs...................................................... 174 Healing Waters Resort & Spa.......................................... 179 The Springs Resort and Spa ............................................ 182 Overlook Hot Springs Spa............................................... 186 Piedra River Hot Springs................................................. 189 Pinkerton Hot Springs .................................................... 194 Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs.............................. 196

Bibliography 201 Index 203 About the Author 208

The Hot Springs of Colorado




ot springs are Colorado’s ocean. The bubbles whisper. The warm mist beckons. The humid heat embraces. The state’s infinite Rocky Mountain panoramas lack little— except a sea, an ocean, or some such grand expanse of water. Alpine lakes are spectacular and foot-freezing cold. The hot springs enfold the visitor with balmy mist and soothing heat that dispel the frigid fingers of winter. There’s no disloyalty to Colorado’s grandeurs in longing for the moody sea or the rhythmic sigh of waves on a shore. Perhaps it’s a primal quest for the pre-birth amniotic state or a cosmic yen to join the earth in a warm communion. Within the hot springs’ quiet and foggy corners is the ocean’s gift: a muffling of noise and other sensory clatter. The mind wanders its own waterborne course of dreams, life puzzles, and fancies. The buoyancy takes over the burden of life’s inevitable loads. Colorado’s hot springs number in the hundreds, counting small seeps, tiny trickles, and “secret springs” with undisclosed locations. In Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs, the springs’ count is more than a hundred each, but most are too small for a soak. Colorado’s large springs number ninety-three and are strewn like a pirate’s treasure west of Interstate 25. The pages ahead chronicle the forty-four that welcomed guests in 2014. The other sixty major springs are nearly all on private land and include those that feed small personal pools, boarded up commercial spas, and springs plugged with cement to stop trespassing bathers. The Colorado Geological Survey periodically checks the springs and says there’s been little change in temperature or minerals since they started testing in the 1920s. The later surveys were done to assess geothermal energy potential in the state. Professional geologists share with simple soakers a curiosity about the springs. Among the hot springs that are open to the public, there are 7

six “people’s” springs that are free—located on public land, undeveloped, and primitive. Clothing is optional. There’s Conundrum, Penny, Piedra, Radium, Rainbow, and South Canyon. The uncounted springs beyond the official tallies are the secret springs not listed in geological surveys, and known only to locals and property owners. They include the small pools alongside rivers and in cow pastures. Some cause patches of blue ice on ski slopes. Their locations aren’t disclosed to strangers. Fishermen sometimes stumble upon them as do rafters, hikers, and hunters. The pools are often on private land, so there’s rarely a friendly welcome for trespassing bathers. In 2014, at least three undeveloped springs were closed and up for sale. The outcome will be in the next edition of this book. Springs come and go. In the past two decades, a half dozen or so hot springs on private land were bulldozed out of existence because owners wearied of the trash, all-night parties, and rude trespassers. For instance, a hot springs spa in Glenwood along the Colorado River was plowed over by its owner, a mining company. The spa had opened there in 1896 with the county sheriff as the owner. In the 1940s, the Saturday Evening Post recommended the spa as one of the best places in Colorado. All gone. On the other hand, seven new springs have opened in the last 10 years: Avalanche Ranch near Glenwood Springs; Antero, Alpine, Creekside, and Treehouse near Mount Princeton; Overlook in Pagosa Springs; and Juniper Hot Springs near Craig. Like the state’s fifty-three peaks that are 14,000 feet or the fourteen major rivers in Colorado, the hot springs are far-flung. No two look the same or have identical minerals, but the water is always warm and people have been soaking there for centuries.

History’s Stage and Crystal Ball Hot springs have been part of nearly every historical twist and turn in Colorado’s past. Centuries before European explorers arrived on this continent, springs were used by Native Americans for rituals 8 Colorado’s Hot Springs

and ceremonies. Spirituality and steam were one. The waters were part of healing, strengthening, and affirming the life-giving connection with the earth. The Colorado Utes, the Navajo, Arapaho, and Cheyenne, and, later, many other tribes shoved west by European settlers, cherished the waters as sacred. Each spring has Ute stories—given by elders to tribal members even today. The hot springs were among the last parcels of land the Utes surrendered. Accounts written by non-historians in many hot springs towns describe the Colorado Utes “giving” the hot springs to settlers. Other stories refer to Native Americans leaving on an annual migration, but mysteriously never returning. That’s not what happened. The Utes and other Native Americans were removed, at gunpoint in some cases, by the US Army in the late 1800s. Settlers, miners, and homesteaders started claiming hot springs from the 1860s on. Manifest Destiny, gold strikes, flight from the industrialized Northeast and emigrants fleeing the impoverished post–Civil War South, the railroads stretching west, and the tidal wave of immigration from Europe created pressures that broke treaty after treaty with the Utes. Both the pre-statehood territorial government and the US Army ignored extensive squatting on Indian land long before 1880. “The Utes Must Go,” echoed from Colorado’s GoverIntroduction


nor John Evans through the halls of government, from church pulpits, newspapers, and land speculation offices. So, the Utes did go to reservations in southwest Colorado and another in Utah in the late 1800s. The Utes didn’t give the springs away or just leave, contrary to many local histories. A powerful invader took the springs from them. And many Utes died defending their property rights. The Utes and other Native Americans still visit many hot springs in the state, often in the off-season for privacy. The visits are often for spiritual, not recreational, purposes. Native Americans’ connections to the hot springs and the spiritual realm they represent have endured despite years of exile and loss. Many hot springs owners embrace the visits and honor the descendants. So, when you visit please respect the first owners and their ceremonies as you would a Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, or Buddhist prayer service.

Those Who Came Later Like the Utes before them, explorers, trappers, miners, and settlers sought solace in the soothing waters. The famed Fremont expedition, which mapped ore loads, put a few hot springs on the charts. Other explorers mapped Colorado’s rivers and streams, the geology, and the vegetation. The trappers used that information to find beaver, otter, and fox. The miners came in droves, answering the call of gold and silver. All of the springs are in western Colorado and many are close to the mightiest gold finds, flowing fringe benefits for miners whose lives were spent beneath the ground in cold and wet. Glenwood Springs was founded by a Leadville miner, Isaac Cooper, who couldn’t bear another year of the miserable dirty work. He proclaimed the hot springs a cure for all aches, pains, and respiratory problems brought on by mining and helped found the town of Glenwood Springs. The early miners were among the first squatters around springs, pitching tents among the springs for easy access. 10 Colorado’s Hot Springs

A few enterprising souls left mining to operate bathhouses and therapeutic pools. And there were settlers like James Crawford in Steamboat Springs who opted to homestead at a hot springs in the 1870s and profited by building a public bathhouse. By the early 1900s, Steamboat, Glenwood, Ouray, Pagosa, Hot Sulphur, and other Colorado hot springs towns were part of the international spa circuit.

Soaks and Spas, Resorts and Radium Pilgrims to Colorado hot springs in the 1900s drew on hundreds of years of tradition in Europe. The baths of England, the spas of Austria, and geothermals of Scandinavia were national treasures. Colorado’s hot springs were outposts on a worldwide tour. At Colorado’s foremost hot springs spas—Waunita, Eldorado Springs, Glenwood Springs, and Pagosa Springs—there were lectures on literature and politics, music and dancing, and sometimes large doses of religion. Enlightenment was part of the spa experience. As the United States sallied forth into the industrial age, the successful and the socially prominent modeled their lives on European culture. Spas with mineral hot springs and erudite activities were part of that sophistication. The pollution and disease that flourished in New York, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, and other industrial cities made popular the venerable European prescription for “cleansing the body of impurities.” In those last decades before antibiotics, influenza and pneumonia epidemics killed thousands in urban centers, with their open sewers and untreated water. A few weeks spent in the rarefied Colorado air, dosing oneself with pure mineral water, was a romantic tonic. Even before the spa movement and the turn of the twentieth century, soaking in Colorado’s hot springs was credited with curing cancer, baldness, arthritis, kidney disease, glaucoma, sterility, gout, mental illness, and asthma. Such powers sound far-fetched today, but there are lots of glowing historic testimonials from people claiming to be cured of their illnesses. Introduction


Besides bathing, doctors ordered springs-water injections, enemas, and poultices. Some regimes included drinking springs water by the gallon. There’s no record that this hurt or killed anyone. The spa movement didn’t survive the Great Depression, although individual resorts such as Glenwood Springs and Eldorado Springs did. In the decades that followed, the hot springs resorts languished as American families took to the highways on vacation. A few resorts closed as vacation success came to be measured in miles traveled and states seen from the highway. Some, like the Box Canyon and the Twin Peaks in Ouray, and Healing Waters in Pagosa Springs, adapted by adding motels. Some say the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s saved many of the springs by enjoying them when it wasn’t fashionable. The hot springs scene today is multigenerational—parents with little kids, teens, the recently retired on tour, and elders with achy arthritic joints.

The Geology of Hot Water Hot springs are the earth’s sweat. From fractures in the planet’s rocky skin, steam and hot water billow. The Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park spews hot water skyward while hundreds of other hot springs in the Yellowstone Basin seep, sputter, and spout. Japan has the highest number of hot springs, but Europe, Iceland, Russia, China, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, and the United States are well blessed. To qualify as a hot spring, the water temperature must be at least 90°F. Colorado’s hottest is Hortense, near Mount Princeton and not open to the public, at 182°F. The hot springs water comes from rain and snow that trickle down far beneath the earth’s surface. There, the runoff fills deep cavern reservoirs. Deeper still a molten core burns—the volcanic magma that formed the planet billions of years ago. That enduring molten core heats the runoff in the underground chambers. The water boils, 12 Colorado’s Hot Springs

swells in volume, and sends off steam. And the hot water shoots to the earth’s surface through faults, breaks, and fractures in the layers of rock. To complete the cycle, the spent water meanders back down again below the surface. When the geologic plumbing is right and tight, there’s a geyser spouting water skyward. Colorado has no Old Faithful, although there once was a small geyser that puffed rhythmically and gave Steamboat Springs its name. Regrettably, blasting for the railroad in the early 1900s choked off the Steamboat geothermal and its throaty chugging sound. Hot springs, on the other hand, have a steady flow, are less spectacular, and not quite as hot—the water doesn’t stay close to the magma long enough for superheating or else cools on the upward journey. As the steaming water speeds upward through the underground corridor of faults, the flow picks up minerals from the rock layers it passes through: carbonates, chlorides, sulfates, and the like. Once the water erupts on the surface and cools, the minerals often drop out to form agate-colored basins and terraces around the springs. Pinkerton Hot Springs near Durango, with its terraces upon terraces upon terraces, is an example of note. Owners of commercial hot springs rue high mineral concentrations, which clog pipes and slowly coat pools. Pagosa Springs, the caves at the Indian Hot Springs in Idaho Springs, and the subterranean chambers at the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves in Glenwood Springs all show heavy mineralization. The menu of minerals found at various Colorado hot springs is varied: sodium, potassium, iron, boron, magnesium, silica, zinc, selenium, phosphorous, and fluoride, according to the Colorado Geological Survey. Salt tops the list in terms of sheer volume—440,000 tons of salt a year from the many springs at Glenwood Springs. A few springs have a little arsenic, but not enough to matter. Others have a touch of lithium—used to make the wellknown antidepressant—but not enough to change your mood. There are hot springs in many states, although the West and Arkansas are especially well sprung. The flatlands of Texas, the high Introduction


deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest boast lovely springs. The Rocky Mountains are ideal hot springs territory. The jamming and ramming of ancient mud, ash, clay, gravel, and sand layers aeons ago bent, buckled, and ripped the mountain surfaces. There are fractures galore for funneling water down to the volcanic core and, once it is heated, back to the surface. Although made of stone, hot springs are fragile and their plumbing is finicky. Experiments with commercial geothermal heating rattled the springs in Ouray. Proposed commercial geothermal development has riled hot springs owners in several Colorado communities. Ouray, Pagosa Springs, and some other hot springs towns have successfully tapped the heat source of their springs for community benefit without damaging the geothermal system. Elsewhere in Colorado and the world, hot springs have been harnessed to grow flowers, herbs and fish, heat homes, and generate electricity. Springs worldwide have died after being stuffed with trash. Furniture, petticoats, toilet paper, coins, and other tokens of appreciation have been extracted to improve the flows. Although workers pull false teeth, jewelry, and a bounty of hair clips from the filters at Colorado’s developed springs, the mother spouts are usually fenced and protected. There’s no such security for the primitive, undeveloped places. Only the kindness of strangers and backcountry etiquette guard their founts. And as Colorado’s wilderness springs draw more people to their pools, the visitors’ manners will determine the future of the springs. The Golden Rule is a good place to start.

Health and Hot Water The Greeks and Romans swore by the invigorating power of hot mineral water, building stone baths in their empires’ remote reaches. Cleopatra wallowed in the warm water, convinced that she emerged younger. The Japanese, endowed with more hot springs than any other nation, worked steam baths into social and religious rituals. 14 Colorado’s Hot Springs

The Scandinavians, Native Americans, Europeans, and British were blessed with geothermal outpourings and learned early that a good soak cleared the mind, cleansed the body, and recharged the spirit. The early Christians preferred warm springs for baptisms. And Ponce de Leon searched in vain for the spring of eternal youth. Native Americans traveled hundreds of miles to reach hot springs long before Colorado had a name. When the Europeans arrived, Colorado’s hot springs were touted as curing sicknesses of the body and mind. For early settlers, a hot bath at least improved on personal hygiene. A few hours in a piping hot pool eased aches and injuries sustained in the Civil War, hard rock mining, railroad building, and homesteading. Soaking does make people feel better. But as a cure for cancer, rheumatism, infertility, sterility, emphysema, epilepsy, and dozens of other diseases the springs were said to vanquish: no. Many claims were publicized by some of the springs’ developers, who were bent on more business, not accuracy in advertising. The worst—and the most erroneous—claim made about Colorado’s hot springs involved radium. In the early 1900s, physicists Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the extraordinary properties of radium, including the ability to make X-ray photographs. The same people who swore by snake oil and saw “leeching”—letting large slug-like creatures suck large quantities of blood from the sick—as a cure-all fell in love with radioactivity. Radium-coated drinking glasses were a health hit. Watches with the numbers painted in radium were said to prolong life. And so several Colorado hot springs added “radium” as a proud surname until the era ended abruptly in the 1920s, when radium’s lethal side effect surfaced—cancer. The “radium” springs took the signs down. There’d been no radium in the water anyway. Today, claims of miracle cures from mineral water are illegal. Hygiene and wellness are in. County health departments inspect public hot springs. When there are complaints, an inspector usually makes a special trip. The state health department keeps an eye on the inspections, complaints, and the springs. Introduction


Stay Healthy All big public pools use chlorine, bromide, or ozone filters to keep the water clean. Most springs have a good water flow that refills the pools every 12 hours or so. Pool managers maintain regular routines of scouring, disinfecting, and steam cleaning. Which isn’t to say every pool, steam room, or vapor cave is germ-free every minute of every day. After swimming or lolling, a shower with a good soapscrubbing is a wise idea, if only to remove the minerals. So look around. Chances are, you’ll find everything is clean. If not, think twice about taking a dip. Here’s one warning: Don’t drink the pool water. Especially not in the primitive springs. YOU know why. Giardia, for instance. This waterborne parasite causes what is known as “backpackers’ disease.” Hours of severe cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can ruin your day. E. coli, a bacteria from human and dog waste, can be worse. Get the picture? If you see a serious problem, contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), (303) 692-2000, and work your way through the voice mail system to “Water Quality Control.” If you get sick or develop a skin problem, see a doctor. After you’ve talked with a doctor and learned that the problem was related to a hot springs’ visit, report the problem to the CDPHE’s epidemiology division, (303) 692-2700. Help protect others! Some springs provide mineral water at special faucets. That water is safe to drink. A few other presoak warnings: People with high blood pressure and heart problems should check with a doctor before soaking in a hot spring. Children in hot pools should be monitored carefully for signs of too much exposure to heat. And at Colorado’s high elevations, the sun gains in intensity. A goodly dab of sunscreen on your face won’t sully the water, but it will help prevent serious sunburn. There are laws against hot springs’ owners making claims about the water’s medicinal effects, but holistic healers and alterna16 Colorado’s Hot Springs

tive medicine missionaries attribute improved circulation to iron, lessened joint pain to sulphur, and credit calcium with calming nerves and soothing muscle aches. How nice. But the fact is that human skin does not absorb minerals in any significant volume. The warmth and relaxation gained from soaking are worthy therapies.

It’s More Than Hot Water Some hot springs’ sojourners credit the water with power over disease and even death. It is certainly true that no one is hurt by a day of repose in a hot spring, with mountains, forests, and rivers as backdrop. The habitués of hot springs are, by nature, seekers. Whether seeking refuge from cold or pain or stress, bathers seem to crave more than hot water. Conversations tend to be about faith—a belief in something greater than individual intelligence: crystals, herbs, Buddhism, basic Christianity, rigorous Orthodox Judaism, massage to release the spirit, all flavors of psychotherapy, and on and on. Introduction


Maybe the talk is part of the walk into the water—the relaxed mind seeking a higher plane. Bathers prone to taking the cerebral approach to any and all pleasure point out that solitary immersion in hot springs pools re-creates the pre-birth state: warm, safe, and enveloped by the bliss of the unknowing. Perhaps. But those who have partaken of the springs’ warmth know that the surest tonic has always been the water’s ability to soothe away the pain Shakespeare’s Hamlet described as “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune . . . that flesh is heir to.” Which brings us to hot springs’ ethics. My ethics: I accepted no “freebies”—no free passes, meals, or lodging when I visited each spring. And, I visited most springs anonymously before the interview visit to make sure I saw and experienced what real visitors did. To accuracy and ethics! As to visitor ethics: as more people visit springs, in part because of books such as this one, the springs—both the wild and the developed—are at the mercy of the bathers. Care for them well and mentor others on leaving the landscapes, from flowers and forests to wetlands and streams, untrampled. At stake is the scene at the springs that took your breath away when you first gazed at the water and the sky. The springs are yours to care for too.

On Directions and GPS Most commercial hot springs have street addresses and are easy to find. For the remote hot springs on federal land and the one commercial hot spring, Juniper Hot Springs, in an extremely remote area, I included GPS locations provided by the federal land manager or owner. Happy navigating!

18 Colorado’s Hot Springs

NORTHERN COLORADO (Interstate 70 and North)



Juniper Hot Springs 8090 Moffat County Road 53 Lay, CO 81625 (970) 326-6566 GPS: N40° 28.0277 / W107° 57.1098 What to Know: Hot springs pools with primitive camping.

Where: From Craig, go 20 miles west of town on US 40. Go 2 miles past the sign for Lay and just beyond mile marker 69. Turn left onto Moffat County Road 53 and follow the gravel road for 4 miles and over the Yampa River bridge. Juniper Hot Springs is on the left. See map on page 22.


uniper Hot Springs is hoping for that old hot water magic. Juniper wasn’t much to look at in 2014, but it is worth remembering that some of Colorado’s superstar hot springs started out like Juniper. Just a few steps above primitive with two aging, sandy-bottomed concrete pools, one large and one medium, an elderly roofless bathhouse with three soaking tubs, and a portapotty. The water is warm, about 105°F, and clear. Guests use swimming pool skimmers to remove occasional clumps of algae. There’s never a crowd and the folks are usually locals. Located along the Yampa River, Juniper is where the sagebrush country turns lush along the river. Deer, elk, antelope, coyote, and fox wander by. With no onsite manager, Juniper’s guests are trusted to use the honor system, dropping the $5 daily admission for swimming and the $10 per night camping fee in a metal deposit post container that owner Roy McAnally checks daily. Roy asks campers and RVers to call ahead to use the six camper sites and four tent 20

sites. The adjoining ranchers keep an eye on things, as do the sheriff’s deputies. “It is one of a kind,” says Roy. It can only get better. And based on Juniper’s history, it will. Centuries ago, Ute Indians used the hot springs. Spearheads, stone corn grinders, and other artifacts found in the area tell a story of hunters who grew corn, melons, and squash and other food along the river. Early European accounts say that ailing and aging Utes were carried through a tunnel that led to a natural cavern, carved by a hot spring at the site. Treaty after treaty shoved the Utes to remote corners of Colorado and the local Utes were rounded up at the White River Ute Reservation in nearby Meeker where the proud hunters were forced to farm the waterless rangeland in a failed government experiment. The Utes rebelled, killing eight of their captors in the so-called Northern Colorado


Juniper Hot Springs

r ive aR p m Ya 40

40 53

40 13


Ya m

22 Colorado’s Hot Springs

pa Riv e r

“Meeker Massacre” and twelve soldiers who came to settle the score. The “official” fatality counts ignored the Ute deaths. The victory was short-lived and the Utes were exiled to Utah in 1879. A series of owners in the late 1800s built a small bathhouse and a small town with a general store, a US Post Office, hotel, dining room, large bathhouse, and horse stable. By 1905, owner Minerva Wing had added a cable car over the river to transport mail, supplies, and visitors. Men digging a drinking water well hit hot water in 1908 and indoor soaking pools were added. Wars and drought hit the area hard and the town and the post office had closed by 1954. And then, along came Stella Craig who brought Juniper Hot Springs back to life, buying the place with her husband in 1962 and creating a rural resort with two swimming pools, a café, guest cabins, and her famous Juniper burgers. Her husband, Charley, was a rancher who used the property for grazing. Her family had homesteaded near Juniper and she grew up going to the hot springs by wagon or horseback for baths. Stella was a particular kind of Western woman, the kind that can do anything and likes everyone she meets, including ornery kids. She cooked for the café and made pies, rebuilt the pool and scrubbed it daily, hauled in drinking water and learned to be a masseuse through a correspondence course. Local churches baptized new members in the springs. Generations of youngsters learned to swim at Juniper. Families gathered for reunions. Stella retired in 1993 and wrote the book Stella Craig at Juniper Hot Springs that used pictures she’d taken over the years. The “For Sale” sign stayed up until 2007, when Roy, a local realtor, and his family purchased Juniper, tore down the dilapidated buildings, and started seeking investors for the world class, energy self-sufficient resort that the family envisions. Roy, whose family also homesteaded in the area, remembers going to Juniper in the summers while growing up. “Stella loved people and Juniper was her life’s passion because of the people,” says Roy, who carries on Stella’s hospitality. “People Northern Colorado


say they enjoy it. If you’re not looking for a first-class resort and just want to relax, it is fun to be out here.” Some would say that Juniper, in the middle of nowhere, is an unlikely site for a modern resort. Not so. Juniper is within 1½ hours of Dinosaur National Monument and Steamboat Springs. Closer still are renowned fishing spots along the Yampa River, quality elk and deer hunting, and an abundance of snowmobile and four-wheel-drive trails. Never underestimate the allure of hot springs.

24 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Strawberry Park Hot Springs 44200 County Road 36 Steamboat Springs, CO 80487 (970) 879-0342 What to Know: Open to the public. Lodging: six rustic cabins, ďŹ ve tent sites, a train caboose, and two covered wagons. No pets, glass containers, smoking, or alcohol. Clothing optional for adults after dark.

Where: Follow US 40 (Lincoln Avenue) through Steamboat Springs, turn right onto 7th Street, which becomes Missouri Avenue. Meander through a residential area to North Park Road. Turn left (north) and then right onto County Road 36. Continue on the winding dirt road for about 8 miles. The last 2 miles are unpaved, steep, and winding. Four-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires or vehicles with chains are required between Nov. 1 and May 1. Winter shuttle service, available in Steamboat Springs, is recommended. See map on page 37.


h, Strawberry. Sweet, sweet Strawberry hot springs. A warm inland tidal pool in an idyllic mountain valley. The necklace of six pools breathes steam in the early morning as if answering the rising sun and the perfect day ahead. Small waterfalls and rock walls separate the ponds of varying temperatures. The sandy pool bottoms comfort sore feet. Handrails make meandering from pool to pool easy. Set on a parcel of private land that’s 7,500 feet above sea level within the Routt National Forest, Strawberry is located in an aspen-studded valley. Deer, fox, dozens of bird species, and a host of creatures also inhabit the valley and leave hoof and paw prints in the sand around the pools. 25

The springs sputter to the surface at up to 147°F, perfect for making soft-boiled eggs. No cooking is allowed at the springs pools, but early photographs of the place show visitors cooking fish, beef, eggs, tea, and vegetables. The springwater has far higher uses than cooking. The alpine refuge attracts seasonal tides of skiers, hikers, rafters, hunters, young families, and New Age believers in search of the universe’s center. The cabins and tent sites, for the lucky few who secure overnight reservations, share a common bathroom and shower. There’s a separate picnic area, away from the pools, for eating lunches and snacks. When the sun tops the mountain ridge, the morning light turns the billowing vapor incandescent. The steamy flow pours, glittering, over the pools. The waterfall of mists moves in slow motion in the absolute quiet of morning and vanishes when the 26 Colorado’s Hot Springs

sun warms the earth to match the steam’s hot whispers. It’s a show worth rising early to catch. The Ute Indians used the hot springs to heal body and soul. Native Americans believe now, as they did hundreds of years ago, that the vapors contained their creator’s essence and soaking in the pools rejuvenated the soul through the reunion. Starting in the 1870s, settlers and miners claimed the land and ousted the Utes. The Utes were disgusted with the whites’ trash and inattention to sanitation. Each successive owner fought trespassers and wild parties. The original homestead family survived low cattle prices, foul winters, and desperate economic times, but years of ousting uninvited guests made them delighted to sell the springs to the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association for $1 in 1936. The alpine bacchanalia continued throughout the 1970s. The county sheriff had the unwelcome task of breaking up fights, shutting down drunken parties, and answering neighbors’ complaints every weekend until 1982 when the current owner, Don Johnson, bought the springs. Don’s offer to the recreation association came amid public discussion of bulldozing the springs or selling the land to a national hotel chain that wanted to build a resort. Instead, volunteers built the pools, Don hauled off trash by the truckload, and chased off biker gangs, transients, and insistent party seekers. The rest is magic. Don changed Strawberry’s culture from “let’s party!” to splendid soaking and soul repair. Manager Joe Stepan calls himself Strawberry’s caretaker. He and the staff respond quickly and firmly to the occasional rogues and rowdies. The upper pool, which measures about 30 feet by 100 feet, is usually 104°F, and the lower pool, 15 feet by 20 feet, is about 102°F. There are hot pockets in both pools where other springs flow in. And bathers can step down to a pool where an icy mountain stream is only slightly warmed by a spring. A series of hotter, smaller soaking pools are carved into the hillside. Northern Colorado


In the last few years, Don has added a full bathhouse, a cabin for massage therapy, and a private outdoor pool for watsu massage, a gentle form of body massage performed in warm water. There’s a changing tepee, which adds a Native American touch to the springs, and a heated cabin for switching clothing in the winter. Strawberry is a primitive hot spring—there’s no electricity. The canyon walls block most cell phone access. There’s a pay telephone, installed after the neighbors complained about stranded winter motorists pestering them. There’s a section of the dirt road that’s called the Luge Run, full of twists, turns, and plunges. And the neighbors tired of digging people out, so the county set fines of up to $500 for any inexperienced winter driver who gets a vehicle stuck on the road—even an SUV with studded tires. There’s an easy way to get there—shuttle bus services in Steamboat Springs tote soakers to Strawberry. Like other springs with minimal development, Strawberry doesn’t advertise. Friends tell friends. For some, it is an annual pilgrimage. Soakers come from Japan, eastern Europe, and South America. Newcomers call Strawberry the most amazing place they’ve ever seen. So, there’s the feel of a private club bound by love of a natural treasure. The five cabins are rustic—a carpeted floor and a raised, wooden platform, which is also carpeted. There’s a propane heater and a lamp. On each porch is a small cooking grill and two wooden lawn chairs. The cabins and most of the six tent spaces are set back in the woods, hidden from the pools. There are two deluxe cabins that have gas fireplaces, a kitchenette, and a bath. The two gypsy wagons feature only a light and a double mattress. The roof is canvas, and guests bring their own sheets and towels. On a summer afternoon—or a winter day before the crowd arrives—Strawberry Hot Springs has the look of a trout habitat for humans. The water is dark and smooth. Sunlight wafts through the trees. People float nearly submerged in the water, and soft conversation is the only sound. Because of the springs’ high temperatures, 28 Colorado’s Hot Springs

youngsters usually prefer the downtown swimming pool, which has a waterslide and other jumbo water toys. After dark, when the day trippers have left, the clothing optional rule goes into effect. Couples stay close and, perhaps, discuss spawning. A zillion stars flicker above. The tendrils of mist shroud the couples embracing in the pools’ far corners. The water is obsidian black on the surface, but clear to the sandy bottom if you look down. Imagine floating in warm silk.

Northern Colorado


Old Town Hot Springs 136 Lincoln Avenue Steamboat Springs, CO 80487 (970) 879-1828 What to Know: Open to the public. Swimming and soaking pools, waterslides, and massage salon. Where: Head west through Steamboat Springs on US 40, which becomes Lincoln Avenue. Old Town Hot Springs are on the right side of the road. See map on page 37.


he Old Town Hot Springs gets better and better. A life cycle of hot springs joy plays out in the pools. Eight hot springs–fed pools of all sizes, shapes, and temperatures, waterslides, a climbing wall, swim lanes, and soaking ponds for everyone from toddlers to seniors. So many ways to enjoy the geothermal gifts and the blessings of warm water. There’s always magic at hot springs, but the Old Town Hot Springs are spectacular in winter when the cold weather and the warm water match wits with drifting fog, shimmering mist, snowflakes melting in the pools, and flashes of rainbow colors in the sunshine. View the show from the comfort of a pool, where temperatures range from 98°F to 103°F. Old Town is owned by a community nonprofit known for reinvesting all profits in improvements. That shows and that’s why there’s something for everyone. In bygone times, the Yampatika Utes camped at the same spring, located on a small mesa about 100 feet above the Yampa River. Contrary to contemporary translations, Yampa doesn’t mean “healing waters.” Instead, it means “carrot-like vegetable.” Not very romantic, but the wild vegetable was a diet mainstay for the Utes throughout Colorado and Utah. 30

Before the United States broke the treaty that deeded northwest Colorado to the Utes, the first settler in the area, James Crawford, built a bathhouse in 1875 at Old Town’s current site. The previous year he found the spring, later named Heart Spring, while hunting, and he sped back to the family homestead a half mile away. Crawford loaded his wife, three children, and his parents in a wagon, drove back to the spring, where he’d dug a hole that filled with hot water from the geothermal spout, and the family enjoyed a rare warm bath. Crawford told later settlers that a Yampatika Ute leader known as Yarmony or Yahmonite recounted a battle at the springs he’d witnessed between the Ute and the Arapaho Indians when he was a child. The Utes were camped below the spring on an island in the river. One night a band of Arapaho crept up behind a hill overlooking the island and surprised the Utes with their attack. Yarmony told Crawford he had seen his own father killed in the fight over Northern Colorado


control of the area’s springs. Long before the Europeans, other Indian bands sought sovereignty at the springs. H. W. Gossard, who owned the property between 1931 and 1935, named the spring Heart Spring, for its shape. Gossard added a second story to the bathhouse and introduced the winter carnival, a tradition that continues today, and it featured a local man diving into the pool from atop a 100-foot ladder. Successive owners built successively larger bathhouses from logs and native stone. In 1935, Gossard’s Steamboat Springs Co. sold the springs to the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association for $10. In the Old Town lobby today, old pictures feature flappers from the 1920s in swimming outfits so modest that they included bathing socks. A photo from 1913 shows an elk swimming across the pool, and a 1947 picture of the winter festival captures a skier flying into the pool. A flagstone-and-river-rock basin catches Heart Spring’s flows today. That pool, of course, is heart shaped. The crystalline water in the pool is about 103°F, the same temperature as the hot spring itself. The voluminous spring fills all the pools. Steamboat is still a town where a trip to the grocery store can take more than an hour because one is constantly running into friends. Going to Old Town’s pools means talking to friends. Unlike some other fast-growing Colorado resorts, Steamboat Springs remains a place where locals outnumber newcomers and still welcome new people into the community. Occasionally, one of the hot soaking pools will fill with people. Not because the other pools are full, but because the soakers all know one another and want to talk. The pool takes on the atmosphere of an intimate cocktail party where everyone is laughing, chattering, and having a good time. In the spirit of community, locals can work off the cost of a yearly membership pass. “My favorite scene is people arriving. They’re tired, their children are whining,” says Old Town’s executive director Pat Carney. “They soak and sit and sun and they leave and they’re happy. You can watch the transformation. It is so nice to be doing something where what you do makes people feel good.” 32 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Steamboat Springs Mineral Springs Walking Tour Iron Springs Park 13 Street and Lincoln Avenue Steamboat Springs, CO 80487 (970) 879-2214 th

What to Know: Roadside attraction. No charge. Hot springs with interpretive signs. No bathing or drinking

Where: Start anywhere—the trail is a loop. In Steamboat Springs, US 40 becomes Lincoln Avenue. Drive through town to 13th Street, where there are free parking lots on 13th Street, on both sides of Lincoln Avenue. The springs are on both sides of Lincoln Avenue. Walking tour maps are available at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and the Chamber of Commerce, which are downtown, and the Bud Werner Memorial Library across the street from Iron Spring Park. See map on page 37.


here’s lots of talk about hot springs, but only Steamboat Springs has a self-guided hot springs walking tour. The route winds along the river and through town parks, all perfect for picnics. More than 150 hot springs percolate to the earth’s surface near Steamboat. Some are on private land and closed to the public. Some are tiny seeps in hay fields. The seven along the walk offer a unique glimpse of geology and thermal energy, like a stroll through a geomorphic flower garden. And it’s open every day, all year, for free. There’s a guided tour at least one day a week in the summer. The Springs’ Walk often starts at Iron Springs Park, located at 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue, next to the parking lot. Iron Spring’s 33

water was considered a tonic for “ailments of body and will” back in the day. At the turn of the century that meant everything from tuberculosis to depression, from arthritis to schizophrenia. A spritz of lemon juice was recommended, for the water tasted strongly of iron. Other springs had a higher iron content, but generations swore by the Iron Spring cure. On the Yampa River’s north bank is Sulphur Spring, which announces its name to your nose before it meets your eyes. The Utes believed the spring’s scent signified powerful healing. European settlers found the sulphur scent tremendously appealing. So many people visited that the spring was ringed with large stones embedded with tether rings for horses. Today, the number of paw prints and hoof marks found around the spring each morning indicates that wildlife has a singular preference for the pungent water. 34 Colorado’s Hot Springs

At Black Sulphur Spring, on the south side of the river, the water is inky black. The sulphur content is about the same as at Sulphur Spring, but it’s got more of a witch’s brew look. The original Steamboat Spring is located nearby and still has a geyser-like spurt. A few yards away are the Narcissus and Terrace Springs, as pretty as pearls in an oyster. And then there’s Lithia Spring. Lithia as in lithium, used as a mood-leveling drug and considered highly effective for manic depression. Modern chemical analysis found that other springs on the walk are higher in lithium, but stories have persisted for years about the chemical’s effect on the early settlers. Some said there was an Indian curse on the settlers that damned any who left the Yampa River Valley to great sadness. Others believed the waters were especially soothing because the pool’s water is milky white. Northern Colorado


In the 1930s, a local advocate of Lithia’s healing ways built stone columns at the spring’s entrance and planned to sell bottled water with the label “Miraquelle.” A local pharmacist and the state health department say a glass or so of the water doesn’t have enough lithium to make a difference in anybody’s mood. Just so you know, drinking the water along the Springs’ Walk is prohibited for sanitary reasons. Cave Spring, which is gated for safety, has a different hot springs story. Elsewhere in the world there are similar caverns, where sulphur fumes are trapped. For ancient peoples these sites were often oracles or places where prophets were inspired by inhaling the fumes. Within Cave Spring, jets of hot water cut through the rough rock walls to form the cavern. And within that cavern lives a bacteria-algae descended from myceum, a fungus that dates back about four billion years. In other similar hot springs around the world, different bacteria-algae have evolved from myceum and have also remained simple primitive plants. Unfortunately, you won’t need a lemon anymore at Soda Springs. Earlier in the last century, before soda pop was invented, locals sliced up lemons on hot summer days and made lemonade at Soda Spring. The water was 55°F, and the drink was a dandy. Highway construction turned off the tap, but the town built a gazebo to mark the spot. Years earlier, the town’s namesake, Steamboat Spring, died when blasting for railroad construction in 1908 disturbed the bedrock and forever silenced the “chug.” That spring and the town were named in the 1820s by three French trappers who had wandered up the Yampa River and heard a throaty, periodic chug. After months in the wilderness, they concluded that they’d hit a major river with paddle-wheel steamboats. A long soak in the hot springs consoled the Frenchmen and Steamboat got its name.

36 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Steamboat Springs Area

Northern Colorado


Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa 5609 Spring Road Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451 (970) 725-3306 What to Know: Open to the public. Soaking pools, swimming pool, spa and lodging.

Where: From Denver: Take I-70 west to Exit 232 to US Highway 40 to Granby and Steamboat Springs. Stay on Highway 40, staying left at the fork, to Hot Sulphur Springs where the road becomes Byers Avenue. Follow the signs and cross the bridge to the resort. See map on page 42.


ot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa’s nineteen outdoor soaking pools are scattered on a hillside above the Colorado River. Every path on the tiered decking leads to a pleasant hot pool unlike any other. The main spring is 125°F, but the necklace of pools varies from 95°F to 112°F. The water isn’t filtered, chemically treated, or recycled. Each of the hillside pools looks out on the surrounding high mountain valley that’s flanked by the Continental Divide and the Gore Range. Pool names reflect the bucolic environment—Sun Bath, Star Bath, Elk Pool, Columbine, and Hot Rocks. In the summer, children too young to enjoy hot pools frolic in a swimming pool of balmy water and a slide tube. In the winter, the first four pools, located on the lower deck, are kid friendly with temperatures in the 90s. Thus, quiet is preserved at the upper pools, which are open to folks 12 and above. Waterfalls, uniquely shaped pools, and playful designs distinguish each hillside pool. The Solarium Pool is tucked into a glass-walled adobe building 38

along with the Pow Wow Pool. And there are several indoor private soaking spots in the spa. Each day, 200,000 gallons of fresh springwater flow into the pools. The mineral water comes directly from the depths, bearing tiny amounts of sulfate, sodium, magnesium, fluoride, calcium, potassium, chloride, and traces of lithium and zinc. The motto is “Soaking and Relaxing at Its Best.” Hot Sulphur Springs is about 30 minutes from the Winter Park Ski Resort and about an hour from Steamboat Springs. Hot Sulphur Springs, at 7,600 feet, is a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park Northern Colorado


and Grand Lake as well. And for railroad fans, there’s a rail line across from the resort where Amtrak and freight cars pass with the whistles proudly sounding. The Ute Indians treasured the springs for centuries, sharing them with the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, and other nations. There’s a story about a medicine man who couldn’t stop the younger men from waging war on the rival tribes. When the young men didn’t return from a raiding party, he built a campfire by the river. The earth absorbed his sadness and the fire’s heat, creating the soothing hot springs. As more settlers and soldiers came to the area, the Utes resorted to guerrilla war. Game was slaughtered, forests burned, and buildings set afire to scare the settlers out. All to no avail. In 1863, William Byers, the flamboyant publisher of Denver’s first newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, bought the springs from a Native American woman through a back-door deal. Byers envisioned an international resort of intellectuals, business tycoons, and prominent Americans. He built a summer home, the Willows, next to the hot springs pool. His vision of “America’s Switzerland” carried him through years in court over the title to the land, which he acquired from a Minnesota Sioux despite a US treaty that recognized the Utes as the rightful owners, according to Island in the Rockies by Robert Black III. Byers won, but complained bitterly about the court costs. His dream resort never materialized because the railroad didn’t arrive until 1928 and winter travel to the remote valley was often impossible. Ever the optimist, Byers built a race track, a large hotel, a covered swimming pool, and offered other amenities. The stagecoach dropped off passengers from the East Coast for a week of recuperation in the invigorating mountain air and rejuvenation in the springs. Territorial Governor John Evans, a close friend of Byers’s, wanted the area around Hot Sulphur Springs settled. “The Utes Must Go” was his campaign theme and a frequent banner headline 40 Colorado’s Hot Springs

in Byers’s newspaper. The Utes were ousted from the area in 1880. Hot Sulphur Springs did afford Byers a good view on every major act in the state’s early settlement—trapping, gold mining, ambitious railroad projects, forest clear-cuts, and homesteading. Western author Zane Gray rented a cabin nearby, and John Wesley Powell practiced running wooden boats down the Colorado River’s rapids for his expedition in the Grand Canyon. But, the resort languished over the years, as did many hot springs resorts. In 1996, a Denver developer bought the tired and tattered property and transformed the pools, motel, spa, and an 1840 cabin into one of Colorado’s loveliest destination spas. He renovated the seventeen motel rooms and added a spa and locker rooms. It’s amazing what vision and a few million dollars can do. A group of Korean investors purchased the resort in 2006 and have attracted more Asian guests. Northern Colorado


Day and night, guests at Hot Sulphur Springs scamper across the hillside between the many pools. From the steamy, sunken soaking enclaves, soakers see the seasons change and revel in falling snowakes, vivid blue skies, and the golden outbursts of changing leaves. The springs murmur a transcendent welcome to all visitors.

Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa

42 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Eldorado Swimming Pool 294 Artesian Drive Eldorado Springs, CO 80025 (303) 499-9640 What to Know: Open to the public. Summer swimming pool.

Where: From Denver, take I-25 north to State Highway 36, go west toward Boulder. Exit at “LouisvilleSuperior” and turn south (left) at the light. Follow signs to Eldorado Springs/Highway 170 (turning right on Marshall Road/Highway 170). Turn into the Superior Marketplace, as Highway 170 travels around the marketplace and eventually leads you 7.4 miles to Eldorado Canyon. Eldorado Swimming Pool is on the right side of the canyon, just before Eldorado Canyon State Park. See map on page 47.


ldorado Springs is all about water. The Eldorado Swimming Pool is a warm water playground that’s been open every summer since 1904. And, there’s water to drink—enough to fill 500,000 bottles with Eldorado Natural Spring Water each month. The pool stretches out at the edge of Eldorado Canyon State Park, a spectacular narrow canyon where mountaineers scale the heights, hikers wander for miles, and railroad buffs walk an abandoned railroad line. Next to the pool, springwater fans fill up for 25 cents a gallon and railroad buffs walk the abandoned Moffat rail line. The 180,000 gallons of water in the pool isn’t hot— about 78°F. That’s barely warm. So, swimmers frolic in the summer months only. Eldorado is rustic, like a family cabin in the mountains. Decks with picnic tables, beach chairs, and shady 43

spots surround the pool and families come for the day. The music is vintage rock ’n’ roll. On a 90°F day the pool is teeming with people. When the temperatures drop below 70°F the pool gets pretty quiet. As youngsters soar down the venerable slide, known as “Big Red,” and practice spins, twists, and flips off the diving board, grandparents and parents share stories of swimming at Eldorado as children. “Eldorado is a place that time forgot. Most places in childhood memories are gone, but this is here and it hasn’t changed,” says Kathy Larson, pool manager for more than 20 years. “When they come back they get to come back to their childhood.” The springs at Eldorado were once a winter camp for Indians, including the many bands of Colorado Utes who named the narrow canyon for the yellow-and-orange-lichen-tinged cliff walls. The gold-seeking Spanish translated the Ute name as El Dorado, or “the gilded one.” In 1860, wagon train leader Charles Barber chanced on the spot, ran the Indians off, and set up a mining and logging operation. Within 40 years, Barber had clear-cut the canyon, and his attempt to build a narrow-gauge rail line to haul out the timber had cleaned him out financially. Turn-of-the-century spiritualists came next, searching for a terrestrial link to the spirit world and convinced that those in the next world traveled via subterranean waterways. Frank Fowler, who bought the property in 1904 to create the Moffat Lakes Resort, saw a good business prospect in the springs rather than messages from the beyond. He and three partners put in a swimming pool, two hotels, and eight sets of “crazy stairs” that zigzagged 1,350 feet up the cliffs. Fowler’s swimming pool was the only one in Colorado until after World War I. Historic photos show people on the crazy stairs in high boots, full suits, or long dresses. For swimming, the women wore tennis shoes, black stockings, belts, and bloomers—twice as many clothes for bathing as for walking. 44 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Touted as the “Coney Island of the West,” Eldorado was a summer destination for urban refugees where the evenings offered a respite from the hot days, mosquitoes, and dust of the cities. By 1905, the Denver and Interurban Electric Line carried up to two thousand people a weekend to Eldorado Springs to dance, swim, and hike. The famed Ivy Baldwin arrived in 1907. Called “the Human Fly,” Baldwin strung a 7⁄8 -inch-thick woven steel cable across the 630-foot-wide canyon and made eighty-nine successful crossings, 582 feet above the creek. The man who made ladies swoon with fright and strong men gasp made his last walk on the high Northern Colorado


wire in 1948 at the age of 82. Five years later, he died of natural causes in his own bed. The second hotel, the New Eldorado, opened in 1908 as a luxury resort and hosted Mary Pickford, Jack Dempsey, and Damon Runyon before it burned down in 1939. An Eldorado Springs cabin was the honeymoon roost for Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. Kevin Sipple, Doug Larson, and Jeremy Martin bought the springs in 1983, mostly for the bottled-water business. The bottled water has won national and international awards for taste and purity. Kevin says the water is so clean that it doesn’t have to be purified for bottling and the natural carbonation keeps it bacteria-free. Meanwhile, back at the pool, Kathy was a lifeguard there in 1983 and married Doug in 1986. A marriage made of springwater that’s endured the seasons. 46 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Today, Eldorado’s narrow steep canyon within a state park is a famed climbing mecca for mountaineers training to tackle the major peaks of the world. In the park, the vertical walls known as the Bastille, Wind Tower, and the Naked Edge are dotted with mountaineers. On almost any day of the year, visitors can watch from the road as dozens of climbers ascend the cliffs above. The road through the town of Eldorado Springs isn’t paved. The potholes qualify as kiddie pools, and some stretch 6 and 7 feet across the dirt track. The populace likes the road that way—it slows down the perpetual traffic.

Front Range Area

Northern Colorado


Indian Hot Springs 302 Soda Creek Road Idaho Springs, CO 80452 (303) 989-6666 What to Know: Open to the public. Geothermal cave baths, outdoor Jacuzzi baths, swimming pool, indoor private baths, spa, and lodging. Where: From Denver, take Interstate 70 west for 30 miles to Exit 241, the first Idaho Springs turnoff. Stay on the exit road, which becomes Colorado Boulevard going west through town. At Miner Street, turn left. At the Colorado Boulevard-Miner Street intersection is the town information center, which creates a Y in the road. Take Miner Street to Soda Creek Road and turn left (south). Go under the highway overpass—the resort is on the left. See map on page 47.


he swimming pool is nice and the thermal caves are a step into the geologic past, but not many other hot springs give you mud. Club Mud, to be exact. Nothing flashy, just a room near the swimming pool with a white-tiled vat of mud, heat blowers to hasten the drying process, and a shower. The walls and ceiling are sometimes decorated with mud handprints, names written with mud, quick sketches in mud, and a few cartoons in the mud medium. Club Mud’s cleaning regime removes the pictographs and new mud masterpieces take their place. People from the pool line up on the other side of Club Mud’s window to watch the show. There’s a tradition among the mud people to provide a show. When the mud dries, every move sends up a billow of dust. A pat on the back is like shaking a dusty rug. Clapping hands creates a dust storm. Tap dancing summons a dust 48

devil. No other Colorado hot springs offers a Club Mud, which is an added attraction to the resort’s hot tubs and pools that are a winter playground. The resort, with sixty-eight rooms, four cabins, an RV park, and a camping area, is hard to miss from Interstate 70—a large billboard guides motorists to Indian Hot Springs. It’s a luxurious stop on the way home from skiing, biking, or camping in the mountains, or a 30-minute drive from the Denver area for an afternoon’s or evening’s repose. Indian Springs hasn’t changed much over the years, but there have been a lot of upgrades and spiff-ups. Housed in a vintage hotel, the springs are decidedly Old World. Nothing posh, but comforting in an old-time resort way. The men’s and the women’s century-old caves, located in geothermal tunnels, are separated and clothing optional. Northern Colorado


The women’s caves are a huge subterranean honeycomb with individual sunken soaking cells. In some places, the lighting is good enough to read, but most ladies just soak in the hot tubs. The ground-level thermal tubs, encased in the marbleized agate from the springs’ own mineral deposits, vary in width and length. Some accommodate three soakers, others only one. In the quiet, there is a calm. The tunnel cuts through rock, and there’s the security that comes with being cradled within the earth. Internal clocks slow down. The mind’s obsessive turning loosens a bit. The water is warmer than skin, 104°F to 112°F, and, with closed eyes, the line between the two melts. In the past 200 years, Indian Springs itself hasn’t seen much rest. By 1867 gold mining was taking off in Clear Creek Canyon across the river, and hundreds of miners had moved to town. Gold dust and nuggets were the standard currency, and sales of “tanglefoot,” a potent home brew, were brisk. The gold rush pushed the Utes and the Arapaho out of the area. The springs had been on the dividing line between their territories, and both tribes used the caves and hot pools peaceably for centuries. George A. Jackson, who discovered the first placer gold in Colorado, chanced on the springs while exploring Clear Creek. He spotted a dense mist rising above Soda Creek on January 1, 1859, and wrote in his diary: “Killed a mountain lion today. Made about 8 miles and camped at warm springs near mouth of small creek. Snow all gone around springs.” Jackson returned in later years and saw a large geyser that eventually sank, leaving a legacy of small springs. But more important, he was the first to find a gold nugget and gold dust in the creek. At first, the town was “Jackson’s Diggins.” The name shifted to “Sacramento Flats,” a name favored by the California gold miners in the area. Finally, “Idaho” was selected by consensus, although the name had no particular local significance. “Springs” was added to honor the enduring resource. Gold miners created the subterranean tunnels and were disappointed to find nothing but hot water. In 1863, Dr. E. M. Cummings 50 Colorado’s Hot Springs

saw the possibilities and built a bathhouse for the “hot water mine.” Harrison Montague bought the property in 1871, built the Ocean Bath House out of stone and wood, added a hotel, and declared the spot the “Saratoga of the Rocky Mountains,” after a famous spa in New York. All this went on although the springs were officially part of the Ute Reservation. A group of investors paid $76,000 for the resort in 1902, spent $35,000 on extending the tunnels, dug the baths, renovated the hotel, and connected other hot springs to swimming pools. Unfortunately, the stockholders’ resources fell short of the owners’ enthusiasm for more improvements. So, in 1911 Indian Springs was sold to another investment company. Since then, owners and managers have come and gone. The hot springs and the mountain setting drew the likes of Frank and Jesse James, Walt Whitman, assorted Vanderbilts and Roosevelts, and Sarah Bernhardt. James Maxwell, current longtime owner of Indian Springs, also owns the nearby Argo Gold Mill, which offers daily tours through the shafts, processing area, and waste pits. The mill is over 100 years old, and the process for extracting gold from the ore hasn’t changed much in a century. If the weather’s right and you’re so inclined, pan for gold. The lucky few can keep any gleaming flakes found in their pans.

Northern Colorado


Radium Hot Springs Colorado Bureau of Land Management, Kremmling Field Office 2103 E. Park Avenue Kremmling, CO 80459 (970) 724-3000 recreation_areas0/Upper_Colorado_River.html GPS: N 39° 012 / W 106° 891 What to Know: Primitive location in Grand County. Clothing optional. Where: From Eagle: Take I-70 east from Eagle to Highway 131 at Wolcott. Make a hard right (north) toward Steamboat Springs on Highway 131. Drive about 12 miles to State Bridge and turn right on Eagle County Road 11, also known as Trough Road. Drive about 10 miles to Grand County Road 11. There’s a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sign at the corner and head toward Radium. Drive about 1 mile to the Mugrage Campground on the left and park. Head up the steep trail across the road, marked by a telephone switcher box and a metal pole on each side of the trail. At the top, the trails are many and interlace. Angle toward the river (north) for about a mile and, when you reach the River Rim Trail (unmarked, but you can tell by the high use), go right for 0.25 mile. Look for the stretch of sheer rock canyon wall above the river. Radium Hot Springs is at the outcropping’s midway point. Climb down the rock chute, using handholds and footholds. See map on page 55.



adium Hot Springs isn’t a secret to anglers and boaters, but it isn’t on many maps. And unless you’ve spotted it by floating by on a raft or someone’s given you great directions, it is an adventure to find. As you navigate the web of trails, relax and marvel at the views of the Colorado River, the riverside cliffs, mesas, and piñonjuniper woodland. Getting there can be part of the fun. The riverside pool is located near the tiny town of Radium, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Radium Recreation Area, and the state’s Radium Wildlife Area—but it’s not on any of those maps. There is a wealth of online personal videos showing the various routes. Once you find it, you’ll realize that dozens of footpaths and four-wheel-drive vehicle trails head there, but only in a hither and thither kind of way. Vehicles are banned during the summer, but vehicles are allowed between Sept. 15 and May 1. If you are hiking in, you may encounter others with GPS units, using widely ranging coordinates to find the hidden treasure site of Radium Hot Springs.

Northern Colorado


The large, natural soaking pool is about 50 vertical feet down a rock chimney from the trail along the river’s rocky rim. The only landmark, other than an occasional glimpse of the river from the trail, is that the springs are located in a volcanic outcropping that left sheer and dark cliffs on each side of the river. Those lofty rock walls on either side of the river mark the spot. The pool, large enough for ten or so, draws boaters of all kinds, anglers, hunters, locals, and the folks that make the Vail and Steamboat resorts run by washing dishes, waiting tables, and selling lift tickets. Visitors on weekdays during the fall or spring may find the joy of a solo dip. When soaking in the rock enclave, positioning yourself near the springs’ underwater outflows is everything. The pool temperatures run in the 80s, depending on how well the outer rock edge has been packed with sand to prevent seepage. The flows, which are tiny, trickle from half a dozen springs at the site and are in the low 100s. So, soaking on a summer or fall day is delightful, but it’s not a place people linger long in winter after the sun has gone down. Settle in and watch the river’s show pass by. Floating folks of all kinds, anglers in search of the “big one,” fledgling rafters ecstatically discovering the sport, and seasoned kayakers doing rolls for fun. By the by, the town of Radium was named in 1906 by Harry Porter who opened a mine that contained small amounts of radium. No worries—the radioactivity was minimal. When mining didn’t work, he turned to ranching and farming. Today, camping is allowed near the springs, but the Bureau of Land Management is concerned about the 70,000 annual visitors who have created the tangle of roads, dumped tons of trash, and damaged the landscape, so the area may close to camping. Camping rules include no new fire rings (there are plenty in the area already), pack in firewood (no cutting limbs from living trees), pack out trash, including human and dog waste, and no peeing in the pools. Across the river from the pool are the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad tracks. A few, long freight trains pass every day and many more at night. The engineers and crews are obliging— 54 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Radium Hot Springs

they’ll sometimes blow the whistle when soakers wave. Sometimes an au natural crowd will provoke a couple short bursts. And rafters, kayakers, and other floaters stop by to warm up before heading down to the traditional takeout points at the Radium Recreation Area, Rancho Del Rio, or the State Bridge boat access. Ah, State Bridge. An enclave of passionate water rats—rafters, kayakers, tubers, fishing boats, and other floating wanderers that convene for live music by the river. There are a few cabins and yurts, and a bar and restaurant. Down the road is the Rancho Del Rio, “Not Your Usual Resort,” which offers cabins and camping that are connected to State Bridge by shuttle buses. Northern Colorado


Please keep Radium Hot Springs the way you find it. The best way to thank the river and the geothermal gods and goddesses for Radium is by leaving the spot of beauty and delight cleaner than you found it. Treading on broken glass in the pool’s sandy bottom can ruin a soaker’s day. Is the hot spring ethic alive and well? You decide.

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Yampah Spa and Hot Springs Vapor Caves 709 E. 6th Street Glenwood Springs, CO 81601 (970) 945-0667 What to Know: Open to the public. Vapor caves and full-service spa.

Where: From Interstate 70 through Glenwood Springs, take Exit 116. From the exit ramp, turn north (south will put you back on Interstate 70) and drive one block to the stoplight and an intersection. The Village Inn is on the left—west. Turn right—east—onto 6th Street. Drive past Grand Avenue and the “big” pool at the Glenwood Springs Lodge and Pool. As the road narrows, turn left into Yampah’s parking lot. See map on page 64.


he silence, dim lighting, and steamy air set the vapor caves at the Yampah Spa apart from Colorado’s other hot springs. Stairs through a cement-lined tunnel lead bathers to a maze of steamy chambers, some cool and some 110°F to 112°F. Only the whisper of flowing hot springs water and a primeval dripping sound break the silence. The quiet is not so much the absence of noise as it is the presence of silence. “Hygienic Hades” read the headline from the 1894 Harper’s Weekly story illustrated with a woodcut of wounded men reclining in the caves. “Springs of water hot from the fires below . . . emit sulphurous fumes with curative powers over lead-poisoned miners from Cripple Creek and nicotine-ridden smokers,” wrote William A. Rogers. The Yampah Spa has the only known natural vapor caves in North America. Vapor caves occur when small hot springs flow 57

Photo courtesy of Yampah Spa.

through hollow underground chambers, coating the walls, ceiling, and floor with water, steam, and heat. The Yampah caves are part of a geological network of vapor caves and hot springs along the Colorado River. Two other vapor caves in the area were destroyed by railroad construction. At Yampah, there are no pools or cooling baths beyond the showers upstairs. Cooling rooms and a cold shower in the caves help guests control body temperature. Each chamber has elevated marble slabs dating back to 1893 for reclining and sitting. Lying in the dark gloom, this bather felt like ancient royalty laid out for permanent rest in a hushed room. Artificial lighting highlights the caverns stretching outward from each cave, lessening the closed-in feeling. The Utes used the caves for ceremonies, healing, and respites from winter’s cold and the aches of aging. Each month, 58 Colorado’s Hot Springs

contemporary Utes and other Native Americans return to the caves for spiritual and physical purification ceremonies. In 1879, Glenwood Springs founder Isaac Cooper was toiling in the Leadville mines. The Civil War had stolen his youth and his health. When he heard the Utes extol the healing power of the area’s hot springs and vapor caves at the confluence of two rivers, the Colorado and the Crystal, he set off with a few similarly desperate miners in the midst of winter on a 60-mile trek over the Continental Divide to the Glenwood area. Once there, he never left and bought the vapor caves in 1882 and promoted the therapeutic values of the caves and hot springs. “One of the most singular things that use of the waters effects is the certain bringing back to bald heads of full heads of hair and this is done inside of three months by rubbing with the water, once daily. This is a literal fact,” wrote M. L. DeCoursey in 1884. He managed the pools. Walter Devereux, an early hot springs entrepreneur, bought the 5 acres containing the vapor caves, the Hotel Colorado, and the hot springs for $125,000 in 1887. The claims of curing rheumatism, alcoholism, paralysis, all manner of digestive, respiratory, and nervous disorders endured through the caves’ many owners over the years. The spa and caves were first developed in the modest Victorian era, and the caves were divided for male and female bathers. During the Age of Aquarius, clothing was optional and separation of the sexes continued until the late 1980s. Today, bathing suits are required. And, if you forget your swim togs, bathing attire is available for rent. The spa and caves went through a major renovation in 1990. “Everyone needs a place that is all about them,” says Patsy Steele, who owns Yampah with her husband, David. “When they leave here, they’re happy and smiling.” Within the caves, the 125°F springwater is channeled along the sides of each chamber to create a natural steam bath. Drains collect the still too-hot-to-touch water and reroute it under the Northern Colorado


floor to raise the temperature further. Upstairs are a solarium, massage rooms, hot tubs, lockers, showers, and a full-service spa. How about a chocolate bliss wrap? The Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, mindful of the sensitive noses and tastes of youngsters, allows families to walk around the subterranean steam bath before buying tickets. Few children opt to stay, but one wonders whether the enormous Glenwood Springs pool next door influences the decisions more than the scent of the hot vapor cave does. The nose of this faithful hot springs fan detected only a vague scent of medicinal herbs. Within the dimly lit and womb-like chambers, time slows and stops. Given enough time and an occasional splash of cold water, the steam and heat melt away worries and real-world woes. The mind wanders. Within the vapor clouds, visual distractions vanish. When it’s time to leave, the walk upstairs is like waking up energized from a good, deep sleep. There’s a sense of having returned far better for the trip.

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Glenwood Hot Springs Pool 401 North River Street Glenwood Springs 81601 (970) 945-6571 What to Know: Open to the public. Lodging and spa. Where: From Interstate 70 through Glenwood Springs, take Exit 116. From the exit ramp, head toward the traffic light. Before the intersection and the traffic light, turn right onto North River Street. When you get to the hot springs, take a left into the parking lot. See map on page 64.


he grand and glorious Glenwood Hot Springs Pool lives on, stepping gracefully into each decade without missing a beat. The renowned and revered pool, the largest outdoor hot springs pool in the United States, is so big that there’s room for two waterslides, lap swimming, kids with rafts and balls, lovers lost in the mists, arthritis sufferers soaking in relief, parents teaching youngsters to swim, and a bevy of other blissed-out bathers. All at the same time, and without bumping into one another. Neither as immense nor as threatening as an ocean, Glenwood Hot Springs Pool is a calm water enclave, an inland and warm mineral springs tidal pool, and a sweet water cousin of the great salt seas. The hot springs’ flow is so great that it fills the two-block-long pool and heats the 107-room lodge. You can visit the “mother” spring, contained in a stoneencased pool behind a chain-link fence. The pale blue-green pond looks like a Caribbean lagoon except for the steam that pours off. The flow is 3.5 million gallons a day. The big pool, 405 feet long and 100 feet wide at its widest point, holds more than 1 million gallons of water at about 90°F to 93°F. The small soaking pool is a body-easing 104°F. 61

Local swimmers rack up thousands of miles a year. People come from miles around for the annual family-friendly New Year’s Eve splash. There’s no drinking allowed at the pool—not even on New Year’s Eve. Uncounted thousands of children have learned to swim here, aided by the extra buoyancy of the mineral-laden waters. Newlyweds, romantic couples, and teens in the throes of their first crushes have charted their futures by looking up through the wafting steam to the myriad of stars above. “The pool is many things to many people,” says Kjell Mitchell, the pool’s general manager. “We’re proud of that tradition.” Glenwood Hot Springs’ lore is full of stories about people who moved to town nearly crippled, spent months in the therapy pool, and now either work at the lodge or hold other jobs in town. These days, the over-recreated take refuge in the hot pool to ease out the kinks of steep hikes, long days on the ski slopes, tough rock climbs, and challenging bike rides. And long before it was fashionable, there was a separate, cooler kiddies’ pool for toddlers. Today, a fountain spouts in the youngsters’ pool that inspires cavorting. At the big pool, there’s a pair of waterslides offering 300 feet each of squealing excitement. At one time, a mineral cocktail from another spring on the premises was considered a tonic or a cure. Glenwood Springs’ water has fifteen minerals and there’s a drinking-water spring. The taste isn’t enchanting, but the minerals are rich. The cast of stars from Aspen’s Hollywood elite appears from time to time—usually not during the crowded summer months. Gangster A1 Capone once luxuriated unnoticed in the tendrils of mist. “Our tradition has always been to respect the privacy of our bathers,” says Jeremy Gilley, Glenwood’s director of sales and revenue, deflecting queries about other luminaries. In 2013, Glenwood Hot Springs celebrated its 125th birthday with an array of bathers in historic bathing suits dating back to the days of black wool, a thousand beach balls, and a webpage of the public’s memories of the pool and the place. The town’s founder, Civil War veteran Isaac Cooper, obtained 62 Colorado’s Hot Springs

the springs’ site in 1882, after the historic owners, the Utes Indians, were exiled in 1881. The water temperature was 124°F and the flow was 3 million gallons a day. The world has changed, but not the springs. Cooper, who crossed the mountains from Leadville in the dead of winter after hearing about the springs, promptly named the town-to-be for his home in Glenwood, Iowa. Aspen’s silver mines required a rail line through Glenwood, and when the first Colorado Midland train arrived in 1887, the trip was heralded by 3,500 bonfires, set and tended by ecstatic locals. Cooper opened the Natatorium (pool) in 1888 and put the town of Glenwood Springs on the map as a destination resort. Health and hilarity were bywords as the hot springs attracted the wealthy, the famous, and the ailing. The sandstone and terra-cotta bathhouse, complete with Northern Colorado


Glenwood Springs

forty-two Roman baths, opened in 1890 complete with a casino— for gentlemen only. Even a whisper about public bathing sent Victorian ladies into a mass swoon, so there were separate facilities for women and men. The nearby Hotel Colorado accepted guests 3 years later and offered the sophisticated comforts considered essential to a resort catering to the millionaires who arrived in private railroad cars. Diamond Jim Brady, Doc Holliday, and Buffalo Bill Cody provided color at the casino tables and the pools. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft visited during their tenures in office, soaking in the misty pools and drinking quarts of the mineral-laden water. In the early 1940s the pool grounds included a sandy beach and striped cabanas. The pool and hotel were drafted by the navy in World War II—the hotel became a hospital and the pool a rehabilitation center for recovering soldiers. In 1956, a group of Glenwood

64 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Springs businessmen bought the property. Their descendants own it today and added the Spa of the Rockies in the former bathhouse and the new lodge where guests have access to the pools. For a time, there was Agnes. Agnes the ghost. After the bathhouse was built in 1890, doors slammed and windows opened or closed when no one was around. There were footsteps in empty halls and toilets ushing in unoccupied rooms. The staff credited Agnes. No one knows who Agnes was or why she remained in the building. Kjell grew up at the pool, hearing Agnes stories. But Agnes departed years ago. If you happen to see Agnes, say hello for me.

Northern Colorado


South Canyon Hot Springs South Canyon Creek Road Glenwood Springs, CO GPS: 39° 552 / W 107° 412 What to Know: Open to the public. Primitive hot spring, clothing optional.

Where: From Glenwood Springs, drive 5 miles west on Interstate 70 and take Exit 111, “South Canyon.” The road winds around and heads south up County Road 134, the South Canyon Creek Road. Go 1.2 miles, cross the Colorado River, and pull off to the right into a small turnout. On the right of the turnout and along the edge is a 0.25-mile path that leads down through trees, across a wood plank over a creek, and up a hillside to the pools. See map on page 64.


outh Canyon qualifies as a wild spring by virtue of its location near the Garfield County dump, west of Glenwood Springs, and the design, which seems to change several times a year. The main pool is ever-evolving, rimmed with wood berms, rock, and tarps on a county-owned hillside. On a good day, the water is clear, the surrounding natural grasses provide cover, and it’s a nifty wildland spring. Carpet samples soften the pool edges, and there’s not a speck of trash to be seen. On a bad day, the main pool and the second hillside hot pot are muddy and shallow; the area is littered with broken glass, cigarette butts, and trash. There are more bad days than good days. Let the hot springs cards fall where they may. South Canyon is always an adventure and rarely the same as the last visit. Sometimes, the hot springs elves haul in plastic piping to funnel water into the pool, which ranges between 1 and 3 feet deep. Wood sprites arrange rocks for small group conversations. The 66

springs draw patrons periodically who devote considerable effort to their upkeep and provide chairs. And on the right days, the waters are blessedly uninhabited although a steady traffic of garbage trucks and loaded pickups parade past to the county dump. The land is owned by Garfield County, and there’s a long saga of episodic enforcement of the “no bathing, nudity, fighting, or drinking” rules. While the current mode seems to be live and let live, complaints rouse new waves of visits from sheriffs’ deputies. Finding the springs is tricky, but once you’re there, it’s a “how did I miss it?” kind of place. It’s above the level of the road, across the stream, and up a winding goat path. Once you’re there, you’re there. But the pools and springs aren’t readily visible until you’re standing next to the water. Access is easy in the summer, unless the creek is high. Winter snows can send soakers slipping, sliding, and soaking in the creek’s chill. Northern Colorado


The pool offers a 180-degree view that includes the rocky hillside, the fire-scorched Storm King Mountain to the north, South Canyon Creek Valley, and the landfill entrance. Although housing developments have cropped up in nearly every valley in the area, the spring’s location near a dump has protected the “view shed” so far. Glenwood Springs is at the street corner for resort country. The highway to Aspen juts off in one direction and the highway to Vail runs toward the east. Glenwood is a nice dose of reality between the two glitter gulches. There’s never been a rumor about anyone famous bathing at South Canyon Hot Springs. But the springs provided a front row seat for the deadly Storm King fires in 1994. Looking north from the springs, the farthest ridgetop is still black from the blaze that consumed 2,100 acres and killed fourteen firefighters. The warm pool at South Canyon hosts a lively crowd: people who haven’t visited in 10 and 20 years, the local population of transients, and new soakers ecstatic about the adventure. Some go natural, abandoning clothes on the rocks. The flows are about 118°F, but the pools run closer to 102°F. South Canyon earned the name “Hippie Dip” in the 1960s when wildly painted VW buses and battered cars clogged the road and skinny-dippers frolicked in the pools. Today, few days pass without a few soakers. The Glenwood Springs area also has numerous caves with rare mineral formations such as cave bacon, soda straws, and crystalline winglike formations created 9 million years ago by the Colorado River. Indeed, the geological whimsy that created the maze of grottoes and caves is best contemplated from that other phenomenon of geological wit—a hot springs.

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WEST-CENTRAL COLORADO (Interstate 70 South to US 50)

West-Central Colorado


Penny Hot Springs Colorado 133 between Carbondale and Marble GPS: N39° 133 / W107° 133 What to Know: Primitive riverside pools. Free. No nudity, officially.

Where: From Glenwood Springs, take Colorado 82 south to Carbondale. From Carbondale, take Colorado 133 south toward Redstone and Marble. Go for about 15 miles. Just past Avalanche Ranch, which is on the right, turn left onto the large, paved turnout with multiple concrete abutments. The hot springs are downhill from the turnout. See map on page 72.


enny Hot Springs is always a surprise. The first surprise is that the steamy natural pools in the Crystal River between Carbondale and Redstone survived the 1980s war between skinny-dippers and a rancher across the river. The second surprise is that the rocky beach and the shallow ponds are often litter-free, thanks to conscientious bathers who remove bottles, dirty diapers, cans, and other debris. At Penny, the unwritten ethic is that each set of bathers leaves the place cleaner than they found it. And the third surprise is that the shape and size of the soaking pools constantly change, sometimes overnight. As with most “free” undeveloped springs, each bather adjusts the rocks to form a personally tailored pool. And the Crystal River rises and falls with the weather. Most days, Penny is a small roadside delight. Penny is flanked by large granite cliffs known as “Hell’s Gate.” The lush meadow across the river is now county open space. Rugged snowcapped 70

peaks complete the idyllic setting. The native Ute Indians, miners, cowboys, wandering hippies, and skiers have found soothing and delight at Penny over the years. Named after Dan Penny, an early rancher who kept a hotel and bathhouse with marble tubs, the hot springs remedied generations of sore muscles. By the 1960s, the buildings were gone and the hot springs were popular with nomadic bands of hippies who merrily West-Central Colorado


Carbondale-Redstone Area

72 Colorado’s Hot Springs

skinny-dipped. Local residents were shocked and responded, according to lore, by pouring tar into the pools. The rancher across the river didn’t like nude bathing in view of his riverside cow pasture and hauled in a truckful of boulders to blot out the springs. Charges of trespassing and indecent exposure closed the area. A local hot springs folk hero, a Sikh who wears only his turban to bathe in the springs, led local springs loyalists against the tactics and the boulders magically moved. The hero lost a claim in state water court to become the springs’ trustee, but was acquitted of indecent exposure in the local court. The hero, who still soaks in the springs, prevailed in a higher court—the long term. Tucked down a dirt trail 15 feet from a highway turnout, the springs are located on a highway easement now owned by Pitkin County, which officially bans nudity. In the winter, rising steam and densely packed cars mark the spot. The size of the paved turnout offers a year-round clue to the location. The Colorado Geological Survey puts the springs’ temperature at about 130°F. Small seeps are scattered along the riverbank. When the river rises, the bathing pools may have icy cold river-water bottoms. The result is a ritual movement akin to a hen settling on a large clutch of eggs. Determined bathers stand in place, move in circles, and gradually lower themselves into a position of comfort where the geothermal hot water and the river’s cold water meet. This explains the regular reconfiguration of the rocks and the pools as bather-engineers strive for the perfect mix for hot springs bliss. Fans honk as they drive by the turnout. Penny’s pools are the children of capricious Mother Nature. In the spring, snowmelt from the mountains floods over the springs. Low late-summer flows in drought years drain the pools. And rainstorms and heavy runoff turn the Crystal River’s water toffee brown. The price is right—free—so Penny is always worth a try. And the ever-changing pools always offer surprises.

West-Central Colorado


Avalanche Ranch 12863 Highway 133 Redstone, CO 81623 (970) 963-2846 What to Know: Limited public daily access by reservation only. Three soaking pools and lodging in cabins, lodge, ranch house, and wagons. Where: From Glenwood Springs, take Colorado Highway 82 south to Carbondale. At Carbondale, take the right onto Colorado Highway 133 toward Redstone and go 11.9 miles. There’s a sign for Avalanche Ranch on the right. See map on page 72.


ind your urban cowboy heaven in the Crystal River Valley in the trio of hot springs pools at Avalanche Ranch. At the ranch, the joy of soaking in the pools is a 24-hour option. Too tired to sleep after skiing or hiking? Beset by urban fretting? Trundle down a path into a wonderfully warm pool to chase those wakeful thoughts away. Or greet the dawn from the waterfall pool and see the sunrise’s colors reflected in the falling water curtain. While guests can bring dogs to the ranch, all smart cowpokes know to keep dogs far from the pools to protect the pure waters. The pools are for people only, not pooches. The owners, Chuck and Meredith Ogilby, have a lifelong love affair with warm water and toured hot springs in search of the perfect sandy-bottomed spot to buy. They owned the nearby Hell Rolling Ranch and Chuck, an expert on all things geothermal, knew the valley was endowed with many hot springs because of many other private hot springs pools. When Avalanche Ranch came up for sale in 2005, they bought 74 Colorado’s Hot Springs

the 36 acres and jumped through the many hoops of hot springs development. The driller struck hot water less than 100 feet down and another hot springs haven was born. The setting is pastoral. The tiered pools are carefully sited into the landscape of rolling hills, shade trees, and open space with views of lofty 12,953-foot Mount Sopris. The woes of mind and heat ee as you check out of the big, bad world to soak in the rural retreat. Mining, ranching, and farming settled the Crystal River Valley. Abandoned coke ovens along the road are a legacy of coal mining. Chipped chunks of white marble along the road start telling the West-Central Colorado


story of the famed quarry in nearby Marble, the source of the gleaming stone at the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. Prospectors in search of gold found the marble-filled mountain in the 1870s. With funding help from the Rockefellers, the Colorado Yule Marble Quarry opened in 1905. Thousands lived in the town, wresting huge slabs from the quarry. Area mills trimmed the blocks for shipment by mule-drawn wagons and later by rail. Those roadside crumpled chunks of marble memorialize the transportation challenges. The Marble Mill spanned the acreage of more than five football fields. A 1912 avalanche crushed that mill, but the operation

76 Colorado’s Hot Springs

was up and running by summer. The quarry has a long list of owners, but the high quality marble remains in demand today. For a few years, tourists could visit the monumental marble cathedrals created by the quarry. Shafts of sunlight provided ghostly lighting. Visitors gasped at the towering white walls and stood in the hollowed out chambers where thin lavender and green veins laced across the marble’s expanse. The tours ended due to safety concerns, but the town is worth a visit. Meanwhile, back at the Avalanche Ranch there’s a yoga studio that provides another route away from urban stress. Avalanche Ranch is family friendly with a treehouse, campfire songs with a local cowpoke, a kids’ cabin, orchards to roam, fishing or ice skating and sledding, depending on the season, and a slew of outdoor games. The natural landscaping calms and the cabins seem to say, “welcome and relax.” The Ogilby family continues the valley heritage of caring for the land. In the summer, bears frequent the apple orchard to forage on the fruit. When urban parents ask how the staff is going to take care of the bear problem, they get a lesson in ranch life. “We tell them the orchard is taking care of the bears by providing them with food for winter,” says Molly Ogilby Jacober, who manages Avalanche Ranch for her parents. Chuck and Meredith Ogilby start each day by soaking in their perfect sandy-bottomed hot springs pools. Molly says she and her husband prefer an evening soak to talk about the day and enjoy nature. “We soak instead of watching television. I call it marriage counseling.”

West-Central Colorado


Conundrum Hot Springs White River National Forest, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area 806 W. Hallam Street Aspen, CO 81611 (970) 925-3445 Aspen Ranger District hiking/recarea/?recid=40481&actid=51 GPS: N39° 012 / W106° 891 What to Know: Open to the public. Primitive wilderness location.

Where: Drive half a mile west of Aspen on Highway 82 to the roundabout. Go around the roundabout and turn right onto Castle Creek Road. Drive approximately 5 miles up Castle Creek then turn right onto Conundrum Road (FR 128). Drive about 1 mile to the Conundrum Creek Trailhead parking lot. If that’s full, there is overflow parking on Castle Creek Road. Avoid parking elsewhere—adjacent private landowners have vehicles towed. Hike to springs is 8.5 miles. See map on page 83.


onundrum is a natural Rocky Mountain high. At the end of the 8.5-mile uphill trek, Conundrum Hot Springs smiles from a willowy marsh, coyly promising a warm water embrace. Encircled by 14,000-foot peaks and magnificent mountain passes, Conundrum rewards you for the trek. Located in a grassy marsh above tree line and fringed by stocky brush, the springs are wilderness wonderment. Floating in the pools is the penultimate hot springs experience. Above are towering peaks, avalanche chutes, mountainsides of broken slate, and an azure sky that’s rarely seen near Colorado’s towns and cities. From a distance there is no sign of humans in the 78

headwaters basin. The weather can change from brilliant sun to snowflakes in a few minutes. Conundrum lives where nature reigns. There are two main soaking pools connected by a small handbuilt rock waterway and dark plastic pipe. The largest pool is about 15 feet across and about 4.5 feet deep—large enough for more than a dozen smiling soakers. Every seat around the rim has an astounding alpine view of sheer cliffs, snowy summits, and meadows. Conundrum Creek dribbles on down below, while above are Castle, Cathedral, Malamute, and Hayden Peaks. In back is the formidable ridge between Cooper, East Maroon, and Triangle Passes. To the left are Hunter, Pyramid, and Precarious Peaks. The views are unparalleled in grandeur and scope. The springs’ temperature is above 122°F, and the large pool’s temperatures are in the 98°F-plus range, depending on the season. The water temperature is a little cooler in the lower pool, but the soaking is still delightful.

West-Central Colorado


For some folks, especially locals, the trek is an easy day hike and a snap. If you don’t work out at high altitudes for 2 hours a day or have the conditioning of a Sherpa, the hike is a thigh-killing, blood-blistering, air-gasping forced march. The most remote hot springs in Colorado, the hike up includes a 2,500-foot elevation gain to 11,200 feet. There is a conundrum about Conundrum, the best and sometimes the most crowded of Colorado’s wilderness hot springs. The top-of-the world site is crowded with hundreds of people on summer weekends. By mid-July, the once-fair spot is overrun, overused, and abused. That’s the other conundrum about Conundrum. To omit mention of Conundrum Hot Springs in a guidebook would be an act of kindness and conservation, but leaving it out is silly because it isn’t a secret. Each time I’ve visited, the trailhead and the overflow parking lot were packed with cars on weekends and summer weekdays. The towing company was very busy removing cars from the roadsides. Conundrum, located within the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness Area, is managed by the US Forest Service. That means no fires within a quarter mile of the springs and camping registration is required at the trailhead, but no fees or reservations. There are eighteen designated campsites within a quarter mile of the springs, but they fill up on summer weekends by Friday afternoon. The additional twenty campsites a half mile from the springs also fill up fast. As you have probably guessed, there’s no camping at the springs. Thanks to previous visitors who left mounds of human and canine waste, dogs aren’t allowed within 2.5 miles of the springs and all human waste should be packed out. No one likes the rules, but the dog ban and waste carry-out restriction beats limiting visitor numbers or closing the area. As long as routine water tests at the springs still find E. coli, a bacteria that causes vomiting and diarrhea, unlimited access to Conundrum is at risk. ’Nuf said. There’s magic in all hot springs. Conundrum is so remote and 80 Colorado’s Hot Springs

in such untamed country that the enchantment is soul-binding. The warm water is a refuge, and the springs are a hidden friend shrouded in a great snowy blanket and in the particular silence of winter. There are those who spend the night in the spring’s water and swear a good night’s sleep is possible. There’s the lure of a clear night when the stars of stars are visible, when the Milky Way clouds the black sky like hot breath in the cold night. There’s the enchantment of spring when the tundra around the hot springs greens weeks ahead of the dusty brown all around. West-Central Colorado


And there are the particular charms of the early fall. The hillsides are ablaze with the last wildflowers. The grass and willows are still thick with green. Snow dusts the mountaintops. Speeding clouds dash across the sky. On a recent visit the magic wavered when I counted the dozens of side trails tramped through the willows. The wind shifted and there was a burning whiff of urine and other human waste. Perhaps that’s the real conundrum of Conundrum Hot Springs—what spell, what charm will protect the place? Will the memories bind us all as its guardians? Go. Enjoy. Frolic and revel. But respect Conundrum Hot Springs for the marvel it is. And speak up for the springs when others treat it with contempt. By making the journey and floating in the springs’ embrace, you become Conundrum’s guardian.

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Conundrum Hot Springs

West-Central Colorado


Cottonwood Hot Springs 18999 County Road 306 Buena Vista, CO 81211 (719) 395-6434 What to Know: Open to the public. Lodging and spa. Where: From Buena Vista, head west to Cottonwood Pass on County Road 306. Drive about 5.5 miles. The hot springs sign will be on the right side of the road, just before the gate that’s used to close the road over Cottonwood Pass in the winter. See map on page 87.


ottonwood Hot Springs’ owner Cathy Manning likes healing people and fixing things. And that’s why Cottonwood Hot Springs is the way it is. Secreted away in a cottonwood grove off the road from Buena Vista to western Colorado, Cottonwood Hot Springs shyly proffers five stone-lined pools where the temperature ranges from 94°F to 110°F. The largest pool, lined with smooth river rocks, is about 20 feet by 50 feet and is up to 5 feet deep. Nirvana arrives there each sunset, where bathers watch the sunlight fade and turn the pool’s ripples into a mosaic of pink, blue, and lavender. The other four pools are smaller, about 20 feet in diameter with the same high quality rock work and balmy temperatures. “The pools were designed to look like Buddha from the air,” Cathy says. A Japanese garden graces one corner of the yard and cottonwoods ring the landscape of pools, cabins, a coed dormitory, camping spots, private hot tubs and a spa offering an assortment of massages and therapies, and the lodge—renovated after a 2013 fire with ecofriendly features including solar and wind power to heat the lodge. Each of the three secluded hot tubs for private soaking has a good-sized deck, a redwood privacy fence, and a secluded river view 84

perfectly designed for lolling. A warm soak here, a cool plunge here, and then a nice half hour of hydrotherapy in the tub, and then, maybe, a massage? “You see people come in here, and they’re frazzled,” Cathy says. “It takes about four days to really lose that look. But after a couple days they’re rejuvenated. “Just watching the stars move across the sky is good for people,” she says. When Cathy first saw the place, then the Jump Steady Resort, in 1986, the property was run-down and had only a few hot tubs. “Most of the water was going into a horse trough,” says Cathy. “I thought, ‘I can fix this.’” Today, Cathy tells sobering tales that would dissuade the fainthearted and the underfinanced from buying a fixer-upper hot springs. There’s a joke that starts out: “I went to Cottonwood for the West-Central Colorado


morning and stayed two months.” In those early years, some guests stayed for a year or so, building pools, cleaning rooms, tending the flowers, and working at a variety of other tasks before moving on, healed. And in the process, they helped Cathy transform the place. Cottonwood had started as a healing place for the Ute Indians and the other tribes who passed through. Soon after Colorado achieved statehood and the Indians were confined to reservations, the Rev. and Mrs. A. D. Adams, M.D. opened a therapeutic resort there in 1887. The two-story structure served as a medical office and lodging for patients with respiratory problems, rheumatism, and digestive woes. Dr. Julia Adams specialized in homeopathic healing and believed that the “life-giving waters” restored health to invalids. A fire razed the buildings in the early 1900s. There were several other owners and several other fires. Then, along came Cathy. If it were the Old West, Cathy would own and run the local saloon. In fact, she did own and run a bar in Denver and has that bartender conviviality. She can speak in New Age maxims, hippie cosmic karma idioms, solid working-class terms, and marketing whiz bang—all with that absolute look-you-in-the-eye truthfulness. These days, she comes and goes at the springs, but leaves the day-to-day management to the staff. And, she’s studying hypnotherapy and past life regression. Cathy’s mission statement calls Cottonwood a sacred site to connect, heal, and rejuvenate. “Our desire is to heal and be of service in the ways that we each can, doing our part to share, love, support, be aware, affirm. Holding our place in the light.” Meanwhile back at the pools, the seasons play out their beauties. In the fall, the cottonwoods cast leafy gold doubloons to the ground and impart a glow on the water. During the summer, shade screens protect bathers in some pools and flowery plantings create swaths of colors. In spring, the pools are havens of warmth to celebrate the coming summer. And, winter’s snows cascade through the mists, pinging upturned faces with chilly kisses. “It’s great to be in a business that people really like what you do,” says Cathy.

86 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Buena Vista Area

West-Central Colorado


Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa 15870 County Road 162 Nathrop, CO 81236 (719) 395-2447, (888) 395-7799 What to Know: Open to the public. Lodge, cabins, and spa.

Where: From Denver: Take US Highway 285 west through Fairplay to Johnson Village. Turn left (south) toward Salida and go 5.5 miles to Nathrop. Turn right (west) onto Chaffee County Road 162 at the sign for Mount Princeton and drive 4.5 miles to Mount Princeton, which is on the left. See map on page 87.


here’s a hot pool heaven for everyone at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, where the elegant array of soaking options are strewn along the Chalk Creek Valley’s hillsides. Pass through the historic 1865 bathhouse to a paved walkway and stairs that lead to the twenty sand-bottomed creek pools, each circled by river rock, that line the creek. Small springs among the rocks in the creek heat the pockets of water. Soakers wander from pool to pool, searching for the perfect spot like cats looking for a warm place to nap. The creek rises and falls with the season. Early summer flows sometimes cover the ponds. A pair of large pools warmed by mineral springs perch above the creek ponds. The exercise pool, good for laps, yoga, and all kinds of watery play, is about 90°F. The adjacent soaking pool, 95°F to 103°F, soothes and softens the body and spirit. A deck with lounge chairs connects the pools. The creek’s rush and watery rumble hushes out other noise. Contemplate the pine woods, the wedge of sky between the valley sides, and chill out as you sun. 88

Up the hill and across a footbridge is the relaxation pool, 95°F to 99°F, and three smaller rock-rimmed soaking ponds for adults nestled into a grassy lawn. From the deck or the pools, watch the parade of people shifting seats in the creek below and slipping between the two larger pools. At sunset or sunrise, or during winter’s snowfalls, Mount Princeton is especially magical. In the summer, the hillside on the other side of the creek is devoted to youngsters and anyone with a lively inner child. The two swimming pools, 75°F to 85°F, are connected by “the Lazy River” slide tube. And there’s a 400-foot waterslide. Whoopee! If you haven’t been to Mount Princeton for a while, it is time for a look at what years of massive renovations have done. Princeton Holdings LLC purchased the aging resort in 2006 and transformed the property into a destination resort that draws soakers and guests from around the world. The ambience is of a plush, century-old country club, but without a snooty attitude. West-Central Colorado


Mount Princeton is a place to make memories for soldiers and veterans, extended families, young couples with kids, day-tripping itinerant soakers, or travelers on the international hot springs circuit. The big-windowed events center provides a beautiful venue for weddings, charity fund-raisers, and holiday parties. Climbers who bagged one of the nearby 14,000-foot Collegiate Peaks salve away the aches in Mount Princeton’s pools. Rafters and kayakers who bounced down the icy Arkansas River frolic. Skiers, anglers, mountain bikers, and snowmobilers share stories in the mists. Mount Princeton’s history is as rich as its current bounty of pools, thirty log cabins, nine hotel rooms, dining rooms, spa with seven massage rooms, and other comforts. The Ute Indians still had title to the land through a federal treaty when government surveyor D. H. Heywood laid claim to the springs in the late 1860s, named them for himself, and built the Heywood Hot Springs House to serve area businessmen, gold miners, and investors in the mines around the nearby town of St. Elmo with a stagecoach stop, hotel, and hot baths. By 1880 there were fifty mines around St. Elmo, sited at a lofty 10,016 feet, and soon after there was a Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad stop at the springs, then dubbed Mount Princeton Hot Springs. At St. Elmo’s zenith in 1914, the population was about two thousand. The top-producing mine, the Mary Murphy, had a crew of 250 and yielded about $14 million in gold. And the newly named Antero Hotel at Mount Princeton was four stories high and boasted two 200-foot towers, a golf course, and tennis courts. There were well-kept gardens and a ballroom. But the gold ran out, the railroad pulled out in 1926, and Mount Princeton teetered into ruin. In the 1950s, a group of Texans bought the hotel, razed it, and moved parts—including the bar—to Texas. The hot springs remained open, but grew tattered. At the same time, St. Elmo was vanishing to scavengers with pickup trucks and a fondness for weathered barn wood. The ghost town is still worth visiting to see the few surviving buildings and feel the isolation and primitive living conditions that the miners endured. 90 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Mount Princeton’s fortunes revived after the 2006 purchase and multimillion dollar makeover. Today, there’s a soaking pond, swimming pool, or spring-fed riverside pool for everyone and every mood in every season. “I hear people saying ‘magical’ all the time,” says Amanda Krost, Mount Princeton’s assistant general manager. Above the Mount Princeton’s resort, the Chalk Cliffs rise. Chalk Creek was named for the white powdery “flour” that washed down from the white limestone cliffs above. With a properly positioned full moon or the evening’s sunset hues, the cliffs glow and illuminate the canyon like a giant movie screen. Your imagination provides the picture show that’s savored from Mount Princeton’s sweet soaking pools.

West-Central Colorado


Antero Hot Springs Cabins 16120 County Road 162 Nathrop, CO 81236 (719) 539-8204 What to Know: Guests only. Historic cabins and a chalet with individual hot springs pools.

Where: From Highway 285 between Salida and Buena Vista, turn west at Nathrop onto Chaffee County Road 162. Go past Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort and turn left at the Antero Hot Springs Cabins sign. See map on page 87.


lide back in time. Contemplate life in the late 1800s from the serene confines of the hand-shaped pools at Hortense Cabin and Cottonwood Cabin. Ponder the sweet, simple, but sometimes harsh lives of that era’s miners and settlers while soaking and gazing at the mountains above. The soothing hot water eases away urban cares as it relieved the aches of miners and homesteaders. Glance at the rough-hewn log cabins and imagine mountain life before electricity, machines, cars, and phones. For some, that sounds good. The mists billowing from the creeks may suggest the spirits of the Utes and other Native Americans who treasured the solace of Chalk Creek’s springs for centuries before soldiers marched them far away from the gateway to their ancestors. The mining era had bright spots, besides the gold and silver. Consider Hortense, the cabin’s namesake. The mannerly histories of the mining era mention the Hortense hot springs, the Hortense Hotel, the Hortense Bridge, the Hortense Mining Co., and the town of Hortense. There is scant information about the prominent businesswoman named Hortense or her profession: madam at her own 92

successful house of pleasure. Her last name and connection to those enterprises wasn’t well documented, but the frequent use of her name suggests close associations. The Hortense cabin dates to 1904 and served as Hortense’s home before becoming a schoolhouse. Have fun with that idea as you loll in the soaking pool. Las Vegas today pales to the rollicking Rocky Mountain mining towns. Local lore tells of the ladies of the night entertaining their men in hot springs pools. Women like Hortense also served as nurses, wrote letters home for illiterate miners, and sometimes became prosperous investors, based on tips from their gentlemen callers. The Cottonwood cabin’s history as a local post office is staid by comparison, but the ambience is equally charming. Each of the cabins has modern kitchens, electricity, stone fireplaces, and all the comforts of home—except television and internet service. This is West-Central Colorado


serious time travel. Youngsters learn to build a fire in the outdoor fire pit and let the flames ignite their imaginations. The larger Chalk Cliffs Hot Springs Chalet, which also has a hot springs pool, offers a big screen television, VCR, and an assortment of movies, but no internet service. The time travel there extends only to all the creature comforts of the 1990s. But it’s the pools of crystal-clear hot water in a narrow valley surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks that draw guests, not highspeed Wi-Fi. Mother Nature puts on sky shows of meteor showers, sunsets reflected on the big screen of the Chalk Cliffs, and magnificent moonrises. The gold and silver may be long gone, but the Chalk Creek Valley has a new mineral bonanza that’s sprouting geothermal greenhouses. Glassy domes and long opalescent buildings line the valley, producing herbs and flowers. One geothermal greenhouse in the 1940s shipped poinsettias and geraniums across the country. Antero’s current owners, Erin Oliver and Syd Schieren, are the first hothouse food growers in the valley, buying land and a dilapidated greenhouse in 1999. Erin and Syd, inspired by geothermal greenhouses in Alaska, have succeeded wildly in producing a bounty of organic salad greens and other vegetables for farmers’ markets and local stores. When the two cabins and the chalet came up for sale in 2004, the couple expanded into hot springs hospitality. The couple created the unique pools and improved the cabins without altering their historic character. An old horse trough that served as a bath is gone, but the new white “chinking” between logs keeps out the wind and the weather. While soaking in the pools, guests have watched deer and mountain goats clambering up the cliffs. Early morning soakers are enveloped in mist as the rising sun turns the cliffs above shades of pink, pale orange, and warm yellow in celebration of the day’s dawn.

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Treehouse Hot Springs 16390 Country Road 162 Nathrop, CO 81236 (719) 395-4474, (800) 539-0133 What to Know: Guests only. Lodging with private hot springs pool.

Where: From Highway 285 between Salida and Buena Vista, turn west at Nathrop, onto Chaffee County Road 162. Specific directions provided only to lodgers. See map on page 87.


wim, play, or soak. The Treehouse Hot Springs’ pool is large enough for family and friends. The hot springs’ flows fill and refill the 27-by-13-by-4-foot-deep pool. The warm waters reflect the changing seasons of the surrounding forests. Rise early, and soak as you see the sun chase the stars from the sky. Sunsets magically paint the trees new colors. Despite the name, there’s no long ladder to climb. Treehouse Hot Springs, a double octagon in shape, is elevated and so is the covered hot springs pool, but the stairs are an easy climb. The lofty perch provides wide-angle views of the surrounding aspen and cottonwood forests. But from the front, Treehouse does look like a massive . . . treehouse. Or maybe a double flying saucer that’s been renovated into a residence? You decide! The hot springs’ temperatures range from 98°F to 104°F. The pool is enclosed, but the floor-to-ceiling windows and a wraparound deck create an outdoor feel. “I saw it and said other people needed to share it,” says Judy Palmer, who owns Treehouse Hot Springs with her husband, Harold, and their son, Eric. “It is so unique. It would be selfish for one person to keep it to themselves.” 95

She and her husband live nearby and bought Treehouse and the surrounding 2 acres in 2009. When Treehouse isn’t rented out, Judy takes a morning swim in the pool. With five bedrooms and five bathrooms, Treehouse Hot Springs has hosted weddings, wedding guests, reunions, bachelor parties, a small town fire department, scrapbooking groups, hunters, rafters, religious retreats, yoga sessions, and generations of anglers. The cell phone reception is limited, but there’s internet access. And there’s no television reception. There are DVD players, but the fire pit and picnic tables next to the creek are bigger draws. A favorite fireside ghost story tells of a gold and silver treasure taken from the Indians and hidden, and an Indian princess. The details vary by each storyteller and imagination takes the tale on wild rides. Native Americans didn’t have princes or princesses, but reality has no place in ghost stories. 96 Colorado’s Hot Springs

The valley along Chalk Creek has always been a place away. Native Americans, including the Utes, frequently visited the valley for the spiritual connection and healing they found in the hot springs pools. Europeans came in search of fur, then gold and silver. By the 1870s, the mining district was one of the busiest in Colorado and the area towns of Hortense, Alpine, St. Elmo, Romley, and Hancock thrived. The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad installed rail lines that wound up Chalk Creek Canyon and through the Alpine Tunnel, which transported ore and supplies to Gunnison on the western side of the Continental Divide. By the end of the century, the gold had run out, leaving a series of ghost towns and tons of abandoned mining equipment. The railroad stopped running so abruptly that diners at a hotel in Hancock were told to either get on the last train or find their own way down. Harold says they left their meals on the table. Harold and Judy’s home is near the old railroad roundhouse and they know all the area’s stories. Rafters, anglers, sportsmen, mountain climbers, and outdoor adventurers of all kinds have brought the valley back to life. The area hot springs support greenhouses, fish farms, and a variety of lodgings with unique hot pools. Judy says guests use the guest book to share their stories about youngsters who catch their first trout in the creek, seeing deer, owls, and other wildlife from the pool, the quiet and the views, and finding arrowheads. “People like the privacy and being able to enjoy the pool at any hour they want,” says Judy. “When they leave, a lot of people say, ‘I can’t believe I got to rent this.’”

West-Central Colorado


Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway 16185 County Road 162 Nathrop, CO 81236 (719) 530-1112 What to Know: Mountain lodge with private hot springs pool.

Where: From Highway 285 between Salida and Buena Vista, turn west at Nathrop onto Chaffee County Road 162. Go past Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort and turn right at the mailbox for 16185 and go up the short driveway. See map on page 87.


hroughout history, folks have gathered at hot springs. So it is today at Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway. Under the soaring pines and protected by a tall privacy fence, the soaking pool embraces families and friends gathered for reunions, wedding parties, getaways, and birthdays. Mount Antero and Mount Princeton loom above, rock guardians of the all-seasons respite. The Chalk Cliffs are reflected in the pool. Sweet and tiny Miriam Creek whispers through the landscape. For kids, there’s a forest to explore, rocks to climb, and stories of Native Americans, explorers, trappers, and miners to reenact. In winter, snow surrounds the steaming soaking pool. Skiers tired from a day at the nearby Monarch Ski area join cross-country and snowshoe adventurers rejoicing in the warm waters, foiling winter’s chill. As the snow falls, bare-headed soakers watch steam rise from their faces. Couples, including honeymooners, find bliss in the bubbles. Only the skies above see down through the pines. The Cardwell families that own Alpine Hot Springs are part of the valley’s recent mining history. Grady Cardwell and his father, W. H. Cardwell, arrived in 1952. After a long military career and 98

seeking new challenges, Grady wanted to mine on Mount Antero, named for a Ute Indian leader and Colorado’s 11th-highest peak at 14,269 feet. Father and son had hiked, explored, and pored over field assays and geologists’ reports to conclude that Mount Antero was a treasure trove of minerals. The Cardwell family spent three long summers carving a narrow shelf road up the west side of the granite mountain. Using blasting techniques Grady learned in the army, they cut the road in 10- to 20-foot increments up to 13,800 feet. Doubters were plentiful, but sorely miscalculated the Cardwells’ determination. West-Central Colorado


At first the Cardwells mined beryllium, valued by the early aerospace industry because the lightweight metal increases hardness when blended with aluminum iron and other metals. The open mines above tree line also yielded gems and crystals—blue and green aquamarines, smoky quartz, white feldspar, violet and green fluorite, and many others. Museums and private collections house some of the most valuable gems. The third and fourth generations of the Cardwell family continue to mine on Mount Antero every summer. The road the Cardwells created is used today by jeepers, hikers, and rock hounds. The Cardwell mining claims are well protected as are other patented claims, but other areas are open to amateur and professional geologists. The Cardwell family is proud of the road, which gives the modern rock hounds an easy passage to one of the most spectacular and abundant mineral resources in the world and offers each person a chance to take a once in a lifetime shot at digging up a treasure, says Craig Cardwell. The Cardwells have a keen eye for hot springs’ geology. When the house that’s now Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway went up for sale, they bought the property and tapped into the geothermal treasure. Alpine opened for guests in 2007 and the three-bedroom, two-bath home that sleeps ten was recently renovated. A deck, complete with grill, overlooks the pool, which accommodates about ten people. Flagstone surrounds the pool, which is cleaned and drained after each set of guests. The spring runs into the pool at about 108°F, but a temperature control system cools the pool to soakers’ specifications. At Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, families and friends alike escape the day-to-day world to renew bonds, make new memories, and celebrate the seasons of the year and the seasons of life. The warm springwater soothes away the past and eases travel into the future. And the pool is perfect for celebrating the wonders of geology.

100 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Creekside Hot Springs 15654 County Road 289A Nathrop, CO 81236 (719) 207-2100 What to Know: Guests only. Mountain lodge with private hot springs pool. Where: From Highway 285 between Salida and Buena Vista, turn west at Nathrop onto Chaffee County Road 162. Go 4 miles to County Road 289, just before Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, and turn left. Go about 1 mile to County Road 289A and turn right. Follow the curving road, look for a red sign on the left that reads “Creekside Hot Springs,” and turn left. Go down the hill and turn right toward the A-frame house. See map on page 87.


t Creekside Hot Springs, Chalk Creek sings sweetly to you, murmuring of comfort and hope as you soak. Two acres of forest surround the secluded outdoor pool. Immerse yourself in the colors, smells, and beauty of winter, spring, summer, or fall. Count the clouds floating above or the multitude of stars. Sigh with the wind in the trees. In cool weather, mists from the valley’s small hot springs move through the forest to bewitch soakers. The hot springs flowed into a meadow for 25 years before John and Patty Kreski bought the A-frame vacation rental home in 2008. Standing on the house’s deck, listening to the wide creek had clinched the decision. A creek-side pool, big enough for eight, captures the flows in a meadow that’s secluded and serene. The hot spring flows in at about 108°F, but the pool is about 103°F. Guests can fine-tune the temperatures by adjusting the water flow and letting Mother Nature’s cool mountain breezes do the rest. The pool is a few steps 101

from the 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath furnished home with a finished basement and beds for extra guests. Creekside Hot Springs is a place away, offering a holiday from the electronic world—no Wi-Fi, television, or dependable cell phone service. There is a DVD player. That’s the way guests like it, Patty says. “Families love it because they really get family time. The pleasures are simple—reading, watching birds, and hiking,” she says. “It takes a little time to get used to, but most people say they relaxed more and didn’t want to leave.” The deck looks out on the ghostly Chalk Cliffs, created by kaolinite mineral deposits left by ancient hot springs. The white cliffs are visible for miles in all directions and sometimes shimmer in the light. The heavily wooded forests surrounding the cliffs provide a contrast that makes the cliffs glow. Hikes start at the doorstep and the valley’s history surrounds you. The Colorado Trail is nearby. Deer wander along the creek and wild birds frequent the trees and skies. Pine and cottonwood encircle the meadow around the soaking pool. Soak day or night— there’s no closing time. As Chalk Creek Valley draws adventurers of all kinds today, there are many wanderers in the area’s history. Colorado and all the mountain valleys belonged to the Utes. Arrowheads, rock-sheltered campfire sites, and 14,000-foot peaks named for prominent Ute leaders are part of the lasting legacy. Chalk Creek flows into the Arkansas River, which drew Spanish explorers seeking gold and slaves in the 1600s, followed by Spanish troops in the 1700s. Other explorers followed, including Zebulon Pike. Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Shoshone, and other tribes displaced by white settlements arrived in the Arkansas Valley, along with trappers and miners who ventured up Chalk Creek. Gold was discovered in Colorado in 1859 and an 1880 treaty moved the surviving Utes to southwest Colorado and Utah. In the gold mining era, the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad had a route that wound up Chalk Creek canyon into the Alpine Tunnel. Opened in 1882, the Alpine was the nation’s highest 102 Colorado’s Hot Springs

altitude tunnel in its time. The trains transported ore and supplies to and from the town of Gunnison, located on the western side of the Continental Divide. In 1888, Mark Twain rode the train through the Alpine Tunnel with assorted political pooh-bahs of the time. Photographer William Henry Jackson went along to preserve the outing for posterity. At the height of the mining era, the valley was lively with saloons and hotels filled with ladies of the night. As the ore ran out, snow clearing costs wiped out the profits and the tunnel closed in 1910. Today’s visitors at Creekside include adventuresome friends and families from across the country coming for reunions, outdoor outings—fishing, rafting, kayaking, skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, climbing the area’s 14,000-foot peaks—and exploring abandoned mining towns. At Creekside, there are loaner binoculars for first-time bird-watchers, scoping out the surrounding peaks and surveying the landscape that so many passed through. The soaking pool welcomes them all. The water is always clean—the springs flow through, constantly rinsing out the pool. The warm water that hears guests’ tales of journeys, triumphs, and mishaps washes into the creek. Chalk Creek never shares any secrets. West-Central Colorado


Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center 410 West Rainbow Boulevard Salida, CO 81201 (719) 539-6738 What to Know: Open to the public. Swimming pools and soaking tubs.

Where: On US 50, which becomes Rainbow Boulevard on Salida’s west side. See map on page 87.


ooked on Hot Water” was the pool’s unofficial motto for years. The hot water’s allure has been part of Salida’s fame since 1938, when a New Deal public works project put two hundred people to work building the aquatic center and piping hot springwater 7 miles from Poncha Springs to fill the pool. The pool, the largest indoor hot springs pool in the nation, offers 84°F to 86°F water, six lap lanes, a shallow and easily accessible pool that’s about 97°F to 100°F, and three private European-style soaking tubs, each large enough for three adults. Hot and cold water faucets allow the private soakers to set the temperatures. Walls of windows and skylights render an outdoor feel. Generations of locals and road weary travelers have plied the waters, de-stressing in the soaking pools and romping about the inland oasis. There’s nothing better after climbing one of the area’s 14,000foot peaks or rafting the chilly waters of the Arkansas. “I love to hear the sound of giggles,” city recreation manager Theresa Casey says about the sloshing and laughter. “And, I love it when kids do belly flops off the diving boards and everyone watches.” The actual hot springs that feed the pool are located in the town of Poncha Springs, where about forty natural springs gurgle up. 104

The Ute and Arapaho Indians used the Poncha springs for centuries. Spanish explorers passed through the area looking for gold and Indian slaves. Later came the trappers, and then, in 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike stopped by during his exploration of the West and spent Christmas Day in the area. In 1863, miners and homesteaders started building cabins near the springs, ignoring the treaties that awarded the springs to the Native Americans. Early Indian agents paciďŹ ed the Utes with our, sugar, old army uniforms, and bib overalls. Mounts Ouray, Shavano, and Antero near Poncha and Salida West-Central Colorado


were named for Ute leaders. In 1881, the Utes were moved to reservations in southwestern Colorado and Utah. As more settlers arrived, they erected tent cities around the springs for those seeking “the cure.” Miners and railroad workers joined the crowd at the Poncha bathing pool in the late 1860s, and Henry Weber is credited with digging the first official pool in 1868. The posh two-hundred-room Jackson Hotel opened in 1878 to serve the spa’s visitors. The hotel belonged to Henry Jackson, who had left his native Kentucky in search of the “garden of Eden.” He’d picked Poncha Springs because the hot springs already were drawing people from all over the world. Recorded in the hotel guest book are the signatures of Billy the Kid in 1881, Susan B. Anthony in 1882, Frank and Jesse James in 1882, President Ulysses Grant and Rudyard Kipling in 1884, and Alexander Graham Bell in 1886. However, there is some suspicion that locals signed the names in jest, although Kipling did marry a girl from Salida, Grant and Bell visited Colorado, and Anthony gave a speech on women’s suffrage in the area. Salida had watched Poncha prosper and slide through mining busts on the magic carpet of spas and hotels around the springs. Salida tried to lease the water, but jumped at the chance to buy the rights in 1938 when the springs came up for sale for only $40,000 in the wake of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. “The old time residents of Salida always maintained that the bringing of the water to Salida would make the city’s future secure,” predicted the Salida Daily Mail on June 23, 1938. That was the day the town pool filled with warm springwater from Poncha. Salida started as a railroad town. In 1878, $2 million in ore was wrested from the high mountains near Leadville on the shoulder of the Continental Divide. The potential for profits was mouthwatering, but the nearest railhead was 75 miles away. Prices for food were princely, and a barrel of whiskey reportedly ran $1,500. Both the Denver and Rio Grande and the Santa Fe started work on separate rail lines in 1878. A. C. Hunt, a former Colorado territorial governor, worked for the Denver and Rio Grande. 106 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Although Poncha was an established town, he decided that the area he named Salida—Spanish for gateway or exit—was a better spot for the railroad town. Salida also became a supply center for the mining camps, including those near Crested Butte and Gunnison. Life was a bit rough with lynchings, shootings, and general lawlessness. The town grew so fast that residents proposed making Salida the state capital. Denver won, but Salida prospered as a mining-supply town, agricultural community, and recreation headquarters including the Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area, which draws over 250,000 rafters, kayakers, and anglers each year. Meanwhile, back in the pool, everyone is having a good time. Hear the giggles?

West-Central Colorado


Cement Creek Ranch 4670 County Road 740 Crested Butte, CO 81224 (970) 349-6512 What to Know: Guests only. Mountain lodge with private warm springs pool. Where: From Gunnison, take Colorado 135 north toward Crested Butte for 21 miles. At Cement Creek Road, turn east, and travel on the dirt road for 5 miles, past the Cement Creek Campground. Cement Creek Ranch is on the right side of the road and has a sign at the entrance. The water is a tepid 75°F, but the spectacular setting is all yours. See map on page 110.


ement Creek Ranch, set in a nearly pristine valley surrounded by the Gunnison National Forest, has one two-bedroom cabin. Only guests can soak in the tepid 75°F pool, but the spectacular setting is all yours. The owner lives on the other side of the swimming pool and firmly escorts nonguests off the property. The view from the guest cabin’s porch is mountain meadow, 13,379-foot Italian Mountain, waterfalls, and a crystal clear creek on 1.7 million acres of federal forest. While the warm springs pool is more of an amenity than a main attraction, the location in splendid isolated environs offers hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and fly fishing on 2 miles of private stream. The stream and surrounding 121 acres are privately owned, which guarantees privacy and quiet in the valley. “It’s not really a hot springs, although it’s a nice attribute,” owner Dave Baxter says. “The calling card is that up here, you’re all by yourself.” 108

The remote valley at 9,200 feet wasn’t homesteaded until 1923 because of the remote location. In 1963, the owner built eight cabins, but only one has been renovated for year-round rental. The ranch manager lives in another cabin, but the others are empty. Baxter, who bought Cement Creek in 1991, isn’t interested in running a dude ranch, although there are corrals for guests who bring horses. “People get up here and they think they’re pioneers,” says Dave. The pool isn’t chlorinated and it sits next to a marshy meadow created by other hot springs. The corrals and guest cabin add an Old West ambience to the pool-deck’s view—like John Wayne’s summer ranch. West-Central Colorado


The cabin has a gas ďŹ replace for heat, full kitchen, a bath with a shower and a tub, and sleeps six with a sleeper couch in the living room. Should the rustic, rugged privacy prove oppressive, the bright lights and restaurants of Crested Butte are about 12 miles or 20 minutes away.

Gunnison Area

110 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Waunita Hot Springs Ranch 8007 County Road 887 Gunnison, CO 81230 (970) 641-1266 What to Know: Registered guests only May to October. Open to the public October to April for day soaking, bed and breakfast, and groups of about 40. Where: From Gunnison, drive 19 miles east on US 50. At the sign for Waunita Hot Springs, turn left (north) on County Road 887. Drive 8 miles to the ranch, which is on the left side of the road. See map on page 110.


on and Junelle Pringle believe that Waunita Hot Springs is a serendipity. The Pringles bought the guest ranch in 1962 and emphasize the Western experience of horseback riding, hayrides, square dancing, cookouts, fishing, and the splendid scenery offered by the Gunnison National Forest. The ranch focuses on weeklong family vacations in the summer. No alcohol is sold, but the cookie jar is always full. BYOB in the summer and for some groups in the winter. “The hot springs and the pool are amenities, not attractions,” says Junelle. “The hot water is a serendipity.” The springs are about 175°F, among the hottest in the state. The pool is kept at 95°F in the summer and 100°F in the winter. The outdoor hot tub is 105°F. In the summer, only ranch guests can use the swimming pool full of hot springs water. In the winter, when the water sends off miasmas of mist that float like silken scarves across the pool, day visitors are welcome along with guests at Waunita’s bed and breakfast and groups. Gunnison is renowned for its cold winters and the 111

nearby Crested Butte ski area, so Waunita’s hot spring is a treasury of warm soaking. The hot springs also make life on the ranch possible in the winter. Junelle says the hot water heats all the buildings—including the barn, the chicken coop, and the lodge. Local folklore, based on Ute stories, says Waunita was a Ute maiden who loved a Shoshone warrior who was killed in battle. The maiden died of grief, and when she was buried in a small cave the springs emerged from her tears. In the hills around the ranch, three generations of Pringles have found arrowheads, metates used to grind corn, and other Native American household tools. John C. Fremont’s survey party came through the area in 1843, and miners poured in by the 1860s and bathed in the hot springs. The railroad arrived in 1880 to take ore out and carry in settlers. There was a well-worn trail to the site by 1880, and the Utes were evicted in 1881. In 1882, Charles Elgin built a log hotel next to the lower springs (Waunita is the upper springs) and bestowed his own name on those springs. By 1885 there was a two-story hotel, a bathhouse, and a swimming pool. A stagecoach ferried train passengers from Doyleville to the hot springs for $1.50. The trip from Gunnison via train and stagecoach took about 3 hours. Today it is about a halfhour car trip. By 1884, Dr. Charles Davis of Chicago had bought most of the upper and lower springs property next to Elgin’s, and renamed the area Waunita. For 12 years locals enjoyed the springs for picnics, dances, and rodeos. Invalids were the only out-of-town guests. In the 1890s, Davis transformed the springs into an international spa with an orchestra, spiritualists, and fevered temperance. “What is the matter with European Civilization?” Davis wrote in 1923. “Through centuries of alcohol saturation, the human brain has been made incapable of evolving those thoughts which make for progress. The medical profession will solve the problem by condemning alcohol,” he went on. “What will they substitute in place of alcohol? Radium water.” 112 Colorado’s Hot Springs

He believed the springs’ water contained radium, the radioactive element whose use was pioneered by Marie Curie. Later tests didn’t find radium, but they did confirm that Waunita’s water temperature was among the hottest in the state. During the early 1900s and the height of America’s belief that Curie had found a cure for all ills, Davis brought patients and friends to Waunita Hot Springs by train, built a forty-room hotel, bottled the supposed radium water for sale, built a sanitarium, and ran a West-Central Colorado


stagecoach line to the train in Doyleville. He also wrote about treating patients with radium water for cancer, excessive menstrual bleeding, tuberculosis, malaria, ulcers, and syphilis. “It may yet be demonstrated scientifically that radium is the connecting link between what the scientist calls matter and what the theologian calls spirit,” he wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine in 1921. Davis died in 1928. The Depression and World War II cut off the resort business. By the early 1950s, vacations by car had replaced the traditional two weeks at a resort. Waunita had a series of owners, closed in 1952, and remained vacant until 1957, when Carl Bolin turned the resort into a youth sports camp. And then the Pringles bought the ranch. The Pringles, their son Ryan, daughter-in-law, Tammy, and two grandsons run the ranch, which is family-oriented with modern resort amenities, home-style cooking, a Christian atmosphere, family-style meals, and an alpine setting untouched by commercialism. For city kids, it’s a chance to throw rocks in the creek, chase frogs, fish, get to know a horse, run up a hill, meet real cowboys, and look for arrowheads. As you drive out and just before you reach the highway a tall iron sign with a cowboy figure reads “Happy Trails.” A little serendipity for the road.

114 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Desert Reef Hot Spring 1194 County Road 110 Florence, CO 81226 (719) 784-6134 GPS: N38° 23’/ W105° 3’ What to Know: Open to the public. Clothing optional four days a week. Bathing suits required on Fridays.

Where: Located 2 miles east of Florence. From US 50 between Pueblo and Cañon City just west of Penrose, take Colorado 115 south toward Florence. After 2.5 miles, turn left onto Colorado 120 and drive for about a mile. At the tall wooden cactus sign with three hula girls, turn right onto Fremont County Road 110. Drive for about a mile through the piñon and juniper rangeland and follow the yellow and blue “Yes” and arrow signs. Cross a bridge, go slow through a deep dip, and go through the gate. See map on page 119.


ust when you’re convinced there is no there there, there’s the Desert Reef Hot Spring. A desert rose that makes the off-road journey through remote rangeland and over a single lane bridge well worth the time. Set on 80 acres, the desert oasis and day spa taps into an artesian spring that was discovered by a drilling company hoping to find oil, not hot water. Calm, rustic, relaxed, and natural is how James, the resident manager, describes Desert Reef. That means no cell phones, computers, or other electronic toys. And, no chemicals in the water or bug spray. “If you want excitement and blaring music, go somewhere else,” he says. 115

Desert Reef is clothing optional, except on Fridays. Friday is the day that day care groups and community groups come, wearing bathing suits. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the oasis is available for rent. There’s a couple that regularly rents Desert Reef for their own private spa day. James and his wife, Kathy, make sure the ladies feel welcome. The ladies can bring spouses, boyfriends, and children. “We want the ladies to be completely comfortable,” says Larry “L. J.” Conrad, Desert Reef’s owner. “That means no gawkers.” 116 Colorado’s Hot Springs

L. J. says there are two kinds of people at Desert Reef—soakers and tanners. The isolated desert pool and the surroundings are decorated with metal sculptures and ceramics from local artists. The expansive decks, a shade canopy, lounge chairs, a covered play area for kids, and picnic tables complete the day spa look. Desert Reef opened 29 years ago. L. J. and Bob Kellner bought the land, the calcium-lined ditch created by flows from the artesian well, and the 132°F water source in 1985. The pool’s water is cooled to the 90s during the summer for comfort. They created the pool, waterfall, greenhouse, office, fishpond, and volleyball field as an oasis with a mountain backdrop. Desert Reef has a sense of humor. There are lots of stories, including one about a bobcat that came to visit. The large feline, apparently dumped in the remote area by someone who changed his mind about having a wild animal as a pet, wandered onto the pool deck, checked out the bathers, purred when petted, and waited patiently for an animal control officer to arrive. Nude and be-suited bathers alike offered sandwiches and water to the skinny animal. When the officer arrived, he hadn’t realized the Desert Reef was a clothing-optional pool. He nearly walked into a fishpond. Everyone laughed. There’s also the story about the ambulance. A guest was having trouble breathing and an ambulance was called. The dispatcher knew that Desert Reef was clothing-optional, so there was exceptional service. “Within 15 minutes, we had two ambulances and nine paramedics,” says L. J. “The members were smart. They’d put their clothes on. Those paramedics were pretty disappointed.” The 36-by-50-foot pool was designed and built by L. J., along with the waterfall in the corner. The fall’s stonework is composed of the honeycombed calcium deposits left by the well’s flows in the ditch. The chunks of rock are the size and weight of classic Volkswagens, but have delicate pockets of calcium nodes, clusters of white calcium flowers, and tiny caverns. The calcium deposits, which can cut skin like razor blades, and the water temperature deterred locals from using the hot springs West-Central Colorado


after the initial drilling in the 1940s. The wells were exploratory oil wells, and oil pumpers still dot the area around Desert Reef. In the earthen berm that surrounds the pool to ensure privacy, dozens of life-sized ceramic heads are partially buried. “Those are the people that have tried to sneak in. We calcified them in the water and buried them,” says L. J. “Every time it rains, the dirt washes off a few more.” Like most clothing-optional hot springs, the Desert Reef doesn’t advertise much. Websites for soakers and word of mouth draw visitors from all over the world. Once you’re there, you may wonder what else is there in the middle of nowhere. There’s the Colorado Prison Museum at Cañon City for a captivating experience. The Royal Gorge is nearby, cutting deep into the high mountain desert. A suspension bridge spans the miles-long slit in the earth with the Arkansas River glinting at the bottom. An aerial tramway carries fearless tourists down into the gorge. The Arkansas River, which cut the canyon over centuries, is the busiest rafting waterway in the country, with hundreds of thousands riding the white water through splendid scenery. Back at the Desert Reef, the waters are calm. And most days, there are no tan lines.

118 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Ca単on City Area

West-Central Colorado


Dakota Hot Springs 1 Malibu Boulevard Penrose, CO 81240 (719) 372-9250 What to Know: Private club and open to visitors. Clothing optional 6 days a week. Bathing suits required on Tuesdays. Where: From the crossroads of Colorado 115 (between Colorado Springs and Florence) and US 50 (between Pueblo and Cañon City), take US 50 west for 1 mile. Look for a cluster of signs—Hot Springs, Dakota Hot Springs, and The Well—on the left (south). Turn left at the signs and follow the short road to Dakota Hot Springs, formerly The Well. See map on page 119.


akota Hot Springs is ready and waiting for naturists, seekers of clothing-optional hot springs, and families who prefer soaking without suits in a comfortable setting. Bathers with suits are also welcome, and Tuesdays are set aside for clothed soakers. Curiously, Tuesday is one of the busiest days, unless it is snowy and cold. The sun shines at Dakota Hot Springs 350 days a year, drawing soakers and tanners from Colorado Springs and Denver. The artesian springwater comes out of the ground at 108°F. The large pool, 3 to 5 feet deep, is 100°F or more in the winter, but cooler in the summer. The soaking tub, set in the middle of the pool, is 108°F, toasty on the coldest day. A concrete deck surrounds the pool and an aging fence keeps the creeps and peepers away. There’s a vending machine, an awning for shade, a fullservice spa, a new bathhouse, a snack bar, and that’s about it. But if you are into year-round tanning with a side of nude bathing, Dakota is a dandy place. 120

Some veteran hot springs fans may remember The Well at the same site. Far more than the name has changed. The rough and rowdy days are gone. The paint is fresh and, in the summer, flowers have replaced the towering weeds. Joe and Toni Shenise manage Dakota. They are grandparents, have never bathed nude, and greet each visitor with a sheet of rules, including no sexual intimacy, no cameras or cell phones, and no drugs. Some prospective customers leave then. The managers are especially adamant about creating a safe environment for children. The Shenises and their adult grandsons enforce the rules to ensure their customers are safe and comfortable with or without bathing suits. After 13 years under the family’s vigilance, visitors know that breaking any of the many rules means an immediate and sometimes permanent trip out the door. “We’re the bad guys and we’re proud to be the bad guys,” says Toni. “Everyone who walks through the door deserves to have an enjoyable, relaxing time and not worry about anyone staring at them.” It’s rough country for a hot spring. But Dakota isn’t a hot spring. Conoco Oil created the artesian well in 1924 while drilling for oil. The water began flowing at 2,000 feet deep, and the oil company took their rigs elsewhere. A livestock tank claimed the flows for cattle. In 1956, Hazel Higgins bought the land and the spring and built the pool and a home as a getaway for herself and her husband, Charlie Higgins, a successful Colorado Springs stockbroker. Charlie Higgins died in the 1970s and Hazel rented out the complex until the 1980s, when she sold it. Dakota Hot Springs had many managers and several owners, including the Resolution Trust Corporation after a former owner ran out of money in 1985. During the 8 years of federal trust ownership, the hot springs was closed and the once well-groomed resort fell into disrepair. When it reopened in 1993, the place remained down at the heels with all the atmosphere of a 1950s gasoline station in a treeless rangeland. West-Central Colorado


When Joe and Toni took over in 2000, things started to change. Joe had been a mechanic and can fix anything—even a ratty hot springs. Toni was a financial analyst and accountant. They’ve added the new spa that offers massages of many kinds, hydrotherapy, and other health and beauty therapies. And there’s an area for dry camping. The Cañon City area is also home to several federal and state prison complexes that don’t attract many casual visitors. The multibuilding corrections complexes dot the high mountain desert in the area, glowing through the night. Very few prisoners have successfully breached the walls, barbed wire fences, and security guards. There is one offbeat roadside attraction that doesn’t turn up in many guidebooks—the Museum of Colorado Prisons in Cañon City. The exhibits are located in re-creations of inmate cells, and the displays show the evolution of the penal system. There’s even a gas chamber and a gift shop full of inmate-made items. The best seller is a “State Prison” mug painted with inmate stripes. Back at Dakota Hot Springs, Joe and Toni rule. If you dropped by before 2000, it is worth a new trip.

122 Colorado’s Hot Springs


Photo courtesy of Wiesbaden Hot Springs.

Southwest Colorado


Orvis Hot Springs 1585 County Road 3 Ridgway, CO 81432 (970) 626-5324 What to Know: Open to the public. Family friendly, clothing optional areas, lodging and camping.

Where: On US 550 between Montrose and Ouray. From Ridgway, go 1.5 miles south toward Ouray, then make a right at the “Orvis Hot Springs” sign. See map on page 132.


he yellow brick road through the West’s hot springs always leads to Orvis. The road’s end goes through the office, past two private tub rooms, and out a back door to an idyllic mountain setting with four outdoor, clothing-optional pools protected by a privacy fence. The wildflower beds and the San Juan Mountains that frame the scene, and the clarity of the warm water filling the three outdoor pools immediately convinces the visitor that Orvis is the place. The large 40-foot-wide pool, known as The Pond, is a masterwork of natural stone, including multilayered, underwater shelves for sitting and stretching out to soak and sun. The sandy bottom, the 100°F to 106°F temperatures, and the capital “S” spectacular views make The Pond a joy for all seasons. There’s the Island Pond, featuring a rockwork waterfall, and The Lobster Pot, averaging 108°F to 114°F. And there’s a Smoker’s Pond, a smaller pool, with temperatures 103°F to 107F°, set in a landscaped corner with its own waterfall where smoking is allowed. To prove that Orvis thinks of everyone, there’s a large, 3-footdeep indoor pool for children where clothing is required and tem124

peratures average 98°F. Colorful murals, poolside chairs, and an elegant stone waterfall offer family-friendly soaking. There are so many reasons that hot springs fans smile whenever they say “Orvis.” The hot springs have hosted many bathers and soakers over time. The water gushes out at 127°F, so the Utes dug shallow canals from the main pool to a circle of smaller pools that were then cool enough for bathing. Aka-paa-garu-ri, or “red water standing,” was the Ute term for the springs. An early US treaty promised that “For as long as the rivers might run and the grasses might grow,” the valley and the hot springs would belong to the Utes. Ha! From the 1860s on, settlers like Tom Goshorn moved to the area, violating the treaty. The Uncompahgre Valley became the last Colorado stronghold for Chief Ouray and the Utes. Southwest Colorado


Congress nullified the treaty after the 1876 gold strikes near the town of Ouray. In 1881, the US Army forcibly removed the Utes. Tom Goshorn sold the Ute’s land in 1877 to A. H. and Sarah Jarvis, who dubbed it the Hot Springs Ranch. “We paid him a team of young Hambleton mares, harness and wagon and one hundred dollars in cash,” wrote Sarah Jarvis about the purchase. When A. H. died, Sarah married Lewis Orvis. Their son, Lewis Jr., completed work on the Orvis Plunge, a popular term at the time for soaking pools, in 1919. Added later was a lake for fishing and a clubhouse where community dances, church gatherings, and school graduations were held through 1933. By the ’60s, the springs had reverted to nature and the dilapidated facilities were headed for foreclosure when Jeff and Andy Kerbel bought the property in 1986. The Kerbels’ vision saw past the two shacks next to a hot springs swamp to today’s splendid site. The rest is happy hot springs history with a series of owners, including Lewis and Sarah’s grandson, Ken Orvis, who bought the family homestead and hot springs in 2005. Ken expanded the grounds, added more pools, and put up the privacy fence. Orvis is a locals’ hot springs—most of the clientele live in western Colorado. About the only group missing from the scene are teenagers. Too awkward! The staff knows most visitors by name. In every conversation, the staff’s insights and quips about stress, relaxation, life, hot springs, and positive outlook about the future turn light chatter into champagne. It is a place where parents bring their children. Guests are required to wear clothing in the building and the indoor pool, which is favored by children. There hasn’t been a problem with gawkers for years, but if anyone crosses the boundary between enjoying the scenery and leering, eviction is immediate and permanent. Skinnydipping isn’t a spectator sport. The poolside social landscape is rarefied. Conversations cover the theater in New York City, real estate prices in Telluride, movie star sightings, changes in county zoning, emerging psychotherapy techniques, world politics, and how other hot springs are faring. The 126 Colorado’s Hot Springs

locations of riverside hot springs in the area, located on private land, are shared. Like a growing number of hot springs, Orvis is electronicsfree. No tablets, iPods, cell phones, or laptops. On the expansive deck around The Pond, guests share heroic tales of going wireless for days and even weeks. To help guests break the technology habit, there are loaner books. And there is free Wi-Fi available inside the building. “We want to help people get away,” says Terese Seal, the manager at Orvis. “Guests come out of the pools happier people.”

Southwest Colorado


Ouray Hot Springs Pool 1230 Main Street Ouray, CO 81427 (970) 325-7073 What to Know: Open to the public. Large pool with multiple sections for playing, soaking, and swimming. Where: From US 550 through Ouray, the hot springs pool is on the town’s north side. The pool and parking are on the west side of the road. See map on page 132.


n Ouray, life revolves around the town’s hot springs pool. The 250-by-150-foot-oval pool contains about 1 million gallons of water and is divided into seven sections—an aqua relish plate with steaming liquid in each compartment. The pool temperatures range from 82°F to 105°F to please everyone bobbing in the city-owned pool. Even mundane laps become magical when the swimmer looks up at the meadows and snowfields on the steep mountainsides. Bathers move between the sections in a slow and constant procession, questing for the perfect temperature. Townsfolk swim or soak on lunch breaks and after work. Real estate deals, investments, and business sales are negotiated within the pool’s confines. The town was named for Chief Ouray, who counseled the Uncompahgre Utes against warfare when thousands of settlers came to stay. Gold and silver mining put the remote town at 7,760 feet on the map and the endless wealth of hot springs water continued the prosperity long after the ore ran out. Ouray’s nickname is Little Switzerland for the Alps-like peaks above town. The American bather is as likely to hear English as German, French, or Swedish. The lightly chlorinated pools entertain hundreds each day. The crowds thin down in the winter, but the 128

overflow of skiers from Telluride and the town’s own unique ice climbing park keep the restaurants and lodges open. The pool is open all year-round. The hot springs pool is one of the biggest businesses in the county—an enduring liquid asset and economic anchor. All the profits go to bettering the city parks. Tom Kavanaugh, the pool manager, sets the small-town friendly standard for crew. The lifeguards are considered local heroes and the staff welcomes visitors as dear friends. The pool has a come-and-go policy: a day pass is good for a swim in the morning, a soak at lunch, and a return trip to watch the sunset. In all seasons, the human life cycle plays out in the pools’ delights. Youngsters noodling with candy-colored swimming noodles, elders soaking for pain relief and chatting with lifelong friends, lap swimmers rhythmically plying the waters, and new generations of kiddies learning to swim. Southwest Colorado


And now there’s the Wibit, a giant floating playground. There are hundreds of ways to run the Wibit’s slippery gauntlet of pools, handholds, and inflated barriers. And there are thousands of ways to fall in the water laughing. The young and the aged, the agile and the clumsy regale watchers with their efforts. Ah, joy, thy name is Wibit. The history that predated the Wibit is equally colorful. Gus Begole and Jack Eckles were looking for glittering gold and silver when they ventured up the valley in July of 1875. In the scenic mountain basin they located the Cedar and Clipper lodes at the south end of the contemporary town. They also discovered a claim to a patch of closely spaced parallel veins near the surface on 40 acres about a mile from town. Their farming backgrounds came to the fore, and they named the claim Mineral Farms. By 1876 there were four hundred people in Ouray and more than two hundred dwellings. The gold and silver ore was processed in Silverton, about 18 miles away, which meant the road was always crowded with burros and mules. By treaty, the land still belonged to the Ute Indians. The Utes throughout Colorado were “managed” from the Uncompahgre agency in nearby Montrose. Treaty after treaty shrunk the Indian lands and all Utes were required to sign the new treaty and leave. The Utes around Ouray weren’t willing to sign or leave, in part because of the springs. Otto Mears, who had established mail routes into the area and later built toll roads, paid every adult male Ute $2 for his signature. Within a few months, the treaty was ratified and soldiers moved the Utes to Colorado’s southwest corner and Utah. By 1881, Ouray’s population was close to three thousand. The silver mines sustained Ouray until the 1893 silver crash. In the 1890s there were about thirty-five saloons and a red-light district on Second Street that featured the Temple of Music and the Bird Cage. Many of the proud Victorian hotels, homes, businesses, and city buildings constructed in the glory days are still standing. The silver crash occurred when the precious metal was demonetized by Congress. Since many of the Ouray mines also con130 Colorado’s Hot Springs

tained gold, the mining operations switched over to survive. In 1896, Tom Walsh opened his legendary Camp Bird gold mine southwest of town and produced about $22 million in gold and financed the building of top-quality living quarters for about four hundred men who enjoyed steam heat, electric lights, and marble countertops in the lavatories. He sold Camp Bird in 1902 for $5.2 million. The Camp Bird Mine also turned Walsh into a diplomat and world traveler. His first daughter, Evalyn Walsh McLean, developed a passion for diamonds, buying the legendary Star of the East and Hope diamonds. She also wrote the book Father Struck It Rich. Evalyn moved to Washington, D.C., with the rest of the Walsh family and entertained American tycoons, crowned heads of Europe, and President Harding. As the town’s fortunes prospered, so did the hot springs’ immediate environs. The town’s pool site was part of Francis Carney’s brickyard. He excavated the mud around the spring to make bricks, and over time hot springs’ water filled the pit. The town added goldfish and ball fields after the brickyard moved and declared the area a park in 1903. During World War I, the demand for food mandated that the ball field be planted in potatoes. The name Radium Springs Park was bestowed in 1920, at the height of America’s love affair with radioactivity. The water was never radioactive and truth in advertising was decades away. In about 1924, a local man vacationing in Florida shipped an alligator to the town of Ouray as a prank. The gator resided first in the city hall basement and then in a fenced hot springs pond in the park, where he was joined by a second alligator. The city opened the big pool in 1929 after civic minded citizens dug a trench to bring hot springs water from the source in Canyon Creek below Box Canyon Falls. Later, the city dug a hot springs well to supply the pool. Alas, 1929 was the year that floods tore out businesses, homes, and part of the pool. The gators, known as Allie and Al or Gator, survived the inundation. Al soon attacked Allie and inflicted fatal Southwest Colorado


Ouray Area

injuries. Then, Al escaped, was recaptured, and died a few months later. Gators residing in alpine towns face sad fates. In town today, mists from the pools create oating clouds in winter and steam from the hot springs engulfs the north side of Ouray. Bathers appear and disappear in the mists. Submerged in the water, soakers can claim a quiet corner within the fog, secluded from other bathers, and let their spirits loose to play.

132 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings 625 5th Avenue Ouray, CO 81427 (970) 325-4347 What to Know: Open to the public and guests. Lodge with outdoor hot springs swimming pool and a private soaking pool, and a subterranean vapor cave.

Where: In the town of Ouray, turn east off Main Street (US 550) at 6th Avenue. Drive two blocks and the Wiesbaden is at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street. See map on page 132.


urrounded by towering peaks, the Wiesbaden Hot Springs has the feel of a European spa in the Alps. The outdoor swimming pool and soaking pools are lovely, but the Wiesbaden’s heart and soul shimmer in a large cavern beneath the lodge. Water pours from a spring at about 118°F to fill a soaking pool and emanate steam that fills the bedroom-sized chamber. Water from a cold springs is added to the soaking pool to cool the temperature to about 108°F. In the quiet of the naturemade alcove, the rhythmic pulse of the spring is the only sound. The unscented vapor, the heat, and the pool let soakers merge with the earth’s breath. No wonder the Wiesbaden’s springs were part of the last parcel of land relinquished by the Colorado Utes. “Shining Mountains” was the Ute description of the San Juan Mountains, which surround Ouray, sited at 7,760 feet. Those same shining mountains loom above the Wiesbaden Legends and lore about experiences within the dark, misty chamber abound with tales of healing restoration and physical 133

revival. Native Americans frequent the Wiesbaden for healing ceremonies. Guests have come from Qatar, Europe, and Asia to soothe body and soul. “The Wiesbaden cave has a history of spirituality, which gives a strong presence now,” says owner Linda Wright-Minter. The Wiesbaden asks that quiet be maintained so all can enjoy the peace and tranquillity. Linda makes no claims about guests’ experiences. “It is whatever you get out of it.” But Linda does say, “There’s no other place like this.” That’s what Linda decided when she and her husband first visited in 1978 and bought the Wiesbaden. There was no “For Sale” sign. For years, she cleaned the vapor cavern and pool herself as a morning prayer. And she’s turned away million dollar purchase offers from folks with visions of elaborate, exclusive resorts. “I want to keep it so the people who need it can afford it,” she says. Miners tunneling in search of gold discovered a vapor cave. The first commercial spa on the site was Mother Buchanan’s Bath House. The year was 1879, mining was booming, and there’s loose talk that Mother Buchanan offered more than baths. An archaeological study found the ruins of Chief Ouray’s adobe home on the Wiesbaden property, uphill from the spa. Ouray represented the seven Ute bands in nearly 20 years of negotiations with the US government. But ultimately, an estimated 1,200 Utes were removed from the Uncompahgre Valley at gunpoint in 1881. Uncompahgre was originally spelled Uncapahgre—unca for hot, pah for water, and gre for springs. Chief Ouray used his adobe residence in Ouray for meetings with army officers and leaders of other Indian nations in his attempt to secure a permanent home for his tribe as treaty after treaty was broken. Ouray, accused during his life of being a traitor to his people for seeking compromise instead of blood, took on an impossible task, for which he was uniquely qualified. He was born in New Mexico and grew up speaking Spanish and going to Catholic Mass. 134 Colorado’s Hot Springs

He also watched US troops triumph in the Mexican-American War in 1846 and then retaliate against the Pueblos after the Taos revolt in 1847. He learned Ute from his mother, Apache from his father, and picked up English as well. Ouray moved to Colorado in 1850 and became a respected Ute leader. Although successive treaties gave miners and settlers thousands of acres that they already occupied in western Colorado, Ouray retained a clear vision of the gruesome alternative to surSouthwest Colorado


rendering the land. In the interest of peace, he dressed in a suit and tie, and his wife, Chipeta, served tea at their home from a silver tea service. To encourage the Utes to adapt, he farmed and ranched near Montrose. In the end, the Utes were exiled. Ouray died a year before his people were moved to reservations in Colorado and Utah. In the last few years of his life, Ouray returned to traditional Ute dress and habits. Generations of Chief Ouray’s descendants visit the Wiesbaden, and Linda especially honors Utes and other Native American guests. The Utes’ fate was sealed by the gold and silver ore around Ouray, but mining at 10,000 feet broke hundreds of miners’ hearts and lives as well. The winters, the mining failures, and the filth dispatched a fair number to the grave. A few, like the owner of the Camp Bird Mine that produced $22 million in gold between 1896 and 1902, became rich beyond their wildest dreams. When the gold ran out, the hot springs at the Wiesbaden site kept flowing. In 1902, Ouray postmaster A. J. Dunbarton built a small bathhouse. In the 1920s, Dr. C. V. Bates opened a hospital on the spa site and enlarged the cavern. Later, a dentist bought the motel, ran the springs as a spa, and practiced dentistry in a room off the lodge. Today, the Wiesbaden is open to the public and taps multiple hot springs to constantly refill the pools. Cool water is added to the outdoor pools to keep the temperatures at 99°F to 104°F. The swimming pool has a sunning deck and chairs for lounging. The Lorelei, a private soaking pool fed by a waterfall of warm water, is available by the hour for a fee. Aspen trees, flowers, and a deck complete the Lorelei’s setting. The spa offers massage, herbal wraps, hot stone, and other treatments. Linda focuses on physical and emotional renewal with nice accommodations. The grounds are nicely landscaped and planted with hundreds of alpine flowers. Each of the dozen rooms, suites, and cabins is unique. 136 Colorado’s Hot Springs

To protect guests with allergies, no smoking or pets are allowed on the premises. In the vapor chamber, Linda plumbed another spring that flows over a rock wall face as a waterfall. “What guests say most often is that they felt blessed to have been here,” says Linda.

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Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs 45 3rd Avenue Ouray, CO 81427 (970) 325-4981, (800) 327-5080 What to Know: Guests only. Lodge with hot springs soaking tubs.

Where: From Main Street (US 550) in Ouray turn west onto 3rd Avenue. Drive for two blocks. The Box Canyon Lodge is on the south side of the street at the end of the second block on Ouray’s south side. See map on page 132.


es, there’s more to Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs than just a motel with four soaking tubs of pure hot springs water. The tubs, for guest use only, are perched above the motel and offer a jaw-dropping 360-degree view of the valley and surrounding mountains. The 13,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains surround Ouray like a mighty fortress. On a snowy night after downhill skiing in Telluride or a cross-country skiing foray, each tub is a space module that takes the soaker past Ouray’s twinkling lights into the Ute Indian’s long residency, the historic mining town’s lively era, or up into the star systems above. The Box Canyon springs have worn a host of hats to match the fashions of many eras, including the days as an exclusive sanitarium in 1925 run by Richard and Bessie Cogar. “Ponce de Leon searched in the wrong section of the country for the fountain of eternal youth,” wrote one pleased patient. “He should have come here and his dream would have been realized.” The name changed to Sweet Skin Sanitarium in 1929. By the end of World War II, the springs had sprouted a motel for those 138

seeking the rejuvenating powers of the water. Today, some guests find the water so soothing that they take it home and reheat it for treatment of achy joints and muscles. Rich and Karen Avery bought the lodge and springs in 2007, but not much has changed except the four hot tubs of springwater are new. And a separate 105°F spring on the property now provides all the heat and hot water for the rooms. The Averys had a vacation home in Ouray, spotted a small “For Sale” ad in a Denver newspaper, and jumped in feetfirst. “We don’t want to change what people come here to enjoy,” says Rich. The lodge offers rooms and suites, some with kitchens and some with fireplaces. A few open onto the hot tubs. The Box Canyon’s previous owners loved birds and so did many of their guests. Feeders guarantee frequent visits by chickadees, grosbeaks galore, finches, hummingbirds, juncos, blue jays that match the sky in color, and an occasional western tanager. Deer Southwest Colorado


hang out near the hot tubs, occasionally sticking around long enough for a picture. The 4-foot high, 5-foot diameter tubs are vintage casks with wooden benches, each seating five people. Hydrojets shoot 103°F to 108°F water into the tubs, bestowing the effervescence of champagne. From the tubs, guests watch the sun set over town and stay to count the stars, then enjoy the moonrise. A short walk from the Box Canyon Lodge is the real Box Canyon. The city owns Box Canyon and Falls, so there’s an admission fee—$4 for adults, $2 for kids in 2014. A large sign directs drivers across a bridge into a parking lot. For hikers, the woodsy trail that starts one block west of the Box Canyon Lodge leads into a labyrinth of black rock walls and sturdy walkways with the sound of Canyon Creek below. Centuries of water flows have smoothed the rock. The trail leads through dark chambers, mists, patches of white sand beach, over a hanging bridge, up a walkway anchored to the rock wall, and past the waterfalls. The canyon is a place of roaring water, austere rock towers, and a sliver of sky up above. In winter, a short drive and hike leads to the Ouray Ice Park, a man-made ice climbing venue created in a spectacular natural gorge just outside town. Admission is free to see more than two hundred named ice climbs, most within a 15-minute walk of the park entrance. Thaw out afterward in the lodge’s soaking tubs. The full moon’s light bounces off the snowy peaks that circle the town. The soaking tubs’ water catches the moonbeams, and all is bathed in a pearly light.

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Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs 125 3rd Avenue Ouray, CO 81427 (970) 325-4427, (800) 207-2700 What to Know: Guests only. Lodging with outdoor and indoor hot springs pools.

Where: Located on Ouray’s south side, one block west of US 550 (Main Street). From Main Street, turn west on 3rd Avenue and drive 1.5 blocks. Twin Peaks is on the south side of the street. See map on page 132.


win Peaks Lodge and Hot Springs isn’t just another motel with a hot springs pool. Owner Ryan Hein, who bought Twin Peaks in 2006, is working toward a spa resort and has enough springs water to do it. There’s already an onsite restaurant that also serves poolside meals and drinks. Guests have 24-hour access to the pools and hot tub. Float in the outdoor pool’s warm water, follow the clouds’ movements in the surrounding San Juan Mountains, or celebrate the day with a sunset soak. Kids love the outdoor pool’s warm water in summer and winter. For comfortable kid-watching, there’s a glass-enclosed deck for sunbathing and chairs. The adults-only indoor pool, 5 feet by 12 feet, is a quiet sanctuary housed in an A-frame with big windows. The covered pool is about 105°F, toasty after the day’s expeditions, and two waterfalls complete the natural ambience. Twin Peaks has had many owners and a variety of guests. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Alfred Armstrong bought up the several lots that became Twin Peaks. He and two bachelor buddies 141

owned the fabled Bachelor gold and silver mine and prospered. Today, the current owners of the mine offer tours. Hot springs, then and now, are hot properties. Richard and Bessie Cogar picked up the property in 1913 and created the Cogar Sanitarium. The Cogars claimed the hot water cured a variety of diseases. Charles Kent, who owned a nearby property with another hot springs, bought the Cogar Sanitarium, renamed it the Sweet Skin Sanitarium, and added cabins to his 35 acres. 142 Colorado’s Hot Springs

From Alfred Castner King, an early visitor to Ouray: Wherever I wander, my spirit still dwells, In the silvery San Juan with its streamlets and dells; Whose mountainous summits, so rugged and high, With their pinnacles pierce the ethereal sky; . . . Surrounded by mountains, majestic and gray, Which smile from their heights on the Town of Ouray.

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More owners came and went, but the hot springs stayed attractive to decades of visitors. When Hollywood came to Ouray to film True Grit in 1968, John Wayne stayed at Twin Peaks. In the era of the Twin Peaks television series, fans stopped to pose for vacation pictures in front of the lodge’s sign, but that’s old history now. Adventurers today head south on US 550, the Million Dollar Highway. During the mining era that started in the 1880s and lasted into the 1920s, the road over 11,108-foot Red Mountain Pass and 10,901-foot Molas Divide Pass cost $1 million to engineer, blast, and smooth. US 550 is paved, but for long stretches there are no guardrails on multiple hairpin turns. A straight drop down the cliffs starts a few feet from the yellow highway border line. That’s a driving adventure. Steep, rocky, and unpaved roads take off from US 550 to abandoned mines and feature views that rival the Swiss Alps, bumpy mountain passes, the stark landscapes above tree line, and assorted adventures for intrepid vehicular explorers. Many an adventure has been planned in the warm water at Twin Peaks. And evening soakers hear the tales of deathdefying drives, missed turns, and off-road travels. The water mineral pools melt away the pains and aches, as the long-gone miners knew so well.

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4UR Ranch 1 Goose Creek Road Creede, CO 81130 (719) 658-2202 What to Know: Registered guests only. A one-week minimum stay during the summer, three-night minimum from early June to September. Where: From the town of Del Norte, take US 160 west and drive 15.9 miles to Colorado Highway 149 and turn right. Drive 13.2 miles and turn left onto Goose Creek Road, which takes you into the 4UR Ranch. See map on page 149.


he Ute Indians viewed the hot springs as sacred and the 4UR Ranch embraces that vision of healing while serving as an angler’s paradise and a family ranch resort with two Cordon Bleu chefs. Every summer, a few hot springs devotees will ignore the “Private Property” sign leading to the 4UR and arrive at the door, pleading to be allowed a dip. Alas, the rules are firm and unregistered visitors are politely turned away. For ranch guests who each pay about $2,500 a week in 2014, there’s a large outdoor swimming pool that’s about 85°F, thanks to geothermal heat. The indoor mineral pool, Little Medicine at 104°F, looks out through a wall of windows onto the San Juan Mountains. And, when Goose Creek’s water level drops in the late summer, there’s the 6-by-6-foot Soda Springs pool. From the comfort of the 106°F, 3.5-foot-deep pool that’s at eye level with the creek, soakers are surrounded by the sounds of rushing water and birds. In the fall, the mountain backdrop is cloaked in gold as the aspens put on their annual show. 145

Photo courtesy of 4UR Ranch.

Three generations of the Leavell family have owned and managed the 4UR Ranch, complete with private fly fishing on Goose Creek and the Rio Grande River, and a private pond. Browns, rainbows, and native cutthroats dance in the headwaters. There’s also trapshooting, rafting, horsemanship instruction, and hiking. Julia Child, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Walt Disney, and US Supreme Court Justice Byron White have fished at the 3,000acre resort ranch renowned for gourmet meals. The Utes called the hot springs “Little Medicine.” That distinguished the area from Pagosa Springs, which the Utes called “Big Medicine.” A foot trail connected the two distant springs long before miners and settlers arrived and pitched an estimated one thousand tents around the springs. 146 Colorado’s Hot Springs

When the first resort was built there during the spa era of the late 1800s, the hot springs water was the lure. In the 1870s, Lake City miners borrowed English money to build curative pools for invalids and arthritic miners. The resort was also a stop on the European spa circuit, a worldwide network of mountain getaways that offered baths, mineral water, and other tonics. At the resort, called Wagon Wheel Gap, there was a comfortable hotel with 30 pools of bubbling water that ranged in temperature from icy to near boiling. The name Wagon Wheel Gap originated in the 1860s, when miners found a wagon wheel in the area and presumed it was left by explorer John Fremont’s expedition, which ended in starvation in 1848. More likely, the wheel was left by explorer Charles Baker on a later journey. But the name stuck. Baker’s party went on to found the town of Silverton. History dropped by the neighborhood again in the late 1870s with railroad tycoon Gen. William Palmer, best known for putting Colorado Springs, Durango, and Alamosa on the map by building rail service. Gen. Palmer built railroads in the northeast, then rose in the military ranks during the Civil War, and, after the war, financed educational programs for freed slaves. He moved west, bought the springs, built the resort, and operated a highbrow guest ranch. Patrons enjoyed fine dining, good fishing, and the salubrious effects of the hot springs—as they do today. “I know of no place in Colorado where the fly-fisher will have better sport,” wrote author Ernest Ingersoll, who came by in the late 1880s. Enchanted with the fishing, Ingersoll also noted the springs’ allure. “There are accounts of men brought here utterly helpless and full of agony from inflammatory rheumatism or neuralgia who in a week are able to walk about and help themselves, in a fortnight were strolling about the valley perfectly erect and comfortable.” There is also the tale of the wife of an early owner who bathed in the nude. Her servant accompanied her to the springs, using an umbrella to protect the mistress of the manor from the stares of cowboys. In 1889, 5,000 pounds of trout were reportedly caught in the Southwest Colorado


river. A 1901 letter to the editor of the Denver Times exhorted readers to “Away with your Newport! Away with your ocean breezes and delicious salt air! Give us some Wagon Wheel Gap.” In 1904, Gen. Palmer embarked on an ambitious $25,000 renovation that included the elegant stucco bathhouse that still stands. A casino was in place by 1908, along with a dance floor. Each of the main springs had a name: Hot Soda, Hot Saline, Cold Lithia, and Hot Sulfur. The Leavells carry on Palmer’s tradition of fine fishing, healing, and lavish meals. The largest spring is located on the edge of the property and is ringed by a cement retaining pool adorned with clusters of fluorspar crystals from a nearby mine. “When you have hot springs on the land, they may not appear to be the centerpiece of the experience,” says Lindsey Leavell. “There’s an energy in the valley that the Utes and our guests recognized. The springs are part of the land. They gentle people.”

Photo courtesy of 4UR Ranch.

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4UR Ranch

Southwest Colorado


Dunton Hot Springs 52068 West Fork Road 38 Dolores, CO 81323 (970) 882-4800, (877) 228-4674 What to Know: Guests only. A luxury hot springs destination resort.

Where: From Telluride: Driving out of town, take the left going south onto Colorado Highway 145. Drive 17.4 miles and turn right onto County Road 38. Drive for 10.6 miles to Dunton. From Cortez: Take Colorado Highway 145 northeast for about 13.2 miles and turn left on County Road 38 (Dunton Road). Drive about 3.4 miles and take Forest Service Road 535 for about 1.8 miles. County Road 38 resumes and it’s 16.5 miles to Dunton. See map on page 153.


here’s only one Dunton Hot Springs. And while Dunton is many, many lovely things, it is not a daytripper, drop-by kind of hot springs. Dunton is a delightfully deluxe destination resort and spa with fine art and European décor in a perfectly preserved Western ghost town. Think of Dunton as a refined mountain retreat and outdoor playground designed for royalty, cinema stars, and corporate moguls and their children. A small cabin for four people rented for about $1,100 a night or $11,000 per week in the summer of 2014. Gourmet meals, cocktails, fine wine, and ever so much more is included. For weddings, family reunions, and business retreats for about thirty-four people, the town, complete with the hot springs pools, rented for about $27,000 a night, with a three-night minimum. Reservations are a must. Dunton is sooo much more than hot springs soaking. Travel writers run out of adjectives describing the fourteen unique guest 150

cabins, the luxury tent complete with bathroom, the three-bedroom home, the pony-express stop turned massage-yoga spa, the magnificently restored saloon, and the soaking opportunities. There’s also a winery, a boxing gym, shooting sports, an outdoor skating rink in winter, and world-class fly fishing on a private stretch of stream. Don’t forget the 350-foot waterfall, a splendid setting for a picnic. Adventures and outings in the surrounding national forest include horseback riding, mountaineering on 14,000-foot peaks, Southwest Colorado


hiking, mountain biking, rafting and, in the winter, helicopter skiing, dog sledding, and ice climbing. There’s more, lots more, but you get the idea. In 2014, Dunton was a very private place and nonguests on the road could see only a glimpse of the 1800s settlement with proud log buildings, tin roofs, windows of glistening glass, and a tepee. The only clues that it is a living town, not a ghost town, are the people and cars. There are a few concessions to the real world—fiberoptic connections for telephones and wireless devices. Cell phones don’t fare well because of the remote mountain location. Hot springs dot the landscape around Dunton, but splendid soaking is found inside the venerable and fully restored 1800s bathhouse. The 12-by-8-foot pool is 6 feet deep. During the day, light pours in through the wall of windows. Reposing in the pool, look out the windows on an aspen-fringed meadow. There’s also an outdoor pool next to the bathhouse and another outdoor pool behind the Dunton Store cabin. Both have breathtaking views. The Well House cabin has its own hot springs bathing tub, available only to Well House guests. A fifth spring, known as Christoph’s Spring in honor of Dunton’s owner, is located in the river. The historical road to today’s Dunton is as colorful as hot springs’ stories get. In 1885, gold miners were staking claims on the West Dolores River, and a Horatio Dunton settled on the land at the hot springs. Cabins soon lined the river for miles and up to three hundred people lived in log homes, drank at a number of saloons, sent their children to the school, and traded at the stores. There was also a bordello. Legend says Butch Cassidy hid in Dunton after robbing the Telluride Bank in 1889. The antique bar in the saloon and dining room has hundreds of names and initials carved into the wood, including Butch’s. True or not, it is a good tale. Joe and Dominica Roscio founded the town in 1895. Joe, a miner, watched the area run out of gold and enlisted his three sons to charge miners 5 cents to soak in the hot springs. The gold ran out in 1910 and by 1918, Dunton was a ghost town. The Roscio family 152 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Dunton Hot Springs

Southwest Colorado


turned to ranching. One son, Joe Roscio, later started a dude ranch—Rancho Dolores—and converted one of the old saloons into a dance hall and found that selling soaks in the hot water was the new gold mine. Dunton was always free-spirited, and clothing was rare at the springs. In the 1960s, waves of hippies, motorcycle gypsies, and musicians came and stayed for varying lengths of time. Sometimes soaking in the springs smoothed the conflicts between cowboys and hippies. When the Roscios ordered a rowdy group of bikers out in 1977, the bikers burned a couple of cabins to say good-bye. In 1980, the Roscios sold Dunton to New York investors, who tried to resell the property without success until Christoph Henkel, heir to a German household products fortune, and Bernt Kuhlmann, an Austria-born Telluride realtor and developer, drove down the road in the winter of 1994 and put on snowshoes to look at the unique $1.1 million bit of real estate. During the 2-hour drive out, they developed plans for Dunton’s next life. Dunton is modeled on the idealistic landscapes of George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, and Jacob Miller, whose enormous oil paintings of Elysian meadows beneath the West’s regal mountain peaks captured Europe’s imagination in the late 1800s. Antique 1800s log cabins, barns, and farmhouses were purchased in other western states and trucked to Dunton. Today, the vision is complete. Dunton is a phoenix of finery, an Architectural Digest version of the True West, risen from the ashes. Ah, the visions that hot springs inspire.

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Joyful Journey Hot Springs 28640 County Road 58EE Moffat, CO 81143 (719) 256-4328, (800) 673-0656 PIN: 4328 What to Know: Open to the public. Hot springs soaking pools, spa, and lodging. Where: On Colorado Highway 17, 32 miles south of Salida and 50 miles north of Alamosa. Highway 17 runs parallel to Highway 285. Joyful Journey is located on the east side of the road. See map on page 159.


he view from the pools at Joyful Journey is a living diorama of a thriving high mountain desert backed by 14,000-foot peaks Owls head out to hunt at dusk and court in the sky. Jackrabbits munch grasses, ever alert for winged predators. Antelope wander by. And sometimes the population of songbirds gets so raucous that any human chatter is lost in the noise. At dusk, the roiling clouds turn as golden as the desert floor. Sacred moments. Serene. Meditative. Quiet. The scent of desert herbs wafts into the pools. A soft refrain of flute music. Simple, elegant architecture, somewhere between southwest and Morocco and Cape Cod. Summer weekends fill with truth seekers from nearby Crestone and weekender getaway wanderers from Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. The springs rush from the earth at 145°F, and the spa keeps the pools at 99°F. There are no chemicals because the water replaces itself several times a day. The wooden decks are smooth, and the temple-like walls are a desert shade of stucco. The sauna is aspenpaneled and offers a view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In the outdoor Tower Pool, surrounded by white columns and decking, the freshly scrubbed soaking tub drops down so arms, 155

156 Colorado’s Hot Springs

shoulders, and necks submerge. There are two other soaking pools, which measure about 12 feet by 12 feet, and offer a desertscape perfect for viewing the rising moon, dancing stars, roaming fogs, sudden rains, and rainbows. There’s no kids’ pool, but youngsters can carouse at nearby Splashland, open only in the summer; the Salida Pool; and the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, both of which are open year-round. The place has come a long way since Elaine Blumenhein arrived in 1999 and listened carefully to what guests said they wanted. She added yurts and tepees for lodging and a nearby bathhouse with showers, sinks, and toilets. Recently, she added a lodge and retreat center that hosts gatherings for meditation, yoga, writing, artists, and various kinds of healing. The facilities are smokefree and the rooms have no televisions or telephones, but there’s a continental breakfast. The gift shop offers healthy snacks. “The whole environment is healing,” says Blumenhein. “Visitors always leave with a smile on their faces. We want to keep this place so it feels comfortable for everyone from ranchers to construction workers to people who come for healing or massage.” The towering triangles of the tepees stand out and harken back to the Native Americans who once used the springs. Navajo and Ute artifacts have been found in the area around the hot springs. In 1881, the year that the Utes were exiled to reservations, homesteader Sylvester Jenks claimed the newly available springs. By 1892, a town had sprouted to serve the visitors who came by train over Poncha Pass to savor the hot pools, mud room, and lodgings. Joyful Journey’s first glory days arrived in the early 1900s. The Robert Dunshee family, who had made their money by brokering real estate deals in the area, changed the name to Mineral Hot Springs. The town was plotted, thirty-seven springs were counted, and postal service was arranged. The dance hall drew railroaders, farmers, and storekeepers from dozens of miles. And the spring’s offerings included an enclosed pool, bathhouse, and cottage camp. When Dunshee died, a series of other owners took over until the 1960s when the town was abandoned. Southwest Colorado


In the 1980s, the North Chamberlain Swine Unit moved in, setting up 125 train boxcars to house pigs. The springs’ heat warmed the swine through the winters. After the pig farm went out of business, the hot springs languished for years. Joyful Journey is popular with visitors to the San Luis Valley taking classes in healing arts, spiritualism, and New Age teachings at Crestone, 30 miles to the southwest. The influx of seekers soaking in the pools makes for enlightening conversations about spiritual enlightenment, world religions, comparative meditation techniques, and yoga for body or mind. At Joyful Journey, the desert seasons at 7,700 feet in elevation float past outside the glass-enclosed hot pools and decks. As the months pass, snow gives way to pale greens and purples of spring. Fierce, late spring snowstorms give way to pale gold light that turns the flat wet flakes into clusters of diamonds on the dried grasses. The longer days and warmer nights foster wildflowers that trade off the starring role throughout the summer. Sudden thunderstorms fire their fury on the land and roil on down the valley, leaving rainbows and the scent of sage in their wake. And the nights of galaxies above climax in mid-August when hosts of shooting stars rain across the sky. It’s a show that’s drawn lookers for centuries to marvel at the celestial show from the balmy, odorless waters.

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alamosa area

Southwest Colorado


Valley View Hot Springs 64393 County Road GG Villa Grove, CO 81155 (719) 256-4315 What to Know: Open to the public. Reservations recommended for summer visits and weekends. Clothing optional. Lodging and camping.

Where: In the San Luis Valley, about 27 miles south of Poncha Springs at the intersection of US 285 and Colorado 17. On US 285, about 4.5 miles south of Villa Grove, turn left at the junction to Colorado 17 and take another left (east) on County Road GG, a gravel road. Follow County Road GG about 7.5 miles to the entrance of Orient Land Trust/Valley View Hot Springs. See map on page 159.


ature rules at Valley View Hot Springs. On a clear day, hundreds of snowcapped summits in Colorado and New Mexico frame a 100-mile stretch of the San Luis Valley for a jaw-dropping view from the pools and ponds at Valley View. Located at 8,700 feet on the toes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and overlooking the Continental Divide, Valley View is bordered by the Himalayan-like scenery of two towering mountain ranges—the Sangres and the La Garitas. The five natural, gravel-bottomed, warm soaking ponds are tucked into a hillside and connected by foot trails. The swimming pool area includes a sauna, a children’s wading pool, and two outdoor hot tubs built of stone. None of the water in the pools and ponds is chemically treated. Nature keeps water in the ponds in the 90s range—“womb temperature”—with snow, rain, sun, and clouds. The water temperature in the hot tubs is boosted by the offgrid hydroelectric power system. 160

“It’s like the Old West. It is the land that time forgot,” says Neil Seitz, who bought the springs and the surrounding 160 acres with his wife, Terry, in 1979. In 2001, they created the nonprofit Orient Land Trust (OLT) to preserve and care for the 2,000 acres in perpetuity. Valley View is also “Naturist,” which is not to be confused with nudist. Naturists, according to the Naturist Society, enjoy getting naked, protect the environment, differentiate between nakedness and sexuality, and are non-evangelical. Valley View is open to Southwest Colorado


the public with a cap on visitor numbers to preserve the land and visitor experience. The staff is quick to oust anyone with the wrong idea about naturism as a spectator sport. There are rustic cabins, two lodges, and camping, all with communal restrooms. Most bathers opt against swimsuits. Some spend the day working on full-body tans. Others drop their clothing poolside. Those in bathing suits are as welcome as the unclothed. And nearly everyone dresses in the evening when the temperatures plunge. No smoking or cameras allowed, including cell phones, in the pool areas. The office has a public phone and the only wireless connection. The setting is primeval. Deer wander up to the pools and drink while bathers watch. The natural warm ponds are draped with filaments of warm water plants. The only sounds are wind, trees, and birds. A full moon on a clear night illuminates the valley like an Ansel Adams landscape—art and nature fused in incandescent beauty. A gentle hiking trail connects the lower pools— Soaking Pond, Waterfall Pond, and Meadow Pond to the swimming pool. A steeper 0.25-mile trail links the Top Ponds. The quantity of arrowheads found around the springs tells of extensive use by early Native Americans. The Spanish came in search of Indian slaves and gold, followed by European trappers, miners, and settlers. After the Utes were removed to reservations in the 1880s, Valley View became a resort for a time. In the early 1900s John Everson bought the ranch, ran the hot springs, and catered to iron-ore miners from the neighboring Orient Mine. The miners used the springs through the 1930s. Neil was hired as caretaker by John Everson’s grandson in 1975 and restored order to the pools and ponds. Children must be attended by a parent or a guardian at all times. Neil, a man of many talents, developed a hydroelectric system that heats and lights the entire resort. Tours of the hydroelectric plant are available. Neil and Terry raised their children at Valley View. The OLT, which Neil and Terry created, will carry on their vision of preserving the land, the water, and maintaining a familyfriendly destination for many generations. 162 Colorado’s Hot Springs

“We have some of the same people coming as we did 30 years ago,” says Neil. “They have children or their children have children.” One of the joys of staying at Valley View is getting off the grid to join nature. For instance, a 1.8-mile hike from the hot springs to the Orient Mine gives summer visitors a view of 250,000 bats that emerge at sunset to fly across the valley below. There are rustic cabins, two lodges, and camping, all with communal restrooms. From the pools on the slopes of Valley View, visitors greet the sunrise, follow the sun across the sky, and watch the stars rise. Immersed in the pools, soakers watch the day’s light change the colors in the grasses, trees, and the valley landscape. A rising moon or a cascade of snowflakes is a touch of something holy that pulls the human heart and spirit into nature’s rhythm.

Southwest Colorado


Sand Dunes Swimming Pool 1991 County Road 63 Hooper, CO 81136 (719) 378-2807 What to Know: Open to the public. Swimming and soaking pools, waterslide. Lodging and RV park.

Where: On Highway 17 between Salida and Alamosa. From the town of Hooper, about midway between Salida and Alamosa, go north on Highway 17 for 1 mile. On the right (east) side of the road, look for the large billboard painted to look like sun-dappled water and the “Road B” sign and turn right. Continue east on the gravel road for about 1.5 miles. At the T in the road, take a left onto Road 63. Drive north for about 1 mile. The pool is on your left. See map on page 159.


ho says there’s not enough for kids to do in the San Luis Valley? Certainly not anyone who has stopped at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, known locally as the Hooper Pool. Not that the Colorado Gators Reptile Park and the Splashland Pool weren’t enough entertainment to enliven the kidlets on the drive to and from the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. The Sand Dunes Pool is a bonus because the water is warm and it’s open all year, although the hours are shorter in the winter. And while there are no alligators, there’s a stream of tilapia, a phalanx of barbecue grills, a volleyball field and basketball courts, and a snack bar with salads and sandwiches. The large pool is 98°F in the summer and a bit warmer in the winter. While the summer is lively with day-care groups, schoolkids, and families, the winter crowd is just as numerous if a bit more mature with lap swimmers, folks serenely soaking up the heat in the 164

covered 107°F therapy pool, and off-season travelers en route to Taos and Santa Fe, or Denver and Boulder. Business picks up when it snows or temperatures drop below 15°F. There’s also a shallow baby pool. The owners, Ed and Sharie Harmon, created a family-style hot springs because they had five children themselves. Their daughter, Carly, runs Sand Dunes these days. Ed’s passion for flying is why there’s a half-mile runway that visitors can use if they call ahead. So, private planes from Denver heading to Taos fly in, soak, and fly out. The pool’s tale starts with oil exploration in the 1930s when drilling went down 5,000 feet without striking oil. However, hot water poured from the hole and the Hooper Swimming Pool had its first incarnation. At the tap, the water is 118°F. The first owner closed it down in 1978. In the 1980s, catfish skulked in the pools. Southwest Colorado


And in the 1990s, a New York investment group sought out the Harmons, who were farming nearby, as prospective buyers. The Harmons reopened the desert oasis in 1995 and have been adding new features every year since. Their older daughters, including Carly, served as lifeguards, swimming teachers, snack bar staff, and helped operate the pool. The Sand Dunes Pool is family with a capital “P” on parents. No kid drop-offs for youngsters under 14 years old. There are lifeguards in the summer, but the Harmons require children to come with parents, grandparents, or caretakers. Safety is the reason, but as a result, the Sand Dunes Pool is a bit quieter than your average swimming pool. There’s a farmer-fashioned shower that pours hot water from 10 feet above the large pool that’s a welcome massage for the neck, arms, and shoulders. The fountain is welded from irrigation sprinkler parts and is a sculptural tribute to the ingenuity of farmers. “We wanted to create a metal palm tree, but we haven’t gotten around to it yet,” says Sharie. “Even without the palm fronds, the water feels so good on your back.” The Harmons, like nearly everyone else in the San Luis Valley, are nervous about plans to “mine” the groundwater under the valley floor and pipe the water to the Denver metropolitan area. The courts and voters have rebuffed the attempts for 20 years. But with the development craze in the water-short Denver southern suburbs, another scheme will arise. “A deep well in the wrong place could end this whole place,” say the Harmons. There’s no chlorine in the water. The daily flows through keep the pool clean and more chemicals would hurt the tilapia in the fishing ponds below, which were added to help control the mosquitoes. Ever since the 1950s, area residents have reported rapidly moving lights in the skies and compared sightings. Dating couples parked atop hills, windshields pointed southeast, and reported glimpses of brilliant and fast moving lights, and other mysterious 166 Colorado’s Hot Springs

objects. Even sheriff’s deputies claim to have seen UFOs, which do bring hundreds of people hoping for a close encounter of any kind in the San Luis Valley. There’s even a UFO Watchtower in nearby Hooper. The Sand Dunes Pool also puts on a light show, Cosmic Night, on summer evenings. The lights are doused, the rock ’n’ roll music sounds, and strobe and laser lights twirl on the water.

Southwest Colorado


Colorado Gators Reptile Park 9162 County Road 9 North Mosca, CO 81146 (719) 378-2612 What to Know: Roadside attraction. Open to the public.

Where: On US 285 between Alamosa and Salida, 17 miles north of Alamosa and 65 miles south of Salida. On US 285, turn east on Colorado 17, which turns south. Drive south about 30 miles on Colorado 17. Turn east at the sign for the Colorado Gators Reptile Park on Lane 9 North. Follow the signs for about two blocks to the greenhouse buildings and the parking lot. See map on page 159.


ot all Colorado hot springs are for humans. Welcome to the home of Mr. Bo Mangles and Sir Chomps O’Lot. In the high mountain desert ringed by 14,000-foot peaks, immigrant Florida alligators and rescued mega-reptiles bask in the sun, ever watchful for a snack. Every yawn reveals an army of teeth. Hours of torpor end in a split-second dash across the pool. Visitors watch from the safe side of a fence. The notable roadside attraction is marriage of a geothermal well and an odd ecological gathering of about 350 alligators and 100 boa constrictors, pythons, and assorted snakes, plus other reptile refugees who outgrew their human owners. “We don’t know exactly how many alligators we have because they won’t line up to be counted,” says Jay Young, who runs the park that his father and mother started. “This is where reptiles come when they grow up. We’re the last resort.” The reptile wonderland with a relentless sense of humor 168

started in 1977 with Erwin and Lynne Young raising tilapia in the 87°F well water warm springs. The native Texans recruited a bevy of alligators to feast on the fragrant waste by-products from processing the ďŹ sh. The gators evolved into a tourist attraction. Ever grinning, they reside in a series of dirt pools and adapt to the snowy Rocky Mountain winters by sleeping a lot. Weighing up to 600 pounds, the growing gaggle of gators all have hearty appetites that far exceeded the available supply of ďŹ sh parts. So the Youngs use commercially packaged alligator food and protein pellets. To reduce costs, Erwin once tried throwing in dead livestock from local ranches but found that the alligator pack then became too aggressive. On days when no dead cow appeared, the gators attacked other gators. A few of the fellows are missing legs from the days of cannibalistic carnage. One lost his tail in an unfriendly frenzy. Southwest Colorado


Visitors could buy a bucket of alligator food for $2 in 2013. Just about any time of day, the gang of gators can put on a good show when fed. The sounds of jaws snapping, tails thrashing in the water, and guttural growls add a vivid sound element to home videos. The gator farm’s brochure explains what alligators eat: Whatever they want. The gift shop offers everything from gator steaks at $20 per pound to teeth of all sizes. Jay teaches alligator wrestling classes for $100—adults only. It’s worth mentioning that Jay grew up at the farm and still has all his fingers, toes, and limbs. A few “Alligator Awfuls’’: What do you call an alligator detective? An investi-gator. What do alligators do when they lose their tails? Go to a retail store. And so on . . . The licensed and certified exotic reptile farm has taken on a new mission: teaching the public not to buy exotic reptiles as pets. Jay and the staff tell that to news reporters, television shows, school groups, and anyone who will listen. “Not everything you see in a pet store makes a good pet,” he says. “Ninety percent of the reptiles from South America that come here as pets die. The survivors have big sharp teeth and 5-foot tails.”

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Splashland 5895 Colorado Highway 17 Alamosa, CO 81101 (719) 589-6258 What to Know: Open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, Memorial Day to Labor Day. Swimming pool with slide tubes. Where: On Colorado 17, about 1 mile north of Alamosa. The colorful “Splashland” sign is on the left side of the highway. See map on page 159.


ey kids, Splashland is back! Yippee! Splish splash. After a several year hiatus and a change in owners, the swimming and diving fun is back along with a cluster of slide tubes. Wheeeee. “You can do it, Nicole,” says a girl underneath the high board. “Jump! Jump! Jump!” chant the other swimmers. And Nicole takes the big leap. High drama at Splashland, repeated daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day for decades. Located outside of Alamosa in a farming area, Splashland offers a big swimming pool, grassy picnic area, locker rooms, and new slide tubes to delight anyone and everyone on a hot summer day. In 2014 the prices were $5 for kids 3 to 12, $8 for 13 and up, and $5 for the slide tubes. Country music and classic rock and roll keep the scene lively. Splashland is a very family-friendly pool with deck chairs and lawn for sunning while watching the kids cavort. “We keep the prices low so it doesn’t break the bank,” says Matthew Polkowske, comanager with his sister, Becca. His father, LeRoy Polkowske, and Scott Erickson are local building contractors who took over in 2010, saving Splashland from becoming a commercial fish farm. 171

Splashland’s sign—a retro ’50s gem of a curvy woman akin to Marilyn Monroe—is a San Luis Valley icon. On any given day, the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard from the parking lot. Inside the adobe walls, teens impress each other with daring dives. Children swim and float around on noodles and other toys. Squeals and youthful roars erupt from the twin tubes. A good time is had by all under the watchful eyes of parents and lifeguards. 172 Colorado’s Hot Springs

The big pool is 150 feet by 60 feet, and 10 feet deep. But it’s built for kids—the shallow end lasts for 75 feet with only a 1-foot drop-off. The spring is about 98°F and the pool water is about 92°F. The aquatic wonderland is also a kids’ oasis on family vacations to Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The road through the San Luis Valley to Splashland is full of unique roadside attractions, including the Colorado Gators Reptile Park and the UFO Watchtower. With or without extraterrestrials, there’s a lot to see at the old Catholic missions in the tiny, historic San Luis Valley towns. Splashland was Lloyd Jones’s idea in the 1950s. The Alamosa rancher decided he’d heard about too many children who drowned in irrigation ditches and the Rio Grande River. He wanted a place where they could learn to swim and play safely. He happened to own a piece of land with a warm artesian spring, and that’s where he built the pool in 1955. Lloyd ran the pool for decades, continued ranching, but decided that he’d done his part and turned it over to a nonprofit. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and the pool closed for 2 years. LeRoy and Scott, who grew up swimming at the pool, as did their kids, took over and restored Splashland to its former glory. There’s no other public swimming pool in Alamosa. “We’re doing it for the kids in the community. It is a place for kids to go,” says Scott. “It was part of our childhoods and we wanted to pass it along,” says Matthew. “People say they remember how it used to be and thank us for improving it.” There are visions of a new building, kiddie pool, more slide tubes, and a year-round operation. The building contractor owners have the skills to make it possible.

Southwest Colorado


Rainbow Hot Springs Weminuche Wilderness Area San Juan National Forest, Pagosa Springs Ranger District 180 Pagosa Street Pagosa Springs, CO 81147 (970) 264-2268 GPS: N37°.508858 / W106°.947629 What to Know: Open to the public. No charge; clothing optional; primitive wilderness location.

Where: From Pagosa Springs, take US 160 northeast for 15 miles to the West Fork. Campground sign on the west side of the highway. Take the West Fork Campground Road for 6.9 miles to the West Fork Trailhead. The last mile or so of the road may be closed for construction. The trailhead is located between a restroom and US Forest Service sign. The trail to the springs is an 8- to 11-mile hike round-trip, depending on the road closures, with a 1,000-foot-elevation gain going in. See map on page 178.


ou’ll deserve a nice warm soak after the hike, but you may have to share the pools with fellow travelers and their dogs. Or maybe not! The trail ends about 200 feet above the terraced pools set in the rock beside the river like small, perfect diamonds. With sandy bottoms, the pools are waist-high when you are sitting. The smaller pool is carved into the rock face. With room for about three, it offers a nice river view and the proper perspective for contemplating the fissure from which the 105°F springs pour. For most people, it’s too warm for long periods of contemplation. The lower pool, which seats about eight, is a hot-tubers fan174

tasy. The rocked walls allow for temperature control of the 95°F water, and smooth flat rocks along the side are perfect for sitting while dangling sore feet in the pool. A third pool is perfect for solo bathing. And it’s a hop, skip, and a jump into the West Fork of the San Juan River for a brisk cooldown. As with all riverside springs, the pools change with the energy and building skills of the previous visitors. Depending on the river’s flows and the last visitors’ vigor, there also may be rock-lined pools on the other side of the river as well. Horseback riding trips also come to the springs, as do hunters, and hearty folks on snowshoes and cross-country skis. The snow closes the West Fork Campground Road from mid-November to early June, adding about 14 miles to the winter trek. No snowmobiles are allowed in wilderness areas. At the end of the hike up on a Sunday in August, this intrepid hot springs seeker was astonished to find more than a dozen tents, three with barking dogs. There were another dozen tents outside the Southwest Colorado


main camping area. But, you may luck out and have the place to yourself, especially midweek. The Forest Service, which manages the Weminuche Wilderness Area and Rainbow, has a voluntary registration/sign-in at the trailhead and a backcountry camping permit—no fee, no limit on people. The registration system will become mandatory in 2015. Check with the Forest Service office in Pagosa Springs for details. Signing in saved lives in 2013. The West Fork fire charred more than 110,000 acres in the area in a few days. A helicopter rescued a family of four at Rainbow because they’d signed in—but hadn’t signed out. Another four people who hadn’t signed in were also trapped and scrambled to the life-saving airlift. There are good reasons to sign in at the trailhead. The West Fork fire transformed the trail to Rainbow. Dead and dying spruce trees, infested with spruce beetle, will be falling for years, creating a risk for campers. The trail will be kept open, but camp away from blackened trees and at least 100 feet away from the springs. Campfires are now allowed within fire rings, and there are plenty of fallen trees for fuels. 176 Colorado’s Hot Springs

The trek to Rainbow Hot Springs will be a lesson in fires, nature, and forest recovery, displaying hundreds of lessons in the power of nature after a fire. The trip in is challenging. The trail varies from a four-wheeldrive road to a very narrow rock ledge. There’s a steep section through loose rock. Signs are scarce, but horseback trips and hordes of hikers have left a fairly clear trail. The trail snakes through deep piney woods, aspen groves, banks of wildflowers, crowds of ferns, a throng of towering skunk cabbage, and across three bridges. The river along the trail smiles in deep blue pools, pale green shallows, and frothy white falls. Trout flutter in shady sand-bottomed sections. At one point, the trail divides. Take the left fork, labeled Continental Divide, not the right for Beaver Creek/Beaver Meadows. At the trail’s end, the riverside pools sparkle like small perfect diamonds set in dark stone. During spring runoff, the river claims the pools and the spring pours into the raucous flows. Sometimes the dogs take over the pools and their humans join the fun. Just lettin’ you know! Geology’s blessings prevent camping close to Rainbow, but the late-summer scent around the nearby camping area comments loudly that a few people didn’t follow the wilderness rules about burying human and dog waste a foot deep and carrying out the toilet paper in a sealed plastic bag. As any wilderness defender can attest, there’s steady work in educating the public. Pass along the good word that protecting hot springs and preserving the areas around them is a fine way to thank the geothermal gods. Linger long and gently. Listen to the river’s wisdom. Cherish the place and the time. As the years grow, so will the crowds. Your time here is the good old days.

Southwest Colorado


Rainbow Hot Springs

178 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Healing Waters Resort & Spa 317 Hot Springs Boulevard Pagosa Springs, CO 81147 (970) 264-5910, (800) 832-5523 What to Know: Open to the public. Outdoor pool and soaking tub, and indoor pools. Motel lodging and RV park.

Where: Take US 160, which becomes San Juan Street through Pagosa Springs, heading east. At Hot Springs Boulevard, turn right and cross the bridge. Healing Waters is on the left, across the street from the Pagosa Springs Visitor Center. See map on page 185.


ealing Waters Resort & Spa is Pagosa’s low key and simple hot springs spot, not much changed from the 1950s. Locally owned for 60 years, Healing Waters’ style is quiet and uncrowded with an RV park and motel. What’s not to like about $11 for an adult in 2014? The unchlorinated outdoor swimming pool, filled with springwater, is a toasty 95°F in the winter and 88°F in the summer. The outdoor secluded soaking tub is about 103°F. And the long, deep indoor baths are 108°F. Children are welcome, with a parent or two. The springs’ water also heats the fifteen motel rooms. Ancient Indian groups and the Utes, Navajos, and other Native Americans used the large springs in Pagosa for centuries. By the time the vanguard of settlers arrived, the town’s name was Paghosa, said to be Ute for “healing water.” However, the Ute dictionary and contemporary Utes say the translation is closer to “stinking springs,” which on a few days each year is aromatically accurate. The early settlers told a story about a terrible sickness that 179

killed many Utes despite the healers’ dances, herbs, and prayers. The medicine men called the tribe together down by the river, built a huge fire, and everyone danced all night. When they awoke, the ashes were gone and hot water filled the fire pit. The ailing Utes were cured by bathing in the water. Regardless of the veracity of the legend, the entire town of Pagosa Springs believes in the water. The town tapped the underground hot springs using a $1.3 million federal grant in 1980 to build a geothermal heating system for ten municipal buildings, including the schools. Healing Waters periodically closes for Navajo ceremonies. Utes, Apache, and other area Native Americans still come to soak. The springs at Healing Waters weren’t there until the 1930s when Cora Woods inherited the 2-acre site next to the main hot springs and the rodeo grounds. Cora built a hotel, and dug a well that poured forth enough warm mineral water to fill the first swimming pool. She called the spa the Navapachute—short for Navajo, Apache, and Ute. Mike and Nancy Giordano bought the spa in the 1950s. Bunk and Marsha Preuit, the Giordano’s daughter, took over and the Preuits’ daughter, Angel Stahr, owns the place now. Nancy drank at least one glass of springwater each day, Marsha recalls. Nancy made no health claims about the water, but she lived until she was 97 and never needed a single medication, says Marsha. People still come to fill jugs with the mineral water, Marsha says. Laws prohibit the touting of medicinal, curative, or restorative powers of hot springs water. Yet every hot spring has devotees willing to offer testimonials on a second’s notice to the healing properties of the effervescent liquid. The water is undeniably good at dissolving aches, diluting stress, and restoring a sense of well-being. The why is a mystery, despite decades of intense debate by doctors, physiologists, chemists, and less academic healers. In Pagosa, generations of residents reported faster healing after surgery, relief from arthritis, and assorted other cures. “I don’t know why, but people do believe in the water,” Angel says. 180 Colorado’s Hot Springs

The chest-high indoor pools are a journey back to the 1930s and 1940s, when the weekly trip to the bathhouse was a form of secular communion for immigrants in cities across the country. A time for women to relax away from the children, gossip, share secrets, and snooze. A place for men to relax away from business and family, gossip, share secrets, and snooze. In fact, Lebanese, Greek, and Italian miners from the coalďŹ elds near Trinidad rode the train about 200 miles to Pagosa Springs throughout the 1960s to soak in the geothermal waters. Of course, they also drank the water. Japanese and Russian travelers have joined the mix. Pagosa Springs has evolved into a summer, winter, and fall tourist destination. The environs offer ďŹ shing, hunting, mountain biking, skiing at Purgatory and Wolf Creek, rafting, snowmobiling, and just about every other sport except perhaps snorkeling or surďŹ ng. For adventurers on a budget who want a simple soak, Healing Waters is the way to go.

Southwest Colorado


The Springs Resort and Spa 165 Hot Springs Boulevard Pagosa Springs, CO 81147 (970) 264-4168 (800) 225-0934 What to Know: Open to the public. Soaking pools, lodging, and full spa.

Where: Take US 160, which becomes San Juan Street through Pagosa Springs, heading east. At Hot Springs Boulevard, turn right and cross the bridge. The Springs is on the right, just past the Pagosa Springs Visitor Center. See map on page 185.


he Springs Resort and Spa is a hot springs lover’s extravaganza. Soaking pools to the right. Soaking pools to the left. And soaking pools in the San Juan River below. Although some call The Springs the Disneyland of hot springs, there’s a lot to like about twenty-three hot mineral pools, including a cool water swimming pool for laps, and rock-rimmed sandy soaking sites in the river. And there’s a lot to like about Disneyland too. From a distance, the plethora of pools looks like crystalline blue grapes scattered across flagstone walks and gardens. Deck chairs and striped umbrellas evoke the French Riviera. The San Juan River, pulsing with flows from thousands of streams and a few smaller springs, serves as a living border. Each of the pools looks out on the river from a different perspective. The pool’s main spring pours forth at 157°F. A secondary spring is 118°F. The twenty-three pools vary in temperature from 83°F to 114°F in the Lobster Pot. Eleven pools are next to the San Juan River. Handrails help guests into the river pools. There are shaded pools, pools with small, cascading waterfalls, and others 182

that overlook the flow of bathers slipping in and out of each pool to find the perfect view with the perfect temperature. Elevated above the bounty of pools, there are five VIP pools for the 18-plus crowd seeking a serene haven. And, there’s the Blue Lagoon swimming pool, perfect for swimming laps and lively youngsters. The river’s acoustics muffle sounds from other pools, especially in the spring when flows are high. Purchased in 2006 by two sisters from New Mexico whose race car driving daddy has an entrepreneurial flair, the Springs went through a total makeover. There’s a full public bathhouse, and a fullservice spa and salon with an array of massages, facial treatments, and other services. Poolside service delivers light meals and drinks. The focus is on luxury, comfort, and natural hot mineral water. The Springs’ pools today are aeons away from the natural pools Utes, Navajos, Apaches, and other groups shared for centuries before explorers and settlers arrived, believing hot springs were a gift to all from their creator. That kind of community ownership of land wasn’t a concept military scouts, trappers, settlers, and miners favored. As early as 1858, resort developers had their eye on Pagosa, starting with Capt. James Macomb who traveled through as a topographical engineer for the US Army. For Macomb, the springs’ siren song was not of relaxation, but of commerce. “It can scarcely be doubted that in future years, it will become a celebrated place of resort,” Macomb wrote. Army physicians opined on the healing power of the water. Tents and makeshift bathhouses dotted the area by the 1870s, which were twisted times for land ownership in the West. Never mind that US treaties recognized Native American ownership of the springs. The fanciful saga of Col. Albert Pfeiffer, the Utes, and the Navajos—with its several versions—reveals the discord that pervaded as settlers arrived. The “official” version claims that the Utes and the Navajos were ready to go to war over the springs, despite their long tradition of peaceful shared use, and that Pfeiffer killed a Navajo warrior on behalf of the Utes in 1872 to secure the springs for the Utes. Southwest Colorado


Professional historians and government documents say that’s not what happened. By 1868, Pfeiffer, Kit Carson, and the US Army had starved, enslaved, and killed thousands of Navajo and exiled the survivors to a reservation. The decimated Navajo were in no position to take on the Utes. And, Pfeiffer was the local Indian agent in 1878 and received orders to oust the Utes from the springs. There’s more and it is well documented, but the inconvenient truth is ignored in many early histories. Divine your own truth, but one thing is sure—the setting is breathtaking and the springs’ water is a natural wonder that draws tourists from all over the world. Native Americans return often and sometimes hold ceremonies. “It seems that old Dame Nature was in a particularly fickle mood when she located Pagosa and tried to hide away this great natural curiosity,” reads an 1890s travel brochure. “The Great Pagosa, the largest, hottest, most surpassingly wonderful and awe inspiring sight in the world. Imagine a seething boiling cauldron of hot water.” 184 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Day trips from Pagosa today take visitors to the area’s wealth of Native American historic sites, including Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon National Parks, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute Reservations, as well as the Wolf Creek and Purgatory ski areas, and Colorado’s veritable wonderland of outdoor recreation. At sunset, the lighting changes the scene at The Springs. The pools become shimmering gemstones and the river turns opalescent with braids of silver and gold. And, the sky flashes through an artist’s palette of colors as the stars rise. At dawn, the color show resumes and lodge guests slip into the pools with cups of coffee to greet the sun as ancient Native Americans once rose to start the day in prayer.

Pagosa Hot Springs

Southwest Colorado


Overlook Hot Springs Spa 432 Pagosa Street Pagosa Springs, CO 81147 (970) 264-4040 What to Know: Open to the public. Hot springs soaking pools, massages.

Where: US 160 becomes San Juan Street and then Pagosa Street in Pagosa Springs. Located on the northeast side of town, across the street from the San Juan River. See map on page 185.


ubdued, genteel, and gentle, the Overlook Hot Springs Spa is a heaven and haven on Pagosa’s main street. The ambience blends the quiet pleasures of an elegant Victorian bathhouse with modern cleanliness, a kindly staff, and awesome rooftop views of the surrounding mountains, the historic town, and the San Juan River. Overlook is a place to escape the tourist crowds, soak out the soreness after the day’s adventures, and unwind with a beer or glass of wine. Or slip in for an hour during the day to chill out in luxury. The first-floor soaking pools are candlelit and whisper quiet. All four indoor pools are deep and invoke serenity with built-in reclining beds. Guests often fall asleep there. Two of the outdoor rooftop soaking pools look down Main Street, the Animas River, and the many-pooled Springs Resort and Spa across the river. One of the roof pools is shaded. The third upstairs pool is enclosed and has a privacy door right next to the sauna. “We see people rushing around town all the time,” says owner Jeff Greer about the joys of ownership. “Here we get to see them relax.” 186

In a town known for hot springs, the Overlook is an “overlooked” gem. Adults seeking serenity are the usual guests and the staff responds promptly to complaints about rowdy children and their inattentive parents. When Jeff and Addi Greer bought the 1920s building in 1995, they didn’t know there was a hot spring on the site and rented it out as Main Street retail space. But springwater has a habit of rising to the surface and the Greers received a visit from the city about the mineral water flows that had percolated up through the cement foundation. Plumbers, engineers, and a water rights attorney followed, birthing Overlook Hot Springs Spa in 2008. Jeff’s mom supplied the elegant antique furnishings and wall hangings. Jeff says the site’s hot springs dropped hints to previous owners, including a faint sulphur scent. At the turn of the twentieth century, the building served as the town’s winter garage where residents stored vehicles because the structure stayed warm and the early model cars always started. Today, the site’s geothermal treasure heats everything from the pools to the hot water used in showers. The Overlook serves wine and beer, so the rooftop pools are popular for sunset viewing. On Sundays, there’s reggae on the roof Southwest Colorado


with a DJ. Thursdays are open jam nights. Locals staff Overlook and are encyclopedic on Pagosa’s lesser-known attractions. The staff also adjusts temperatures in the pools to guests’ personal preferences. And groups of twenty can rent all the Overlook’s pools for sunrise or sunset soaks, or clothing optional outings. The Ancestral Puebloans, formerly known as the Anasazi, lived in the Pagosa Springs area for centuries and built a towering observatory at Chimney Rock. Ancestral Puebloan pottery, pueblo dwellings, and kivas are found in the area. The Utes came next and called the springs Pah-gosa—pah is water and gosa is boiling. The Utes, Navajo, Apache, and other native nations shared the springs for hundreds of years, treading well marked trails to the site. The Native Americans initially shared the plethora of hot springs pools with early settlers, but were exiled to reservations for their generosity. In the mining days, tents popped up around the springs to give bathers privacy. The military sent Civil War officers to Pagosa to recuperate. Jeff says miners were carried in on stretchers from Silverton to soak for several days to heal enough to return to the mines. The Greers own an outdoor gear store as well and Jeff says Pagosa is special. “All the mountain towns have their ‘ings’—hiking, biking, skiing, RVing. We have the ultimate ‘ing’—hot springs.”

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Piedra River Hot Springs San Juan National Forest, Pagosa Springs Ranger District 180 Pagosa Street Pagosa Springs, CO 81147 (970) 264-2268 GPS: N37° 31.2959 / W107° 34.4227 What to Know: Open to the public. No charge; clothing optional; primitive wilderness location.

Where: Take US 160 about 16 miles southwest of Pagosa Springs. Just after the Chimney Rock turnoff to the south (left) is the Piedra Road on the north (right). It is also called the First Fork Road and follows the Piedra River. Follow this gravel road about 6.7 miles to the intersection with Monument Park Road and the parking area. Take the Sheep Creek Trail for 1.5 miles to the springs. See map on page 193.


he meandering trail through the San Juan National Forest ends at an archipelago of sandy pools, separated by mounds of smooth river rocks and warmed by assorted hot springs. The ten to twelve pools are strung along the Piedra River’s shore like a string of dark beads, each promising a pleasure of different temperature. The Piedra is a primitive springs, especially if you consider sharing the pools with deer, elk, and other critters a wilderness experience. Those with cloven hooves come for the salt in the springs. And, the warm pools provide wildlife with drinking water when the river is frozen. There’s no sign for the hot springs’ location, but the trail is easy to follow. The Sheep Creek Trail to the hot springs takes twists and turns through lush meadows and deep forests. At the start, the trail immediately goes ominously downward. Where there is a Southwest Colorado


great down, 800 feet in this case, there is inevitably a great up on the way out. After about half a mile, the trail forks left and then right, following the Piedra River. The foot, paw, and hoof prints in the sand and a stretch of boggy muck in the meadow near the springs hint at where to find the springs. The pools change in shape and depth with the energy of the previous hot springs aficionados. The Colorado Geological Survey reports the springs’ temperature is about 108°F. And the moods of the Piedra River, snowmelt, and drought decide the pools’ everchanging temperature and design. Low flows mean dry pools and high flows mean flooded out or chilly pools. 190 Colorado’s Hot Springs

So, the Piedra’s hot springs pools are never the same and that’s part of the charm. Serious soakers sometimes dig out deep pools, suitable for serious soaking in neck high water. Other times, gas bubbles up with the springwater so the shallow pools appear to be filled with slow-motion champagne. Summer and fall are the best bet. Lucky soakers may see river otters along parts of the river. A small otter colony was added along the Piedra River in the 1970s after unregulated trapping eradicated the playful creatures by the 1900s. Along the Piedra, generations of otters have been sighted fishing, sliding down the muddy banks, and cavorting in the water. Along the broad river, anglers cast for fish like magicians with gossamer wands. The sandy reaches of the Piedra are trout habitat sublime. The trail to the springs wanders through glades with golden light filtering through the pines. At the nearby Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is evidence that the Ancestral Puebloans, formerly known as the Anasazi, Native Americans of ancient times, developed an astronomical system that predicted lunar eclipses. The Ancestral Puebloans inhabited the Four Corners area between AD 900 and 1300 and traded with other groups from as far away as South America and the Pacific Northwest. Archaeologists believe that priests from Chaco Canyon, located in northern New Mexico and thought to be the center of Ancestral Puebloan culture, came to Chimney Rock and built a two-story building at the base of the distinctive stone monoliths. The building was whitewashed, making it visible for miles in the moonlight. In those ancient days, influential people came from great distances to the observatory atop the rock for lunar events. Recent archaeological work has found a rare solar eclipse occurred in AD 1125, which would have surprised the observers, terrified the people, and probably ruined the priests’ reputations. The observatory was abandoned soon afterward. The Piedra River trail winds through piney woods next to the elegant fishing river. There’s no hubbub, just the occasional whiz of fishing lines running through reels. Southwest Colorado


As on all trails to all hot springs, there’s been a progression of people since the Ancestral Puebloans and the Utes that followed. First the Spanish, then explorers, trappers, prospectors, and settlers made the trek to warm water. And in the last 50 years, hippies, backpackers, anglers, and horseback riders have ambled through. Maybe a twenty-ďŹ rst-century equivalent of the AD 1125 solar eclipse will change the mind-set of the periodic slacker soakers about picking up trash and doggy dumpings. But future visitors will thank those who treated these primitive springs gently and respected their beauty by leaving them more pristine than they found them.

192 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Piedra River Hot Springs

Southwest Colorado


Pinkerton Hot Springs US 550 North of Durango GPS: N37° 26.8334 / W107° 48.3206 What to Know: Roadside attraction. Open to the public. Free.

Where: From Durango, drive 13 miles north on US 550. Pull over to the right, onto the easement. See map on page 199.


hen a hot springs conflicts with a US highway, the hot springs may lose, but it doesn’t go away. Pinkerton, located on the east side of US 550 north of Durango, caused problems because the rusty orange flows created a stream that steamed in the winter. Motorists stopped to look, which resulted in a traffic hazard because there was no place to park. When the Colorado Department of Transportation repaved the road, they piped the water under the road and up a vertical pipe surrounded by rocks on the west side of the highway. The ever-growing, vividly colored roadside attraction gets taller and wider each year as the springs’ flows deposit layer upon layer of minerals on what started as a pile of rocks. In 2013, the glimmering geological monument was about 9 feet tall and had an interpretive sign. Pinkerton had its days as a soaking mecca. James Harvey Pinkerton, a local judge, started a dairy farm on the site in 1875 and later built a resort, complete with hotel and swimming pool. He claimed the water healed many ills. Pinkerton also bottled the water, which appeared on menus at area restaurants. The resort burned several times and the land’s current owner has no resort ambitions.

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Southwest Colorado


Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs 6475 County Road 203 Durango, CO 81301 (970) 247-0111 What to Know: Open to the public. Hot springs pools, spa, and lodging.

Where: From Durango, drive 6 miles north on US 550. Turn west (left) on Trimble Lane traffic light and into the Trimble parking lot. See map on page 199.


arly mornings are Trimble’s glory, winter or summer. Light filters through the trees. Birdsong mingles with the song of flowing springwater coming from the earth’s heart. The Olympic-sized pool, 80°F to 83°F, reflects the clouds, the steep cliffs above, the surrounding tall trees and, in summer, the bounty of potted blossoms. Morning and evening, a smaller soaking pool, 104°F to 110°F is steamy. Breathe it in, as have others dating back to ancient times. Landscaped with flowers and rolling lawns, Trimble is family friendly and has one guest room with a private 104°F soaking pool. A group of local investors purchased Trimble from longtime owner and resident character Ruedi Bear in 2006, added lodging, massage rooms, a summer snack bar, and general spiff-ups. They also promised to never make the hot springs private. “A hot spring is a miracle,” Ruedi used to say. “It’s a gift you can’t own. If you look at the history of hot springs, they always change hands. While I’m around, I’m the caretaker.” An estimated seventy-five thousand Ancestral Puebloans, the ancestors of the Puebloan Indians including the Hopi, lived in the Four Corners area, where the borders of Colorado, Arizona, Utah,

196 Colorado’s Hot Springs

and New Mexico come together. Their trade routes, used between AD 200 and 1300, extended to the Pacific Northwest and South America. Drought and famine may have caused them to leave the area. Many soakers have pondered the reasons, including archaeologists researching the lives of the long-vanished people The Ancestral Puebloans, previously known as the Anasazi, built homes and kivas in the cliffs 400 feet above the springs. Except for birds, the ruins aren’t accessible today. Only a small section of a granary wall is visible from the springs, but the Durango area has many ruins in the side canyons. The Utes, Navajo, Hopi, and other tribes used the springs. Frank Trimble was the first settler at the springs in 1874 and relied on the warm water to ease his aches and pains. Gold mining had crippled Trimble with rheumatism and the springs rejuvenated him. At the springs, he built a two-story hotel, which burned down. T. D. Burns, a successful New Mexico cattleman who started the first Durango bank, acquired the springs in 1882 and built the Southwest Colorado


first swimming pool and a new three-story hotel, which also burned down. “A positive cure for diseases the flesh is heir to,” read the sign over the pool. A lodge and dance hall went up on the foundation, and in the late 1930s Trimble hosted bubble dancers—women dressed only in balloons that would pop one by one—other exotic dancers, and gambling. The audience was mostly local, but the entertainment and accommodations attracted the rich, the young, and the lively. Trimble remained the center of weekend dances and dinner parties through several owners, a sort of Casablanca in the mountains. A sand beach with umbrellas appeared next to the pool after World War II. In the 1940s, manager Alta Schafer greeted male guests who wore ties by cutting off the ties and displaying them on a wall. Ranchers, bankers, and rascals turned up on the doorstep with outlandish neck gear. The carefree era peaked with a visit from Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, who were in the area filming Across the Wide Missouri in 1955. And in 1957, the main building burned again. Local lore attributed the fires to retribution by the Utes, who were exiled from the Animas Valley to reservations. When Ruedi Bear bought Trimble Hot Springs in 1979, he didn’t want a fourth fire to raze the buildings. So, he asked Ute tribal elders to bless the springs. There have been no other fires. The Utes had called the springs “peaceful waters” before settlers arrived and allowed enemies as well as friends to visit. At Trimble today, Japanese, Native Americans, and British soakers mingle with locals, Latinos, and folks from Germany, South America, Scandinavia, and all fifty states. The expansive lawn, dotted with chairs, picnic tables, and soakers stretched out on towels, has the feel of a seaside resort. The large pool is lightly chlorinated, as required by state law. Springwater, pure and warm, fills the smaller soaking pools. Massage professionals are part of the staff and hot stone saunas are part of the spa. Settle in, relax, soak, and rejuvenate. Embrace the necessary pleasure.

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Durango Area Hot Springs

Southwest Colorado



Abbott, Carl, Stephen Leonard, and David McComb. A Colorado: History of the Centennial State. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1984. Barrett, James K., and Richard H. Pearl. Hydrogeological Data of Thermal Springs and Wells in Colorado. Denver: Colorado Geological Survey, 1976. Benson, Maxine. 1,001 Colorado Place Names. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1994. Black, Robert. Island in the Rockies. Granby, Colo.: Grand County Pioneer Society, 1969. Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Washington Square Press, 1969. Brown, Robert L. Colorado Ghost Towns: Past and Present. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1987. Campbell, John A. Indian Echoes: Tales of Early Western Colorado. Denver: Marcellus Merrill, 1970. Cappa, James, and H. Thomas Hemborg. The 1992-1993 Low Temperature Geothermal Assessment Program, Colorado. Denver: Colorado Geological Survey, 1995. Chronic, Halka. Roadside Geology of Colorado. Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, 1980. Stella Craig. Stella Craig At Juniper Hot Springs. Montrose, Colo.: Lifetime Chronicle Press, 2009. Decker, Peter. The Utes Must Go. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 2004. Feder, Harlan. Yampah Spa: Centuries of Cleansing Vapors. Glenwood Springs, Colo.: Yampah Hot Springs Inc., 2008. Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. The WPA Guide to 1930s Colorado. Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 1987. 201

Gardiner, Dorothy. The Great Betrayal. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1949. Hall, Frank. History of the State of Colorado. Houston: Rocky Mountain Historical Society, 1895. Hoig, Stan. The Sand Creek Massacre. Norman, Okla.: University Press of Oklahoma, 1961. Hughes, J. Donald. American Indians in Colorado. Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing Company, 1977. Loam, Jayson, and Marjorie Gersh. Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Aqua Thermal Access, 1994. Metzger, Stephen. Colorado Handbook. Chico, Calif.: Moon Publications, 1992. Motter, John. Pagosa Country: The First 50 Years. Self-published, 1984. Nash, Vicky, and Karin Gamba. Glenwood Hot Springs: Celebrating 125 Years. Marceline, Kans.: Walsworth Publishing Co., 2013. O’Rourke, Paul. Frontier in Transition: A History of Southwest Colorado. Denver: Colorado Bureau of Land Management, 1980. Pearl, Richard H. Geothermal Resources of Colorado. Denver: Colorado Geological Survey, 1972. Perkin, Robert. The First Hundred Years. New York: Doubleday, 1959. Rockwell, Wilson. Uncompahgre Country. Denver: Sage Books, 1960. Smith, P. David. Ouray, Chief of the Utes. Durango, Colo.: Wayfinder Press, 1986. Sprague, Marshall. Colorado: A Bicentennial History. New York: Norton, 1976. Ubbelohde, Carl, Maxine Benson, and Duane A. Smith. A Colorado History, Seventh Edition. Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing Company, 1995. Vandenbusche, Duane, and Duane A. Smith. A Land Alone: Colorado’s Western Slope. Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing Company, 1981. Werstein, Irving. Massacre at Sand Creek. New York: Scribners, 1963.

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Page locators in bold indicate maps; page locators in italics indicate photographs.

Adams, A. D., 86 Adams, Julia, 86 Agnes (ghost), 65 alligators: Colorado Gators Reptile Park, 168–70, 169; Ouray Hot Springs Pool, 131–32 Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, 8, 87, 98–100, 99 Alpine Tunnel, 102–3 “America’s Switzerland,” 40 Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans), 188, 191, 196–97 Antero Hot Springs Cabins, 8, 87, 92–94, 93 Arapahoe Indians, 31–32 Argo Gold Mill, 51 Armstrong, Alfred, 141 Avalanche Ranch, 8, 74–77, 75, 76 Avery, Karen, 139 Avery, Rich, 139 Baker, Charles, 147 Baldwin, Ivy, 45–46 Barber, Charles, 44 Bates, C. V., 137 Baxter, Dave, 108–9 Bear, Ruedi, 196 Begole, Gus, 130 Black Sulphur Spring, 35 Blumenheim, Elaine, 157 Box Canyon and Falls, 140 Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, 12, 132, 138–40, 139 Burns, T. D., 197–98 Byers, William, 40–41

cabins: Antero Hot Springs Cabins, 92–94; Avalanche Ranch, 74; Cement Creek Ranch, 108–10; Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa, 88; Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 25, 26, 28; Valley View Hot Springs, 160, 163 Camp Bird gold mine, 131, 137 camping: Conundrum Hot Springs, 80; Juniper Hot Springs, 20; Radium Hot Springs, 54; Rainbow Hot Springs, 175–77; Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 25, 26; Valley View Hot Springs, 160, 163 Cardwell family, 98–100 Carney, Francis, 131 Carney, Pat, 32 Casey, Theresa, 104 Cave Spring, 36 Cement Creek Ranch, 108–10, 109, 110 Chalk Cliffs, 91, 94, 98, 102 Chalk Creek, 91, 94, 97 Chief Ouray, 125, 128, 134–37 Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, 188, 191 clothing optional springs: Conundrum Hot Springs, 78–82; Dakota Hot Springs, 120–21; Desert Reef Hot Spring, 115–18; Orvis Hot Springs, 124, 126; Penny Hot Springs, 70, 73; “people’s” springs, 8; Overlook Hot Springs Spa (for private parties), 186; Piedra River Hot Springs, 189; Radium Hot Springs, 52; Rainbow Hot Springs, 174; South Canyon Hot Springs, 66; Strawberry Park Hot Springs (adults only after dark), 25; Valley View Hot Springs, 160, 161–62 Club Mud, 48–49 Cogar, Bessie, 138, 142 Index


Cogar, Richard, 138, 142 Colorado Gators Reptile Park, 159, 168–70, 169 “Coney Island of the West,” 44–45 Conrad, Larry “L. J.,” 116–18 Conundrum Hot Springs, 8, 78–82, 79, 81, 83 Cooper, Isaac, 10, 59, 62–63 Cottonwood Cabin, 92, 93–94 Cottonwood Hot Springs, 84–86, 87 Craig, Charley, 23 Craig, Stella, 23 Crawford, James, 11, 31 Creekside Hot Springs, 8, 87, 101–3, 103 Cummings, E. M., 50–51 Dakota Hot Springs, 119, 120–21, 121 Davis, Charles, 112–14 DeCoursey, M. L., 59 Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad, 97, 102–3 Desert Reef Hot Spring, 115–18, 116, 119 Devereux, Walter, 59 Dinosaur National Monument, 24 drinking water: Eldorado Natural Spring Water, 43; Glenwood Springs, 62; Healing Waters Resort & Spa, 180; healthy use of springs and pools, 16–17; “Miraquelle” bottled water, 36 Dunbarton, A. J., 137 Dunshee, Robert, 157 Dunton Hot Springs, 150–54, 151, 153 Eckles, Jack, 130 Eldorado Canyon State Park, 43, 47 Eldorado Springs, 11, 12 Eldorado Swimming Pool, 43–47, 45, 47 electronics-free zone, 127 Elgin, Charles, 112 Erickson, Scott, 171, 173 ethical use of springs, 18 Evans, John, 40 Everson, John, 162 Father Struck It Rich (McLean), 131 fly fishing, 146, 147–48 204 Colorado’s Hot Springs

4UR Ranch, 145–48, 146, 148, 149 Fowler, Frank, 44 fragility of springs, 15 free “people’s” springs, 7–8 Fremont expedition, 10, 112, 147 geology of springs, 12–14 Gilley, Jeremy, 62 Giordano, Mike, 180 Giordano, Nancy, 180 Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, 61–65, 63, 64 Glenwood Springs area, 7, 10–12 Goose Creek, 145, 146 Goshorn, Tom, 125–26 Gossard, H. W., 32 Gray, Zane, 41 Greer, Addi, 187 Greer, Jeff, 186–88 Harmon, Carly, 165–66 Harmon, Ed, 165–66 Harmon, Sharie, 165–66 Healing Waters Resort & Spa, 12, 179–81, 181, 185 health benefit claims, 11–12, 15–16, 17, 33–34, 59, 86, 138–39 healthy use of springs, 16–17, 27 Heart Spring (Old Town Hot Springs), 31–32 Hein, Ryan, 141 Henkel, Christopher, 154 Heywood, D. H., 90 Higgins, Charlie, 121 Higgins, Hazel, 121 Hortense Cabin, 92–93 hot springs overview: ethical use of, 18; fragility of, 15; geology, 12–14; health benefit claims, 11–12, 15–16, 17, 33–34, 59, 86, 138–39; healthy use of, 16–17, 27; miners and hot springs towns, 10–11; Native Americans’ traditional use of springs, 8–10; public vs. private springs, 7–8; spa movement, 11–12; spirituality and, 8–10, 17–18, 27

Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa, 38–42, 39, Springs 41, 42 Hot Sulphur Springs (town), 11 Hotel Colorado, 59, 64 “the Human Fly,” 45–46 Hunt, A. C., 106–7 Idaho Springs, Colorado, 50 Indian Hot Springs, 47, 48–51, 49 Ingersoll, Ernest, 147 Island in the Rockies (Black), 40 Jackson, George A., 50 Jackson, Henry, 106 Jackson Hotel, 106 Jackson, William Henry, 103 Jacober, Molly Ogilby, 77 Jarvis, A. H., 126 Jarvis, Sarah, 126 Jenks, Sylvester, 157 Johnson, Don, 27–28 Jones, Lloyd, 173 Joyful Journey Hot Springs, 155–58, 159 Juniper Hot Springs, 8, 18, 20–24, 21, 22 Kavanaugh, Tom, 129 Kellner, Bob, 117 Kent, Charles, 142 Kerbel, Andy, 126 Kerbel, Jeff, 126 Kreski, John, 101 Kreski, Patty, 101–2 Krost, Amanda, 91 Kuhlmann, Bernt, 154 Larson, Doug, 46 Larson, Kathy, 44, 46 Leavell, Lindsey, 148 lemonade at Soda Spring, 36 Lithia Spring, 35–36 lodging: Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, 98–100; Antero Hot Springs Cabins, 92–94; Avalanche Ranch, 74; Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, 138,

140; Cement Creek Ranch, 108–10; Cottonwood Hot Springs, 84–85; Creekside Hot Springs, 101–3; 4UR Ranch, 145–46; Healing Waters Resort & Spa, 179; Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa, 38; Indian Hot Springs, 48; Joyful Journey Hot Springs, 155, 157; Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, 164; The Springs Resort and Spa, 182–83; Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 25, 26; Treehouse Hot Springs, 95–96; Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs, 196, 198; Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, 141; Valley View Hot Springs, 160, 163; Waunita Hot Springs Ranch, 111–12, 114; Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings, 133 McAnally, Roy, 20–21 McLean, Evalyn Walsh, 131 Macomb, James, 183 Manning, Cathy, 84–86 Marble Mill, 76–77 Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness Area, 80, 83 Maxwell, James, 51 Mears, Otto, 130 “Meeker Massacre,” 21–23 Million Dollar Highway, 144 mining: Cardwell family, 98–100; Clear Creek Canyon and Indian Hot Springs, 50, 51; Crystal River Valley, 75–77; and hot springs towns, 10–11; Ouray area, 130–31; St. Elmo, 90; Salida area, 106–7 “Miraquelle” bottled water, 36 Mitchell, Kjell, 62 Moffat Lakes Resort, 44 Montague, Harrison, 51 Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa, 87, 88–91, 89, 91 mud, Indian Hot Springs, 48–49 Museum of Colorado Prisons, 122 Narcissus Spring, 35 Native Americans: Arapahoe Indians, Index


31–32; Chalk Creek Valley, 97, 102; Navajo Indians, 183–84; Puebloan Indians, 188, 191, 196–97; traditional use of hot springs, 8–10. See also Ute Indians New Eldorado hotel, 46 nonprofit ownership of Old Town Hot Springs, 30 Ogilby, Chuck, 74–75, 77 Ogilby, Meredith, 74–75, 77 Old Town Hot Springs, 30–32, 31, 37 Oliver, Erin, 94 Orient Land Trust (OLT), 161, 162 Orvis Hot Springs, 124–27, 125, 132 Orvis, Ken, 126 Orvis, Lewis, 126 Ouray Hot Springs Pool, 128–32, 129, 132 Ouray Ice Park, 140 Ouray (town), 11 Overlook Hot Springs Spa, 8, 185, 186–88, 187 Pagosa Springs, 11 Palmer, Eric, 95 Palmer, Harold, 95–96, 97 Palmer, Judy, 95–96, 97 Palmer, William, 147, 148 Penny, Dan, 71 Penny Hot Springs, 8, 70–73, 71, 72 Pfeiffer, Albert, 183–84 Piedra River Hot Springs, 8, 189–92, 190, 192, 193 Pinkerton Hot Springs, 194–95, 198 Pinkerton, James Harvey, 194 Polkowske, Becca, 171 Polkowske, LeRoy, 171, 173 Polkowske, Matthew, 171, 173 Poncha Springs, 104–5 Porter, Harry, 54 Powell, John Wesley, 41 Preuit, Bunk, 180 Preuit, Marsha, 180 Pringle, Junelle, 111, 114 Pringle, Ron, 111, 114 206 Colorado’s Hot Springs

Pringle, Ryan, 114 Pringle, Tammy, 114 public vs. private springs, 7–8 Puebloan Indians, 188, 191, 196–97 Radium Hot Springs, 8, 52–56, 53, 55 “radium” springs, 16, 112–13 Rainbow Hot Springs, 8, 174–77, 175, 176, 178 Rancho Del Rio, 55 resorts. See spas and resorts Rio Grande River, 146, 147–48 rock climbing, Eldorado Canyon, 47 Roscio, Dominica, 152–54 Roscio, Joe, 152–54 Routt National Forest, 25 St. Elmo mines, 90 Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, 87, 104–7, 105 Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, 159, 164–67, 165, 167 “Saratoga of the Rocky Mountains,” 51 Schafer, Alta, 198 Schieren, Syd, 94 Seal, Terese, 127 Seitz, Neil, 161, 162–63 Seitz, Terry, 161, 162 Shenise, Joe, 121, 122 Shenise, Toni, 121, 122 Sipple, Kevin, 46 Soda Spring, 36 South Canyon Hot Springs, 8, 64, 66–68, 67 spas and resorts: Cottonwood Hot Springs, 84–85; Dunton Hot Springs, 150–51; Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, 61; Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa, 38; Indian Hot Springs, 48; Joyful Journey Hot Springs, 155, 157; spa movement, 11–12; Overlook Hot Springs Spa, 186; The Springs Resort and Spa, 182–83; Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs, 196; Waunita Hot Springs Ranch, 112–14; Wiesbaden

Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings, 133, 137; Yampah Spa and Hot Springs Vapor Caves, 57, 59–60 spirituality and hot springs, 8–10, 17–18, 27 Splashland, 159, 171–73, 172 The Springs Resort and Spa, 182–85, 184, 185 Stahr, Angel, 180 State Bridge, Colorado, 55 Steamboat Springs, about, 7, 11, 36 Steamboat Springs Mineral Springs Walking Tour, 33–36, 34, 35, 37 Steele, David, 59 Steele, Patsy, 59 Stepan, Joe, 27 Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 25–29, 26, 29, 37 Sulphur Spring, 34–35 swimming: Eldorado Swimming Pool, 44, 45–46; 4UR Ranch, 145, 146; Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, 61–62, 63; Healing Waters Resort & Spa, 179; Ouray Hot Springs Pool, 128, 129; Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, 104–5, 105; Sand Dunes Swimming Pool, 164–66; Splashland, 171–73, 172; The Springs Resort and Spa, 182 Terrace Spring, 35 Treehouse Hot Springs, 8, 87, 95–97, 96 Trimble, Frank, 197, 198 Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs, 196–98, 197, 199 Twain, Mark, 103 Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, 12, 132, 141–44, 142, 143 Uncompahgre Valley, 134 Ute Indians: Chalk Creek Valley, 97, 102; Chief Ouray, 125, 128, 134–37; Cottonwood Hot Springs, 86; Eldorado Canyon, 44; Glenwood Hot Springs, 63; Healing Waters Resort & Spa, 179–80; and hot springs, 9–10; Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa,

40–41; Juniper Hot Springs, 21–23; “Little Medicine” springs, 146; Mount Princeton Hot Springs, 90; Old Town Hot Springs, 30–32; Orvis Hot Springs, 125–26; Ouray area, 130; Overlook Hot Springs Spa, 188; Poncha Springs, 105–6; Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 27; Waunita Springs, 112; Wiesbaden Hot Springs, 133–37; Yampah Spa and Hot Springs Vapor Caves, 58–59 Valley View Hot Springs, 159, 160–63, 161, 163 vapor caves: Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings, 133, 134, 137; Yampah Spa and Hot Springs Vapor Caves, 57–60, 58, 64 Wagon Wheel Gap resort, 147 walking tour, Steamboat Springs Mineral Springs Walking Tour, 33–36, 34, 35, 37 Walsh, Tom, 131 Waunita Hot Springs Ranch, 11, 110, 111–14, 113 Weber, Henry, 106 Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings, 132, 133–37, 135, 136 Wing, Minerva, 23 Woods, Cora, 180 Wright-Minter, Linda, 134, 137 Yampa River: Juniper Hot Springs, 20, 22, 24; Lithia Spring, 35–36; Old Town Hot Springs, 30; Steamboat Springs Mineral Springs Walking Tour, 33–36, 37; Sulphur Spring, 34–35 Yampah Spa and Hot Springs Vapor Caves, 57–60, 58, 64 Yampatika Utes, 30–32 Young, Erwin, 169 Young, Jay, 168, 170 Young, Lynne, 169



About the Author


ebbie Frazier, a fourth-generation Colorado native, roamed Colorado and the West for thirty-five years as a newspaper reporter, finding and writing the stories that no one else was telling. She earned multiple national writing and reporting awards. In her spare time, she earned a master’s in natural resources management and environmental policy, and taught journalism and investigative reporting. When her newspaper died, she became communications manager for Colorado’s splendid State Parks, and then worked with the state’s top wildlife researchers. Her favorite place is anywhere outdoors and her favorite story is always the next one she’ll write. She knows that peoples’ real stories are better than anything anyone could make up. And, she’s found much bliss in the bubbles at Colorado’s hot springs.


Colorado's Hot Springs (c) Deborah Frazier  

Journalist and author, Deborah Frazier shares secrets to Colorado's sweet soaks. More on Facebook at ColoradosHotSprings.

Colorado's Hot Springs (c) Deborah Frazier  

Journalist and author, Deborah Frazier shares secrets to Colorado's sweet soaks. More on Facebook at ColoradosHotSprings.