Up to My Neck in Hot Water

I have been on a counter-clockwise loop of sorts around Southwestern Colorado to see sights that interest me.    One category that particularly interests me is hot springs.  I even purchased a guidebook “Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest,” with the intent to visit as many as time allows.  But so far, my quest has been a little frustrating.    It’s been hit or miss, mostly miss.

I had to pass up one near Florence, CO because they were closed for cleaning the morning I wanted to visit.  The Salida Hot Springs, an indoor structured square pool filled with kids playing water volleyball  felt a little too “municipal.”   I didn’t even go in.

Ouray Hot Springs was lovely.  Swimming laps on my back looking up at the surrounding mountains of the box canyon was certainly memorable.   But it was tough to relax with all the toddlers wearing “swim diapers,” and overhearing conversations of kids telling their parents they “needed to poop!”  I finally found the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa, located in the Wiesbaden Hotel in Ouray.  No one under 12 years old allowed.  They offered a unique experience in their “vapor cave,” a naturally occurring pool that was discovered during the mining days.  But at 108 degrees, it was too hot for me to linger long.  They did have a lovely flowing outdoor pool, which made for a great soak for a while.

But then I found the “Goldilocks of Hot Springs” (or as one of my blog followers more aptly called it, “Disneyland”) in Pagosa Springs.   It was the hot springs experience I had been seeking.  Twenty-three different rock or cement pools of your choosing, varying in temperature from 94 to 114 degrees.    So spread out, you rarely shared a pool with anyone.  Yes, the entire downtown wreaks of sulfur, but I kinda like that smell.  It reminds me I am soaking in “chemicals” from nature as opposed to chlorine.

The large, well landscaped grounds and comfortable lounge chairs overlooking the San Juan River were like staying at a plush resort.  There was even a bar in the center that served some of the best Bloody Marys I have enjoyed in a long while.   So, I took my laptop, my book, a change of clothes, and I stayed the entire day!   Alternating from sun to shade, from poolside to riverside, soaking and napping.  It was a delicious day!

Overlooking "The Springs Resort" on the San Juan River.

Overlooking “The Springs Resort” on the San Juan River.

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Note big mound of tufa on the right, belching steam and the aroma of sulfur.

Note big mound of tufa on the right, belching steam and the aroma of sulfur.

Pagosa Springs also offered a hot springs experience of a completely different sort, about as far at the opposite end of the spectrum as one can get, but equally enjoyable.     I stayed at the West Fork Forest Service Campground, 14 miles outside of Pagosa Springs.  Just up the road a mile was the Rainbow Springs Trailhead.  This 10.2 mile RT hike through the Weminuche Wilderness has a big payoff at the end, if you can find it…a natural hot springs pool right alongside the San Juan River.

The trail is pretty unwelcoming for the first mile or so.  There must be a hundred signs warning you are on private property, to stay on the trail.  Some of them are downright asinine, but I guess they must have had need to be so at some point.  But once the trail reaches the wilderness border, it climbs high along the ridge overlooking the canyon below, with beautiful views of the river.  Eventually, the trail drops down and crosses the river, then begins a climb back up to the rim.  At just near the 5 mile mark, there is a large cairn in front, and the main trail continues to the right, while a faint trail drops down toward the riverbed.  There is no signage, but trail reports indicated the hot springs were down there….somewhere.

It took some sliding and scrambling, but the reward was worth it.  I had the springs all to myself for an entire hour.   There were two pools, one near the springs which is hottest, one in the middle which is a little cooler, and then of course swimming in the San Juan river was brisk and refreshing.  I enjoyed all three.  I can’t describe the feeling of soaking in these springs with the sound of the river rushing by, no one else around for miles, surrounded on all sides by mountain views.  It was like soaking in the womb of Mother Nature.

A hundred signs and a "tree trunk monster" warn to stay on the trail!

A hundred signs and a “tree trunk monster” warn to stay on the trail!

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Beyond the wilderness boundary, the canyon offers beautiful views overlooking the San Juan River.

Beyond the wilderness boundary, the canyon offers beautiful views overlooking the San Juan River.

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I love that the Forest Service built these big fancy bridges for hikers and equestrians.

I love that the Forest Service built these big fancy bridges for hikers and equestrians.

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I spot the springs from high above the river bank.  Now, to just get down there!

I spot the springs from high above the river bank. Now, to just get down there!

Two pools offering two temperatures.

Two pools offering two temperatures.

This is how you manage a 10 mile hike with no sore muscles the next day!

This is how you manage a 10 mile hike with no sore muscles the next day!

Beautiful views all around while soaking...

Beautiful views all around while soaking…

Unfortunately, there was a bad fire in this wilderness in 2013.  Wildflowers are the first sign of recovery.

Unfortunately, there was a bad fire in this wilderness in 2013. Wildflowers are the first sign of recovery.

These wild roses were growing all long the path.  Very fragrant, unlike the hybrids!

These wild roses were growing all long the path. Very fragrant, unlike the hybrids!

IMG_4136 IMG_4138I had one more serendipitous encounter while I was in Pagosa Springs.  While walking the river walk after dinner on the night of the full moon, I happened to notice a flyer advertising a full moon program, complete with Native American flute music atop the nearby Chimney Rock National Monument.  Fortunately, there was a phone number listed, so I called, and was told there were tickets left, and I had plenty of time to make it to the monument 15 miles away before the program start of 7:00pm.

The program involved a climb up to the Chimney Rock structure.  It was steep and narrow in places, so they had positioned volunteers with lanterns to help safely guide the participants up, and light the path on the way back down.  Watching the moon rise on the distant horizon to the sounds of Native American flute music was nothing short of ethereal.    I am grateful for so many park volunteers required to pull this evening event off safely.   The next month program promises to be even more special, as there will be a lunar eclipse on the night of the full moon.

Climbing to Chimney Rock "feature."

Climbing to Chimney Rock “feature.”

Native American flute music as the sun sets and moon rises.

Native American flute music as the sun sets and moon rises.

He has quite a selection of instruments!

He has quite a selection of instruments!

Chimney Rock at sunset.

Chimney Rock at sunset.

A terrible quality photo, but I want to remember what it looked like with the moon coming up over the mountains, beneath the cloud.

A terrible quality photo, but I want to remember what it looked like with the moon coming up over the mountains, beneath the cloud.

26 thoughts on “Up to My Neck in Hot Water

  1. You had me worried at the beginning. I’ve never been a fan of resort style hot springs, but love the natural ones hiding out in the woods. Loved the hot springs on the bank of the river! Sorry we won’t have any flute music for the eclipse. :-(

  2. Great story and pictures. My favorite hot springs in Colorado are Strawberry Park near Steamboat Springs and Conundrum near Aspen. Cottonwood and Mt Princeton are ok too.

    • Debbie, I REALLY wanted to go to Strawberry Park! And I also heard good things about Conundrum, though quite a hike to get there. I just ran out of time to get that far north, darn it!

    • BC Mark — The smell was not as strong at Rainbow. The water flow was more of a trickle that ran down a mossy rock, so I think that may have filtered out some of the smell that comes from bubbling up in Pagosa…

  3. I love the look of the hot spring you found. Have you considered coming back to TorC, where you can get out of your car and walk in? :o) My current favorite is the old Ho-Kay-Oh house, now La Paloma, Too. No smell, no hike, no kids, no no one, if you prefer it that way (I do).

    • Roxanne, I will definitely make it back to TorC, and when I do, I will coerce you into “walking in” with me! Thanks for the tip on your favorite. Sounds like a place I would love…

  4. If you EVER go to TorC let me know. That’s where we live most of the time. I don’t know why I don’t visit the hot springs. I haven’t in years. Your pictures are awesome. I love the springs you found out in the wilderness. There are supposed to be some hot springs not far from our cabin in the Gila but haven’t found it yet.

  5. Those are two very special hot springs experiences! There is nothing so wonderful as a hot spring in the wild, especially all to yourself!

    What a perfect way to end a day with a full moon rising and a natural setting.

  6. We enjoyed the hot springs at Pagosa Springs but I must say the springs you found at the end of the Rainbow Springs hike sounds very appealing. The hike up Chimney Rock during the full moon sounds simply amazing!

    • Thanks, LuAnn — I think having walked 5 miles of uncertainty, not sure I could find the springs on my own, made them that much more rewarding. It was a great day indeed!

  7. What an amazing hike with the hot springs along the river. As I was reading I was hoping you would have photos of the springs slong the river. Too cool!

    Hiking up Chimney Rock for the moon rising sounds so wonderful. I so enjoy the flute music. I’m sure it gave you chills. Glad you were able to experience this:)

    • Thanks, Pam. All three Pagosa experiences were delightful! I could have spent more time in that area, as there seemed to be a lot of good hiking up toward Wolf Creek Pass…

  8. Another wonderful blog. I could not believe the variety of hot springs that you visited. I loved that many are road available. The sulfur smell does get to me though. Thanks.

    • Allen, I don’t know why the sulfur doesn’t really bother me. I think it goes back to my childhood in Yellowstone NP when Stephen, my younger brother then age five, threw up all over the boardwalk alongside the sulfur pools because of the “rotten egg” smell. I think I vowed back at the mature age of 12 to never be phased. 😉

  9. Barb and I love to visit remote hot springs. Like you, we really don’t care for the crowded or commercialized ones. If you are ever in the Salt Lake area you will have to check out Fifth Water Hot Springs, you won’t regret it!

    • Jim and Barb, thanks for the tip! I will definitely put Fifth Water on the list of places to see next time I am headed north. Thanks!

  10. Oh wow !!! I love hot springs. Ive been to the pagosa disneyland one , altho about 20 years ago. I liked it even tho it is a bit commercial. But, that one you hiked to looks great !!! I have to file this info away as I plan to get an RV soon and go traveling again. I wonder about carrying a back pack to someplace near that one by the river and spending the night? That would be fun !!!

    • SierraSue, yes, there are fire rings around the springs, and I do believe it is a popular camping spot. There is a trail register at the beginning of the trail where you must indicate if you are staying overnight. There were several entries for the weekend, but I was there on a Monday, and glad to have it all to myself!

  11. Orvis Hot Springs between Ouray and Ridgeway is a “au natural” place. The big pool has a pebble bottom. There is more of a meditative attitude – definitely a healthy enviroment.

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