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!
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.
I 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.