R E C R E A T I O N – H O T S P R I N G S
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Ouray Colorado – Natural Hot Springs
“sacred miracle waters”
Story by Samantha Tisdel Wright
All content © San Juan Publishing Group, Inc, All rights reserved.
[Ouray, Colorado] THE SAME ANCIENT volcanic stirrings which summoned the San Juan Mountains into being also gifted Ouray, Colo. with crystal-clear, sulfur-free hot water, rising in steamy liquifaction from springs throughout the county. The Uncompahgre Band of Utes had a special relationship with Ouray’s copious hot springs, which they called “sacred miracle waters.”
They came here for ceremonial and healing purposes, even bathing their beloved horses in the steaming waters. In the late nineteenth century, the famous and controversial Chief Ouray built a small adobe “summer home” at hot springs where the Wiesbaden Spa is now located. These days, warm water continues to rise from the earth in Ouray County and inspires modern legends at places like Orvis Hot Springs and Ouray Hot Springs Swimming Pool as well as two lodging accomodations with their own hot springs pools, Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, and the Wiesbaden Spa. Numerous natural springsalso bubble up, sometimes unexpectedly,throughout the county. It’s not unusual to find some one parked on a lawn chair alongside a steaming stream while snow flakes fall from above. A few farmers have found irritated cows when their favorite drinking sources turned hot overnight.
Orvis Hot Springs, where the setting and most soakers are “au natural,” bubbles up out of a meadow just south of Ridgway under the shadow of 14,150 foot Mt. Sneffels. “The Pond,” Orvis’ largest pool, is 40 feet across and 5 feet deep in spots and made of natural rock as its name suggests. Other clothing-optional outdoor soaking areas include the cozy “Island Pond” with a cascading waterfall, smokers pond, and the famous “Lobster Pot,” where temperatures average a blistering 108 to 114 degrees. Orvis also has two private indoor tubs and a shallow indoor pool, as well as six lodging rooms and some camp sites.
Guests at Box Canyon Lodge may soak in four redwood hot tubs which are terraced on the mountainside behind the lodge and are filled by adjacent hot springs—a popular spot with the ice-climbing crowd come winter!
Ouray’s Natural Hot Springs Pool (above and right) opened in 1927 to the largest crowd of visitors ever to assemble at that time in Ouray. The million-gallon outdoor bathtub still attracts swarms of swimmers every year. In addition to three soaking sections, the pool also offers cooler areas for lap swimming, diving, and water volleyball. Open year-round, Ouray Natural Hot Springs Pool is magic on snowy winter evenings, as soakers float noiselessly through billowing steam.
The Wiesbaden Hot Springs, first used by Utes, later by Ouray residents as a bathhouse, then by a physician for therapeutic treatment, is now a small lodge and spa. It sits directly over the emanation points of several natural hot springs. Entering the Wiesbaden’s vapor cave with its 108-degree soaking pool is a primal experience—some soakers see “spirit animals” in the shadowy cave walls.
“The cave is a traditional site which has simply been improved upon,” said Roland McCook, Chipeta and Ouray’s descendant and member of the Northern Ute tribe of Utah. McCook still travels to Ouray to enjoy the hot springs, and uses the cave as a place to “soak, meditate and pray.” An outdoor swimming pool, a Lorelei (private outdoor spa with soaking pool), and full range of spa treatments complete the Wiesbaden experience.
The Sacred Miracle Waters are calling. So come, soak your bones, soothe your soul, and discover for yourself the sumptuous hot springs of Ouray County.
Above, left: Orvis Hot Springs Pools, Ridgway, Colo. Courtesy Orvis Hot Springs
Right, top and bottom: Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Park, summer and winter. © James Burke
References & Additional Links
The Springs Resort, Pagosa Springs, Colo. (related story)
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