SAN JUAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Do people soak in the summer?

After a hard day of skiing or snowboarding, nothing beats the feeling of slowly lowering the body into a tub full of hot water. The muscles relax, the eyes close, a sigh of relief escapes the lips, and especially when the air is really cold, a thick veil of steam rises off the water to block out the rest of the world. If it happens to be storming, you will need to dunk all the way under every so often to melt the snow from the top of your head. This is paradise!

But what about in the summertime?

A poorly kept local secret: soaking in the healing waters is just as nice, if not better, in the summer as it is in the winter.

Imagine getting up early, throwing on your hiking gear, filling a small backpack with a lunch and some water, grabbing your camera, and driving to downtown Pagosa Springs, where you turn from U.S. 160 onto Lewis Street and immediately onto 5th Street, which turns into County Road 400 and then into Forest Road 645. Seven miles north of town you take a right at the junction and 4 miles after that you reach a trailhead. 

After a 3-mile hike, you find the most amazing 300-foot waterfall. You eat lunch. You take pictures. You revel in the peace and solitude. You marvel at the glory and the beauty that is Colorado. Reluctantly, you repack all your stuff and head back to the car. As you drive back to town, you start to notice a satisfying tightness in your leg muscles. Your shoulders start to ache where the straps of your backpack dug in.

What should you do?

The answer hits you and out comes the cell phone (of course, you pull over to the side of the road before you start dialing because driving while distracted is illegal in Colorado). You call up your significant other and say, “Hey! We should go soak.”

With three bathing facilities in downtown Pagosa Springs offering either indoor or outdoor pools (or both), and temperatures varying between hot and very hot, soakers have more than enough choices of where to relax and stretch out those sore muscles.

Three choices for relaxation

Each of Pagosa’s three bathing facilities offers its own unique take on the traditional soaking experience, and the savvy soaker does well to switch things up, experiencing how differently each place relaxes the spirit and heals the body.

The Overlook Mineral Springs Spa

Overlook

Located on the main street of Pagosa Springs at 432 Pagosa St., the Overlook Hot Springs Spa offers soaking and massage services housed within old-world Victorian ambiance. Offering indoor and outdoor pools, including a private tub room, massage and a steam room, the Overlook provides bathers an opportunity to soak while escaping the elements, or to take in the sights while soaking. 

Those sights are best soaked in from the pools located on the building’s roof, which give the Overlook its name and notoriety. With a panoramic view of historic downtown and beyond, the pools are a favorite with locals and visitors alike. There’s also a sauna and geothermal tub.

The Overlook courtyard features six individual tubs, as well as an eight-person Jacuzzi. Inside, there are four open pools and a private pool room that can be rented by the hour by bathers who prefer to soak in a more intimate setting. Reservations are required for booking the private pool and the massage rooms.

Additionally, the Overlook features changing rooms with shower stalls, steam showers and more.

Healing Waters Resort and Spa

Healing Waters Resort & Spa

The Healing Waters Resort and Spa offers a large outdoor swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, and separate men’s and women’s indoor hot baths. The pools are fed totally by mineral water, with no chemicals added that would dilute the water’s natural minerals.  The ambiance here is down home, western and friendly. Through long years of service, the hosts have learned to satisfy the needs of the most discriminating guest.

 

The Springs Resort

The Springs Resort & Spa

Home of the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring, the Springs Resort and Spa offers 23 naturally therapeutic soaking pools (the most in Colorado) that are terraced along the banks of the San Juan River and a mineral water swimming pool. 

Ranging in temperature from 83-114 degrees, the natural mineral waters from the mother spring feeds all 23 pools and are known for their natural healing properties. The public bath house is open at 7 a.m., 365 days a year and offers a convenient locker room with optional towel and locker rental.  

History and myth

After visitors to the area comment on the friendliness and laid-back demeanor of Pagosans, the next observation they offer is that the locals seem so healthy and vibrant. If you surmised that the reason for that vitality and mellow groove is due to the healing powers of our spring, give yourself a soak; you’ve arrived at the best answer that we have. 

In fact, it’s a story that has deep roots in the area’s legends. Local spin has it that the Ute phrase “Pagosa” describes the mystical qualities of the legendary Great Pagosa Hot Spring, repeating the apocryphal tale that the phrase translates as “Healing Waters.” 

Historian John Motter writes, “According to the dictionary prepared under the auspices of and with the help of Southern Utes in Ignacio, ‘pagosa’ comes from two Ute words meaning ‘stinking water.’” However, locals almost unanimously prefer the following myth to this likely truth.

According to legend, earlier Native American visitors were certain the Great Spirit had endowed the geothermally heated waters with superhuman virtues, and they came to Pagosa Springs to not just soothe sore bodies, but to replenish their souls. The hot springs, it is told, arose after a plague began devastating the tribes. With the disease confounding the potions and power of tribal medicine men, the people gathered on the banks of the San Juan River to offer a plea to the gods. There, they built a huge fire around which they prayed and danced, eventually falling asleep with complete exhaustion. They awoke the next morning to a pool of boiling water bubbling from beneath the coals of the ceremonial fire. Seeing this as a sign from the gods, the afflicted bathed in the soothing water and were, at once, cured. From then on, the great spring became known as “Pag-Osah,” a place of peace and healing. 

Needless to say, reverence for the “healing waters” has not abated with the passage of time; in recent years, The Great Pagosa Hot Spring has attracted more visitors than ever before. And while Motter’s account of the spring’s history is probably closer to the truth, a growing number of visitors come to Pagosa Springs for the same reasons that color the myth.

Science and trivia

Geothermal water has been used to heat a number of businesses and residences in the downtown core (as well as the obvious application for soaking). 

Putting aside legends and myth, the “healing waters” that emerge from the Earth’s surface in Pagosa Springs are the product of geological processes, hundreds of millions of years in the making, that put the area in a unique (and many say, “blessed”) situation.

The process essentially begins as water percolates through the Earth’s surface in its endless cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. Eventually, water descends through super-heated rock and magma, gaining a three- to five-degree increase for every 300 feet of depth. Under pressure, the heated water begins to rise, following cracks and fissures in the rock, eventually making its way to the surface. On the way, it picks up a host of minerals, such as sulfur, silica, calcium, potassium, etc., and, if the water retains heat, emerges in the form of hot springs. 

While the research has yet to determine the exact size and characteristic of the hot spring, measurements put the Great Pagosa into the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest hot spring in the world. 

In August 2011, when a 1,002-foot long plumb line was dropped into the “mother spring,” it didn’t hit the bottom; instead, the plumb line ran out. 

So, while the official measurement is now 1,002 feet, the true depth remains unknown. In fact, a previous attempt at measurement using a 2,500-foot plumb line culminated in results similar to those from Guinness: before the plumb line reached the bottom of the spring, the line ran out.

The Zen of here and now

While, for the time being, the mystery of the aquifer’s ultimate depth remains unsolved, it is the mystery of our water’s ability to soothe, heal and relax even the most harried soul that appears to take center stage.  

And what is known — that the birth of The Great Pagosa Hot Spring begins well above our heads, forms well beneath our feet, and then realizes itself to the benefit of tired muscles and spent spirits — seems hardly worth a thought. Especially when, after it all comes together, a simple sigh is all that needs to be said.