To Your Health

Happiness Springs Forth in Colorado

by Erica Huss
Pagosa Photo courtesy of The Springs Resort.

From the moment go, The Springs Resort at Pagosa Springs was a total blast, a relaxing and restorative getaway. A true unplug.

I didn’t know much about the San Juan Mountains area of southern Colorado, having previously only spent time in Denver and Boulder, but even the drive from the Durango airport was breathtaking — nothing but clear blue skies and Rocky Mountain highs the whole ride there. (Although I suppose the bar for “breathtaking” is pretty low when you get off a plane from New York City.)

The town of Pagosa Springs on the San Juan River looks like a postcard or a movie set — a single-screen theater along a row of local art galleries and shops selling blankets, crystals, and all manner of outdoor gear. And true to the movie set theme, a river actually runs through it. 

In the center of the resort is the Mother Spring aquifer, the deepest geothermal spring in the world. More than 1,002 feet deep, it’s an Empire State Building’s worth of natural hot spring mineral magic that feeds area pools, which is why it’s known as “The Mother.”

The Springs Resort is home to about 20 of those Mother-fed pools, all at varying temperatures that fluctuate based on changing seasons, snow melt, and rain — from about 90-112+°F, based on the flow volume. The slower the fill, the cooler the temps in the pools. The good folks on staff measure pool temperatures throughout the day and post them at each pool. I learned the hard way that this measurement has a direct impact on how much inner warrior is required for the Warrior Plunge experience. More on that in a moment.

The resort’s main building has a cozy mountain vibe, with guest rooms encircling an atrium and a dark wood lobby. You’ll want to curl up on one of the sofas with a book and a hot toddy: I did. Rooms are large and comfy — many equipped with a kitchenette, all with a robe designed for you to live in during your stay. The dress code is bathrobe chic throughout, day or night — the pools stay open 24 hours. As long as you have waterproof shoes and chunky socks for cooler temps, there is no need to fret (or even think about) about fashion.

The wellness ethos of the resort is, unsurprisingly, very much about the water. After three days immersed in it, I came to understand and think about H2O in a whole new way. The springs contain some of the most mineral-rich waters in the world – a cocktail of thirteen different elements: sodium, potassium, magnesium, silica, chloride, fluoride, arsenic, boron, iron, lithium, manganese, sulfate, and zinc. Like the fanciest bath nature could have ever created, the water feels rich and silky on the skin. (About the sulfur: You get used to the smell.)

Photo courtesy of The Springs Resort.
Photo courtesy of The Springs Resort.
Photo courtesy of The Springs Resort.
Photo courtesy of The Springs Resort.

With all these pools of varying temperatures and features (grotto-style rock walls, waterfalls, views overlooking the whole resort), it’s hard to know where to start or what to look for, but the team at the Springs has done all the work for you. Led by Chief Medical Director Dr. Marcus Coplin, a naturopathic doctor and balneologist (the science of bathing in minerals — I had to look it up), they have designed a series of soaking programs to reap the maximum benefits from the springs. A map of the soaking program on my room key meant I didn’t have to worry about remembering instructions or a print-out getting soggy in my pocket.

I did The Detox Journey, great for circulation and sweating out the grossness we all drag around in our semi-toxic daily lives. (Only me?) This is offered as a two-day package, though even a few hours in the warm pools would be very beneficial. Pagosa Springs has an option for much of what ails you. The Warrior Plunge is an intense cold experience that addresses inflammation, aiding recovery and stimulating blood flow. A warmer pool is ideal for working out stiff muscles through Aqua Yoga; another pool is great for revving up circulation to encourage detoxification. I interviewed Dr. Coplin on my podcast All Too Well about the science and benefits of enriched baths, how adding a few easy-to-source minerals to a regular bath could help create a spa-like experience at home.

Would you get in? Photo by Erica Huss.

My Warrior Plunge was scheduled on a day when the temperature dropped 20 degrees in 24 hours. We plunged into 49-degree water and stayed in for almost three minutes. (If this number doesn’t resonate, please know that even the staff was impressed.) It’s an intensely daunting feeling to strip down to your bathing suit and approach a natural pool of cold water. I won’t lie:  the first step in is a total shock to the system. But that’s the point. Better to go all in with no hesitation. With a few quick breathing techniques that I found very helpful, I experienced a transformation from tense and slightly miserable to relatively serene and still. We actually ended up plunging twice, and the second time was way easier. A guided version is available every day at noon, and as a reward, every guest who conquers the cold gets a commemorative beaded bracelet to welcome them to the esteemed club of warriors. Yes, I plunge for jewelry.  

While the mineral waters are the main event of the program, the resort also offers a range of activities to round out the wellness experience, though this is not the kind of over-programmed, hyper-stimulating bootcamp or wellness adventure that leaves you feeling overwhelmed or obligated to venture outside your comfort zone. The emphasis at Pagosa Springs is on rest, restoration, and (perhaps most importantly) letting nature do the work. In the nighttime Aqua Sound Bath under the stars, singing bowls glazing the surface of the water create a vibration through the pool that was among the best rest medicines I’ve ever experienced. 

Guests also have access to a ranch a few miles away for nature-centric activities like Forest Yoga and rucking. My favorite, Hang Time, found me in a clearing amid a little grove of pine trees. The team had rigged a portable hammock and I was encouraged to hop in. Bliss! The only rules were no rules, though — come on — they recommended turning off devices and leaving books and writing behind to just gently swing while breathing the mountain air and looking up at the canopy of evergreens. This indescribably peaceful experience made me want to buy a hammock. And move to Colorado.

Life is good in the hammock. Photo by Erica Huss.
The author in a moment of triumph. Photo courtesy of Erica Huss.

Pagosa Springs goes the extra mile on spa treatments, too. As much as I love to be pampered, I have limited tolerance for spas where I feel like I’ve overpaid for a fluffier robe, trail mix in a relaxation lounge, and a treatment that’s just meh. But I would gladly have paid double for Magnesium Melt, a mineral-rich, soothing, and therapeutic massage that works the salts and compounds deep into the skin and muscles. I felt its magic melting away the tension.

Had I done nothing more at the Springs than soak and hang, it would have been time very well spent. But I’m glad I got out and about to explore. A morning drive to nearby Treasure Falls included a short hike to a stunning waterfall and a stop at scenic Wolf Creek Pass Overlook, where the hills looked so hand-painted, I expected Julie Andrews to come twirling down the mountain looking for her talented stepchildren.

For a landlocked town, Pagosa Springs offered a surprising number of tasty fish tacos. Kip’s Grill, less than a mile from the resort, serves a delicious taco trio with a range of sauces in a fun roadhouse vibe. And whether or not you drink beer, it’s worth popping into the Riff Raff Brewing Company to ask owners Jason and Shelly Cox for a peek inside their entirely sustainable operation. They serve meat from local ranches and use the same mineral waters you soak in as a heat source to power the brewing machinery, the building heating, and the dishwashing water. They call their brew earth-powered beer, and I give them extra points for their Lebowski-themed menu items like The Bunny Salad. Alley House Grill is a more upscale dining experience with lots of veg-friendly options, a great wine list, and a knowledgeable staff.

If you have the time for a truly special experience, visit Chimney Rock National Monument, a major world archeological site. It’s breathtaking on a regular day, with its grand spires and Puebloan ruins leading up to the summit, but it’s even more significant every 18.6 years, when an astronomical event known as the Northern Major Lunar Standstill occurs. This is when the moon rises to the same point on the horizon and aligns perfectly between Chimney Rock’s two sandstone spires and appears to pause there for about three years. This phenomenon is believed to have been of great spiritual significance to the Puebloan people of Chimney Rock and was the inspiration behind the construction of the 200+ thousand-year-old pueblos on the mountain, whose ruins you can see on the half-mile hike to the top. Almost improbably, we were informed by our incredibly jovial and knowledgeable tour guide Mike that this significant celestial event would be occurring later that evening on the day we were hiking. So yeah, no big deal.  

Photo by Erica Huss.

And if being in the presence of a major astronomical event wasn’t enough of a cherry on the sundae, we capped off our visit with an early morning hot air balloon ride, courtesy of Rocky Mountain Balloon Adventures. This was my second balloon flight (#luckygirl), but not a moment of it felt been there/done that. The views of the surrounding lakes and mountains were absolutely stunning, the air was peaceful and silent with only the occasional sound of the balloon’s burner flaring, and staring down at the vast patchwork quilt of grasslands, springs, and woods felt like its own form of meditation. That’s a lot of bliss before 8 a.m.  

It’s remarkable how much I experienced in three brief days at Pagosa, especially considering how much time I dedicated to restoration and relaxation. I have a new appreciation for how to use simple tools like water temperature and basic minerals to address a range of health needs, and, perhaps more importantly, how doing less can accomplish more. When we’re not on vacation, we are not typically accustomed to taking it easy and scaling back our efforts. But sometimes the best thing we can do is stop and just soak it all in.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.