Take a moment to remember your last hot bath. Maybe you used bath foam, sea salts, or epsom salt, aka, magnesium sulfate. Epsom salt has been hailed by some health practitioners as a cure-all for tired muscles, burns and scratches, and general aches and pains. Several massage therapists swear that epsom salt draws out the lactic acid that is released into your system during a massage. Since I’m not one to argue with professionals, I try to make epsom salt baths part of my workout routine.

But if I’m in the mountains and traveling, epsom salt baths are replaced by dips into natural hot springs (Hot tubs are nice, save for the chlorine factor.) These therapeutic delights spring directly from the mountains they abut. Often the water has to be cooled before contacting human skin; other times water is left in its natural state, pooled in by rocks and cooled by the surrounding river. The more commercial hot springs come replete with full spa services like seaweed wraps and hot stone massages. Call it luxuriant decadence, except that it’s good for you.

My first foray into hot springs began ten years ago at the Cottonwood Hot Springs near Buena Vista, Colorado, where a few pools offered varying water temperatures under an unbelievably star-filled sky. These springs are developed, with a neighboring coi pond and spa offerings like deep tissue massage and facials. Earlier that day we navigated the Colorado Trail on our mountain bikes, and our muscles found respite in the springs. A myriad of stars brightened our night as did the lack of people.

Hot spring aficianados like to debate natural springs vs. developed springs. As a purist, I can assure you that natural are infinitely better, and usually not as frequented or as loud as developed springs. But they are subject to the vagaries of nature: sometimes too cold, too inaccesible, too full of poison, or non-existent–depending on the season.

Just south of Telluride are some amazing privately-owned hot springs. A friend of mine’s dad owns the spring and the land surrounding it. The springs are developed, covered by what looks like an old mining shack but outfitted with sky chairs, lanterns and posters. Developed springs, but just barely. They run about 108 degrees F, so long, twenty-minute soaks are out of the question. Water seeps up through a sandy, rocky bottom, is contained by cedar planks, and exits through a stone-lined estuary, where the hot spring water mingles with the cool river water. To cool off and tighten our pores we would make regular shocking but exhilarating dips into river.

Massages and facials are not offered, but excellent conversation and gourmet food are. Plus, with over a 10% lithium content, who needs a massage?

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