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Colorado’s Hot Springs, by Deborah Frazier

Review by Ed Quillen

Attractions – August 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado’s Hot Springs
by Deborah Frazier
published in 1996 by Pruett
ISBN 0-87108-875-4

Where the earth’s crust is thin, hot rock from the core pushes toward the surface. Cold water seeps down and becomes hot water after it hits the hot rock. Where this water emerges, there’s a hot spring.

That’s the geology behind this guidebook, although it doesn’t account for all the entries. One “hot spring,” the Well at Brush Creek near Penrose, is the result of a Conoco mishap in 1924. The oil company was drilling for petroleum, hit hot water at 2,000 feet, and moved on to greener pastures, leaving behind an artesian well that produced 108° water.

Frazier’s guide does not attempt to include all places in Colorado where warmer-than-usual water appears. She covers the commercial sites, along with a few of the better-known on public land.

So this isn’t the place to look for information about the Wellsville warm spring east of Salida (not open to the public), or (to her credit) for “undiscovered” hot springs in remote natural settings.

In Central Colorado, that means about a dozen hot springs, many now enjoying a resurgence of interest. Mineral Hot Springs near Villa Grove isn’t listed — it just re-opened after a long hiatus, and was apparently too late to make the book.

A century ago, Frazier notes, only the upper classes took vacations, and these generally involved staying for weeks or months at one place — often a spa.

Then came the car, and two-week vacations that extended for hundreds of miles. The old spas suffered — many went broke and were closed.

Frazier provides locations, phone numbers, admission policies, and general information about the availability of meals and lodging, as well as the need for bathing suits.

She also provides some local color for each site. Here’s a sample, from her account of the Cottonwood Hot Springs (former Jump Steady) west of Buena Vista.

“Cottonwood is the only hot springs in Colorado that has rabbits and chickens. The animals roam the parking lot, but not the pool area, during the day and the chickens produce eggs that Cathy [Manning] trades for fresh vegetables. She says she started with ducks, but they were rude to customers….

“The current two-story motel and restaurant were built by a previous owner in 1966 but were badly run-down when Cathy came on the scene. `Legend has it that there’s a Ute curse on all owners so white people can’t be commercially successful here,’ Cathy says. She bought the resort with twelve rooms, three cabins, and a restaurant, knowing it hadn’t been successful.

“`The world is a mess. I can’t fix it,’ she says. `This I can fix.'”

Frazier also tries to provide some historic and other lore, and it is there that she gets in over her head — her research is sloppy, perhaps non-existent. Almost any page will yield an example. Writing about Fourteeners, she says “the Arkansas River Valley has six.” There are at least a dozen.

The railroad reached Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905, not 1928. Frazier says that “In Poncha, the posh two-hundred room Jackson Hotel …” — but the Jackson was a fairly functional hotel, not a “posh” resort, and if it ever boasted 200 rooms, the rooms must have been quite small.

Of Salida and Poncha Springs, she says “Spanish explorers passed through the area looking for gold and Indian slaves,” although there’s no record that, during their few passages, they were looking for either. Why go looking for slaves, anyway, when the Utes were happy to capture people and sell them into slavery at the annual Taos fair?

“The Utes must go” was a winning campaign theme for Gov. Frederick Pitkin in 1878, not John Evans in 1862 — territorial governors like Evans didn’t need campaign slogans, since they were appointed, not elected.

So, don’t look to this book for anything within a day’s ride of honest history. But if you’re looking for a place to soak, then you’ll find plenty that’s useful in Colorado’s Hot Springs.