Where are the Hot Springs in Colorado?

November 1, 2013

Hot Springs in Winter

photo - Amy Carey of Colorado Springs soaks in one of theCall it a collective case of sour grapes, but Deborah Frazier is accustomed to getting guff about her job. She's the hot springs maven - the lady who tests the waters for the rest of us, as spiritually demanding as that sounds.

"I constantly take ragging for it, " said the former Rocky Mountain News reporter- turned-mineral water sleuth and author of "Colorado's Hot Springs, " whose third edition hit book shops in November. "(People say) 'Oh, tough work! Tough assignment! How'd you get to do that?'

"I tell them it's all for the love of warm water."

Readers of her book are well positioned to share her laid-back enthusiasm. Checking in at 200-plus pages, it's an indispensable resource for soakers, loaded with maps, detailed directions and tips on finding "bliss in the bubbles" at 44 hot springs across the state.

It's an entertaining read, clever as it is meticulous - as when Frazier offers a breezy account of how the fate of Penny Hot Springs near Carbondale once was troubled by a "1980s war between skinny dippers and the rancher across the river."

The nudies won out.

Her ode to Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs rapturously describes a "necklace of six pools (that) breathes steam in the early morning as if answering the rising sun."

Frazier, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her stories on the West, approached her task with the rigor of a veteran journalist, making unannounced, anonymous visits to each - in the buff, whenever possible.

She followed up in her bathing suit for an "official" visit during which she interviewed the owners or operators.

During each stop, she "truth-tested" their claims by chatting up fellow soakers, jotting down their observations and picking their brains.

She can thank a gruff editor at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News in Denver for putting her on the case in 1994. Why not do something on hot springs? he asked.

"By serendipitous circumstances, it turned into a book, " she said. "I was a hard-news reporter that specialized in public lands, water, Native Americans and natural resources. This was kind of a fun side interest."

But she handled it like a job. Frazier started making calls on her story in February and turned in the first draft by Sept. 1, she said.

In keeping with her journalistic pedigree, Frazier doesn't shy from unsavory aspects of our shared fascination with hot springs, such as the environmental degradations that flow from overuse, or how the Ute Indians - the original hot springs enthusiasts - were evicted from ancestral lands to clear the way for Western leisure seekers.

But that's the story of Colorado, and Frazier notes that some of today's operators take pains to include the contemporary Ute community. The owners of Glenwood Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, for example, have hosted tribal meetings in the Ute's traditional bathing spot.

Frazier includes GPS coordinates of Colorado's "hidden" hot springs, but she excludes those on private land, leaving curious interlopers to scrub the Internet for trespassing routes. They shouldn't count on the same level of accuracy, and they won't get any help from Frazier. "I wouldn't ever want to give directions to my backyard pool, " she says.

Even limited to public soaking grounds, Frazier's book contains enough to keep most Coloradans busy for a lifetime, at least when factoring in repeat visits.

More than 20 years have passed since Frazier first hit the salt mines, but she hasn't lost a step as a researcher. Updating the book - complete with two return trips to the hot springs she profiles - took about six months, one less than in 1994.

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