Hot mineral waters splash down my back as I watch it unfold. There is a cup of coffee in my hand, the San Juan River is flowing coldly below, and only a few other bathers are up, wandering from pool to pool through the steam and sulfurous smells. I have the "Serendipity" pool, with built-in waterfall back massager, all to myself. It has a long view of the other pools, bathhouse, river and, up the other bank, the small town.
I've visited a respectable number of Colorado hot springs over the years — Valley View, Ouray, Indian Springs, Strawberry Park and Steamboat Springs, to name a few. Each has its own character, features and landscape, and each defied my expectations in its own way.
But this, I think, is what I have always imagined a hot springs should be: a cascading, mineral-caked network of natural pools, cool morning air and warm, soothing water. Only Iron Mountain Hot Springs (a new option in Glenwood Springs since July 2015) has a similar layout, albeit on a smaller scale, with its variety of different temperature pools and view of the Colorado River.
But the Springs Resort goes right down to the river, with one of its pools, The Burg, practically in the current. I eventually make my way down there, enjoying the almost-too-hot water bubbling out of the sand below, while cooler water from the San Juan mixes on the top. I wave when the first rafters of the day float by.
There are two other commercial hot springs along this bend of the San Juan in downtown Pagosa Springs: Healing Waters Resort and The Overlook Hot Springs. All originate from a mother spring, the Great Pagosa Aquifer, a yellow-caked, multi-colored pool just behind my room at the Springs Resort.
This 35-foot-diameter pool was in the news a few years ago when a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records visited in 2011 and dropped a 1, 002-foot plumb line down its principal hole. Like all other previous attempts to measure its depth, the plumb line did not hit bottom, and Guinness subsequently declared it the deepest geothermal spring in the world.
But such statistics and numbers are meaningless as I lower my body into the Lobster Pot, the hottest pool on site. I try to forget about everything except this cloaking warmth and the sunshine marking the beginning another perfect day in southern Colorado.
Joshua Berman is the author of the upcoming fifth edition of "Colorado Camping, " which will be released in the spring. JoshuaBerman.net and
If you go
The Springs Resort: Winter nightly rates from $199, includes 24-hour access to 23 pools. "Ski and soak" packages include a pair of lift tickets to Wolf Creek Ski Area, 23 miles up the road. pagosahotsprings.com or 800-225-0934