Wandering Eyes: See Colorado Culture & History Up Close

The bee-hive shaped coal cooking ovens visible along Highway 133 past Carbondale near Redstone are what remains of the thriving steel industry in the Crystal River Valley.

Wandering Eyes: See Colorado Culture & History Up Close

Wandering in this case refers to the 800-mile Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, where in addition to soaking in the state’s geothermal waters, visitors can also get an eyeful of sights that add cultural and historical context to their hot springs vacation.

The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop (CHHSL) is bubbling with things to do—besides taking a dip in the 23 unique geothermal springs in eight Colorado destinations, visitors can also fully immerse themselves in cultural and historical experiences of the region by exploring a mix of fascinating heritage sites all along the 800-mile route.

What is there to see? Plenty—everything from mining towns to natural wonders—and you won’t want to miss any of it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.” While the main attraction may be soaking in Colorado’s historic hot springs, these side trips offer a genuine sense of place and are worth a gander if you’re in the vicinity.

Steamboat Springs: Just 45 minutes from Steamboat Springs, Hahn’s Peak is a former mining village and a bona fide piece of living Colorado history. Explore 15 historic structures including a one-room schoolhouse, miner’s cabin and the history museum. You can also climb to the summit of Hahn’s Peak, elevation 10,839 feet above sea level, where there’s a fire lookout tower dating to 1912.

Glenwood Springs: Famous Old West gunslinger, John “Doc” Holliday died in Glenwood Springs on Nov. 8, 1887. Best known for his participation in the shootout at the OK Corral in Arizona and his skill dealing cards at the gaming tables, Doc arrived in Glenwood Springs to “take the waters” as a treatment for consumption. A pauper at the time of his death, he is buried somewhere in Linwood Cemetery, the resting place of Glenwood’s pioneer citizens. His memorial marker overlooks the town and is routinely decorated with decks of playing cards and coins left as a tribute.

Carbondale: The coal coking ovens visible along Highway 133 past Carbondale near Redstone are what remains of the thriving steel industry in the Crystal River Valley. Built in 1899, at the height of production, the bee-hive-shaped brick structures once produced an astounding 6 million tons of coking coal a year! A roadside attraction, they are a quick stop when visiting nearby Avalanche Hot Springs.

Ouray: Weather-beaten remnants are all that’s left in these ghost mines and towns that once flourished in the San Juan Mountains. Among the most photogenic is Yankee Girl, a gold mine in the Red Mountain Mining District, accessible by hiking or jeeping. Discovered in 1882, it was considered the mother lode and became one of the most profitable mines in U.S. history.

Durango: Hop aboard for a historic train ride through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railway dates back to the 1800s and was built to transport ore between remote mountain mines and the bustling town of Durango. While the precious metal mines have long since shuttered, the historic train has been in continuous operation since 1882 and now offers riders a goldmine of photo ops on every trip.

Pagosa Springs: Ancestral Puebloan peoples made their home in the desert southwest, leaving behind archaeological remains like those preserved at Chimney Rock National Monument. These early inhabitants incorporated their knowledge of astronomy into the design of their community, using the natural chimney-like pinnacles to frame the heavens. Today Chimney Rock is recognized as one of the premier archaeo-astronomical resources in North America.

Saguache County: Baca National Wildlife Refuge spans 93,000 acres in the San Luis Valley. The refuge supports an abundance of wildlife through a diverse combination of shrublands, grasslands, wetlands and riparian corridors. With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop, the landscape is a stunning setting for wildlife viewing.

Chafee County: Getting creative is easy to do in Salida. The town is home to the first designated creative district in the state which includes a thriving population of artists and makers of all kinds, as well as other types of creative entrepreneurs. A sampling of what you’ll find in Salida’s Creative District includes locally-owned restaurants, bars, microbreweries, a distillery, a film production studio, approximately 40 retail stores, a boutique hotel and 30 artist-owned or run galleries.

Saguache County: Stretched between Salida and Buena Vista, Brown’s Canyon National Monument is a destination dream-come-true for outdoor enthusiasts. To add on adventure to your hot springs vacation, head to the Arkansas River in Brown’s Canyon for exceptional whitewater rafting and Gold Medal water trout fishing.

If you’re ready to embark on a journey that will not only leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, but culturally enriched as well, keep Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop in your sights while vacation planning. It’s heritage tourism at its finest, where the present meets the past with a splash of excitement!

The Formation and Allure of Geothermal Wonders on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop

geothermal waters bubbling to earth's surface creating a formation of mineral deposits

When it comes to captivating natural wonders, few can rival the allure of natural thermal springs that percolate to the surface all along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop (CHHSL). Amid the breathtaking landscapes of Western Colorado, these geothermal marvels are a source of relaxation and healing. But have you ever wondered how these enchanting pools of warm, mineral-rich water come to be? Get ready to take a quick plunge into the geology, minerals and temperatures that give rise to these Colorado hot springs.

The Geology Behind the Magic

The formation of hot springs on the CHHSL is intimately connected with the geology of the region. Western Colorado was once covered by a shallow inland sea. After the waters receded during the Jurassic and Cenozoic about 170 to 40 million years ago, there was a major mountain-building period. In a process called plate tectonics, the earth heaved and shifted, giving birth to the Rocky Mountains and a concentration of natural hot springs.

All this geological activity caused pressure and heat to build up deep within the earth. In hot spring heavy areas, this geothermal heat escapes through fractures and faults in the earth’s crust, pathways for hot water to rise to the surface. Colorado’s mountainous terrain is riddled with these faults and fractures; these pressure release points are where hot springs proliferate.  

Minerals: Source of Therapeutic Properties

One of the most captivating aspects of hot springs is their mineral-rich water, long been believed to possess therapeutic properties. The minerals found in hot springs vary depending on the geological composition of the region where they are located.

Common minerals found in the springs along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop include calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, silica and lithium. These minerals picked up from the surrounding rocks and dissolved in the superheated water, infuse CHHSL hot springs with their specific beneficial properties.

For instance, calcium and magnesium are thought to alleviate muscle cramps and joint pain. Silica, known for its skin-rejuvenating properties, leaves skin feeling smooth and refreshed. Lithium is a natural mood booster helping soakers feel peaceful and relaxed. The combination of these minerals creates a healing experience that is unique to each hot spring along the 800-mile loop.

Temperature: From Mildly Warm to Scalding Hot

Hot springs also exhibit a wide range of temperatures, from pleasantly warm to lobster-pot intense. The temperature of a hot spring is directly influenced by the depth from which the water originates and the geological processes that heat it.

In some hot springs, the water comes from shallow depths and has relatively low temperatures, ranging from 80˚ to 100˚F (27˚ to 38˚C). These pools offer a comfortable and relaxing experience, perfect for soaking away stress and soothing sore muscles.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are extremely hot springs that can reach temperatures of 140˚F (60˚C) or higher. The upper limit for a safe soaking is around 108˚F (42˚C). For soaking at these higher temperatures, industry experts recommend bathing for short intervals. Water that is 113˚F (45˚C) or higher can cause second and third-degree burns within just a few seconds. Where the natural spring water is intensely hot, the temperature must be amended either by allowing the water to cool naturally or by adding cold water to create a comfortable and safe temperature for soaking.  

Mother Nature’s Tour de Force

All 23 hot springs along the 800-mile CHHSL are geological masterpieces, crafted by powerful tectonic forces over millions of years. Enriched with an array of minerals in a spectrum of temperatures, discover these enchanting pools of warm water made by Mother Nature.

EV Charging Stations Closing the Gap for Drivers on Colorado’s Historic Hot Springs Loop

With Colorado expanding the grid for drivers of electric vehicles, it’s easier than ever for EV owners to leave the city behind and explore destinations further afield, including geothermal sites along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop.

Colorado’s scenic byways have long been a favorite means of exploring the state’s majestic landscapes. With the rising popularity of electric vehicles (EVs), the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is expanding the grid for EV charging stations to tap into both tourism and conservation interests. The routes selected for charging station expansion include Colorado’s Scenic Byways, many of which conveniently overlap with the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop (CHHSL).

Colorado’s Electric Byways Are Powering Up

Ensuring that EV drivers have access to dependable charging infrastructure is essential, and this is one of CDOT’s primary goals. Guidelines stipulate that Colorado Electric Byways must have sufficient charging infrastructure in place for EV travelers to complete their journey along the byway. While newer model EVs can go 250 to 300 miles on a full charge, CDOT is taking a more cautious approach to guarantee safety and reliability for drivers. For designation as a Colorado Electric Byway, dual-port DC fast charging stations must be located at least every 100 miles within the start and terminus of the byway.

Just as some traditional fuel vehicle owners might fill up at a half tank while others wait until the low fuel light illuminates. EV owners also have varied comfort levels and opinions on when it’s best to recharge. However, if using CDOT’s parameters of 100 miles between charging stations, the CHHSL isn’t quite a closed loop. The greatest distances between hot springs destinations without charging facilities occurs on the section that stretches from Salida to Pagosa Springs and onto Durango.

Plugging In on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop

EV drivers can jump in on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop at any number of points. Along the route, there are numerous EV charging stations, most conveniently located at gas stations, shopping centers and hotels. Some are even situated in town parks or ski areas in Colorado. And as EVs continue to rise in popularity, there are more and more charging stations popping up in Western Colorado all the time.

For the best experience, map your hot springs trip out ahead of time by using an app like ChargeHub which provides a complete and up-to-date list of Colorado EV charging stations. Here are a few places to plug in along the CHHSL or within close proximity of the route.

Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Aspen, Paonia, Crested Butte, Buena Vista, Leadville, Durango, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Montrose, Ridgway, Salida and Telluride

EVs produce zero emissions, which means they don’t contribute to air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. Driving the CHHSL using EV charging stations along the way is a great way to experience both Colorado’s amazing natural hot springs and its beauty while minimizing your environmental impact.

Consult the map and hit the road to start your CHHSL journey today!