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.