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Paradox Springs: Mt. Princeton Hot Springs

We rose after the sun did, and idly prepared for a somber drive through Southern Colorado. Our destination would be a hot spring near Salida for a little bit of fun and relaxation. The two-hour drive from Pueblo to Salida seems much less when you’re in good company. Sheela had never seen the other side of the Wet Mountains before, or any other part of SoCo for that matter. We drove through Canon City, passing the prisons, before driving between the tan, tree-specked cliffs. Through both stretches there is little color or vibrancy, but travel a little farther, and nature’s wonders become livelier.

As we drove through the Wet Mountains, traveling alongside us was the icy Arkansas River. Some parts of the river were frozen completely over, while there were other parts where white waters emerged from beneath, rushing powerfully. I told Sheela that there were big horn sheep in this area and we should keep a lookout.

Meanwhile, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ navy curve and white-dusted peaks are hidden by the Wet Mountains. Farther upstream, a truck idles on the side of the road as the driver watches several big horn sheep enjoy their lush bit of grass near the roadside. As quickly as the moment comes, it leaves and the sheep bound over the fence, up into the hill with ease. 

After our short lunch in Salida at Wallbangers, and a friendly chat with the locals about the best hot springs outside of town, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort was the next destination on our list to check-off. 

It was only a short 18 miles from Salida to Nathrop. How anyone can properly drive with the majestic painting of the mountain range in the backdrop is a mystery to me. Nevertheless, we reached County Road 162, a long stretch of road that looked like it would lead us straight into the base of a mountain. At the end of the road was the paradise we were searching for. 

After making our way down the cliff, we made a quick entry into the Historical Bathhouse, where we were barely greeted by our hosts. Sheela and I, both being brand new to a hot spring, waited for the, “What can we do for you today?” courtesy greeting. We never got one. Instead, we finally made the first move, voicing that this was our first time to this particular hot spring in effort to find out what this one was like. 

After very little explanation of the facilities and the description of the reasonably priced rates, it looked like this place might be a little less comfortable than we thought. Then, the host told us about the Chalk Creek pools on the river line. It was just what we were looking for, a natural spring, not something man-made. We quickly paid, changed, and made our way out the door, but not without the much warmer welcome we hoped for from another host at Mt. Princeton.

As I walked alongside the river, I could see where people mistake the river for being normal. There was nothing but a shallow, rushing river with plenty of rocks. The steam could barely be seen from the road. The geothermal water spits from a pipe and directly into the creek but still rushes within the boulder’s man-made parameters. 

The water wept slowly down the river line into various sizes of one-foot pools. Several people were already lying in the waters, bikinis on, eyes closed, in deep serenity. We found a spot for ourselves. It was shallow and filled with the sparkling sand we had heard about. The water was hot, 106 degrees, unless the rocks are rearranged. That causes different water flows and different temperatures. As we stepped into the perfectly warm water, the world around became sublime. 

We lay, rejuvenating for nearly two hours, forgetting the winter chill that would accompany the dusk. The sun shone at our back, the sand smoothed our rough skin and the warmth of mineral water calmed our every trouble. The steam rose above the boulders, and the water trickled through cracks and crevices, leaving us nearly unwilling to depart. 

For a three-hour adventure, Mt. Princeton was worth kicking off the boots, unwrapping the scarves and ditching the winter jackets. We had found a warm, winter wonderland in Nathrop, Colorado. 

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