Hot Springs Draw Visitors, Dollars To Region

By Caitlin Switzer

OURAY COUNTY—It was the early 1970’s, and Linda Wright-Minter had just built her dream home in New Mexico with her husband. Upon finishing their home, the young couple decided to take a vacation in California. On the way back, they stopped in Ouray.

“Before moving to Albuquerque I had been living in Germany ,” Wright-Minter said. “On our vacation we had spent time with some Germans who suggested that we visit the Wiesbaden, a word that actually is German for ‘metal bath.’

“So we came through Ouray, and afterwards I couldn’t get this place off my mind,” she said, “I couldn’t eat; I told my husband I could not get the Wiesbaden off my mind.”

Upon learning that the spa was for sale, Wright-Minter and her husband purchased the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings (625 5th St., Ouray), a local treasure that she has now owned and operated for 34 years.

Business, as always is excellent, and Wright-Minter hopes to have the Wiesbaden placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The process is time consuming, but would ensure that a local landmark and internationally known spa would remain unchanged, she said.

“There are corporations that want to level the place, and build as high as they can,” Wright-Minter said. “They want to change it a lot.” Wright-Minter said that 20 years ago she was offered $6 million for the Wiesbaden.

“This place has been written up in Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure, Sunset, National Geographic Traveler and the New York Times,” she said. “The thought of what could happen actually makes me sick.” The Wiesbaden, which offers a full range of spa treatments, sits above the emanations of several natural hot springs, which range in temperature from 85 to 134 degrees. One of the spa’s most sought-after features is the vapor cave, known for its therapeutic properties.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Ute Indians prized the hot springs for their healing properties. The original building at the site was constructed in 1879 as Mother Buchanan’s Bath House, according to the spa’s web site. Later incarnations include a stint as the Bates Hospital and Sanitorium in the 1920’s, at which time the natural vapor caves, known for their healing powers for arthritis, were enlarged.

The web site also notes that it is the temperature of the waters, combined with the powerful benefits if the minerals in the water, that create the healing effect. Benefits include increased circulation, reduced tension, a body cleansed of toxins, and pain relief. Soaking in the natural springs also benefits the skin, the body’s largest organ. The Wiesbaden maintains a strict no -pet, no smoking policy for the benefit of its guests—in keeping with that, no guests are allowed who have smoked at all in the past three months. To learn more, visit the web site at www.wiesbadenhotsprings.com, or call 970-325-4347.

For those whose preferred hot springs experience includes the clothing-optional option, Ridgway’s Orvis Hot Springs (21599 US Hwy 550) offers a charming and convenient alternative.

“If you haven’t been by in a while, we made a lot of improvements,” notes longtime Orvis manager Terése Seal. “Our gardens are amazing this time of year.”

Seal said that while Orvis does draw International visitors, 75 percent of its guests are from Colorado.

“In the greater scheme of things, this makes for a great inexpensive vacation,” she said. “We have six rooms and space for camping, and we have a community kitchen so you can cook.”

Orvis is busiest from mid-June through mid-October, Seal said.

“We are consistently busy every year,” she said. “We never even saw a drop-off during the recession.”

Orvis maintains a clothing-optional policy for the outdoor pool, and requires guests to wear swimsuits indoors between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Orvis Hot Springs offers day passes and annual memberships. To learn more about policies and mineral content, visit the web site at www.orvishotsprings.com, or call 970-626 -5324.

Perhaps the best known of the local hot springs is the Ouray Hot Springs Pool (1230 Main St. Ouray), open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer months, and which offers on-site massage services as well as a fitness center. The pool is located in a scenic park with a great playground and adjacent sports facilities, including a 1/4 –mile running track.

Most of the guests here come from the U.S., especially from the Western States, notes Manager on Duty Rebecca Even.

“We see a lot of people from Texas, a lot of people from Arizona,” Even said. “But we also see a lot of Germans, a lot of people from Russia. It’s great that people know to come here from all around the world!”

New for 2012 are water aerobics classes, she said.

“We are also offering private swim lessons for all ages,” Even said. The Hot Springs Pool has had an excellent summer despite a drought-related call on the Uncompahgre River, which briefly imperiled Ouray’s municipal water supply.

“Our numbers are up, and the water is nice and warm!” Even said. Call 970-3257073 for rates and general information.

Also enjoying a strong summer are Ouray’s Hot Springs Inn (1400 Main St. Ouray) , owned by R.W. Eberhart, and Rich and Karen Avery’s Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs (45 3rd Ave. Ouray).

“We are busy, probably neck and neck with last year,” Hot Springs Inn Clerk Katie said. “We opened in 2005, and we see a very eclectic mix of travelers— mainly Americans, but some Europeans too.” Hot Springs Inn can be reached at 970-325 -7277.

Clerk Nikki Komar at Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs said that business has picked up noticeably since Colorado’s widely-reported wildfires have been put out.

“We see more Americans than Europeans,” Komar noted, “July was pretty busy once the rains came.

“Ouray is such a wonderful place!” she added. “Come and soak! Unlike some other destinations, our hot springs are low in sulfur, so when you are sitting in our natural hot springs, there is no sulfur smell.”

Call Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs at 970-325-4981.