Hot springs are popular in Colorado. From the mass market, easily accessible Glenwood Springs to the backcountry, yet still-too-popular Conundrum, you can’t spend much time in this state without experiencing the magic of being immersed in 102-degree water on a 15-degree winter night. Even in the summer, evenings in the mountains are cool enough to make a soak in naturally heated water desirable.
However, you may want to research what to expect before you go. Earlier this month, some friends and I took our first camping trip of the season to Steamboat Springs, which, as you might imagine from the name, has some hot springs. While we had all heard of the Strawberry Hot Springs, only one of our group had previously visited. We were eager to check it out, and after a long day of hiking, some therapeutic heat sounded perfect. Our experienced friend mentioned there might be some nudity and the website mentions that people under 18 are not allowed after dark, but these mild indicators of adult behavior were inadequate warning for what we found.
First, we didn’t realize it would be completely dark. There are no lights, except at the pay station and in the changing cabin, which is a tiny unisex cabin with little privacy and no toilet. No one was using flashlights, and while thousands of stars dotted the sky above us, because of the surrounding mountains, there was no illuminating moonlight either. People carefully toed their way down the stairs, warning those behind them when a step up or down was ahead. Second, while the parking lot was small, which restricted the number of people that could be in the springs at any one time, the pools were still packed. Packed with naked couples, engaged in all sorts of behaviors, who we couldn’t see very well. Standing in the middle of the first pool, attempting to avoid accidental contact with anyone, I felt a bit like this:
Not all of us were successful in avoiding such contact. We moved from one pool to the next and found a little waterfall running between them. My friend wanted to stand under the waterfall for a moment, made her way over, hands outstretched in the walk of the newly blind, and suddenly was groping a male body in the spot she was hoping to relax in. She shrieked, we giggled, apologies were made, and we retreated to the previous pool in embarrassment.
I managed to find an empty spot along the wall to cling to (unavoidably next to a naked couple making out) and stayed there (back turned) until the others were ready to go. I was slightly uncomfortable. OK, I was extremely uncomfortable. The gross-out factor was just too high. A little keyboard research shows you don’t have much to be afraid of in terms of bodily fluids and disease and bacteria in a natural, flowing spring (it is certainly far safer than a hot tub) but psychologically, if you don’t want a bunch of limp willies and bare boobs floating around, perilously close to making contact with your skin, you may want to avoid Strawberry after dark. The ideal time might be 10 AM on a Thursday, right after the pools have been drained and cleaned.