PAGOSA SPRINGS - It had been a long, hot motorcycle ride that day, so by the time The Springs Resort and Spa came into view, it was time for a beer, and then a soak.
Southern Colorado is a good day's road trip from Vail, but the lower part of the state's allure is strong. The mountains are still there, but the San Juans have a different look and feel. Those mountains loom over and around Pagosa, which sits at the base of Wolf Creek Pass.
People have known about the hot springs ever since the Utes roamed this country. Early settlers made good use of the water's alleged healing properties, too. But it's taken the owners of The Springs Resort and Spa to make the place remarkable.
Unlike the hot springs at Glenwood Springs, Ouray or other soaking spots, The Springs Resort and Spa has built a number of pools around the resort. All are fed by the resort's "mother spring," a source of mineral water that bubbles from the ground at between 120 and 150 degrees, depending on the time of year. That water is fed to pools with names including Twilight, Cozy Cove and Lobster Pot.
The Lobster Pot, as you can guess, is usually kept at 110 degrees or more, but other pools range in the mid-90s and higher.
If you go for the hotter pools, be careful; everyone at the resort encourages guests to drink water constantly. Even a couple of long soaks in relatively temperate 100-degree pools left me with a powerful thirst.
The springs are the draw
There's a day spa, of course, and there are a couple of snack bars around the pool, as well as any number of lounge chairs, the better to take a quick break from the hot water.
While the pools are a delight, perhaps the best way to enjoy them is to stay at the lodge. Standard rooms are good mid-level hotel fare, and there are plenty of towels to go around. Rates can be around $200 per night, but there's value there if you and the family go.
Perhaps the best part of a lodge stay is the fact that guests have 24-hour access to the pools. Check in, spend an afternoon soaking, head to dinner at one of the town's many restaurants - my choice was a sandwich and a beer at the Pagosa Brewing Company - and then head back for the evening.
The next day, you can stay at the pools all day. You'll have to load the car, but you can keep soaking, then shower and change in one of the resort's locker rooms.
If you're in Pagosa for more than just a night, the town has shopping - from rubber tomahawks to fine jewelry and more - as well as golf and, of course, the kind of access to public lands that we in the Rockies have come to love.
In the winter, the springs are a great end to a day of skiing at Wolf Creek, which remains one of the state's untamed ski areas.
But the springs are the draw. The Utes and many who've followed have ascribed healing powers to those waters. But at the least, those water will cure a day of "been on the road all day."