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Home / Articles / News / Cover Story /  All Warm, Some Naked: Utah's Hot Springs Page 4
Cover Story

All Warm, Some Naked: Utah's Hot Springs Page 4

Into Hot Water: Utah's love/hate relationship with its natural hot springs.

By Jim Catano
Posted // August 25,2010 -

Wet & Wild
For those who prefer the unstructured, noncommercial, wild hot-spring experience, Diamond Fork isn’t the only one worth finding. At the entrance to Ogden Canyon, just off 12th Street, two hillside pools regularly attract soakers. Unfortunately, those who gawk at bathers sometime show up, too—an occasional occurrence at hot springs close to “civilization.” Saratoga Springs is in a muddy mosquito-infested marsh but still interesting, Stinky Springs lives up to its name, and places like Baker in the west desert attract dedicated soakers willing to travel long, dusty roads (Visit CityWeekly.net for directions and more information).

Utah’s most beautiful natural hot pool is probably at Meadow Hot Springs. It ranges between 98 and 102 degrees and has the look of something you’d see at Yellowstone. Around its edge is a rough, rocky ledge (wearing footwear is a good idea) at just about the right depth for seated soaking. Beyond that, the sides slope toward an intense blue and deep center.

When he bought the springs about 10 years ago, billionaire inventor Jim Sorenson envisioned a physical and spiritual healing retreat, but that didn’t happen prior to his death in 2008. Now, Meadow Hot Springs may become unavailable for public use because Sorenson’s heirs are selling them. Hopefully, the new owners will continue to allow their traditional public access or will commercially develop them rather than horde them for private use.

Where’s the Flow?
But falling into private hands isn’t the biggest threat to Utah’s hot springs. In fact, according to Mystic’s Ginsburg, “In this age, springs are really better off under private management.” He may have a point, since wild hot springs are seeing increased use and are often abused. Serious soakers regularly cart off bags of trash. Glass bottles should never be brought to a spring where they’re all too often broken, but that happens, too.

Of course, a geological shift can seal the fate of a hot spring, but it’s more common for humans to alter things. Castilla Hot Springs at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon was once a thriving recreational resort attracting miners and rail passengers. And, like many other Utah resorts, Castilla declined and died, and the unmonitored pools were used for years by locals and travelers in the canyon. But drugs and underage drinking were common, so in the 1980s, local authorities dynamited the springs and diverted the water.

Could a similar fate befall nearby Diamond Fork? According to U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Doug Jones, “The county made a request a while back to do that, but we turned them down.” He added, “The Forest Service manages the land, but we have no intention of destroying what someone else built there.” Jones, however, won’t support any new pools up there. “If someone tries to build something else, we’ll probably take action.”

Diamond_Fork_upper_pools.jpgAnd that’s OK with one of the three builders of Diamond Fork’s pools. People have been building pools for soaking at Diamond Forks since at least 1977. The current pools began to take form in 1988 when individuals such as Ron Lindley, his cousin Marty Nelson and “Spike” (some soakers remain anonymous) packed in a few pounds of cement on each of many trips to construct the pools that many believe formed naturally. The pools above the falls were only completed a few years ago.

Lindley would like to see overnight camping at Diamond Fork prohibited or require a paid permit to fund upkeep. He cites the volunteer-supported Deep Creek Hot Springs in California as a prototype.

And humans pose another threat to hot springs: drilling to tap geothermal resources for energy can reduce or eliminate the water flow to a hot spring. Such a condition seems to exist at a hot spring near Point of the Mountain. Josh Davis, owner of Tropical Fish Wholesale, said that his father bought the hot spring there (also known as Crystal) in 1965, and the family once had a thriving enterprise raising tropical fish in an 80-degree pond it fed. A few years ago, he believes the state began pumping more hot water from a geothermal well it drilled that taps into the same aquifer feeding Davis’ spring; his pond temperature dropped, and the operation had to be moved.

Greg Peay, director of the administrative services bureau for the Department of Corrections, reports that the prison’s geothermal well does heat several buildings and preheats its culinary and laundry water, but his department doesn’t even extract all the water for which the prison has water rights. He also believes a commercial flower growing operation has recently put in two more wells that draw from the same aquifer. So, just like any resource utilized by humans, there’s a limit to every good thing.

The managers of the more northern Crystal Hot Springs are somewhat concerned about the underground resource they depend on. It’s being tapped by a new Proctor & Gamble facility nearby, but general manager Jeremy Johnson is “hopeful the resource is vast enough to supply us both.” Neither Davis nor Johnson is aware of legal remedies they could resort to if others take what once flowed to them.

Wild or Mild
For now, many of Utah wild hot springs remain alive and well. Of course, the idea of dodging rattlesnakes on a challenging trail only to share the water with an ample population of smelly, floating globs of algae is not for everyone. And because microscopic critters inhabit standing warm water, some experts recommend never putting your head beneath the surface in a wild hot spring.

Given the challenges, most people opt to get into hot water at a developed resort. But Utah’s commercial hot springs may still be a little rough around the edges for some. If you’re looking for immaculately maintained modern facilities, consider Idaho’s state-owned Lava Hot Springs—a 2 1/2 hour drive north—although soakers like Lori Grant of Salt Lake City could “do without those webcams that display who’s soaking.” If you want the high-end, full spa treatment with herbal massages and clay body wraps, the granddaddy of resorts in the West is Glenwood Springs, Colo.,—five hours by car, nine by Amtrak.

But if you can tolerate a few quirks and imperfections, Utah’s commercial hot springs offer something that, judging from the number of foreign accents heard, the rest of the world appreciates more than we do. And if you opt for wild hot springing, the soaker community welcomes all who adopt its ethics—don’t be obnoxious, no glass, no sex in the pools, and do haul away your trash and then some.

To all those willing, “Come on in! The water’s incredible!”

Jim Catano is a freelance writer and editor, green entrepreneur and au naturel soaker.





Want to "Hot Spring"?
Here's a list of Utah's commercial and better known wild springs:
Utahoutdooractivities.com/springs.html

A history of Utah's former hot spring resorts (Note: Pah Tempe has now re-opened)
geoheat.oit.edu/bulletin/bull25-4/art3.pdf

Soaking etiquette:
deepcreekvolunteers.com/brochure.pdf

Utah commercial hot spring resort sites:
Crystal crystalhotsprings.net
Mystic mystichotsprings.com
Pah Tempe pahtempe.com

Sites for serious soakers:
soakersbible.com
hotspringsenthusiast.com
soak.net
soakersforum.com
groups.yahoo.com/group/SaveDiamondFork/

A caution about written guidebooks. Even Marjorie Gersh-Young’s most current 2007 edition of the very good Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest: Jayson Loam's Original Guide has outdated information. For example, you no longer "ford the stream" at Fifth Water (Diamond Fork), Mountain Spa Resort in Midway is closed, and Pokey Hot Spring no longer exists.

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 23,2014 at 09:21 We biked into Fifth Water/Diamond Fork last weekend to soak in the springs and it was amazing. Check out the full adventure brief on the site - http://alexdeckard. com/fifth-water-hot-springs

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // June 18,2012 at 13:24

Diamond Fork is the quintessential hot springs in Utah and up until a couple years ago I alwyas soaked au natural, regardless of whether it was day or night. I don't see the big deal with soaking au natural, and it has nothing to do with sex. Americans can be such prudes when it comes to naturist activities. I'll wear my boxers if I absolutely have to, but it's more to avoid getting a ticket for 'lewdness'. It's absurd the local authorities would even consider writing a ticket to someone soaking in a hot springs sans shorts - they don't have anything better to do?

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 30,2010 at 09:48

Hi,

Mystic Hotspring has a sexist double stanard attitude about monokini or speedo suits on men. I was told to leave. Vibes very low there among the dead hippy rednecks.

 

Posted // August 31,2010 at 11:54 - Sounds like you are one them who wear cloths in the water. Most people do there laundry at the laundromat kidkolob. How about buying an actual swim suit. There's nothing more disgusting than people wearing cloths in the water at hotsprings. If we were all naked as many hotsprings allow there would be no issue at all.

 

Posted // August 31,2010 at 04:15 - To give you the benefit of the doubt, I googled “monokini on men”. How dare you!

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 26,2010 at 18:19

5% saline is reeeal high, and not what's in amniotic fluid- it's just under 1%.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 26,2010 at 04:36

No offense BlackMamba, but get over yourself. We all have the same parts (ok, well in two varieties), and since it's not about sex, why would one care what people look like? Enjoy nature the natural way, s'all good :)

 

Posted // August 26,2010 at 09:41 - It's ok, I was just teasing. I went nude body surfing in Santa Baraba years ago and had a blast. There were about 20 naked fellow humans playing volleyball on the beach and that was a sun-burned, jiggle-fest I may never recover from seeing. But the naked part was a really a great experience. It just felt right, especially in the water.

 

 
 
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