All Warm, Some Naked: Utah's Hot Springs | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

August 25, 2010 News » Cover Story

All Warm, Some Naked: Utah's Hot Springs 

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

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Rocking Out in Hot Water
Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe were once used by American Indians and by explorers and settlers traveling the Old Spanish Trail. By 1905, a resort featured an indoor pool and large dance hall, but the music died in 1950.

However, Mystic’s current owner is reviving the tradition of hot spring resorts being places for entertainment. Mike Ginsburg and his wife, Lori, discovered the place in 1995 when driving home to Denver from one of the last Grateful Dead concerts in Las Vegas. Lori spotted Mystic on the map not far off Interstate 70, and they became so enamored that 11 months later, they’d bought the place and moved in with their two young daughters. The marriage didn’t last, but Mike stayed.

The first thing visitors encounter is a dusty trailer park that looks like it was plopped there in the ’60s and aged without intervention. Spread about are 30 small log cabins in various states of disrepair that Mike has purchased from neighboring farms and is slowly turning into overnight lodgings—his “Save the Cabins” program.

The four currently in use don’t have air conditioning, plumbing or even insulation, but they’re long on authenticity and charm. Also hard to ignore is a collection of antique farm implements and 10 vintage school buses Mike is gradually outfitting as overnight accommodations— his “Hippie for a Night Experience.”

“Mystic Mike” wants the experience of getting into his hot water to be one of “full physical, mental and emotional awareness of the unifying and Earth-connecting energy that soaking in the springs can create.” But while the hippie/New Age vibe runs deep, the resort maintains a strict “no drugs, alcohol or nudity” policy in the public areas.

Mike pressed into service several claw-foot tubs he found discarded on the 140 acres and placed them against the massive and still-growing rust-colored deposits of calcium carbonate—the stuff you don’t want building up in your bathroom. The melted wax-looking formations loom above as water trickles over them into the tubs. Mike’s certain the Cialis ad campaign is based on a photo of his “adjoining tubs with a view” that Patagonia had previously used in a display photo.

Getting to the tubs requires ascending a rough stone stairway. Water emerges from the source at 168 degrees and cools in a mineralized trench before being routed to the tubs. Take a flashlight to make it back safely after dark on a moonless night. Below the tubs, the two more easily accessible main pools attract larger groups, families with kids and those unwilling or unable to climb the steps.

And then there’s the music. After he walked away from his Denver career as a computer animator, Mike began inviting up-and-coming jam bands from a wide variety of genres to do gigs at Mystic. He books them on off nights, especially if they’re on the road between Southern California and other Western cities.

He’s convinced many Wasatch Front artists and their fans to make the almost three-hour drive for a show, a soak and a stay or camp-over on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night. Mystic has hosted more than 700 concerts for which Ginsburg produces professional-quality videos, and 160 are viewable on YouTube.

If you’re there for a show (see schedule here), you might catch an outdoor set from a large lawn, from the main pool area “mezzanine,” which lacks a direct view of the stage, or from the most unusual “balcony” you may ever see: Soaking tubs overlook the stage, the town of Monroe, the lush agricultural valley it sits in and the hills beyond.

It’s hard not to be charmed by a self-described “Jewish Deadhead voluntarily trapped behind the Zion curtain.” Mystic Mike makes an effort to get along with his Mormon neighbors, and his tee-totaling ways—he wouldn’t accept a liquor license if it were given to him because “alcohol dulls the finer vibrations, creates a fog and ruins the moment”—and his somewhat prudish (but prudently consistent with state law) no-nudity policy probably help.

Mike believes soaking can help skin problems and ease muscle aches, but doesn’t think there’s much magic beyond that. However, maybe that’s because, while Mystic’s water does have a very high mineral count at about 7,000 parts per million, the bulk is calcium carbonate, as opposed to the broad spectrum of rare minerals found in hot spring waters that are considered more therapeutic.

But Mystic Mike’s resort formula seems to be working for a growing clientele, and many who come seem genuinely captivated. Those who sing Mystic’s praises the loudest may be the musicians he books. Former Salt Laker Gigi Love, now based in Durango, Colo., finds something special when she performs in the “high vibe” at Mystic. She’s toured professionally for 12 years and claims the waters of Mystic help her “heal while on the road” and “knock out a case of depression and loneliness.” She’s seen “rainbows coming off snowflakes” while soaking during the winter and tells other musicians that the environment “will make your music better, and you’ll find your essence.”

Lead singer, drummer, and mandolinist Talia Keys and her group Marinade recently had their first gig at Mystic. She reports being “definitely hooked” even though their audience was far smaller than the 100 to 300 they typically draw. Feeling “extremely rejuvenated,” she wants to return and plug into “the old-school hippie vibe.” She also found soaking in Mystic’s rustic tubs to be “way cooler than the giant swimming pool” she was in at a Jackson Hole hot spring resort.

Mike is OK with the fact that Mystic is not as busy as it could be. Between individual customers trickling in from across America, Europe and Asia, family reunions and groups seeking a spiritual retreat, Mystic’s bills are getting paid. And that’s just fine by him.

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