Native, Nature’s Nurturing … hot springs
Mineral waters and hot springs – the original spas – have been an important part of stress-relief and healing in many cultures for thousands of years. Towns with therapeutic hot springs grew into popular destinations for holiday retreats. Today this idea is intact but greatly expanded into modern health resorts offering total, integrated environments devoted to relaxation and re-energizing – and curing what ails you.
The spa trail may have been blazed by the Romans, who discovered the medicinal benefits of thermal waters, but many Native Americans developed their own traditions. According to Jayson Loam, author of “Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the U.S. and Southwestern Canada” they believed the Great Spirit resided in the earth’s center, and looked on these ‘Big Medicine Fountains’ as “a special gift from the creator.”
The central ingredient is a bubbly hot spring – the earth’s own champagne that’s hooked a new generation of spa-goers. Spa expert and professor of history and humanities at St. Philips College in San Antonio Texas, Jonathan Paul De Vierville, defines hot springs as being heated by the earth, not by technology, and the water of which contains unadulterated minerals with certain healing properties.
Hot springs are ponds, portions of a lake, or pools in which water has been naturally heated underground. The body of water housing hot springs can vary in size. Geologists think a particular combination of rocks and minerals found underground work together to create hot springs. It is believed these rocks and minerals trap hot springs and allow them to become fermented, which heats the water up. The heated water becomes sterilized and cause bubbles to rise to the surface.
The temperature of the surface waters must be well over the normal ground temperature in order to be considered hot springs. While the ground temperature in many areas averages 57ºF, hot springs reach temperatures in the low to mid-100s.
In the United States, the use of natural springs, especially geothermal ones, have gone through three stages of development: first, use by Indians as a sacred place, second development by the early European settlers to emulate the spas of Europe, and finally, as a place of relaxation and fitness.
The Native American Indians considered hot springs as a sacred place of Wakan Tanka (“Great Mystery” or Great Sacredum” in the Lakota language) and thus, were great believers in the miraculous healing powers of the heat and mineral waters. Every major hot springs in the U.S. has some record of use by the Indians. They were also known as neutral ground, where warriors could travel to and rest unmolested by other tribes. Here they would recuperate from battle. In many cases, they jealously guarded the spring and kept its existence a secret from the arriving Europeans for as long as possible. Battles were fought between Indians and settlers to preserve these rights. The early Spanish explorers such as Ponce de Leon and Hernando DeSoto were looking for the “Fountain of Youth,” which may have been an exaggerated story of the healing properties of one of the hot springs.
So, where to find these miracle geothermal waters?
There are over 115 major geothermal spas in the USA, and many smaller ones along with thousands of hot springs.
Saratoga Springs, New York, located north of New York City, had approximately 18 springs and hot wells discharging carbonated mineral water along a fault. The
Mohawk and Iroquois Indian tribes frequented the springs during hunting trips in the area.
Warm Springs, Georgia is another famous mineral springs in the U.S. The springs were used by Indians from as far away as New York, as they were on a major trail system. The trails later became military and post roads, with a tavern built in the early 1800s. A number of resorts were built in the area, including the very Victorian Meriwether Inn. It is known chiefly for the treatment of polio from the early 1920s to the 1960s. It was promoted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had polio and established the “Little White House” on the premises in 1932
Hot Springs, Arkansas was one of the most popular commercial spas areas in the U.S., created to imitate the development of great spas of Europe. This natural geothermal resource consisted of about 47 springs producing a total of 4 million liters of water per day. It is estimated that these hot springs have been used by humans for at least 10,000 years. The “Valley of the Vapors” was an honored and sacred place to the Indians. This was also neutral ground, where warriors of all tribes could rest and bath here in peace—a refuge from battle.
In Napa Valley, the Calistoga, California Hot Springs area was originally settled by the Pomos and Mayacmas Indians for at least 4000 years. These early people came from miles around to use the natural hot springs, fumaroles, and heated muds to soothe aches and pains.
They also built sweat houses and used the local cinnabar for red war paint. Calistoga is a geological mix of steaming geysers and hot marshlands that combines mineral water with volcanic ash from nearby St. Helena (not to be confused with Mt. St. Helens). It’s been one of the area’s main attractions since 1860.
When Mother Nature created thermal springs, she didn’t consider zip codes. Harbin Hot Springs, which sprawls across more than 2,000 acres in California’s somewhat remote Lake County, is a 2 1⁄2 hour ride from the airport in Sacramento or San Francisco. This is where the aquatic body work called Watsu originated, along with water dance and other esoteric treatments inspired by natural hot springs.
Hot springs come in a myriad of colors, from everyday clear water to sapphire blue to emerald green. Color depends on what wavelength of sunlight we see reflected off the pool’s surface.
The winter around the edge of hot springs comes in all colors, as well. In fact, water temperature can be estimated by the colors. Different microbes are present at different water temperatures. These microbes create the colors. “Cooler” temperature water is habitat for microbes creating darker colors. Microbes are colored by pigments like chlorophyll in green plants and carotene found in carrots. These microbes are known as thermophiles because they love heat, and you will love the heat and the benefits of these natural hot springs too.