We have been pleasantly surprised by how many hot springs we have come across in the western United States. According to the New Mexico Tourism Department, there are many hot springs in New Mexico because "the state is geothermically active." But, what exactly is geothermal activty?
Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth of Consequences, New Mexico
Geothermal activity refers to heat that is generated in the Earth. This heat can come from a variety of sources or processes. The U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that "most active geothermal resources are usually found along major tectonic plate boundaries where most volcanoes are located," such as the ring of fire in the Pacific ocean.
You might be thinking, I don't recall New Mexico having volcanoes... turns out New Mexico has lots of volcanoes, they are just not currently active. Actually, most of the west is full of geothermic activity. That means heat is closer to the Earth's surface in those areas, which is why there are so many geothermal power plants in the west.
Geothermal activity usually is visible on the Earth's surface as three different natural features: volcanoes, geysers and hot springs. With so much geothermal activity out west it makes sense that there are tons of natural hot springs. However, some hot springs are great for soaking, while others like Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone have high concentraions of bacteria and are dangerously hot, and should NOT be used for soaking.
It is really important to note the distiniction that while the west is full of hot springs, not all are safe to enter. The dangerous activity being dubbed "hot potting", which refers to illegally entering into dangerous hot springs, has horrible consequences as noted in an article from the Outsider “The danger lies in the heat". The pools can reach temperatures of up to 205 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to cause third-degree burns in seconds. Those who have survived a dip in a Yellowstone hot spring have come out with skin peeling, their eyes white and blinded from the heat.”
While there are natural hot springs all over the west, we have started our exploration of western hot springs by visiting small hot springs owned and operated by small businesses. Each business that we have frequented has described what they do to make sure the springs are safe for humans. We would love to visit unestablished hot springs found in more natural settings in the future, but before we do so, we need to do more research so that we know how to assess if a spring is safe to enter before we take that plunge.
In the future, we will share any information we find about determining what makes a hot spring safe for humans. Until that time there are more than enough hot springs privately maintained to choose from in the area. In fact, the problem is more about pacing yourself than finding them! In the west it seems that every time you turn a corner, you run into another great hot spring. Financially this can get expensive quickly, but discounts and deals at good establishments can be found.
Our two favorite hot springs so far are: Orvis Hot Springs in Colorado & Riverbend Hot Springs in New Mexico. We'll be writing more on each of these places in detail in future blogs including information about best deals we found, what we liked about each, the things we wish we new before we went and the one thing that was a little out of our normal.
We now seek out hot springs when we hear about a good one. If you know of any natural hot springs we should mark on our travel map, please let us know!
To learn more about geotheral heat read this National Geographic ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY:
To find out more information on Yellowstone's geothermal activity read these articles:
What Is ‘Hot Potting’? Deadly Trend at Yellowstone National Park Results in Multiple Deaths https://www.outsider.com/outdoors/news-outdoors/what-is-hot-potting-deadly-trend-at-yellowstone-national-park-results-in-multiple-deaths
For the first time, scientists have mapped the network of underground geological pathways that feed Yellowstone National Park’s legendary geysers and hot springs