A History of Hot Water

Soaking in Ouray is a Centuries-Old Tradition

Ouray’s many hot springs have been a natural draw for the bone-weary for centuries. The town’s hot springs have bubbled up along the Uncompahgre River and from underground fissures for thousands of years and range in temperature from 80 to 150 degrees. Ouray is located along a large geological lift at the head of the Uncompahgre Valley and the pressure and heat from this activity resulted in a series of clean and odorless hot springs. The same geologic forces that made the town rich in minerals and ore also produced some of the largest and most pleasant hot springs in the United States.

historic ouray hot springs poolPhoto courtesy of the Ouray County Historical Society

The Ute Indians who settled the Uncompahgre Valley considered the mineral springs sacred and healing, and other tribes traveled for days to visit the springs. In the 1870’s, prospectors and miners moved into the San Juan Mountains and founded the City of Ouray in 1876. In 1881, after a series of failed treaties, the federal government removed the Ute tribe to a reservation in eastern Utah. With that move, the Utes lost their native lands, including the ceremonial hot springs that they called “Miracle Waters.”

Ouray’s first indoor swimming pool and bath house was located on the west side of town near today’s Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings. W.J. Buchanan, called Buck by the townspeople because he always wore buckskin pants, purchased his land from the city in 1877 for $12.70. His wife, “Mother Buchanan,” offered miners a hot bath to wash away the soreness of weeks of hard physical labor. The cost of the bath depended on the length of the soak. Ladies held “plunge parties” in her outdoor pool, which measured about 20 by 30 feet in size.

In 1920, several of Ouray’s local leaders banded together with the intention of erecting a large, outdoor pool. Citizens bought memberships, and businesses contributed funds and materials to the venture. After six years of planning and delays, the pool opened on July 4, 1927. One of the largest crowds in Ouray’s history attended the opening.

Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center Renovation Project

Since that opening day, the Ouray Hot Springs Pool has served the local and regional communities as the premier destination for relaxation, family fun and amazing views. After 88 years of operation and countless visitors, the pool facility is beginning to show its age. In the autumn of 2012, the City of Ouray organized a citizens committee that was tasked with reviewing, prioritizing and recommending essential improvements to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center Facility. In August of 2015, the Ouray City Council adopted and approved the final master plan design for the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. The master plan design lays out years of hard work and compromise amongst the many interests within the community to produce a pool facility that will continue to create lasting memories for future generations to come. Click here to see what’s in store for the future!

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