Friday, May 1, 2009

Into the Caves

So yesterday I had my massage and trip through the vapor caves in Glenwood. The massage was nice, but I think I was more wow'd by the caves.

Glenwood Springs is known for its hot springs and the caves surrounding the area. A big tourist draw is the Fairy Caves where you can go on a tour through these caves with amazing formations. We've been twice--once before we lived here and then again when some friends came to visit (hello, Lindseys!). The caves are pretty cool.

The caves I went to yesterday were the vapor caves, which I had never been to before. The spa is built over the caves. These caves have natural underground hot mineral water steam baths. Hot mineral waters flow through the cave floors at 125 degrees F (there are all sorts of signs warning you not to touch the water) to create natural geothermal steam baths. The vapor caves consist of three adjoining underground rock chambers. From inside the spa, you go down a set of stone stairs and pass through a stone corridor into the caves.

I have to say, as cool as it was, it was a little bit freaky, too. First, it's pretty dark and I wondered if someone was waiting in there to murder me. These are the types of thoughts you have when you descend into a cave after reading Patricia Cornwell books. But really, all I could think about was Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher being hunted by Injun Joe.

The first corridor you descend into isn't that hot, but as soon as you go around the corner, it was like hitting a wall of humidity. It was immediately like I had stepped out of a pool--I was soaking wet. the air is that heavy.

Second, they talk about the "natural steam vapor in the warm, dimly lit cave chambers." Let's be honest here: it's not warm, it's bloody hot and it's pretty stinky. Not in a "I'm about to gag up my breakfast way" but it's a pretty sulfuric smell. It definitely wasn't a good smell, but it wasn't unbearable. And supposedly it's good for you. My sinuses did feel better down there than they have in a long time. In fact I pondered for about 1 millisecond whether I could get Finn in there to soothe his sinuses. The answer is no. And besides, it would make his hair go crazy.

Cave temperatures average 110 -112 degrees F. They recommend you stay in there only 10 - 12 mintues at a time and they have plastic tubs that you can fill with cool water and keep next to you if you want to splash some cool water on you. As a cave virgin, I didn't know about the little tubs or that you could also get a eucalyptus spritzed washcloth at the desk to really get your sinuses on full alert.

So I was in a cave--a real live cave--wondering around. There are stone benches all over the place where you can sit and hang out for your 10 - 12 minutes at a time. I sat down in the biggest room, just because there was no one in that particular room, and looked around. Pretty amazing and weird to think there was an entire building and part of a mountain over my head.

My thoughts:
-I hope there aren't any bats in here.
-I can hear the water running down the crevices of the cave and across the floor. Is it going to burn me? How do you NOT touch the water in here?
-Where is Injun Joe?
-What if I dose off and evaporate?
-What if the cave suddenly collapses?

You know, because I'm such a positive thinker that way. I had all of those thoughts in the first 60 seconds or so and then I relaxed and sniffed the sulfuric air.

The weird thing is though is that even though it wasn't busy, this is the off-season here now, you'd walk through the caves and people would just be in these alcoves or rooms and it felt like I was totally invading their privacy. I wasn't sure what the cave protocol was--do you just join people in the various cave rooms? Do you try to find your own alcove or cave room? What is the cave ettiquette? So after blundering upon several people, I ended up in the biggest room on my own. I wanted to explore around a little more, but again, it felt weird going in and gaping around while people were in there trying to relax. And while everyone is supposed to wear a bathing suit, I later heard someone say, "That guy just walked up the step totally naked!" I think that would have sent me over the edge. Remember, modesty is my hallmark.

From the vapor caves Web site:
The Ute Indians who originally inhabited this region visited these caves for centuries, and regarded them as a sacred place of healing and rejuvenation. Visitors today still honor that tradition. The Vapor Caves purify body and spirit as they soothe away aches and pains. The Indians had done much to spread the fame of the hot mineral springs as a wonderful healing source. Early settlers used holes scooped into the ground and shielded by pine boughs as their bathtubs, an idea copied from the Indians who brought their sick to the springs for treatment.

These are the only known natural vapor caves in North America ...others are manmade excavations.

So I don't know how pure I was when I came out, but it was quite an experience. And in the end, I didn't see Tom, Becky, or Injun Joe. Or Patricia Cornwell.


Jane Copes (Professor Sepoc) said...

Almost like a sauna, except you have clothes on and there isn't a screaming plunge into a cold lake. Very cool! (I'm a chemist who likes geology) Jane

Beth said...

That sounds both exceptionally weird and amazingly interesting at the same time.

I always feel awkward in a spa setting. I don't understand the protocols, and I always feel like I'm doing something I shouldn't be doing. It's hard to relax, even during a massage! I must be one of those socially inept homeschoolers or something.

Mountain Mama said...

I am surprised you did not see Injun Joe. I heard that he is STILL alive and THAT is the cave he lives in!!!

QUIT reading serial killer books!!!

Glad you got a massage. (and no one's head came off)

Mom2Toribug said...

Ooooh! I want to go!!! I would love to do that. One time while in North Carolina my husband and I wanted to go to a hot springs, but you had to make the appt. 2 weeks in advance. Since we didn't know about them until we got there that weekend we couldn't go. Sounds similar to this except you actually sit in the water.