This past weekend we visited the Yampah Spa in Glenwood Springs, Colorado with my family. Located at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers, Glenwood Springs is home to the only known natural vapor caves in North America. It also contains the world’s largest natural hot springs pool and is the burial place of Wild West rapscallion Doc Holliday.
There’s a saying I remember from being a kid living in Colorado. “It’s Colorado, everyone wears jeans.” It’s a casual sort of state. Even in Aspen. So I knew right away that even though Yampah was a spa, it would be friendly and laid back. Yampah means “big medicine” in Native American Indian language. The Ute Indians frequented the Yampah vapor caves for centuries as a source of rejuvenation and healing. The untreated therapeutic steam rising through the geothermal caves contains 34 minerals including sulfate, nitrate, zinc, and potassium.
Having never experienced vapor caves, I pictured Tiki-like alcoves with donuts and slurpee machines, like what you’d find at a waterpark. And tiny metal steam nozzles like those in a health club steam room. I didn’t think they’d actually be “real.” I was wrong. After donning our swimsuits in the least fussy locker rooms known to man, we descended a dark stone stairway and entered the caves. They’re comprised of three adjoining rock chambers that hover around 112 degrees, and they reek of more sulfur than an auditorium full of rotten eggs. We started sweating. Our sweat started sweating. But after a couple minutes, my tension began loosening and all the menacing stress-bits of everyday life oozed from my pores. We spread our towels on slab marble benches and inhaled the fog emanating from the craggy rocks.
Once we perspired every last morsel of pre-holiday anxiety, we trudged back upstairs and rejoined the temperature-controlled world to enjoy individual full-body massages. Administered in a giant fluorescent-lit room partitioned by shower curtains, my massage reminded me of a really good hamburger: unpretentious and satisfying. When we were all done, we floated our happy bodies to a favorite local watering hole for elk burgers and draft ale. I couldn’t think of a better family outing.