On Cottonwood Time

The research for my book Touring Colorado Hot Springs involved a lot of travel around the state, soaking in hot springs pools and ponds, and meeting with hot springs management and staff. In the spring of 2011, these folks were all plenty busy preparing for the big Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kick-off to hot springs season. Although most of the hot springs in Colorado are open year-round, that weekend through Labor Day is when they attract the most soakers. So I was pleased and relieved when the staff at each one made time for me, to show me around their hot springs, allow me to soak, and answer all my questions.


It was pretty cold out, that spring morning when I drove to Buena Vista and Cottonwood Hot Springs. Lying east of 12,126-foot Cottonwood Pass, wedged between a handful of 14,000-foot mountains known as the Collegiate Peaks, in a tangle of cottonwood trees along the banks of Cottonwood Creek, the hot spring resort here can be quite chilly, even in May. I found the owner, Cathy Manning, in the great room with her hot springs guests, who were settled in around big tables, enjoying hot coffee, fruits and pastries. The place was surprisingly busy for the time of year—and the snap in the air—and even at this early hour of the day, about a dozen people were already soaking outside in the steamy pools. I asked Cathy about the hot springs business.

“This isn’t a hot springs business, this is a people business,” she said, “and that’s the best business in the world.”

Cathy talked about how it was to spend each day working at a place where you’re thankful for your customers, yet they thank you every day. Here, she said, people were on “Cottonwood Time.” They came in tired and worn from the day-to-day stressors of work, and of life, but left in a better place, and a better state of mind. She talked about living in the moment, being in the moment, and not thinking about what you did yesterday and what you have to do tomorrow. This was a place where her guests could do that, she believed, a place where they could clear their minds of the past and the future, and simply experience that moment of presence.

“You know when everything’s quiet and right, and you sit back in the hot springs and breathe? It’s when you just open your mouth and say ahhhhh… without even meaning to. We need more of that,” she said.

I soon found that Cathy and I shared a lot of the same philosophies about life, and how our culture was evolving.

“We used to be citizens. Now everyone is a consumer. When did that happen? We have to do something about that.”

Cathy is one of those people who can have a conversation, and it doesn’t have to be about the latest movie, or TV show, or fancy gadget that you just bought at the fancy gadget store. She can talk about those things that really matter, and I felt like I was talking to my mom, or one of my sisters. It was a heady discussion, and I was sorry to leave it. As I gathered up my things I thought about what she had built here, and why people kept coming back. But I had stayed a long time and was late, I told her, for my next hot springs appointment.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “you’ll be fine.” Then she added with a wink, “you’re on Cottonwood Time.”


Cottonwood Hot Springs Buena Vista, Colorado. Photos by Susan Joy Paul.

Touring Colorado Hot Springs 

(April 2012, FalconGuides) introduces you to 32 Colorado hot springs, with directions, maps, and the details you need to plan your hot springs vacation.

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