Spiced Tea and More at Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs

I arrived a bit early to Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs in Ouray to find the front desk manager deep in conversation with a group of women—guests of the lodge and locals, it seemed—about hiking boots and blister prevention. Joanne Salette told me to help myself to the light continental breakfast she had laid out for her guests, while I waited for the owner, Karen Avery, to arrive. The lobby ladies were soon off on a hiking adventure, and I had some time to chat with Joanne. I learned that she had climbed all the Colorado 14,000-foot peaks—the “14ers”—some of them multiple times, and had the kind of knowledge and demeanor that would attract the attention of both newcomers and veterans in the sports of hiking and mountaineering. The peaks were one of my passions, but I was here for the hot springs, doing research for a book, and so that conversation would have to wait.

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I wandered the grounds a bit, taking advantage of the early hour to get some photographs, and climbed the outdoor redwood staircase behind the lodge. Natural hot springs poured from the hillside there, and platforms in the terraced decking were set with sunken hot tubs filled with the steaming hot springs water. It was there that I found Bill, the solitary morning soaker. He was from New Mexico, he said, and had lost his wife a few months prior. It had been a devastating experience for him and he had locked himself up in his home afterward, until his friends convinced him that he needed to get out, and so he had returned to one of his wife’s favorite places, the Box Canyon Lodge. There were so many memories for him here; it was a place they had enjoyed together year after year, he told me. She was with him now, he felt, and was glad that he had come here to soak in the hot tubs and relive his happiest times with her. I knelt at the tub to pay my condolences. We both cried a bit and then he smiled and apologized for his grief and we talked about the hot springs.

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I returned to the lobby and was on my second cup of spiced tea when Karen showed up, and gave me a complete tour of the place. She and her husband, Rich, had put a lot of time and effort into the Box Canyon Lodge, maintaining the buildings and property, while preserving the natural beauty of the site. It was Rich who had added the lovely benches and swings to the scenic perch high above the hot tubs. Karen was quite the green thumb, I found, as she showed me pots and flats of greenery she was growing about the place, all under the watchful eyes of some strategically placed garden gnomes. After our morning walk, Karen—an expert on the area—spent some time going through a bunch of Ouray brochures with me, circling the best hikes, places for wildflower viewing and leaf-peeping, and nearest ice-climbing routes. We returned to the lobby, and there was a fresh group of locals, lodge guests, or maybe a mixture of both, huddled at Joanne’s counter, discussing carbonite trekking poles.

The ladies at the Box Canyon Lodge know things. And I began to understand why the lodge is more than a place to relax and get away from it all; it’s also a place full of life, and a place to live life, where the seeds of fond memories might be sown. It’s a gathering place where locals and out-of-towners blend together to talk about hot springs, and hiking, and mountains, and blisters, over spiced tea and honey, but just for a while. Soon enough they are off, and I was too, knowing what was out there and not wanting to miss any of it.

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Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs Ouray, 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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