Guilty Pleasure at the Vapor Caves

The drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70 takes you through Glenwood Canyon, a gorgeous spectacle of rock face to the north and deep canyon to the south, carved out more than ten thousand years ago by the Colorado River. The canyon provided the first automobile route through the Colorado Rockies, and today the California Zephyr train from Denver to Grand Junction runs through here. The twelve-and-a-half mile long canyon follows the Colorado from Dotsera, south and west to the river’s confluence with Roaring Fork, and makes for a spectacular entrance to Glenwood Springs.

The town is famous for its enormous hot springs pool—the biggest one on the planet, in fact—but another hot springs facility lies nearby, with its own claim to fame as the only natural hot springs vapor cave in North America. Yampah Spa & Salon – The Hot Springs Vapor Caves is visible from the highway, wedged against the hillside. I stopped by on a cool spring day, to do some research for a hot springs book, and the manager, Ann Hoban, graciously invited me to explore the caves and spa. 


Storm clouds threatened from the west that day, and I was dressed for the weather, but not the vapor caves. Underground in the steamy chambers, it was hot—very hot—and I quickly regretted my waterproof attire.  After pealing off some layers my body and my eyes adjusted, and I found there were people tucked away in here, reclining on stone benches and languidly oblivious to my presence. Upstairs, more of the same, folks lounging in the solarium, cocooned in thick robes and Turkish towels, asleep or deeply involved in a novel or magazine. Outside on the deck a few folks had found a warm spot to catch some rays—and some zees—in the afternoon sun. I walked through hallways lined with private rooms, heard the muffled, relaxed tones of people enjoying every sort of spa treatment.


One floor up there was a salon with big windows that looked out onto the hillside, and a few bighorn sheep were loitering there, no doubt wondering what was going on at the moaning house today. Here, a woman was relaxing in a chair, head back, eyes closed, while her feet were rubbed and pumiced in preparation for a pedicure. Pots of ayurvedic clay, chocolate mud and seaweed lined the walls, tools of the body treatment trade, while more massage tables lay silent as mummies, patiently waiting their turn with the next client, the next massage, the next thirty minutes of therapeutic splendor.

Hushed voices emanated from the walls, were these ghosts of the vapor caves, or just more clients, murmuring in approval at having every last kink worked out? It didn’t matter, this wasn’t a place for visitors, lurkers or peeping Susans, and so I soon took my leave. The Yampah Spa is a guilty pleasure, a gift you give yourself, on those all-too-rare occasions that you allow yourself to totally check out from the world. It’s something to look forward to, in lives too often filled with things we don’t.


Yampah Spa & Salon – The Hot Springs Vapor Caves Glenwood Springs, 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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