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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The highest leaps plunge over the hillside and collapse in multiple segments at Upper Fish Creek Falls, Routt National Forest, Colorado. Photo by Susan Joy Paul.

Hiking Waterfalls in Colorado: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes

(July 2013, FalconGuides) is available for pre-order, with driving directions, route descriptions, maps, photos and GPS waypoints to 150 Colorado waterfalls.

Big Creek pours through the wilderness and tosses its waters over calico slabs at Big Creek Falls, Mount Zirkel Wilderness, Colorado. Photo by Susan Joy Paul.

Hiking Waterfalls in Colorado: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes

(July 2013, FalconGuides) is available for pre-order, with driving directions, route descriptions, maps, photos and GPS waypoints to 150 Colorado waterfalls.

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.

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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.”

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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.