Friday, August 15, 2014

Thermal Springs

For decades I have wanted to visit the thermal springs in Virginia. I had read about them when I was much younger and once I'd located them I would begin planning to drive up to see them. The main reason I wanted to go was that I'd read that one of them was large enough to swim in, and that's not something someone on the east coast expects to see.

There are, in fact, only a small handful of thermal springs here on the east side of the continent. Warm Springs in Georgia, Hot Springs in North Carolina, and the cluster of warm and hot springs in western Virginia north of Covington. This small region in Virginia actually hosts several thermal springs, the most prominent of them being the ones at the Homestead Resort in the village of Hot Springs (use reserved only for guests) and the Jefferson Pools in the nearby village of Warm Springs which are open to the general public even though they're owned by the folk at Homestead Resort.

Without knowing exactly where Jefferson Pools could be found, we struck out for a drive north of Douthat State Park toward Hot Springs. We passed by and stopped to see Falling Springs Falls along the highway (VA 220). It's an impressive waterfall with a sheer 80-foot drop. It was only later that I learned that it, too, is produced from a thermal spring that emerges at 85 degrees from private land nearby.

After that we came to the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs. The place is enormous and caters mainly to golfers (about half of everything around there seems to be named for Sam Snead). We looked around a bit, took some photos, and then moved on. Too rich for our working class blood. Heading north on 220 we came first to the tiny village of Warm Springs and there, right beside the highway, were the enclosed thermal springs called Jefferson Pools.

I quickly pulled into the parking lot, went to the office, and paid the $17 fee to soak in the thermal pools. There are two for soaking: one meant for men, the other for women. A third pool is outside the office and I was told that it is used for bottling the mineral water that bubble to the surface there.

Going into the main pool building I went to a dressing room and got into my swimming trunks. Every day from 10am until 1pm the pools are for family use. But after one they become bathing suit-optional and one pool is for male adults and the other for female adults. I wasn't keen on hanging out with a bunch of naked dudes so I was fine with the earlier soaking times.

The buildings are very old, dating back to the early 1800s. And named for Thomas Jefferson who, I was told, once owned them. The main pool is 6'8" deep and the water is clear with a slight greenish tinge. A pool attendant scoops out algae from time to time that is dislodged from the rocky bottom and sides. Bubbles of CO2 are constantly appearing from the floor of the spring to journey to open air. The roofs of the pool buildings are open--I assume to aid in dissipating the CO2 gas. You don't want to kill your customers. The water is very warm--88 degrees. About ten degrees cooler than the springs up the road at the Homestead Resort.

No active swimming is allowed, and patrons are asked only to whisper if they feel the need to speak. Being there was very relaxing and I quite enjoyed the hour I was there.

Falling Springs Falls.

I'd love to hike down to the bottom and get some photos. There is, apparently, a lot of travertine there accumulated over the years which would likely make for some inspiring shots.

The Homestead Resort.
Jefferson Pools! Right beside VA 220!
The office. The pagoda sits above the third, smaller spring. The women's pool house is there beside the office.

This is the spring below the pagoda.

The men's pool. With a depth of 6 feet 8 inches. I chose to soak in this pool because it's a good two feet deeper than the women's spring.

Inside, frog's eye view as I floated in the 90-degree spring water.
I took this shot just as I walked into the building. There is a wooden plank walkway around the perimeter. Stairs which you use to lower yourself into the very warm water.
Looking up toward the roof. It's mainly open with screen on the open spaces.

I took this while floating in the pool. You can see the constant rise of CO2 gas.

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