At the foot of the mountain they found the most beautiful climate in the world, for being directly under the portals of heaven it shared with the Spirits the overflowing of celestial light and atmosphere…And the Spirits…granted to the parents of mankind that their home should never know the curse of disease, but that it should be held sacred as a place of healing for all the tribes. As a pledge of their promise they sent to them Waters of Life, so that the land was made sweet, pestilence stayed, and all diseases healed. And such was the origin of the celebrated springs of Manitou, which retain all their miraculous virtues to this day.
- Ernest Whitney, Legends of the Pikes Peak Region, 1892
“Are you taking the cure?”
During Manitou Springs’ heyday as a famous health resort and spa destination, that was a common ice-breaker for genteel tourists enjoying their restorative health vacations. Gentle hikes in the pristine hills, clean air and water, hydrotherapeutic facilities and leading Balneologists, doctors specializing in treating disease with spring water, made Manitou one of the most attractive spots in the country to “take the cure.”
A cure for what, you might ask. A cure for what ails, of course. Cure for the frightening symptoms of boredom, overindulgence and general bad humor? Check. Cure for rheumatism and associated conditions? Check. Tuberculosis? Check. Cardiovascular issues, nervous exhaustion, hypertension, digestive disorders and even diabetes? Even these, as well as several other chronic conditions, are aided by ingesting mineral rich spring waters according to modern European and Japanese medical balneologists. In Nathaniel Altman’s book, Healing Springs: The Ultimate Guide to Taking the Waters, you can find an introduction to the field as well as an in-depth directory of the world’s most healing mineral springs.
In America, balneology and balneotherapy, which also involves applying and advancing the health benefits of spring water, were standard in medical education and practice until the meteoric rise of pharmaceutical treatments in the mid-twentieth century. Though mainstream for about a hundred years (1830s-1940s), the mineral springs movement did not last long enough to mature into a true socio-cultural tradition. If it had, it could have potentially resulted in formal research studies in American universities and full medical acceptance.
Even so, Manitou water has always been famous for putting the “spring” back in your step. But if the health benefits are truly there, why aren’t there lines at the springs of Manitou?
Well, sometimes queues do form. At Twin Spring on Ruxton Avenue, it’s quite possible to find a fast moving line of very sociable cure takers. Steve Dillon, 52, of Denver, pulled up with his mother and double-parked in his usual spot. He’s made the trip to Manitou with her every few weeks for the past fifteen years, partly because the 87-year old loves the drive and the destination, but to also fulfill his own needs. He fills up a few dozen empty water bottles to take back with him because, as he says, “Once you start drinking it, you’re rightfully addicted.”
Speaking with longtime residents about the town’s treasure water gives a better idea of why Manitou’s best-kept secret has remained so well guarded. Apart from total cultural ignorance on the subject of balneology, the number one reason is taste. Justin Bailey, 37, attests that the vast majority of tourists he’s seen tasting the water spit it out with a grimace and a hearty “Ugh!” He admits he didn’t like the taste as a kid, but, “I drink it every day now. It definitely grows on you.”
Others, like 44-year old Joe Megar, have consumed it practically every day for decades but don’t really see it as a cure. When asked if they experience any health challenges or concerns they blithely shake their heads “no” without making any metaphysical connection to the springs.
If there is a simple scientific answer for how such water can possess healing qualities, it’s to be found in the minerals they contain. European and Japanese balneologists have done extensive studies on the therapeutic value of mineral spring waters. Depending on their differing mineral contents, certain springs are much better for some conditions than others. For example, Manitou mineral water has a small amount of sulfates that in larger concentrations are known to promote a mild laxative effect.
Natural spring waters contain high quantities of essential minerals like magnesium. This important mineral is typically found in dark green veggies and protects us from heart disease. Drinking a cup of spring water is possibly a more appealing choice for those who abhor decorating their plate with anything green.
Proper human metabolism requires calcium, chlorides, copper, fluorine, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur, among others. Manitou waters contain all of these and other perks, like dissolved oxygen and lithium. Though poisonous in large amounts, lithium in small amounts can promote emotional balance and feelings of well-being.
Of course, not everybody in Manitou believes in the healing powers of the mineral waters. “At the end of the day it’s just water,” one resident said. “It’ll rot your gut,” said another. However, as far as addictions go, it's doozy.
The Springs of Manitou
Twin Spring - A tangy, full mineral flavor refresher. This water has plenty of calcium and potassium along with the highest magnesium content of all the springs.
Seven Minute - A crisp, light flavor with a slight metallic flair. Higher manganese and dissolved oxygen content deliver a noticeable pick-me-up effect.
Stratton Spring - Similar to Twin Spring, but with less aftertaste.
Cheyenne Spring - Sweet and pale flavor with high potassium and magnesium content. One of the original natural springs of Manitou along with the Navajo Spring, it is believed to have been flowing for at least 20,000 years.
Shoshone Spring - Light, slightly sour with a metallic aftertaste. With the highest concentration of manganese, calcium and sulphur in Manitou, Shoshone has perhaps the highest amount of dissolved minerals. Don’t forget that sulfates can activate a mild laxative effect.
Navajo Spring - Another of the original natural springs in Manitou, Navajo tastes like perfect tap water: still, slightly sweet and easy drinking. Also a bit alkaline compared with nearby springs.
Wheeler Spring - Strong metallic aftertaste but short on other flavors. Higher sulfate content can activate a mild laxative effect.
Iron Spring - Heavy iron flavor and slightly more acidic than other springs. This spring is a favorite of vegetarian Manatoids because of the iron.
As rain and snowmelt from Pikes Peak filter down through rock fractures to great depth, it becomes warm and mineralized. This heated water then flows up the Ute Pass fault into limestone and dolomite caverns where it is carbonated.
The water, now cooled, springs or is pumped from this limestone aquifer. After taking thousands of years to complete the journey from Pikes Peak sources to the aquifer, Manitou water is free of modern contamination.
Free walking tours of Manitou’s mineral springs are offered Tuesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Group tours may be arranged by appointment or by calling The Mineral Springs Foundation at 719-685-5089.
Ethan Engel works with ideas and words to produce sentences and even longer pieces.