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The Lake of the Hot Springs

BY PATRICK HART

“Northward, curls of vapor ascending from a gleaming sheet- The Lake of the Hot Springs- set in a bezel of emerald green, and bordered by another lake-bench upon which the glooms of evening were rapidly gathering, hung like a veil of gauze around the mountains.” - Richard F. Burton

A lake once existed just west of Capitol Hill, three miles long, the drainage from dozens of hot springs that dotted the landscape. It was one of the first things that British explorer Richard F. Burton saw when he entered the valley, and his description of it seems as surreal as the writings of Spanish explorers first seeing South America. But no matter how beautiful there are few things humans hate more than “swampland” and the lake was slowly filled and hidden. Then the hot springs were built over, their waters piped away, and now the only reminder of the lake is the rather inaccurately named “Warm Springs Park”.

The pendulum swung towards freeways and refineries and poorly built tract-housing, all of which gives us the convenience of driving to Yellowstone or Lava Hot Springs, Idaho when we want to experience hot springs. We now have the pleasure of leaving Salt Lake and catching a glimpse of Warm Springs Park, a reminder of what used to be. And now the pendulum is swinging back and people are lamenting the disuse of the hot springs and the now rundown Wasatch Plunge building, and we are here to give it that little extra push.

There was a time in Utah’s history when people thought the hot springs would be renowned, known as a place of relaxation and healing throughout the nation, when the idea that they could disappear was laughable. Where would they go? Who would do such a thing? I believe that it is time to see the waters return, to bring back a place of healing, recreation, and soothing. Let the water pilgrims come experience the wonders of our springs, and, on a more selfish note, let’s take our own short pilgrimage to the waters and take a soak.

Zion, Damascus, a world apart, and yet – did the Mormon pioneers find their love of water on the road to Zion? Did they, like Paul on the road to Damascus, see wonder and miracles on the road? Perhaps they saw more, perhaps their new holy land outstripped the majesty of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Mecca:

“These springs, together with the fresh-water lake and the Jordan, are held to be more purifying than Abana and Pharphar, rivers of Damascus…”.

It is strange to think that these springs, so revered and celebrated should so quickly succumb to the rush for progress. Where once the first people of North America thawed their frozen limbs there is only cold asphalt. Where the sky might once have been filled with the wings of a thousand snipes, churning the great plumes of steam, now there are only sickly gouts of smoke from refineries.