Six years ago, Kat Tudor and Don Goede found themselves in Rishikesh, a small Indian town in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s a place of pilgrimage, where the Ganges River emerges from Himalayas. They had come there to bathe in India’s sacred river.
The river at Rishikesh is clear and sparkling. Mountains surround the town, and the air is fresh and clean.
“We could have been in Manitou,” said Tudor, “and that’s where SunWater was conceived.”
Origins of the spa
Manitou Springs takes its name from the historic mineral springs that have long flowed in the city. Subsurface water percolates through limestone aquifers, becomes naturally carbonated, and picks up other minerals as it rises to the surface. The waters are thought to have healing properties, and Native Americans believed that the springs could heal, rejuvenate and refresh.
Early European explorers such as Stephen Long were fascinated by the springs, while later arrivals joined together to create a spa-based community. Native Americans were given short shrift, driven from their ancient lands and resettled elsewhere.
“We wanted water, the sound of water and sunlight.”
– Don Goede
But in creating SunWater Spa, Tudor and Goede wanted to develop a healing-arts space, a spa nourished by Manitou’s ancient springs. They wanted to respect indigenous cultures and make a place that wasn’t cold, antiseptic and sterile. It was a simple, elegant idea — but one which took five years to execute.
It took so long because water in the West, whether from a well, a river or a spring, isn’t easily available to new users. Tapping water from the limestone aquifers near SunWater’s proposed site close to Memorial Park required Manitou to enter into exchange agreements with other water rights holders, and to enter into an augmentation plan with SunWater to compensate the city for consumptive use of any mineral spring water.
Water comes from the nearby Seven-Minute Spring, an arrangement that was only possible because SunWater paid the $180,000 cost of drilling a new well to access the spring.
“The casing was leaking so badly that more than half the spring water was being lost,” said Goede. “Even with what we’re using, the flow is now more than it was before.”
The deal entitles SunWater to 20,000 gallons of mineral water daily. The spa will be billed at normal commercial rates, but SunWater will be credited for half its use until drilling costs are paid. Payback time: 10 years or more.
Designed by local architect Bill Fisher, the three-story spa building curves sinuously around its hillside site. Cedar restorative mineral soaking tubs and light-filled yoga and meditation spaces are meant to create a calming, natural environment. The design concept is based on “Kat’s understanding of the universal restorative healing powers of water and its sacred place in all cultures.”
“It’s curved, so that energy doesn’t leak out of the building, but returns in,” said Tudor.
The second- and third-story decks offer views of downtown Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak. Indoor and outdoor spaces are seamlessly integrated.
“Do you know what the word ‘spa’ is derived from?” asked Goede. “The three letters stand for Sanus per Aquam, Latin for ‘health through water.’ We wanted water, the sound of water and sunlight.”
Recycled water cascades down the hillside beside the spa, which also includes work by several local artists. Tudor’s longtime collaborator Steve Wood created a monumental outdoor stone mural that incorporates geology, the Ute creation myth and Manitou history, while works by Lance Green are displayed in the building.
Above the spa, a meditation trail climbs gently to a low-ceilinged mineral springs vapor hut. Near the hut, a massive gnarled juniper anchors the hillside.
“That tree is 1,000 years old,” said Goede. “An arborist confirmed its age — it’s the oldest tree in the region.”
The spa features massage, individual water therapies, a Vichy shower and a mudroom with personalized mineral and essential oil infusions. SunWater also offers traditional and contemporary forms of yoga, aerobic movement and other bodywork. Meditation, dance and tai chi classes are available in and out of the water.
Tudor, who has taught various forms of yoga during the past 10 years, will continue to do so at SunWater.
It’s not as expensive as you might think.
According to SunWater’s website, “The price for treatments, which vary from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, range from $25 to $165. The drop-in class price is $15.”
For $17, you can participate in Lunar Eclipse Yoga from 7-9 p.m. on Sept. 27. The event includes yoga, meditation and eclipse viewing while mineral water soaking.
“We’ve only been fully open since Aug. 14,” said Tudor, “and yes, things are going well.”