The waters of Manitou Springs have lured visitors for centuries.

Native Americans, explorers and both the sick and healthy have flocked to the area to partake in the sweet, salty and effervescent natural spring waters that burble up from the earth.

Plains and mountain tribes considered the land and water sacred and agreed to maintain peace during their visits.

The water was a boon for their digestive systems, said Dave Wolverton, head of the Mineral Springs Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to restore the mineral springs.

Diets rich in wild game created an acidic effect in their bodies and the mineral-heavy water helped to rebalance them, Wolverton said.

"The Ute were here, but it was not necessarily entirely Ute country," Wolverton said. "This was a convergence area of a lot of nations: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Ute, there is some documentation on Jicarilla Apache. They came through here at one time and visited the mineral springs."

Following the Native Americans, fur traders, trappers and early gold seekers discovered and began to settle the area. It became known as a spa community as white folks learned about the medicinal effect the mineral water had on the body and came to drink and soak in it. Patients with tuberculosis and other ailments came to heal until about the 1930s, Wolverton said, when the pharmaceutical industry ramped up and Americans were convinced to forgo natural cures and instead treat illnesses with pills.

The springs then fell out of vogue until the 1980s, when there was a resurgence of interest in natural health treatments. Local citizens became interested in the waters and in 1987 the Mineral Springs Foundation was born. Eight springs in Manitou are under the purview of the foundation, while the rest are privately owned.

Are there health benefits?

To put it simply, yes. There's a reason all those people traveled across the country centuries ago to order up some spring water from Mother Nature's saloon.

"In nature all waters contain traces of Earth's natural minerals, which is what our bodies run on," said Vivian Rice, a local nurse and nutritionist. "All over the world, wherever you find the most contaminant-free, mineral-rich water, you find the healthiest, most vibrant civilizations."

Minerals are easily absorbed through the skin and into the digestive system, said Mitzi Pasternak, lead aquatic therapist at SunWater Spa and mineral springs tour guide. Soaking in the water creates homeostasis in the body - the process of balancing within and without as minerals pass through the skin.

Soaking in heated mineral water can also create a relaxing, stress-reducing benefit, Pasternak said. The heat causes blood to expand to the body's surface, flushing lymphatic fluid through the muscles and stimulating tiny organ cells to tell muscles to relax.

What does it taste like?

Take a map of Manitou and draw a line connecting the Iron Geyser spring by the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the Blue Skies Inn Bed and Breakfast, where they have a closed-in well. All the springs on that line or south of that line will have an iron taste and there will be iron deposits on the spring font.

The springs north of that dividing line will taste different. They'll have more of a soda taste, much like club soda. There's no iron in it and the water leaves deposits of calcite on the font instead.

Where does the water come from?

Geologic formations come together under the surface of the Earth to form a karst aquifer- a naturally occurring cavernous basin. Water from this aquifer, which rises through the Rampart Range and Ute Pass faults, mixes with surface water from the Williams Canyon and Fountain Creek watershed basins and becomes infused with minerals. The carbon dioxide rising from the faults mixes with the spring water and becomes bubbly and that natural carbonation forces the water to the surface through cracks in the rocks.

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