Last month I enjoyed an indulgent experience at the significant but little-known Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, Florida. Escaping the bleakness of upstate New York is always a welcomed divergence from my regular routine, but to do so soaking beneath the sun in an 88 (F) degree natural pool of minerals felt blissful. I was fortunate to reap the benefits of these healing waters while being in the company of my friends who live on the west coast of the balmy sunshine state.
So…. before I digress too far into a detailed account of my experience, I’ll take a moment to share a little more about this exotic (though somewhat underrated) place.
What are the Warm Mineral Springs?
Essentially, Warm Mineral Spring is a 1.5-acre sinkhole, or “swimming hole” located in the gulf-coast Floridian city of North Port in Sarasota County. The body of water is formed by natural warm springs, which are believed to have surfaced more than 30,000 years ago when most of North America was covered in ice, and Florida’s climate was more similar to North Carolina’s today. Shallow areas of the springs are about 3-4 feet deep, whereas the center of the sinkhole is about 230 feet deep. There are fifty-one essential minerals contained in the springs including potassium, sulfur, magnesium, and strontium. These minerals are more abundant in Florida’s Warm Mineral Springs than in any other spring in America. The water in the springs is anaerobic and geothermally heated by the earth to approximately 80-90 degrees, depending on the time of year.
Some impressive archeological finds have been discovered in the springs. Fifty years ago, a diver named William Royal discovered ancient animal bones and human remains within the walls and at the bottom of the sinkhole, which were later estimated to be about 10,000 years old.
During the course of the succeeding decades, the remnants of over twenty Paleo-Indian have been discovered in the springs. A human skeleton in a fetal position was found as well, which has been estimated to be about 11,000 years old. Numerous animal skeletons, including a giant sloth, have also been discovered in the depths of the sinkhole.
During the 1960’s the property was turned into a spa by private owners of the springs. Unfortunately, several of the ancient bones and relics from the bottom of the sinkhole were stolen by scuba divers and were sold for profits. Access to the springs was unrestricted at the time. In the 1970’s access was newly restricted by the owners, and an archeologist began to work at the site to protect the ancient artifacts and greater publicize the significance of the history of the location. In December 2010, Warm Mineral springs was purchased by Sarasota county and the city of North Port.
Historical research in the located has found evidence that the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon (1460 – 1521 ACE) attempted to claim the Warm Mineral Springs for the Spanish because he believed to have found the “fountain of youth” here. Ironically, the barrage of attacks he propelled on the native people to claim this eternal elixir is what eventually had cost him is life in 1521.
Unremarkable Décor at a Commemorated Spring
Okay, well…I must admit that when I arrived at the springs, I was initially a little disheartened by the mediocre, if not substandard, quality of décor at this most acclaimed sinkhole. Upon initially entering the grounds, I first encountered the signage welcoming me to the “Miracle Waters,” which was accompanied with beautiful photographs of this luxurious appearing spa. The price was a rather lofty $20 per person to enter the sulfur-laden lagoon. Being from out of state and having read about the benefits of the spring, I didn’t mind paying this. As I walked from the corridor out to the seating area surrounding the springs, however, I was surprised to see the weathered, dingy plastic chairs that were stacked high atop of one another, almost as if expecting too small of a crowd to disperse them around the circumference of the swimming hole. The smell of sulfur was initially overwhelming. The water looked a bit murky. Perhaps some would hesitate to slip in too quickly, if at all. I, however, could not diverge quickly enough into this cloudy vacuum of aquatic minerals.
Why, you may ask, would one want to jump into a swimming hole that emits offensive odors and has 11,000-year-old human skulls and ribs settled at its depth? For me, it is because the benefits of the springs far outweigh any of these drawbacks.
Benefits of Warm Springs
There are dozens of benefits of Warm Mineral Springs, and continued research on these healing waters continues to grow. Here, I have highlighted just a few of the medicinal benefits of soaking in a body of warm water that contains fifty-one essential minerals.
- Aids in reducing swelling and symptoms of pain and inflammation in arthritis sufferers.
- It increases the hydrostatic pressure in the body, which increases cell circulation and oxygenation.
- Improves joint mobility
- Bathing in thermal waters raises the metabolism, which aids digestion.
- Lowered blood pressure
- The absorption of minerals through the skin stimulates the immune system, increasing immune function and endorphins, normalizing glandular functioning.
- Repeated soaking in minerals has a therapeutic effect on skin diseases such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and fungal infections.
- The springs contain a high number of negative ions.
A taste of Europe in West Florida
Apparently, the knowledge of the benefits of Warm Mineral Springs is much greater in areas of Europe than in America. As I walked from the corridor out to the premises of the sinkhole, I was struck immediately by the overflow of languages that surrounded me, most of which sounded Eastern European. Warm Springs are widely advertised in countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Hungary. I was informed that some retirees actually move to North Port almost exclusively to bath daily in the springs. It is said that some believe in the benefits of the springs so eminently that it is worth building the latter years of their lives around it. My friend shared stories of some who have claimed to cure their debilitating arthritis, or at least alleviate the symptoms so wholly that they felt cured.
I beamed as I took in the mini subculture around me. Women in floppy sunhats and flouncy, flowered dresses chattered uproariously in extrinsic tongues. As I stopped in the locker room to change, I paused at myself in the mirror, noting my own big straw sunhat and ruffled flowery jumper, and thought of my Hungarian grandmother. I felt right at home here. As I descended into the sulfur pool, delighting in the warm, still waters as they slowly engulfed me, I thought perhaps these Warm Springs “regulars” were indeed on to something. Every ache, trigger point, and tense area in my body slowly dissipated. It remained that way for several days afterward. Experiencing is believing. If we really are as young as we feel, perhaps that old Ponce De Leon had indeed found the secret to youth here in southwestern Florida.
So, if visiting Sarasota County happens in your future travels, I recommend that you consider visiting this little known pool of juvenescence.