I was surprised when I drove into the parking lot at Warm Mineral Springs. For a spa that billed itself as the natural spring with the highest mineral content in the U.S. and the third highest in the world, I had expected the facility to be state of the art. Instead, the unassuming single story building seemed a bit neglected and was wholly unspectacular. But having driven the 45 minutes from Sarasota to get here, I decided to check it out. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited in Florida.
From the main entrance I passed through a long, dim hallway leading past bathrooms and locker rooms before stepping out into the sunshine for my first view of the springs. A tingling n the back of my neck told me there was something very special about this place. Fascinated by the perfectly circular, water-filled sinkhole, I decided to make a circuit of the lake to scope things out.
Part way around the springs I paused to watch a great blue heron fishing along the water’s edge. As I photographed him, the bird fearlessly walked up to me. Standing just inches away, he eyed me curiously and then calmly walked to the water’s edge, where he proceeded to snatch a minnow from the water and gulp it down. Simultaneously, a large turtle swam up to the shore, poked its head out of the water, and looked at me as he proceeded to munch on the reeds growing along the shore, just inches from where I stood. Astounded, I began searching for more information about the site.
During the ice age, Warm Mineral Springs was an underground cave with a lake at the bottom. As the glaciers receded and the ice caps melted, water levels rose. Eventually the ground over the cave collapsed, exposing the lake. Over the years, divers exploring the now submerged caves have discovered the 11,000-year-old remains of prehistoric hunters, saber tooth tigers, a giant sloth, and camels, proving that the cave was once above water. Today the spring is an hourglass shaped geological feature that is 230 feet deep. More than nine million gallons of warm water flows into the spring each day from a 3000-foot deep aquifer, keeping the water a constant 87 degrees year round.
Although Warm Mineral Springs claims it is the fabled Fountain of Youth sought by Ponce de Leon, in truth the Spanish explorer never once mentioned a search for such a fountain or spring in any of his logs or correspondence. The first claim that de Leon was searching for the Fountain of Youth occurred some 25 years later, in manuscripts prepared by authors that historians suspect were attempting to discredit de Leon for political reasons. But the persistent legend of a spring that could restore youth did not begin with de Leon. The first recorded reference was during the time of Alexander the Great, whose warriors were said to have bathed in a fountain and emerged rejuvenated. Most recently, magician David Copperfield claimed he had discovered a true Fountain of Youth amid a cluster of four small islands in the Exuma chain of the Bahamas that he purchased in 2006.
Whether or not Warm Mineral Springs is the true Fountain of Youth can never be known, but it is certain that something unique happens when visitors bathe in these waters. There seems to be some scientific basis for the healing properties of mineral waters. Proponents of Balneotherapy – the treatment of disease by bathing – believe that the minerals in spring waters can be absorbed through the skin. Generally, in order to be classified as a mineral spring, the water must contain greater than 100 ppm (parts per million) of naturally dissolved solids. Warm Mineral Springs water contains a total of 17,349 ppm in dissolved solids, including magnesium, silica, sulfate, chloride, sodium, carbon dioxide, potassium, and bicarbonate, and its steady alkaline pH of 7.3 is also believed to help alkalize bathers’ blood chemistry when consumed in small amounts.
The spring’s web site is filled with testimonials of people who claim to have been cured of ailments ranging from arthritis to fibromyalgia, and I must admit that after a prolonged soak in the waters, my persistent neck and jaw pain was considerably lessened. Although I did not sample the spa services at the springs, massage, acupuncture, facials, reflexology, Reiki healings, detoxifying body wraps, ion cleansing, ear candling, paraffin dips, and body waxing are all available on-site. I also learned that the Borscht and Pirogues in the cafe are delicious. I missed out on these during my first visit, but that just gives me one more excuse to return – which I plan to do on the very next warm, sunny day.
Warm Mineral Springs is located in North Port, which is midway between Sarasota and Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The site is open daily, weather permitting, from 9 am to 5 pm. The entrance fee is $20 for adults and $8 for children under 12, with discounts for AAA and students. Visitors will find that the area offers many other activities and attractions, ranging from world class beaches to some of the finest golf courses in the state.