Soaking in Chalk Creek, in Mount Princeton, Colo., you start to think of the surrounding rocks as geologic faucets. If the steaming spring water seeping from the shoreline feels too hot, jiggle a stone to let more cool creek water into your personal pool. Joints need more heat? Dam up the creek and let the mineral springs gain the upper hand. Adjust at will -- if you have any left.

Colorado has a bunch of hot springs. You'd have to look up how many. I can't be bothered right now.

Oh, all right: I'll help. Hand me a towel.

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The tiara of big-name ski resorts in northern Colorado offer plenty to do in gorgeous surroundings. But driving south into the vast expanse of the central ranchlands, you pass a billboard proclaiming, "Now this is Colorado," and you suspect that's true.

Here are the old mining towns hanging on as art colonies, put-in points for whitewater sports, buff-colored cattle ranges of Louis L'Amour, steakhouses instead of bistros. Driving south on Hwy. 285 toward Buena Vista, the Collegiate Peaks loom, part of a range of fourteeners, or peaks that top 14,000 feet. Mount Princeton fills your windshield like some insurance company logo, solid and reassuring.

Here are where many of the state's hot springs break the surface. For a map, visit www.coloradodirectory .com/Hotsprings/hotspringsmap.html. (See, I told you I would help.)

Mount Princeton's hot springs are tucked into a crevice west of Nathrop, and they've recently received an upgrade from an ambience that a decade ago could have been called rustic. A chalet for spa services is under construction, spawning a few concerns that the springs may be getting a mite fancy. Eh, probably not.

Among the upgrades is a more family-oriented pool area with a 400-foot water slide. It's a summer-only attraction, and open to the public for day use as well as to guests. Everything else is open year-round, although the pools in Chalk Creek are off-limits during the spring snowmelt.

While the public pools and creek soaks are nice, booking a room at the resort gives you access to the three new soaking pools in graduated temperatures and the expansive relaxation pool. The first pool is about 105 degrees, so hot that you don't think you can immerse yourself -- until you do, and then it's a couple of minutes of heaven before you move on to the succeedingly cooler pools.

It's almost embarrassing how much time you can spend climbing in and out, devising the perfect rotation of simmering, soothing and sanctifying. Return after dark and settle in for a final soak, counting the shooting stars and feeling far away from real life.