Hot springs have been regarded as sacred healing grounds by cultures across the globe throughout the ages.
it may not look like much, but- woah, it was amazing
Entire bath houses have been erected around hot springs to allow for people to enjoy the benefits of the springs with modern comforts of the time. This concept is so deeply ingrained in our experience here that empirical science has decided to start an entirely new field of study: balneology, the study of bathing (usually in water with minerals).¹ While balneology is still a relatively new field of study, there are promising results emerging from its depths.
One study, conducted by Şaş, et al, concluded that, "Balneotherapy may be effective for improving peripheral cardiopulmonary responses in patients with musculoskeletal disorders."¹ The researchers found that after just one therapy session that there were clear improvements with the involved systems.¹ Another study, published in "BioMed Research International", showed that lasting benefits of balneotherapy were maintained a year out from treatment in patients with osteoarthritis.² Patients spent three weeks, 120 minutes a day, in balneotherapuetic treatment. Follow ups were conducted after three months and at one year which concluded that the majority of patients continued to see improvements from balneotherapy.²
Generally, there are two types of mineral springs: acidic, and alkaline. Both of these are relatively safe in regards to the mineral contents, though temperatures can vary from cool/cold water all the way past boiling (100C).
Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone National Park, Source
Some of these pools can be so dangerous that taking a dip could literally dissolve your body as one young man found out in 2016. The young man bent over to check the temperatures of the pool to see if he could soak and ended up falling into the boiling, acidic waters.⁴ Officials attempted to retrieve his body but recovery efforts were postponed due to a thunderstorm. The body had reached substantial levels of dissolution by the next day when officials returned and could not recover the boy's body.⁴ With that said, its important to note that while there are extremely dangerous springs, there are also many which are completely safe for soaking. So, before you go jumping into a hot spring, be sure to check with local information and perhaps dip a toe in first (just be careful not to fall in).
My partner and I recently took a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada to recover some of her items from when she used to live there.
As luck would have it, we had forgotten to book a hotel for the night we were in town and everything was booked up. After much contemplation, we decided to stay at a hotel in a town about 3 hours outside of Vegas where we returned the same night we arrived and left from Vegas to get her belongings. My partner and her ex, when their car broke down in the past, had discovered a hidden hot spring on private property an hour out in the middle of nowhere in the desert of Nevada. The owner allows people to stop and soak as long as they are respectful of the grounds and others. So we made it our new journey to rediscover this spring and spend some time relaxing and enjoying ourselves for what little time we could on our short trip.
We set out upon our journey the following morning. Our minds anxious with excitement as we began our search for the secret hot spring. We turned off the main highway and were greeted by a yellow open range sign and a metal cattle guard lining the street as we began down an empty two lane road that traveled into an immense span of emptiness, open desert. We were surrounded by some of the harshest terrain on the planet, where the lack of water and life sustaining resources has force selected organisms which are prepared for war at a moments notice. The road was movie-esque with its camel-back hills and heat radiating giving the illusion that the road disappears in certain areas.
Though we were surrounded by what to some would seem as lifeless landscapes, I could sense the extraordinary power in the life that exists in such harsh terrain. An overwhelming feeling of freedom began to settle in despite that it looked as though we were driving into absolutely nothing, or was it the experience of nothing which set this off?
We had encountered just one lone vehicle during the entire hour drive out to the hot spring. We were truly secluded. We spent nearly five hours enjoying ourselves at this unique hidden gem. We spent some time doing yoga and meditating in the wilderness. The only sounds were those of the trickling and splashing from the spring as it flowed into the desert, and the occasional braying of nearby mules who hand wandered close. The experience was flawless.
My partner noticed some white stuff collecting along the edges of where the spring was running through the desert and evaporating, and upon closer inspection we found it to be mineral salts from the spring which had been precipitating! This quickly turned into a discussion of what we could do with them at home. Two ideas proposed were to use them in a bath tub like we do with Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salt), and to individually bottle them in spray bottles as saturated water solutions to target specific muscle groups which are sore or achy. We gathered a large amount of mineral salts as we decided to depart, thrilled that we had discovered something so cool and useful!
Salts collecting where the spring water evaporated
Close up of the crystalline mineral salts
The salts that we collected were riddled with soil, sand, and brush grass, so I had to put in some work if I wanted to end up with a more pure product. I began enthusiastically working on cleaning the salts up the morning after we got back home. My laboratory may be confined to a work bench situated in the kitchen for now, but working with natural medicines in a lab setting is a deep passion of mine.
I dissolved the salts in room temperature DI water (deionized water: water that has been distilled to remove ions; follow link for more info) to initiate the process of cleansing these mineral salts. I used a glass rod to agitate the solution to quicken dissolution.
After all the salts were dissolved into solution, I began filtering the solution through unbleached coffee filters (I should have a Buchner filter set up soon...) using gravity filtration.
While waiting for the solution to filter, crystalline structures began nucleating on the side of the glass where water was evaporating from the dish.
Side note con't
Due to the lack of an adequate filtration system, a large amount of product (a rough estimate would be close to half) was lost due to having to frequently change clogged filters. Shown in the photograph below is one of the filters that was clogged. When left out to dry, large crystals formed in and on the filter. Attempts were made to redissolve these salts and filter again, but still much product was lost.
I poured out the filtrate into a large pyrex dish and set it in the oven at 177C to allow the water to evaporate and the salts to crystallize.
The salts began to form to sheets of crystals, one on the bottom of the glass and one on the top of the water. They were able to crystallize independently in many areas due to the top sheet having formed against the sides of the dish to act as support from collapsing. The bottom crystal structures were clearly different than those of the top layer. None of my photographic equipment could capture a satisfactory image to compare the two, but you might be able to make out the differences in these two photographs:
Side note: the crystals take on a slight tan colour due to soluble components in the sand/soil/grass which remained in solution regardless of any filtration. These could perhaps be removed by a calcination, but as the soil and such is an hour into nothingness, I felt safe leaving it in solution for this first time (yes, I plan on collecting more in the future! :D )
Just to clarify, these are two separate sheets that formed and not a front/back image comparison.
After I showing everyone I knew, and some I didn't, my stunning creation (okay, it's not all that amazing, but its probably the coolest thing I've made visually in the lab), I then ground them all up into a fine powder that will easily dissolve.
In the end, I wound up with just over a half pound of mineral salts. After some experimenting with the spring water I collected at the hot spring, I found that the salts are dissolved in a 1:1 ratio; 300mg of salts were collected from 300ml of spring water. That said, I ended up with enough salts to recreate a hot spring in my bathtub once, or make a bunch of spray bottles to distribute. Leaning more towards the spray bottles... ;)
Overall, the trip was amazing and I had an incredible amount of fun going through this whole process. I hope you all enjoyed the story and the process as much as I did. Also, I had never heard of balneology until starting this project - so I learned quite a bit even!
¹: Şaş, S., Çelenay, Ş T., & Kaya, D. Ö. (2016). The effects of balneotherapy on acute, process-related, and cumulative peripheral cardiac responses and pulmonary functions in patients with musculoskeletal disorders. Turkish Journal Of Medical Sciences, 46, 1700-1706. doi:10.3906/sag-1505-31
²: Zwolińska, J., Weres, A., & Wyszyńska, J. (2018). One-Year Follow-Up of Spa Treatment in Older Patients with Osteoarthritis: A Prospective, Single Group Study. BioMed Research International, 2018, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2018/7492106
³:Holden, C. (2011, July 12). Norris Geyser Basin - Yellowstone's Hottest, Oldest, Tallest. Retrieved from https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/about-norris-geyser-basin
⁴:Gajanan, M. (2016, November 16). Yellowstone National Park: Man Dissolved in Hot Spring Acid. Retrieved from http://time.com/4574226/man-dissolved-yellowstone-park/
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