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By Irene Butler

Glimmering mineral deposits surrounded us as we waded in waist-deep water into the dimly lit cave. Stalactites dripped condensation; the steamy air soothed our lungs. My husband Rick and I followed a gushing sound, and found the place where the geothermally heated water cascaded from a rocky crevice. Sinking down to our chins in this natural cave behind the pool at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort, British Columbia we felt the last shred of tension flow from our bodies.

Next, we braved the skin-tingling rivulets of icy water spilling into a mini-pool outside the cave; following this we immersed ourselves in the tepid pool open to the sky. Sunlight dancing on Kootenay Lake, evergreen forests and the spectacular Purcell Mountains lay before us. 'Ah,' I thought, 'this is the life.'

This sentiment must have been shared by the Kutenai Indians centuries ago. During the annual salmon run and Huckleberry harvest, they too revived sore muscles in these waters. Then in 1882, following the discovery of silver, lead and zinc in the area an Oregon entrepreneur, George Ainsworth, founded the town to cater to the influx of miners. It was these bone-weary miners who enlarged the Ainsworth cave to increase the water flow from the springs. Ten cents of hard-earned money could buy a swim in the original pool at the base of the caves in the 1930's.

Some vestiges of the past remain next to the resort from a time when Ainsworth boasted a population of 4,000. We took a stroll up the old main street past the ghostly J. B. Fletcher's General Store. John Bradley Fletcher purchased the store from the original owner Henry Giegerich in 1913, and ran it until his death in 1973.

Further up the hill is the Silver Ledge Hotel that was once a miner's hotspot with its 42 seat beer parlour and "hot running water" tapped from the springs. It has since had a swinging-door history, closing in 1949, being dusted off and turned into a museum in the 1970's, and is now a Bed & Breakfast where guests are steeped in its facts and folklore.

A winding road above the town awarded us with another glimpse of history - a pioneer graveyard. Colourful patches of wildflowers surround the white fenced family plots of the community's forefathers.

A few kilometres north of the resort we drove upward on a dizzying logger's road to Cody Caves to learn about the source of the Ainsworth springs. Donning a miner's helmet, we switched on our headlight and descended into ancient limestone formations. Trevor, our agile young guide, said this cave was a spelunker's delight as it had been left in a natural state (sans guard rails or ramps), but even sure-footed seniors could manoeuvre through it, which was encouraging.

The temperature dropped until we could see our breath. Some passages were roomy, others narrow enough to be claustrophobic. A glacial river flowed rapidly along a furrow in the stalagmites. "Amazingly," said Trevor, "this frigid stream is the same water flowing into the Ainsworth Cave. Working its way down through porous rock for 2km, the water temperature increases 40 degrees Celsius per kilometre until it strikes the Lakeshore Fault." He explained, "When the water reaches this impervious layer lying at a 50 degree angle between Cody and Ainsworth, it is forced by hydraulic pressure along the fault, emerging piping hot."

Even after an hour long tour, this was just a mere dent in the lengthy passageways discovered by prospector, Henry Cody, in the 1890's.

Further to our delving into the area's history and spelunking, we enjoyed a round of golf and a hike on one of a network of trails in the area. There is no shortage of activities accessible from this all-season resort; boating, kayaking, fishing, and skiing - to name a few.

After our day's venture and a leisurely evening meal in the resort's dining room, we couldn't resist the urge for a late night dip in the pool. A million stars flickered. The waters shimmered under a harvest moon. Breezes wafted the scent of pine. Skin shrivelled and eyes heavy, yet reluctant to leave, we entered the cave's sultry cocoon once more. This celestial retreat, away from our fast-paced city life, left us relaxed and rejuvenated.

1. Caves2norm (courtesy of Ainsworth Hot Springs)

Photos by Rick Butler
2. #0562 - Panoramic view from pool area
3. #8889 - J.B. Fletcher's General Store
4. #8891 - Silver Ledge Museum
5. #8947 - Old Cemetery

More Information:
Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort
- located in south central B.C.
between Nelson and Kaslo on Hwy 31
Ph: 250 229-4212
Reservations: 1-800-668-1171
For a calendar of events, rates & area attractions:

Silver Ledge Hotel

Cody Caves
Turnoff located 2 km N of Ainsworth Hot Springs on Hwy 31
Open July & August (see website for off season tours)
Ph: 250 353-7364

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