Where can you relax in warm mineral waters and bathe where archeologists have found the bones of an 11,000-year-old man, a giant sloth, and a saber-toothed cat? Florida, of course.
Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, Florida, is a sinkhole formed by the collapse of a subterranean cavern over 30,000 years ago. The primary source of the water is a vent found over 200 feet below the surface, which pushes out about 20 million gallons of warm mineralized water a day. Under great pressure, the geothermal water is heated to 97 degrees, but cooled to about 85 degrees from several small caves below the water’s surface.
In the 1950s, an archeologist named William Royal found evidence of bones and artifacts from at least seven people in the waters, along with a partially burned log found that was carbon dated to 10,000 years ago. The archeological world originally dismissed his work because previous finds had confirmed humans arrived in Florida only 7,000 years ago, but after subsequent studies, his findings became widely accepted. During a later excavation, a body was found that had been entombed behind stalactites, and is believed to be the oldest intentional burial ever discovered in North America.
In the 1960s, the warm springs site became a health spa, and many still flock to these extremely mineral-rich waters for their healing powers. In fact, it’s widely believed that this was the legendary Fountain of Youth the Spanish explorer and conquistador Ponce de Leon was searching for in Florida when he died.
Today, the warm springs are still open as a natural spa facility, although protections have been put in place around the site due to its archeological importance.
Know Before You Go
Located about a mile north of U.S. 41. Take Interstate 75 to Exit 191, River Road. Take 41 to Ortiz Blvd, then follow Ortiz to San Servando Ave. The spa is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A day pass is $20 for non-resident adults and $15 for locals. There are also spa services that can be booked in advance. Be forewarned that there is a strong sulfur smell at the springs.