Two of Three in a Series on Saratoga Springs, New York
A rotten-egg bouquet with a surprisingly sweet finish. Complex and metallic; notes of rusty nail. My tasting notes would frighten even the most adventurous wine lover. But it wasn’t wine I sipped along the Geyser Creek Trail in Saratoga Spa State Park a few weekends ago…
As Saratoga Springs is a favorite weekend getaway for Ben and I, this was my third trip down the Geyser Creek Trail within the year. The trail is less than a mile yet boasts four natural springs, each with their own character. This time I came prepared with hotel glasses: Call me a water snob, but I was ready for serious tasting – no hand cupping.
Starting at the parking lot near the Geyser Island Sprouter, the first spring is off to the right on the forest edge. It shoots up three feet, cascading down into a stone basin stained blood-red from mineral deposits; and it tastes like a new penny smells. Just across the parking lot is Hayes Spring: Four sleek spickets – like silver straws – protrude from a stone monolith. This spring reminds me of a premium vodka: no taste and velvety smooth. From here, we approached the gurgling Geyser Spring with its sweet, salty, and highly carbonated water. This is a messy spring, the water spilling onto the concrete and into the Geyser Creek. From here, things get weird.
To your right is the Geyser Island Sprouter which looks like a giant pancake with an occasional burst of syrup from its center. The “pancake” is actually a natural mineral island – called a tufa – in the creek. If you look ahead down the trail, you’ll see a flesh-colored dome in the woods (think Jabba the Hut): This is another massive tufa which is constantly growing compliments of the Orenda Spring trickling down from above. Orenda Spring is the “roughest” tasting of the springs to borrow a wine-tasting term.
Drinking spring water from a borrowed hotel glass seems a far cry from sophisticated sampling in a winery, but this wasn’t always the case: Saratoga Spa State Park was once the stomping (and spring water-sipping) ground of 19th-century bigwigs like JP Morgan and various Vanderbilts. I might have even run into Mr. Gray Area himself on the Geyser Creek Trail, searching for his choice spring. High society was drawn to Saratoga Springs by the promise of health benefits from drinking and bathing in the natural spring water. The nearby Saratoga Race Course, America’s oldest continually operating horse racing track, was another plus. Lavish spas and hotels sprung up around the springs; and you hadn’t made it until you “took the waters” at Saratoga Springs.
Even if you couldn’t afford the opulence of 19th century Saratoga, anyone could stop by and literally take a taste of the waters. In 1838, John Honeywood Steele wrote in his study of Saratoga spring water that “it is daily sought after and drank by all classes of people.” He went on to explain that some drank from the springs for health, some to see and be seen, and others for sheer delight in the water’s taste. Not much has changed today. The Hayes Spring is truly a local watering hole with some intensely filling up labeled jugs, others casually chatting, and people like me, just sampling – and delighting in – the water. But that’s what I love about nature and open spaces like the Geyser Creek Trail; the only rule is to come as you are.
Vitamin Water of the 19th Century
The natural spring water at Saratoga Spa State was believed to cure diabetes, cancer, hangovers, malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, indigestion…ummm, pretty much everything! I’d love to know if any health studies have been done on the mineral-loaded springs in Saratoga. The last study I know of was conducted by Mr. Honeywood – in 1838.
Check out the Geyser Island Sprouter in action. I’ve also uploaded close ups of the tufa and more at YouTube