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Taking a canna-tour in Manitou Springs

Daytripper: Manitou Springs


SunWater is a blend of high-end spa and bohemian wonderland. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • SunWater is a blend of high-end spa and bohemian wonderland.

I am not a "spa girl."

I do not get mani-pedis. I wear drug store makeup, but not much, and while I own a variety of makeup brushes, I have no idea what they are all intended to do. Waxing scares me. Lasers and fillers intimidate me, to say nothing of Botox. And, while I've heard it mentioned in ads, I have no idea what body sculpting is.

Yet, here I am, at SunWater Spa ( in Manitou Springs, receiving my very first CBD facial. (OK, it's also my first regular facial.)

My aesthetician, Debbie Vann, has massaged a variety of products into my face at this point, each one feeling more heavenly than the last — though I'm not positive which one contained CBD.

Debbie has also slowly massaged my head, and even rubbed my feet. And she's informed me that my skin looks seven years younger than I am.

I really like Debbie.

I find out later that she used Extra Gentle Cleanser, Antioxidant Moisturizer, Ultra Firm Peptide, Anti Aging Eye Cream, Strawberry Melon Toner, Cherry Enzyme Mask, Hydrating Mask, and Scrub and Shine. All are from the spa's own brand, Surya. For the CBD facial, I also got CBD Facial Serum from naCHer Apothecary.

Surya's website explains that its products use only "clean ingredients."

naCHer notes that it doesn't use "synthetic colors, fragrances, preservatives, or unnecessary additives" and that its products are made with "full spectrum cbd oil extracted from organic hemp."

David Armstrong's magic hands at Manitou's SunWater Spa. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • David Armstrong's magic hands at Manitou's SunWater Spa.

Though I'm the wrong person to ask about the intricacies of skin care products, I will say this: I greatly enjoyed the facial, which includes extraction of blackheads. It left my skin feeling smooth and flawless with a rosy glow. What's more, my face muscles relaxed and my sinuses, always a source of pain and pressure, actually felt normal.

When I was mapping out a canna-themed Manitou Springs day trip with my partner, we agreed we didn't want to start at the dispensaries. We live in Manitou, so while Maggie's Farm and Emerald Fields may look like the Promised Land to folks from, say, Kansas, we find the shops less mystical.

Honestly, our deepest thoughts about El Paso County's only two recreational outlets usually occur while trying to maneuver the crowded driveway that Maggie's shares with our favorite gas station, the Loaf N' Jug.

So we instead start our day at 13 Trees Coffee Company (, the tiny café that serves up CBD coffee.

There's no indoor seating at the shop, so I stroll up to the window. It's chilly, so the barista is nice enough to say he'll bring the coffees to our car. 13 Trees roasts their coffee with butter — and in the case of its CBD coffee, CBD-infused butter. We notice no skunky flavor in our brews, two of which run us around $17.

13 Trees' CBD coffee offers a tingly treat. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • 13 Trees' CBD coffee offers a tingly treat.

We order one with half-and-half and honey, and another with vanilla and half-and-half. The vanilla, lightly sweet and flavorful, proved our clear favorite.

We're still sipping the coffees when we arrive at SunWater around 8 a.m. I notice my body feels a little tingly and warm. My partner feels nothing, but enjoys the coffee — particularly since I let him keep the vanilla.

We have a big day planned. The folks at SunWater have kindly offered me the CBD facial free of charge, as well a CBD massage for my partner, and use of their soaking pools. We figure we'll head down, soak in the pools, enjoy the treatments, then head out for lunch, a trip to the dispensaries, maybe some light shopping around downtown, dinner, and perhaps some time at a local bar or pub. Hell, maybe we'll even fit in a hike.

Spoiler alert: That's not exactly how it's going to go down. But at least we'll have fun wrecking our plans.

I wrote about SunWater extensively when it was being built, but I'll confess that until now, I hadn't actually visited the spa since it opened in 2015. It's easy to put off trying new things when they're in your backyard. There's always next week, right?

SunWater is a blend of high-end spa and bohemian wonderland. Don Goede led its construction under the visionary direction of Kat Tudor. They're behind the Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts, and each can be fairly described as eccentric — spiritual seekers, who carefully constructed the spa to reflect sacred traditions of peoples across the world.

Anyway, if you're the spiritual sort, you're probably going to heavily tap into the vibe and all the symbolism of the main building. The whimsical adobe structure is situated next to a steep incline with a waterfall and stream, and the attention paid to tiny details is extraordinary. But if, like me, all this flies right over your head, don't worry. You don't need to understand the chakras to enjoy an afternoon at SunWater.

Upon arriving, my partner and I are greeted and checked in at the front desk and each given a bag with a towel and a fuzzy robe. We change into our suits and hit the pools, which are mainly located on outdoor decks and a patio on all three levels of the building. SunWater uses mineral water from one of Manitou's natural cold water springs for its pools, which are partially heated with solar power to temperatures that generally range from 100 to 104 degrees.

The top level is sunny with excellent views of Pikes Peak, and even on a winter day it feels like summer here. There's two larger pools that look like they might fit around 10 people each, and one smaller one that looks like an oversized tub made for two. All the pools are made from cedar and the water causes them to take on a silky feel.

SunWater's website explains that heat extracts oil from the wood, which lends the water a yellow and sometimes red hue, essentially making a cedar tea, which apparently promotes healthy skin and sooths the respiratory system. While we don't notice a change to the water's color, the pools do relax us. We enjoy sitting in the tiniest tub — just big enough to fit two tall people — before moving to one of the larger pools to gab with two young women who are enjoying a spa day together. It's time for our 11 a.m. treatments before we even make it to the second-floor pools.

No caption - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • No caption

The spa offers treatments in an adjacent building — a large, historic wooden house that's been updated and offers calm, private rooms. While I'm getting my facial (and falling in love with Debbie), my partner is downstairs with massage therapist David Armstrong, who is giving him a massage with naCHer Apothecary CBD Deep Tissue Salve and arnica oil. (Which, he assures me, is every bit as amazing as it sounds.)

We both emerge feeling pleasantly numb and deeply relaxed. And, instead of following our plan and getting lunch, we head to the (very hot) sauna on the ground floor. We cook our flesh before checking out the infrared sauna. It uses light to heat the body directly, rather than heating the surrounding air. Credible sources say they're safer than regular saunas for people who are heat-sensitive.

Indeed this sauna's warm and not at all hot. It features a light that flashes different colors, and runs on a selection of programs to treat different ailments. My partner, who slipped a disc a while back, chooses pain relief. We wait a while, the flashing lights reminding us of a very low-key disco, but don't notice anything. Of course, we're very relaxed already, so it might not be best time to judge the sauna's healing powers.

So we head out to the inviting waters of the ground-floor pool. Though it lacks the upstairs level's views, this might be my favorite. It's shaded and there's a little stream and garden built next to it. It's lovely.

Well into the afternoon, we head to the second floor to check out three more pools, then decide to hit the showers and head out of the spa shortly before our morning soak session time allotment expires. We're hungry, but we head home, change and hit the dispensaries before sitting down for a meal.

As always, the dispensaries are crowded. Mobbed might actually be a better word.

Order and aesthetics rule at Emerald Fields. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Order and aesthetics rule at Emerald Fields.

We start at Emerald Fields (, where we're ushered through a lobby with a decorative wood wall into a dispensary with an open layout and an eye for design. A sales associate approaches us immediately and leads us through various strains and products. We ask if she has any recommendations for pain relief, but she quickly informs us that beyond the CBD salves, she can't recommend any strains for pain relief — this is a recreational store, after all.

My partner opts for a gram of Skunk Berry, a popular hybrid, for about $15 plus tax. They ring us up quickly and we head out.

Maggie's Farm ( is next up. While likely the more crowded of the two dispensaries, Maggie's lacks Emerald's high-end feel. The lobby is a bit dim, and after showing IDs (the first of several checks), we're directed to a long red vinyl bench in a stark waiting room. There, we examine the menu on TVs. I noticed that Maggie's does have many low-price options.

Occasionally, employees come into the room and holler a number. I remember ours wrong, and the associate looks a little annoyed at having to wait — efficiency is clearly highly prized in this part of the process.

Everything goes smoother once we're led to the back. There, a sales associate helps us to understand the products housed in a glass case — or at least what hasn't already sold out. We find our associate friendly and I appreciate that he's patient with my questions. He even describes a line of luscious-looking infused truffles to me in delicious detail.

Colorful truffles tempt at Maggie's Farm. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Colorful truffles tempt at Maggie's Farm.

My partner opts for a sativa this time, Keep Tahoe Blue. A gram runs about $14 plus tax.

We head home, where my partner samples the merchandise. Not a picky man, he approves of both. And then he really wants to get lunch. Or is it dinner at this point?

There are a lot of great restaurants in Manitou, but let's be honest, we are both starving and my partner is high. We're getting Mexican.

Our neighborhood Mexican restaurant is The Crystal Park Cantina ( The owners of the eatery include Justin Armour, the former Denver Bronco. He's served me chips and salsa before. No joke.

Anyway, Armour opposed the rec dispensaries opening in Manitou, saying he wanted to see the town remain "family-friendly." Manitou's the type of place that still hashes stuff out in community meetings, and after a lot of discussion, legalization ended up being decided by a vote of the people. While it's hard to say what gets talked about behind closed doors, the public marijuana debate deflated after the vote and the town didn't divorce itself.

The Cantina's margs are legendary in Manitou. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • The Cantina's margs are legendary in Manitou.

Anyway, the Armours are nice folks, their food is good and their margaritas are excellent. Plus, during the summer months, you really can't beat their patio. So here we are.

It's about 3 p.m. — super weird timing for a meal, but, as the fates would have it, perfect timing for happy hour. I quickly order myself the house La Cantina margarita, while my partner opts for the Mango Missi. They pair beautifully with the Cantina's super-thin chips and runny, savory salsa. We inhale the basket before the food comes.

My partner can never resist the sweet potato nachos, an appetizer featuring sweet potato fries topped with chorizo, pico, caramelized onions, melted cheese and red pepper sauce. The nachos would be too sweet if not for the spicy chorizo. But together, the balance is perfect. They disappear.

In fact, we eat so many nachos that we struggle to finish my order of chicken enchiladas with tomatillo Alfredo and pork green chile. (The two sauces together are truly a standout.) The Cantina also does their own excellent version of whole pinto beans and rice.

Yummy enchiladas prove too filling to finish. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Yummy enchiladas prove too filling to finish.

All together, dinner costs about $55 with tip — not bad for two meals and two margs, and a box of leftovers. We waddle out the door and head home. I don't mean for a pit stop. I mean we're ready to change into our jam-jams, truly "Netflix and chill" and then pass the hell out at 8 p.m.

All that relaxing, it turns out, proves tiring.

Which is not to say that we didn't feel a pang of guilt about all our missed plans. We lamented not making it to lunch at Good Karma Café ( — the cutest little community-minded spot. In addition to their food and coffee, I love their charming assortment of old wooden chairs, and the way the sunlight filters in. And, of course, we meant to try out new restaurants, and stop by the old standbys.

We had also planned to check out all the little shops. We thought of dropping by CK Comics & Collectibles (, The Poppy Seed (, The Hemp Store (, Commonwheel Artists Co-op (, the Manitou Arts Center ( and all the places you just discover along the way. We were going to play Skee-Ball at the Manitou Springs Penny Arcade ( and wander downtown at night, stopping where we heard music coming from behind old wooden doors to see if we could discover a new band or an old friend.

It really was a good plan. But, you know. We're old.

So maybe the lesson here is that your canna-tour of Manitou should actually be two days instead of one. Best not to be too ambitious about these things.

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