The cloud of red dust following our RV announced our imminent arrival at Valley View Hot Springs.
The springs -- some of nature’s own soaker tubs -- are located on a 2,200-acre parcel of protected land owned and managed by the Orient Land Trust (OLT). We had just turned off the highway in the San Luis Valley in Colorado (about a three-hour drive southwest of Denver) and were glad to leave the traffic behind. As we bounced our way up the seven-mile dirt track, we could already feel the tensions ebb away. We were heading to a unique place where nature, freedom, environment, education, and relaxation coexist in equal measure, where we were about to get away from it all. We arrived tired, stressed, and grubby. Three days later we left relaxed, refreshed, and mentally recharged.
Editor’s Note: As Chris points out below, all Valley View Hot Springs’ experiences, and the property itself, are entirely clothing optional. If you’re new to naturism, you can pursue all our naturism/nudism/clothing-optional content here.
Orient Land Trust is a non-profit trust dedicated to the preservation of wildlife habitat, open space, geological features, and natural resources of the southern San Luis Valley. Along with Valley View Hot Springs (VVHS), OLT manages Everson Ranch, (a self-sufficient working ranch) and Orient Mine (an abandoned iron ore mine). Visitors to Valley View Hot Springs can leave behind today’s crazy world and immerse themselves in the natural serenity of this spectacular environment. The property is surrounded by unspoiled spectacular views, sparkling clear night skies, fresh clean air, and spring-fed pure water to swim in, plus endless hiking trails with opportunities to see local wildlife up close.
The first inhabitants of this area were the Ute Native Americans. In the 1870s it became a homestead for migrants heading west to seek their fortunes. I guess the hot springs were an obvious attraction even then. In the early 1900s, Orient Iron Ore mine was established, and the area was developed as a rustic resort primarily for miners and their families. One existing building (Oak House) was the center of the old Valley View village. The mine had its heyday in the 1920s but shut down in 1932, and the mine and associated resort were abandoned by the end of the Second World War.
The area was rediscovered by travelers in the 1960s; the hot springs were still a great place, just as they had been for centuries before. Neil Seitz was one of the individuals who started frequenting the springs at that time, and he realized the magic of the place. He started working as a gatekeeper for the then owner and has been at Valley View ever since. Neil and his wife Terri purchased the resort in 1979, and in 2001 co-founded OLT. Today the Trust boasts 1,400 members, and Valley View Hot Springs welcomes visitors for both day and overnight access.
1. Soak In The Hot Springs
Our first foray around the lands (it's not a site, per se -- there are no fences) soon reminded us of our altitude! Valley View sits at 8,600 feet on the side of a valley, and the uphill stroll to the top soaking ponds (even though it’s only a very few minutes’ walk) takes your breath away -- literally.
We rose with the sun and wandered up to one of the six hot springs carrying only our towels. The entire property is clothing optional. The crunch of our feet on the rocky path was accompanied only by the endless splashing of the tumbling water as it cascaded from the springs down the hillside. We passed the first spring, where already a couple was floating in the water. Had they been here all night, and were they in fact still alive? Assured they still had pulses and were enjoying themselves, we moved on up the path to find our own private pond. Well, it was sort of private, if you don't mind sharing your water with a drinking deer. We slipped into the water -- only two feet deep -- and laid back. It's the closest you will ever get to being back in the womb. The deer wandered off and we floated languidly, said nothing, and watched as the sun slowly lifted itself above the valley.
Distant birdsong and chirruping insects were our surround sound. To one side, we heard a rustling. It took a mighty effort to lift my head to see what it was. Eventually, I could see a garter snake had caught a small bird and was dragging it off for breakfast. It was reassuring to know we were still at the top of the food chain. If you're lucky you may spot black bear, fox, antelope, and elk as well as a myriad of colorful birds. I closed my eyes and tried to blend in with nature. I didn't want to ever leave this place.
2. Swim Under The Stars
There is a large, hot spring-fed swimming pool (about 90 F in the summer), a natural hot tub (about 104 F), and a green sauna among Valley View’s amenities. It is fed constantly with fresh spring water that not only keeps it clean and avoids the use of chlorine but also keeps it a comfortable temperature (in the mid-80s) during the night and in the wintertime. Overlooking the valley below and with an unobstructed view of a light free sky, the pool is a great place to while away the hours at any time of the year.
3. Watch The Nightly Bat Show At Orient Mine
The abandoned mine is now home to Colorado's largest colony of migrating bachelor Mexican free-tailed bats. Around sunset in the summer, about 250,000 of these wonderful creatures leave the cave in a corkscrew stream that continues for about 20 minutes. It's an amazing spectacle that is well worth the mile hike (including an 800-foot elevation change). Volunteers (often previous visitors who have fallen in love with OLT and want to give something back) lead the tour to the bat cave.
Editor’s Note: Want to see bats but nowhere near Colorado? Consider a visit to the University of Florida’s amazing bat houses in Gainesville, or witness a once-in-a-lifetime animal experience in Africa: the straw-colored fruit bat migration in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park.
4. Gaze At The Stars
The elevation and lack of light pollution make this a great place to view the night sky, which visitors are encouraged to do using one of the donated telescopes. Volunteers are often available to provide guidance and informal education on what planets and stars visitors are observing. It’s free, informal, and friendly -- it doesn’t get better than that.
5. Check Out How Nature’s Energy Is Being Harnessed
There is an air of serenity at OLT -- but don't be fooled. There is a lot of hard work and sweat being expended here -- and it's done the natural way. Back in 1975, Neil built a water wheel out of plywood and used parts to generate enough electricity for a couple of houses. Today OLT is completely off the grid, harnessing the energy from cascading spring water as it flows down the hill to the valley below, in the process generating some 40 to 65kW through its own hydro-electric plant.
Geothermal energy is also used to heat some of the buildings as the spring water’s piped under the floors.
6. Explore Everson Ranch
OLT's historic 150-year-old Everson Ranch is currently being renovated within its historical facades to create an educational and living agricultural facility showcasing sustainable agricultural processes and innovative energy production methods. It has been a working ranch since it was homesteaded in 1872 and has been passed down from generation to generation.
The 760-acre Everson Ranch was added to the Orient Land Trust in 2004.
7. Not Just Any Hole In The Ground: Witness A Geological Fault Line
The Sangre de Cristo Fault (Colorado’s most active fault) passes through OLT and can be clearly seen. It may seem like no more than an earthen trench to most of us, but it’s pretty cool to think this is an active fault line where the earth is still moving, and getting to see it will be especially thrilling for any rock enthusiast. As with most things at OLT, there will be someone who can tell you all about it.
8. Make The Most Of The Communal Amenities
There is a communal kitchen with a microwave and refrigerator for visitors staying in the cabins. Since the closest supermarket store is 37 miles away, sharing is a good thing. The sense of community is also noted in the co-ed shower and toilet building. There are private stalls (thank you!) and a urinal in the middle. The first time a lady wanders past you with a cheery "Good morning" while you are peeing might seem disconcerting, but like everything else around here, it's only natural.
Valley View Hot Springs Pro Tips
Be Sure To Make A Reservation
There is a range of accommodation available including a number of rustic cabins with communal kitchens and bathrooms, 24 RV sites, and 23 tent camping sites.
We had pre-booked our stay (this is a must no matter what accommodation you choose as the number of visitors at any one time is limited to preserve the serenity of the place) and had a wonderful spot overlooking the valley below. We did not have any hookups or dump stations -- and frankly did not want them here. Nor did we use the RV generator. Somehow it would have felt an intrusion on the serene environment in which we were just temporary occupants. Noise was created only by the wildlife around us and every effort was made to screen artificial lights so as not to interfere with night sky viewing. There are many “quiet zones” -- especially around the hot springs -- where cell phones and other electronics are prohibited. Wonderful.
There are no paved roads at Valley View, and the cabins are just a short walk from the office and pool. The nearest hot spring is less than a five-minute walk from the office but it is gently uphill. It isn’t a difficult or steep walk, but the path can be uneven and something more than flip flops are recommended. The walk to Orient Mine does require sturdy shoes.
Families and young children are an important part of the OLT community. We enjoyed the company of a number of families with young children, couples of all ages, single men and women, mothers and daughters, and a delightful group of teens. Everyone is welcome here as long as they commit to the OLT values of Recognition, Respect, and Responsibility. With 11,000 visitors annually, there is lots of opportunity to chat and enjoy the company of like-minded others. But with daily visitor numbers pegged and with over 2,000 acres to explore, there is even more opportunity to find solace here. We enjoyed chatting in the springs when others wanted to talk, but we also enjoyed the alone quiet times, too. It was fun strolling around the area and meeting others wearing nothing but a smile and sharing a hot spring with others in the raw -- well, it was the only natural thing to do.
You don’t have to be a member of Orient Land trust to visit Valley View. Having experienced the passion and enthusiasm of the volunteers in their preservation and education work, it’s hard not to support them so that future generations may come to enjoy this remarkable place.