Our first visit to the Sand Dunes Pool was a lucky accident. One snowy night, after setting off down a narrow rural highway for an after-dark soak at a hot spring spa about 50 miles from home, we realized that the roads were too slick for the long drive. Instead of continuing to our original destination, we decided to take a detour to the Sand Dunes Pool in Hooper. Because the pool is closer to our home and offers some of the best food in the Valley, it has since become our primary soaking and swimming location. We swim there at least once a week and rejuvenate our joints with water yoga classes. We also buy most of our tomatoes, cucumbers and basil from the Mile Deep Grille, which offers fresh produce grown in geothermal greenhouses behind the pool.
True to its name, the pool offers stunning views of one of the Valley’s major monuments. The indoor therapy pool and outdoor swimming pool are fed by the hot, mineralized waters of an artesian well. From the outdoor pool, you can enjoy sweeping views of the sand dunes nestled against the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. During an early winter sunset, you can join three or four other swimmers who float and bob in the pool as they quietly watch the crystalline full moon rising over the Sangres. On warm summer evenings, the pool is considerably more active, but scheduled lap swims are scheduled in the mornings for dedicated swimmers. A picnic area, volleyball courts and an RV park are available for families who want to enjoy a geothermal holiday.
We’ve considered buying a few acres outside of Hooper so we could set up a trailer and be closer to the Sand Dunes Pool, but we’re still waiting for those winning numbers from the Colorado Lottery . . . .
The Sand Dunes pool includes a large swimming pool, a children’s pool and an indoor therapy pool for adults. Temperatures in the therapy pool range from 105 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit/41 to 45 degrees Celsius, and air jets turn a simple soak into a jacuzzi-style massage. Air jets are timed in 15-minute intervals, and we usually soak for one 15-minute cycle before heading back to the outdoor pool. According to a 1976 study by the Colorado Geological Survey, the water at the Sand Dunes Pool contains carbonate, bicarbonate, potassium, lithium and iron, among other minerals.
Temperatures in the outdoor pool usually hover between 96 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit/36 to 37 degrees Celsius, but you can find pockets of therapeutic warmth in the shallow end of the outdoor pool. The outdoor pool is equipped with a large shower that sends streams of hot water drumming down over sore backs, necks and shoulders.
The pool offers water yoga, low-impact aerobics and swimming lessons. Our water yoga class, taught by aquatic professional Jan Marie Smith, combines a rejuvenating, holistic approach to exercise with the healing properties of warm, mineralized water. We highly recommend Jan’s water yoga classes as a gentle way to increase flexibility, stimulate the heart and lungs and reduce stress. We go into withdrawals if we can’t get to water yoga in any given week.
When we have friends visiting from out of town, we almost always find an excuse to lure them over to the Sand Dunes Pool, especially if they have kids. The Sand Dunes Pool offers swimming and bathing for kids of all ages, from the infants that float in the children’s pool to the older kids who perform acrobatic stunts on the diving boards. Hoops are available for those who enjoy an aquatic game of basketball. In this park-like setting surrounded by aspen trees, you can sunbathe on lounge chairs, play outdoor games, host a family barbecue or wade in a picturesque stone mini-pool that features a small slide and feeds into a creek.
The gift shop offers a colorful selection of candy, snacks, beverages, pool toys, swimming supplies and first aid products, along with t-shirts and other souvenirs. I like the photo gallery that depicts the history of the pool, especially the photos from the 1930s. The beaming faces of the family in those black-and-white photos don’t look very different from the faces of the families who gather there today.
Mile Deep Grille
Eric and I consider the Mile Deep Grille to be one of the best cafes in the Valley. With ripe red tomatoes and basil fresh from the pool’s greenhouse, how can you go wrong? The food is fresh and flavorful, with a number of low-calorie selections, like our favorite caprese salad. The caprese salad combines juicy tomato slices topped with fresh basil and fresh mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with oil and balsamic vinegar. Our other favorites are the chicken cesar salad, the cheeseburger and the sweet potato fries. The spinach salad with tart green apples and sweet, crunchy glazed walnuts is a healthy meal that also appeals to your sweet tooth. The burgers are juicy and inventive and the thick crust pizza rivals the offerings of any other pizza joint in the area. New specials are introduced every few weeks, like the recent Hawaiian burger and the buffalo chicken sandwich. For dessert, there are homemade cookies, frozen yogurt and sometimes cinnamon rolls or cupcakes. We usually go home with a couple of pounds of their hothouse tomatoes, which make a delicious marinara sauce or salsa.
Location and Hours
The Sand Dunes Pool is located off of Highway 17 outside of Hooper, Colorado in the San Luis Valley. Look for the water billboard, then turn to the west and head for the mountains. Turn left at the end of the road and drive about half a mile down the asphalt road until you get to the pool on the left.
The pool is open every day except Thursday, when it’s closed for draining and cleaning. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., or 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. from December 1 through February 28. The pool has shorter hours on Halloween, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and is closed on New Year’s Day, Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving.
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Colorado Geological Survey; Hydrogeological Data of Thermal Springs and Wells in Colorado; J.K. Barrett and R.H. Pearl; 1976.
Photos by Eric Havelock-Bailie, Copyright 2011