Nestled in Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Valley View Hot Springs offers a combination of stunning natural beauty and rustic simplicity for visitors seeking a refuge from the noise, artificial lights and non-stop communication of the modern world. Not since the Garden of Eden has a resort offered such an appealing blend of technology-free relaxation and unselfconscious nudity.
In 2009, the owners of Valley View Hot Springs donated this gem to the Orient Land Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of natural resources in this idyllic region of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. According to a deed restriction attached to Valley View, this conservation effort includes preserving visitors’ right to shed the trappings of civilization—including cell phones, computers, watches and clothes—during their stay.
Although you’re welcome to wear a bathing suit at Valley View, even the most modest guests usually find themselves splashing nude in the warm, mineral-rich water or enjoying the sensation of dappled sunlight on their skin as they sunbathe on the leafy pool deck. When you see everyone from a 79-year-old retiree to a 35-year-old yoga instructor and her kids happily indulging in the joys of nudity, it’s hard to stay buried under an oversized towel and sunglasses.
Whether you’re soaking in a meadow pond overlooking the world’s largest alpine valley or simply washing dishes at one of the springs’ communal facilities, life feels downright utopian when you aren’t wearing anything but sunscreen. The warm, respectful acceptance of nude bathers of all shapes and sizes is a refreshing change from the body anxiety that pervades American culture.
According to long-time visitors, the atmosphere at Valley View has mellowed considerably since the natural pond now officially named the Soaking Pond was known as the Party Pool. Plenty of partying still goes on at Valley View, but the pace is slower, the mood more gentle and companionable. Impromptu wine and cheese parties break out at the cabins at happy hour, but all wine bottles are tidily recycled by 10 p.m., when “quiet time” begins. During quiet time, which lasts from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., noise is kept to a restrained murmur.
Although you can happily expose your bare bottom or pink privates in public, cell phone use is restricted to specific areas of the resort. Old timers and volunteers are likely to scold guests who unsheathe an electronic device at one of the pools or communal facilities.
Swimming and Soaking
The 80-foot swimming pool is filled with fresh, clear, non-chlorinated spring water. Water in the pool typically ranges from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the season. Although pools and ponds are open to overnight guests 24 hours a day, keep in mind that there are no artificial lights to guide you down the rocky trails or illuminate your soaks after dark.
Located beside the swimming pool, Valley View’s sauna offers a combination of sensory delight and physical purification. Lying in the darkened warmth, fragrant with the scent of cedar, you can feel the toxins seeping from your pores. Take a dip in the cool pool located at the base of the sauna for a cleansing, refreshing contrast.
Hot springs enthusiasts in search of a scalding soak may be disappointed at first, but the caress of moderately warm water quickly grows on you. The hot tub offers the hottest soak, at 104 to 106 degrees F. The Waterfall Pond features a therapeutic stream of warm water rushing through a wooden pipe, while the lesser known Meadow Pond offers enchanted seclusion. If you’re up for a more rigorous hike up the mountain, you’ll be rewarded with a magical outdoor soak in the Top Pond, where soaking temperatures may reach the upper 90s. The hot spring water cools to a milder temperature as it cascades through two smaller ponds surrounded by evergreens, aspen trees and wildflowers.
To preserve the serene beauty of Valley View, the Orient Land Trust limits the number of guests and the length of their stays. Members who contribute to the non-profit trust may reserve space up to 3 months in advance, while non-members may book spaces up to 2 weeks ahead of time. Stock up on supplies before you drive up the mountain — the closest major shopping centers and restaurants are located 37 miles away in the town of Salida. The very small town of Villa Grove, only 12 miles from Valley View, offers basic staples and dining facilities.
Camp sites, communal housing, private rooms and cabins are available, all at affordable rates. Cabins are quaint and rustic, with built-in kitchens and beds that are comfy enough to lure you into sleeping late, unless you’d rather skinny-dip at dawn. All public restrooms are co-ed. Valley View is open throughout the year, except for December 1 through 28.
Orient Land Trust: Valley View Hot Springs. Retrieved from olt.org.
Text copyright Anne Tourney: 2011; Photos copyright Maria Matos: 2011.