Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colorado Hot Springs

September 29, 2011
We went to bed on Thursday night  with great intentions to get up early, go the Garden of the Gods and watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, getting out of bed in time to make that happen proved a bit too challenging, so we slept in and started working on a backup plan. Having set “visiting hot springs” as one of our top priorities for our travels, we set about searching for springs not too far from Colorado Springs. Turns out there are many, but the one that caught Debby’s eye was Valley View Hot Springs, about 40 minutes south of Salida, CO, which made it a 3-ish-hour drive from the Academy. On paper, the place sounded terrific. In person, it was awesome.

The journey there and back was just a bit longer than our stay. First stop on the way out was Safeway, where we restocked on Chaka Ummmm sauce, our favorite steak marinade. Ate those steaks tonight with cousin Rick. It would have been fun to have had them with us last night so we could have stayed longer at the hot springs. They have a huge kiosk with multiple grills and a fire pit that also has a grill, where we suspect much mingling occurs at night.

It was the perfect day for a drive through the mountains. From a distance, we saw towering peaks that seemed forever away and in the end we wound up in the foothills on the other side of them. It’s been a delayed fall it seems this year, but as the sunsets get earlier, the trees put on their show in spite of the warm weather. The mountainsides were awash in the glory of autumn; a perfect harmony of colors. We followed the Arkansas River through the Big Horn Canyon without seeing any big horn sheep, but we did see a lot of people—rafting in shallow water and fly fishing for the ever elusive trout.

Let’s get to the good part—the hot springs. Wow. Many times during our visit, we both said, “this is the best yet.” Picture yourself a few hundred feet up the side of a mountain, facing west, sitting in a shallow, gravel-bottomed pool looking out over a valley with a range of snowcapped 14,000 footers on the other side. Magnificent storm clouds over the distant mountains (but not over ours) made the afternoon sky vibrant. It was truly magical.

The spring’s source is about 300 feet above the entrance to the hot springs. There are a series of pools along the hillside that get warmer as you move up the hill and closer to the source. I think there are other “sources” downhill from what they call the “top pool” but in any case there are a good half dozen or more soaking pools that are built in the stream that flows from the top. Water temperature was not too hot in any of the pools, in fact I would have liked it hotter in the lower pools. All the pools had spectacular views and we found ourselves all alone, which is always nice. From the top pool, formed by a dam in the outflow near the source, you can look down and see three smaller pools cascading below, and the valley and mountains in the distance. When the sun set, it was clear that it was worth the drive. Can’t wait to go back and spend the night.

For our RV-ing friends, there’s about 7 miles of dirt road to get to the springs. Not the worst we’ve been on, but I wouldn’t take my rig there, mostly because there’s not really any space for a big rig at the resort. Class C would be okay. We saw some there. There are a lot of RV parks nearby though, and some BLM land that you may be able to park on. Also, some incredible tent camping sites within crawling distance of the pools.

October 12, 2011
It just keeps getting better. On our way from Colorado Springs to Palm Desert, we took a small detour to visit Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, Colorado. Ridgway is located between Montrose and Ouray at the foot of the towering San Juan Mountains. The setting was incredible. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day and we were surrounded by the snowcapped peaks of the San Juans. The hot springs were just off Highway 550.

These springs were much more developed than the ones at Valley View. They had pea-sized gravel bottoms and the pools had concrete and stone walls that offered plenty of places to sit. The landscaping was very nice and there were several lounge chairs scattered about the lawn where you could chill, away from the pools. The large pool was about 4-5 feet deep and had a pipe waterfall on one end. I tried sitting under the fall, but the water was probably about 110° to 112° and it was hard to stay under it for long. This pool was by far the most popular and it seemed there were a lot of people there for the middle of the week. At noon the water was about 100° but it warmed up gradually throughout the afternoon. Sitting on the north side of the pool afforded awesome views of the mountains through trees afire with the colors of autumn.

There were several other pools on the grounds, including one that was connected to the large pool and had a cooler waterfall and a muddy bottom. The hot pool was super hot at about 110°. It was smallish with room for only 2 or 3 people. It was next to the sauna, which we didn’t use. There were two other pools that were smaller and shallow, one of which was for smokers.

The lodge had nice showers, lockers, and a kitchen for use by guests. We used the kitchen to heat up our chicken quesadillas and were told by one of the employees on our way back to our lounge chairs to be careful not to break our dish. I’m so glad he told us that or I probably wouldn’t have been careful. Dooh!

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