Before I left on my trip, I asked Nancy, my friend and neighbor, to pick up my newspapers and any parcels left at my door. I told her that I was driving down to Valley View Hot Springs in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.
Nancy said that another friend of hers, Tom, would also be at the hot springs. Since it is such a long trip from Boulder — I drove 466 miles out and back — and I knew that there would be many people there, I thought that meeting up with Tom would be highly unlikely.
In fact, when I sat down for dinner on Wednesday, my first evening there, Tom was sitting across from me. His friend Bob asked where I was from. Boulder, I replied. What part of Boulder? South Boulder. Martin Acres? No, Tantra Lake.
Whereupon Tom mentioned that he knew a woman named Nancy who lived there. Sure enough, Tom was the guy that Nancy said I might meet at the hot springs. We had a great conversation, and he was one of the two nicest people I met there.
Maybe 100 people were at the hot springs. They have tent and vehicle sites for camping, but they also have nine cabins and the “Oak House.” I stayed in the Oak House, which has six dorm bed and four private rooms. I had one of the private rooms. Private except for the absence of locks on the doors.
When I first arrived, I looked out my window and saw a herd of deer. Before I could grab my camera, all but this one deer had moved off:
Deer were all around us. I wondered why, until I figured out their strategy. Like the Arab proverb, the deer are thinking that, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deer’s real enemy is the mountain lion, which isn’t safe near people. So deer are safer around us, even if they remain somewhat skittish.
While I had never stayed overnight at Valley View before, I stopped there en route to New Mexico a year ago. I was en route to visit my friend Gretchen Becker, who was vacationing in Santa Fe at the time. I remember soaking in this outdoor pool:
At about 9,000 feet, Valley View Hot Springs is isolated and quiet. It’s 37 miles south of Salida, the nearest town with any significant amenities like restaurants or gas stations. Valley View is clothing optional everywhere. Even the bathrooms are co-ed. I still remember the nice smile a woman gave me as I was standing at one of the urinals.
The lodging is rustic but not primitive. I had electricity and heat in a very small room just the size of the one that I had when I attended the University of Würzburg in Bavaria many years ago.
Oak House reminded me pleasantly of the commune that I helped found in Maryland in 1973. Always something going on and a great variety of interesting people. And, yes, nudity too.
Fortunately, the people respected the quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. They even discourage cooking before 8 a.m. But at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning one woman had made a pot of coffee and was sipping a cup on the front porch, which you can see in the photo above. She offered me a cup.
That solved my only problem. I had worried when I realized that the one thing I forgot to take with me was coffee. Usually I have packages of coffee extract in my SUV, but I had taken them into my apartment to use in case the electricity failed and I wouldn’t be able to use my coffee grinder.
I was up early to go hiking. John Lorenz, who is both a professional photographer and the general manager of the hot springs (as well as the other really nice person I got to know at the hot springs), confirmed my guess that the nearby Wild Cherry Creek Trail would be the most beautiful. I will write about that hike in my next message.
The first thing after arriving at the hot springs was to soak in one of the pools. Then I took a short three-mile hike out and back to the bat cave. At least 100,000 Mexican free-tail bats live in the abandoned Orient iron mine from June to early September. I arrived there just at 6:15 p.m. and stayed for half an hour, because that’s when the bats usually fly out of the cave. However, no one had seen them for a few days, and I didn’t either.
Anyway, I had a nice hike and on the way back down at sunset I got a reward with this view overlooking the San Luis Valley:
Reluctantly, I left Valley View Hot Springs yesterday morning for the long drive back to Boulder. As a photographer I was, however, always on the lookout for places to stop.
On the way down to Valley View I stopped at Denver’s Red Rocks, which are even more famous than Boulder’s, because of the amphitheater there. All the big acts, including the Beatles on their first American tour in 1964, played there.
On the way back home snow covered the mountains. The storm that had blown through dropped snow down to 10,000 feet in the mountains north of Valley View. Mount Antero, at 14,269 feet is the 10th highest peak in Colorado, although not as well known as Longs Peak near Boulder. But it’s 10 feet higher.
Closer to home I came across this pastoral scene:
If I would ever put a bumper sticker on my SUV, I know what would be appropriate for me:
“I Break for Beauty.”
This morning I picked up my newspapers and a parcel from Nancy. Tom had already told her that we met at Valley View.