Hot springs in winter … wherefore art thou? Travelers have numerous reactions to hot springs in a region. Some seek them out. Others happen upon them any time of year and are happy to spontaneously try them out. Others, like me, enjoy them seasonally. I like contrasts. Cold winter days make hot soothing pools of water much more inviting, especially after skiing, running, snowshoeing, or any other snow-filled fun. I say 'ahhhh' at the Sand Dunes Pool.
First, let's take a step back in time. Imagine being an oil drilling company in the 1930s and getting into hot water, literally! One mile below ground. Energy is energy in science, but hot water won't fuel a car or a truck. So the oil company moved on and a warm swimming hole became a reality, then a fish pond and greenhouses. Finally, the modernized outdoor Sand Dunes Swimming Pool came to be as it is today. In late spring of 2015, the newly added large indoor greenhouse space will be open to the public.
An added bonus at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool is the absence of the sulphur smell typically found in natural hot springs. The hot water here can be consumed by humans directly. How is this possible? Mother Nature heats the water, cleans it, and pumps it to the surface using her knowledge of water table science. In other words, she filters the water through many layers of soils, sands, and gravels. She heats it with volcanic heat from below the surface and by using the unique geology of the San Luis Valley, she brings the water to the surface as an artesian well (a well that uses natural geologic pressure to force water to the surface without the need of a mechanical pump). What a great mom! Finally, at 118 degrees Fahrenheit coming out of the well head, tourists from England on holiday can come with their swimming costume and several tea bags and pretty much be golden.
I have driven by the pool turnoff at Highway 17 north of Hooper 52 times (or so) and never stopped there until early 2015. Even though the pool is only a few miles off the road and there is nothing to block the view, it is hunkered down in the flat and slightly hidden in the mostly chamisa-covered ground. To my surprise, the Sand Dunes Pool is a nice complex with the pool, cabins, camping area, and trees. On the day of my visit, snow flurries and a light wind chilled the air. A white sun was frozen high in the gray sky. Mountains were not visible in any direction as the snow flurries had made them disappear. People were swimming laps or relaxing in the therapy pool.
As I toured the grounds accompanied by plumes of steam rising off the pool, I knew this would become a place I would frequent. Soak in the pool, shoot some hoops, play volleyball, toss a few horse shoes, and grill a meal in the picnic area. The grounds adjacent to the pool have all those things! As the warm water flows continuously through the pool it exits via a stream through the picnic area with fish and amphibians living there as the warm water supports a mini ecosystem. Worry not; no alligators from the nearby Colorado Gator Farm have escaped and made their way to the pool. Besides, the alligators have their own hot pools with lots of their friends a few miles to the south. As water is so precious in the SLV, most of the water is returned directly to the aquifer since only a small percentage evaporates or is consumed by humans.
The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. There is a gift shop and the Mile Deep Grille (cleverly playing off Denver as the Mile High City) featuring a great menu. The Sand Dunes Pool is indeed warm and inviting. Don't drive by it as many times as I did before stopping!