As winter heads toward spring - days are longer, nights not so cold, and the sun feels warmer as it crawls northward into our daily skies... It seems to be another season of sorts. It is! Hot Springs Soaking Season providing sunset watching, mountain viewing, and star gazing. From Alamosa, there are five options from which to choose. To the north off Highway 17, the Sand Dunes Recreation offers family fun in a big swimming pool, a hot tub and restaurant. Lodging, campsites, RV sites are available. Views? Oh yeah! Plus, in the adult area, several pools of varying temps provide options and there is a bar for adult beverages. Thirty minutes north of Alamosa.
A mile before the junctions of Highways 17 and 285 is Joyful Journey Hot Springs with hot tubs and massage services. Stay in motel rooms or pick a yurt for winter camping in luxury. Don't worry. Staying warm in a yurt is not a problem. The night skies. Wow! Slightly under an hour north on Highway 17.
Up above and to the East of the junction of Highways 17 and 285 are the Valley View Hot Springs. Forget your bathing suits? No problem, they're optional. Lodging and camping are also available - bring your own food. Enjoy a variety of pools and some of the purest water in the state. There are no chemical treatments required for the water for the hot tubs or for drinking. How pure and perfect is that? Try some of the trails that go off into the valleys that head up into the Sangre de Cristos. The snow lies deep so bring snow shoes or cross country skis. Load up your water bottles in the office before you leave. Free water! An hour fifteen north and east of Alamosa. Look up the Orient Land Trust for directions.
Off to the west, on US 160, up and over the snow packed ridges of Wolf Creek Pass and nestled in the San Juan Mountains is Pagosa Springs. Plenty of hot springs there in which to soak, a bottomless turquoise colored hot spring, lodging, restaurants and entertainment galore. Every type of winter recreation is also available. Two hours’ drive from Alamosa but could be longer depending on snow conditions on Wolf Creek Pass. Check weather and road reports. cotrip.org.
My choice for a day last week? An hour and twenty minutes south lies Ojo Caliente Hot Springs. This is a wonderful drive through the historic and oldest Spanish settlements in the San Luis Valley and follows the lesser known historic railway called the Chile Line. There is a restaurant store in Tres Piedras NM, 30 minutes south of Antonito Colorado and has a bit of the history of the old railroad days. The drive on 285 is across a high elevation plateau through juniper and pinon pine forests. 25 miles later, 285 takes a big swinging right and descends down into deep Northern New Mexico. The Cerro Pedernal (Georgia O'Keefe's favorite flat-topped mountain to paint) and the Jemez Mountains span the western horizon. As you drop in altitude, the temperature goes up and the snow pack often disappears magically within a few miles. Roll down your windows. Lovely air! Within a few miles, the settlement of Ojo Caliente and its historic hot springs, invite you to stop.
Ojo Caliente is a 'cute' Spanish town. The sign to the SPA cannot be missed. Drive by the historic district, past the gardens, and over the Rio Ojo Caliente and enter the parking lot which is surprisingly full for all the cars you see on the highway! Many people come up from the South, Santa Fe, Espanola and Albuquerque for the day to treat themselves to a soak and a relaxing break from reality.
What's there? Lodging, restaurant, bar, yoga yurt, mountain biking, and hiking. And numerous pampering services. Oh yeah, and the hot springs! There are five different types of pools offering health benefits because of the minerals naturally occurring in the water for joint relief and other human ailments. But, to earn your soak, may I suggest a hike. The trails start directly west of the main buildings. The first quarter mile is the toughest climb to reach the ridge. Get to that point, and choices arise. The best one? Walk south toward Posi, an ancient Indian Village area where you will cross into an archeological site and sacred grounds. There is a small slot canyon that parallels the trail and reemerges at a trail junction. Marvel at the power of water, pick up and examine rocks, as you course your way through a desert wonder.
Continue toward the Posi area. Avoid being stabbed by the chollas and the yuccas as you wander amongst the deserts treasures. Thousands of pot shards lay on the ground. Visitors before you have piled them up on larger flat stones to better examine the artwork from an 800 year old culture. They had it pretty good. They had hot springs, fertile soils for growing crops along the small river, a nice, generally snow free area even in winter, and far reaching views, offering both protection and scenic wonders. Wander up the hillside to the rocky outcropping to the west of Posi and find petroglyphs on the rocks. Many of the images seemed to be of rattlesnakes. This is rattlesnake country, and I could not help thinking that a bunch of teenagers climbed the hill when their parents told them to go out and do something constructive and have fun. Be kids. Learn how to 'petroglyph'! Maybe they counted the number of snakes they encountered on their way up the hill in one day!
Relax, go this time of year, the season before winter ends and spring begins, and worry not, rattlesnakes are deep in a burrow somewhere. Go for a mind clearing educational hike and head back to the Hot Springs to soak your bones!