Any journey through the San Luis Valley that includes a few hours’ sojourn at this hot springs nestled into the mountains is joyful. Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa has been known by many names, including Mineral Hot Springs, but it’s remained a place of tranquility and beauty set in southwestern adobe architecture that blends into the surrounding desert landscape.
The three outdoor pools, surrounded by a 360-degree panorama of the San Luis Valley and snowcapped mountains, are quiet sanctuaries for contemplating the views, the wildlife and inner peace. Joyful Journey is a desert surprise on the road to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Santa Fe, Taos and the other wonders of the southwest.
To the east are 14,000-foot peaks and to the west are rolling hills and another mountain range. There are few towns along the gunbarrel-straight road between Salida and Alamosa. Joyful Journey peeks above the sagebrush like a wink of something special. The mother spring gushes from the earth at up to 147 degrees, but the pools are at 98 to 108 degrees.
All the pools are tiled and have underwater benches and stairs with rails which afford soakers the chance to immerse in comfort. The water is untainted by chemicals. The Tower Pool is the first outdoor pool, featuring a high roof like a parasol over the pool. The other two pools are at the ends of separate boardwalk paths and measure about 10 feet by 10 feet. They’re also tiled and kept clean.
At sunset, the sky above surrounds the bather in colors. As night sets in, stars and galaxies appear in the deep dark skies. Boardwalks link the pool areas. The soaking areas are enclosed by plexiglass walls which blend into the décor the landscape of desert plants, soaring eagles and hawks, jackrabbits, the occasional coyote and roaming antelope. There are deck chairs for lounging as well as tables and chairs for chatting.
Joyful Journey’s location enlivens the pool conversations. Within a 20-minute drive in various directions are the artsy community of Crestone, a UFO watchtower, a New Age study center and about a dozen spiritualism centers. Frequent topics among soakers are the meaning of life, the variety of world spanning wisdoms, the intent of visitors from other planets, growing organically in the high desert and the eternal search for truth.
Joyful Journey also draws rafters from the Arkansas River, mountain climbers healing from ascending the peaks, and the diverse local residents. It’s a springs like no other in Colorado. Two other kid-friendly hot springs in the area leave Joyful Journey to the adults and maintain the quiet. Joyful Journey also offers lodging in six yurts, as well as camping for dry RVs and tents. The yurts have comfy beds, reading lights and heaters for chilly nights.
The decor is simple but lovely, with wood floors, handmade quilts, a desk and chairs and mountain views. Breakfast and soaking pool passes are included with lodging. In a Middle Eastern style building next to the soaking pools are showers, bathrooms and a spa that offers a full menu of massages, hot stone therapy, exfoliation treatments, Shiatsu, herbal wraps and other treatments for the skin and body. There’s also a two-person soaking tank and an aspen paneled sauna.
Scents of herbs waft through the rooms. The music of Native American flutes drifts in from the lobby. Use of the San Luis Valley hot springs date to ancient Native Americans, the original Colorado residents, and most recently the Utes. Before the Spanish claimed the area, Utes hunted in the open ranch land where game was visible for miles, soaking in springs they viewed as an extension of Mother Earth.
Artifacts from arrowheads to bone tools to crockery pieces attest to the Utes’ long habitation in the area. Explorers, miners and the builders of railroads used the springs. An early land speculator, John Dunshee, plotted a town around the three dozen springs in the area in the early 1900s. When the simple soaking spot prospered, he put in an enclosed swimming pool, lodging and a bathhouse.
The venture ended in the 1960s, when the pools were abandoned except for bands of hippies that relished the soaking spot. Some of those hippies are now local business owners. The current owners acquired the spot in the 1980s and have slowly added amenities. More are planned.
If You Go
Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, 28640 County Road 58EE, in the San Luis Valley. Information: (719) 256-4328; www.joyfuljourneyhotsprings.com Getting there: On Colorado Highway 17, 32 miles south of Salida and 50 miles north of Alamosa. On the east side of the road, a cluster of white buildings and tipis.
Deborah Frazier, a longtime reporter at the Rocky Mountain News, has been visiting Colorado hot springs for more than 30 years and discovers new ones each year. She has also written about hot springs that went from the hippie dips of the 1960s to lovely warm water refuges today. Her book, Colorado’s Hot Springs, is available through www.amazon.com.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.