Wearing a swimming suit I step outside of the dressing room into 14 degrees of below-freezing air. Fog and mist unfurl around me as I tread gingerly toward the frosted metal rail and kick off my flip flops. Frost clings to the concrete edges, the adobe wall and the edges of the door–anywhere the sun doesn’t hit. The basketball hoop and net shimmer like holiday decorations. There’s no need to dip my toe in to test the water; I know it’s body temperature or a degree or two warmer. I slide into the pool like I’m going back to the womb or the primordial juices of our origins.
It’s no wonder the indigenous peoples of Colorado believed hot springs were sacred places of healing; I felt a hallowed euphoria immediately.
At that moment, cold is a sensation I can no longer recall because I’m immersed in calming lithium-, iron- and magnesium-laden waters from a mile below the San Luis Valley. Later that day it would be snowing and people would still be soaking and swimming.
Located two miles northeast of the town of Hooper, the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool (a.k.a. The Hooper Pool by locals) is an isolated hot springs on the floor of the San Luis Valley, which continuously produces 118-degree Fahrenheit water. The hot water was discovered during the 1930s oil exploration and emerges from the ground into the Sand Dunes Pool complex under its own pressure.
“There are no pumps anywhere on the property,” said General Manager Carly Harmon. “All the water is the same–swimming, drinking, cooking, showering, everything. It’s that pure.” And, the water isn’t chlorinated, a bonus for many people.
Pete Magee, a PhD graduate in geology from Oxford University and principal geologist at Integrated Land Services in Alamosa, is fascinated by the hot springs in the San Luis Valley–located along the Sangre de Cristo Fault.
“The higher than normal geothermal gradient has heated those deep waters, some of which were buried along with the sediment. As the water is heated, the density decreases and the water will rise along any zone of weakness like a fault,” he said.
I’m enveloped in too much calming, comfortable warmth of this ironic natural wonder to be self-conscious about my body or lack of athletic acumen. In fact, most of the people who are partaking of the waters of Hooper Pool are doing so to exercise or for doctor-ordered water therapy.
Sam Selters has been coming to the pool since he was a boy when his dad would bring the whole Boy Scout troop for swimming lessons during the 1950s. Now in his seventies, Selters swims a half-mile a day. “Yeah, that’s good, but Dave over there swims a mile –twice a day.”
A healthy glow from warm exercise, and may I add, exercise with no visible sweat, emanates from the svelte strength of every swimmer and soaker. In addition to lap lanes for swimmers and water walkers, a therapy pool under the shelter holds 25 people at a time and is kept between 105 to 107 degrees. Myself, I can’t stay in that lobster pot for more than a minute, but it can quickly soothe any bunched muscles in my back and legs.
Also under the shelter, along with the therapy pool, is a baby pool, a full-service restaurant, espresso bar, and a dozen or more picnic tables. The restaurant is so good people come just for the food. A birthday party is underway near the baby pool. The outdoor, open-air pool is large enough to accommodate families, groups, lap swimmers, and soakers alike.
Outside the pool area are RV hook-ups, a couple of cabins and a shower and laundry facility open to the public. “We want to give people the option for staying more than one day and make it really comfortable for them,” Harmon said.
Valerie Garrett, who works the front desk on weekends, loves the people. “People come from all over the world. We even had a return visit by a family from Paris,” she said. “They find out about us on Facebook or the internet.”
The artesian water flows through the pool and out the east end into a man-made stream. Then, it flows through a picnic area and out into the flat of the valley. Here it’s reabsorbed and filtered by the land. Finally, it recharges the aquifer below. My worries and sore muscles are reabsorbed there as well.