Soaking at Valley View

Article by Christina Nealson

Hot Springs – January 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

The sun had fallen behind the Cochetopa Hills when the driver of the blue Subaru noticed red flashing lights bearing down on him.

He glanced to his female partner, as he pulled over three miles south of Villa Grove and waited for the officer. “One of my tail lights is out,” he said.

It’s hard to tell, at this point, who ended up more embarrassed: the officer, the driver, or his companion. The officer leaned into the Subaru window to ask for the routine license and saw two people, stark naked.

The officer looked from them, down to the road, and returned to their eyes.

“Uh,” his stammer peppered with a slight smile, “you must have come from Valley View.”

CENTRAL COLORADO boasts many unique hot springs, from Juanita Pass to Mt. Princeton, Salida to Penrose. But there’s only one where people can walk and soak freely, sans clothes, from the time they enter the gate.

Nestled into the Sangre de Cristo mountains, overlooking the Valley of San Luis, is Valley View Hot Springs, natural soaking pools at 8,700 feet above sea level.

Neil and Terry Seitz are the owners of Valley View, and they work hard to maintain a place that preserves the natural beauty of the mountainside, as well as a comfortable, safe atmosphere.

Neil first visited Valley View in 1974. An architecture student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he arranged to work part-time at Valley View for the owner, Roy Everson, who farmed down the road.

The next year Neil left architecture behind and began working full time at the Springs. He leased Valley View from Roy in August, 1976, the same month that Terry drove in to soak and camp on her way to California.

“August 4,” they both remind me, with smiles. “How long you staying?” Neil asked her. “Oh, a while,” she replied. “A few years?” he asked. “Maybe,” she grinned. She’s still there, with Neil and their two children.

BATHING SUITS are an option at Valley View. How is nudity accepted by the Valley? Neil says there was serious opposition initially. Now, it’s either accepted or ignored. Neil, an active Democrat in the county, is sometimes introduced as the “guy who runs the nudist colony.”

“I tell them that bees and ants have colonies, nudists don’t.” Terry and Neil believe strongly in a person’s right to be nude. They note that almost all clothing-optional facilities have rules or quotas for solo males. “We’ve never felt the need to penalize everybody. We deal with individual problems as they come up.” It is a rare occurrence when they do (once or twice a year) and action is quickly taken.

Neil and Terry’s 1976 commitment to Valley View saved the place. For years the entrance fee was 50¢ for the day, $1 for overnight. The buildings, constructed about 1915, were in a serious state of deterioration. Glass was gone, campfires had been burned on the floors, and the walls were black. The swimming pool didn’t hold water. Neil and Terry put glass in the windows, metal on the roofs, and repairs into the pool. Fees rose to $1 entrance, $2 overnight.

VISITORS BACK THEN were either hippies or cowboys, a challenging combination for a caretaker. “The cowboys were always coming up to clean up the hippies,” said Terry. One time they poured a bunch of detergent into one of the soaking pools.

To add to the drama, it was common knowledge that the Saguache County sheriff’s department did not operate after 10 p.m. One night Neil was soaking at what is now called the “party pool”, the biggest and deepest of the pools, when someone yelled that a guy was driving up. Neil scoffed, “Impossible … it’s only a path, with trees and bushes, and …” Headlights of a Jeep glared down upon him.

Shotgun in hand, he and others performed a citizens’ arrest, and held a trial at gunpoint in Roy Everson’s kitchen. “The guy was fined $40 and told never to come again,” laughed Neil.

By this time Neil’s exploits had attained mythic proportions. He was “that weird hippie with a shotgun.” An enigma indeed. “I’d warn folks to stop unacceptable behavior and they’d chuckle. I’d go get the gun and warn them again, and if they still chuckled, they got a shot over their heads. That’s the way situations were handled in the valley then [mid-70s]” he said.

A count of 200 cars one night in late l970 motivated Neil and Terry to begin Valley View as a membership facility, to control numbers and preserve the land. Valley View now has 500 members. If you are not a member, you must go during the week, ($7/day in the winter, $10 summer). While you will occasionally hear complaints of when it was “only 50¢ to get in”, most folks are happy with the resultant safety and upgrade of the facilities. They even got a phone in 1985. (719-256-4315, 9:00-9:00, seven days, for information or reservations.)

Lying back in the warm pools, sunshine soaking into every pore, it’s easy to imagine when the Utes frequented the springs. Magical moments come easy at Valley View. It’s not unusual to be visited by a deer who bends into the water to drink. At night, bats dip from the sky and skim the surface. Like many of their fellow Texans, 250,000 swallowtail bats come to the Valley for the summer; they lodge in the shafts and tunnels of the old Orient Iron Mine.

Winter holds a different beauty … green water plants grow amidst ice crystals … a long, graceful bullsnake slides along the frosted mud bank. You dress quickly in sub-zero temperatures. Icicle hair clinks and pokes against the neck.

The Utes were the first known visitors to these springs. But as white settlement penetrated the valley, the hot springs narrowly escaped events that would have sent the water on a very different course.

Gottlidge Midland homesteaded the area in 1868. When Colorado was granted statehood in 1876, Valley View was in section 36. At that time, Section 36 of every township (a block of land six miles square) was reserved to the state government for support of public education. Midland’s homesteading kept Valley View from state hands.

A second close call came when Valley View fell into the hands of George Adams, who bought the Baca 4 Land Grant in 1885 from William Gilpin, first territorial governor of Colorado.

Call it luck, but the springs never became part of a proposed land development scheme. In a quick succession of many owners, Adams’ holdings were parceled. Valley View eventually ended up with the Eversons.

NEIL AND TERRY held little hope of ever owning Valley View. They knew how much it meant to the Eversons. They’d just begun a search for land in the valley, when Roy died in 1978. Not long after that, his widow Faye offered to sell it to them, and they jumped. Terry and Neil were married at Valley View in 1981.

Valley View members come from every part of the country, but most live on the Front Range, from Boulder and Denver to Colorado Springs. People who want to become members must put their names in the hopper for a drawing once a year. Only the number of people that do not renew memberships are drawn (about 10% each year).

There are an average of eighty visitors a night, seven days a week, except in the winter. Most people camp or drive RV’s to provided hook-ups. There are several cabins available for rental, a communal farmhouse with sleeping quarters, and a more recent series of rooms not unlike Motel Six. Every facility is heated electrically, from Valley View’s own hydroelectric system.

A day at Valley View goes something like this: you drive in and register at the first building on the left, the new office and welcome center. Drive a little further to a parking lot surrounded by cabins, the swimming pool, camping spots and the communal bath house. Step outside your car, throw your clothes into the air (or fold them neatly and put them on the front seat), grab a towel and head up the treed path, along the cascading stream, to the first of four major soaking pools (there are many small ones).

The pools average 96°-98, although the upper pool has been known to reach 102. They are warm springs, rather than hot springs. That means you can pack a picnic, grab your favorite wine, sip, eat and lie back until the sun sets behind the San Juans.

SOAKING CAN BE FOLLOWED by a dip in the swimming pool. You haven’t swum until you’ve breast-stroked naked in non-chlorinated, warm water. Now it’s time to scamper into the best sauna in the world. No exaggeration. Folks that come from sauna countries in Europe say this is primo. It’s a wood-heat sauna with a warm stream running through the middle. Blazing hot, dripping sweat, jump into the cooler water and begin again.

Now, the biggest challenge is to remember to dress before you drive away. I live a few miles south of Valley View, and I have seen more than a few naked bodies jumping out of their cars and moving quickly to put on a shirt and a pair of shorts. Maybe Valley View should consider pull-outs a mile down the road, “last chance to …” We do it for tire chains, after all.

There was a time when visitors would see Terry and Neil outside pounding nails or running after towels. Now, it’s a rarity. As Valley View grows, so do the responsibilities. The hippies and cowboys drive bigger-than-trees RV’s and Four-Runners with bike racks and baby stuff.

Word has spread that Valley View is a place unsurpassed in natural beauty, where one can bask safely. Members who gladly camped in the seventies now ask if their cellular phones will work and request firm mattresses.

You’ll most likely find Neil behind his computer. “I haven’t read a fiction book in two years,” he says, “all I’ve read are computer manuals.”

IT’S A FULL-TIME JOB to keep on top of state regulations. Even way out here, Valley View can’t hide. Last year Neil was handed a draft of proposed state swimming pool regulations from a local county commissioner. The wording would have closed Valley View’s pool, since chlorine was required and chlorine was an impossible addition to their stream-fed system.

After many letters and faxes, the pool was saved. Then there are nudity regulations. Legislators could pass a law and presto, Valley View would be out of business. Constant vigilance is needed.

Two issues currently demanding attention are opposition to the Colorado Airspace Initiative, which makes parts of the Wet Mountain and San Luis Valleys a low-level military flight training area by F-16 aircraft; and, discussions with the BLM on usage of public land surrounding Valley View.

Valley View’s future includes an electric sauna and steambath to be built adjacent to the swimming pool, and a small restroom and shower for campers on the south end of the grounds. But most development is done. Members worried that Valley View might become a Valley Club-Med can breath a sigh of relief.

No one knows more than Terry and Neil and its members what an important place Valley View is. I once drove my parents, visiting from Iowa, over for a soak. My dad was 72 years old. This retired farmer and former legislator practically had his clothes off before the car came to a stop. It was as if he’d waited all of his life to walk naked outdoors in the sunshine.

The soul needs places like this.

Christina Nealson says her favorite thing about Valley View is the lightning bugs.