By Mike Rosso
Isolation is often the first impression when arriving at Joyful Journey Hot Springs.
The resort, located south of Villa Grove in the northern San Luis Valley, consists of a modern hotel, health spa, geodesic greenhouse, hot soaking pools, yurts and teepees. It resides amidst vast fields of rabbitbrush and sage. To the west lie the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a vast beacon in this high mountain valley, the largest and highest in North America.
What is not apparent is the unique history of this seeming oasis: that it was once platted to become a vibrant city and health resort; that the railroad passed through for many years. The largest population at one time consisted of swine; and that for a short while, it was a place to maintain a hippie lifestyle among the crumbling structures, soaking naked in the remains of the baths, away from most of the comforts – and problems – of modern society.
In part one of the story of Hot Springs City, an earlier developer of the resort, Robert Dunshee, passed away, not having realized his dreams of a thriving resort community. The rail stopped running in the early 1950s and the resort sat, alone and mostly abandoned. The post office remained until 1946 and at some point, the resort was purchased by Elmer Walker.
Little information can be found about Elmer Walker and the resort he ran up until the late 1950s. Virginia Sutherland, former director of the Saguache museum, remembers swimming at the pool as a child. Another longtime Villa Grove resident, Mary Moore, remembers she used to “mess around as a kid” at the pool, but not much else.