Orient Land Trust is an amazing piece of land between San Luis Valley and Cottonwood Peak of Rocky Mountains in Colorado; it encompasses wildlife corridor with numerous hiking trails to explore, pristine spring waters – including geothermal springs for you to relax, an abandoned mine that now hosts the state’s largest bat colony, and rustic cabins and camping area for you to stay. And what makes this place truly natural, relaxing and liberating is that it is very much nude-friendly! When we went there in July, the weather was just perfect for that – it only cools down at night, but then you’d hang out at the hot springs 😉
We stayed at the Oak House community lodge, but if I come again, I think I’ll go for tenting next to one of those natural hot springs.
This place is perfect if want to connect with nature at ease – it’s everywhere around you, and even such luxury as hot baths are natural there. On my first walk around, I was amazed to see several deer right off the trail that seem to be quite tame. I didn’t have my camera that time, but when I grabbed it, there was a rabbit instead, but it was a bit shier.
I saw quite a few deer on a random trail afterwards, and it looked like they felt pretty much the same as human visitors of OLT – relaxed 😉
Fawns, however, seemed to be more alert and cautious,
so as squirrels (unlike their Central Park counterparts).
As I continued going up the mountain, I also apparently scared the whole flock of grouse, as they noisily took off the ground and sat on the trees around me.
The views from the trail were beautiful: multicolored hills and mountains,
magnificent San Luis Valley,
and cute tiny settlement of Orient Land Trust itself…
At the top of the nearest peak to OLT, there was a primitive stone construction by a dead tree – not sure about its purpose, but it could protect you from the wind if you decide to camp there.
As I looked down at the forest on the opposite slope, it caught my attention how various the vegetation appeared to be, with patches of different broad-leaf and coniferous trees sticking to each other, and other parts covered by grass or bushes.
Aspen trees with their white barks stood out in the sea of green.
As aspens let a lot of light to reach the ground, a lot of other plants can grow in such a forest.
And if aspens caught my eyes’ attention, my nose was pleased with conifers –
many of them released sap on their young cones, and it provided a pleasant aroma.
Too bad I didn’t see any edible fruits. This one below looked like a gooseberry, but I wasn’t sure.
This plant below had beautiful leaves,
but the main attraction was of course flowers,
which were in abundance all over the mountain but especially on non-forested slopes.
Colors spanned the whole spectrum.
My favorite was probably this one below.
Flowers mean butterflies (and hummingbirds, in this part of the world, but we’ll get to them later).
But not all butterflies were busy pollinating flowers.
Cactus flowers seemed to be more popular among bees though.
I was surprised to see so many cacti species so far up north and at relatively high elevation,
but they were clearly at limit of their ecological tolerance,
as all of them were very short.
I wonder if sticking together helps cacti survive winter.
Well, at least some of them clearly showed their love to the place ❤
And as much as I love cacti, I don’t like stepping on their spikes… oh, have I mentioned that hiked not only bare but barefoot too?
The terrain was quite rough even without spikes, but all that pain made relaxation in hot springs only sweeter.
So, finally I’m getting to describe you what Orient Land Trust is probably most known for – geothermal springs in truly natural setting! There are a few pools with different temperature of water, different levels of accessibility and seclusion. The uppermost of the upper three pools has an extra feature: air bubbles seep through its bottom caressing your body on their way to the surface.
The middle of the upper pools is one of the smallest, but its depth is just perfect to lie down and enjoy the flow of warm water over your body.
After that, I was ready for another hike! (I’ll get back to description of other hot springs of OLT in a bit.)
At around 18:00, together with many other visitors and a guide, we headed out to the abandoned Orient Mine turned home to the largest bat colony in Colorado to see the spectacle of thousands bats leaving their cave to prey on insects at dusk.
The views on the way were stunning again.
The excavated red earth stark perfect contrast to the green, whereas the valley literally on the other side of the road was covered by dry grass.
Typically for OLT, we were greeted by a deer chilling by the bush.
I snacked on ‘Bear Naked’ energy bar (I see an ad potential here!)
The trail was very easy, with only one decent uphill hike, after which we had a break at a cliff with magnificent view of the valley.
The sea of dry grass spotted by green trees and bush thickets presented a beautiful picture.
Then, the beams of sunlight coming onto the valley between the mountains and clouds created yet more splendid view.
As the last sun rays of the day touched our skin, we hurried to the Orient Mine cave.
While we waited for the bats to emerge, I was try it to figure my at-the-time-new-to-me camera settings, that would work well for a fast moving small object in dark conditions.
I could certainly catch the colors of sunset,
and an airplane gaseous trace,
but I failed to take any decent photograph of bats.
You’ll just have to believe my word or go to OLT webpage about their bats to see photos and videos.
It was a mesmerizing nature’s spectacle! As we were told by our guide, these bats were mainly males of a tropical species that migrate there for the summer, it was funny to think of the cave as a huge bachelor resort for bats and their huge night feast in the valley.
By that time, it got substantially colder and I was the only one left naked. It was still ok for me, especially after we started walking, but I was looking forward to the hot springs. At night, we only went to the pools that were closer to the campground, and although they were pretty full, it was still easy to find a nice spot for yourself. At the biggest pool, we were treated with yet another amazing nature’s spectacle: incredibly bright starry sky and fireflies ‘dancing’ around us.
Unfortunately I didn’t even try to photograph this, but the whole experience was magic.
Next morning, we went to the upper pools again and enjoyed the views from the lowest of the three. By the way, there was mint growing right next to it, so it smelled nice around too.
This geothermal infinity pool is just priceless, and I hope I’ll enjoy it again some day!
Right before our departure, I found hummingbird trapped in the bathroom.
Luckily, I have a lot of experience handling birds,
so I easily caught it while it was bumping into the window and set it free outside.
I must say that I myself felt pretty much free as a bird at Orient Land Trust, I wish there were more places like that!