Orient Land Trust, Colorado

naturist 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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 😉

naturist 0015  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

rabbit 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USArabbit 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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 😉

deer 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Fawns, however, seemed to be more alert and cautious,

deer 0002  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USAdeer 0003  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

so as squirrels (unlike their Central Park counterparts).

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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.

grouse 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USAgrouse 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

The views from the trail were beautiful: multicolored hills and mountains,

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magnificent San Luis Valley,

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and cute tiny settlement of Orient Land Trust itself…

view 0002  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

view 0004  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

view 0005  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Aspen trees with their white barks stood out in the sea of green.

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As aspens let a lot of light to reach the ground, a lot of other plants can grow in such a forest.

aspen forest 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

And if aspens caught my eyes’ attention, my nose was pleased with conifers –

conifer 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

many of them released sap on  their young cones, and it provided a pleasant aroma.

conifer 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Too bad I didn’t see any edible fruits. This one below looked like a gooseberry, but I wasn’t sure.

gooseberry 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

This plant below had beautiful leaves,

plant 0000  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

but the main attraction was of course flowers,

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which were in abundance all over the mountain but especially on non-forested slopes.

flowering plant 0010  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USAflowering plant 0009  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USAflowering plant 0008  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Colors spanned the whole spectrum.

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My favorite was probably this one below.

flowering plant 0004  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Flowers mean butterflies (and hummingbirds, in this part of the world, but we’ll get to them later).

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But not all butterflies were busy pollinating flowers.

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Cactus flowers seemed to be more popular among bees though.

cactus 0003  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

I was surprised to see so many cacti species so far up north and at relatively high elevation,

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but they were clearly at limit of their ecological tolerance,

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as all of them were very short.

cactus 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

I wonder if sticking together helps cacti survive winter.

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Well, at least some of them clearly showed their love to the place ❤

cactus 0006  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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?

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The terrain was quite rough even without spikes, but all that pain made relaxation in hot springs only sweeter.

naturist 0009  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

naturist 0011  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

naturist 0012  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

After that, I was ready for another hike! (I’ll get back to description of other hot springs of OLT in a bit.)

view 0006  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

view 0007  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

The views on the way were stunning again.

view 0008  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

view 0009  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Typically for OLT, we were greeted by a deer chilling by the bush.

deer 0004  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

I snacked on ‘Bear Naked’ energy bar (I see an ad potential here!)

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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.

naturist 0003  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

The sea of dry grass  spotted by green trees and bush thickets presented a beautiful picture.

view 0010  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

Then, the beams of sunlight coming onto the valley between the mountains and clouds created yet more splendid view.

view 0011  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

As the last sun rays of the day touched our skin, we hurried to the Orient Mine cave.

naturist 0005  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

view 0012  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

I could certainly catch the colors of sunset,

view 0013  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

and an airplane gaseous trace,

view 0014  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

but I failed to take any decent photograph of bats.

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You’ll just have to believe my word or go to OLT webpage about their bats to see photos and videos.

bats 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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.

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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.

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Luckily, I have a lot of experience handling birds,

saving hummingbird 0001  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

so I easily caught it while it was bumping into the window and set it free outside.

saving hummingbird 0002  Orient Land Trust, Colorado, USA

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!

new cenotes in Yucatan

This will be the final post of the ‘Mexican series’ for now, and I feel that another review of recently discovered cenotes is an appropriate finale. After I found out how beautiful and unique cenotes were – they are a special kind of sinkholes typical to Yucatan peninsula – I wanted to explore more of them. The problem with cenotes, in my opinion, is that being a tourist attraction, many appear overdeveloped to the point when they don’t even look natural anymore (with convenient stairs, decorations, souvenir shops around). So, we set up a goal to find some of the least explored cenotes.

We found a description of Chaak-Tun in a travelog that made us believe it was a kind of untouched natural wonder. But when we arrived there, it became clear it was ready for mass tourism, just waiting for the road built next to it to get asphalted. The price was already quite steep, at 200 pesos (for foreigners, 60 for Mexican citizens). Nevertheless, we enjoyed the visit, and it was not crowded. There were two caves, both with stalactites and stalagmites.

naturist 0000 Chaak Tun cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexicocaves

The second one did not have any natural light, so the mild artificial lighting was justified.

naturist 0001 Chaak Tun cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

While there was no one around, I took a chance for skinny-dipping 🙂

naturist 0002 Chaak Tun cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Another cenote that we visited in Tulum area  was ¿Cementerio de Mascota? (Pet Cemetery). It was discovered recently and has not been fully developed for visitors (yet). I put question marks around the name, because we are actually not sure if what we saw was cenote Cementerio de Mascota or an unnamed cenote in the same area. Tomas only knew that it was supposed to be further down the road that goes to the famous cenote Dos Ojos, and we got directions entering the park, but we never saw any indications to it, so we couldn’t be certain.

naturist 0004 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Once we passed the much-visited cenote Dos Ojos, we decided to continue the walk naked. The forest was green as the rain season was starting, and some trees were blooming.

blooming tree 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexicoblooming tree 0001 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

And some were even fruiting, like this wild papayo (papaya plant).

papaya 0001 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexicopapaya 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

I liked those ‘tree-hugging’ epiphyte cactuses too (they reminded me of myself on the coconut palm tree).

epiphyte cactus 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

As the air was cooling down (it was late afternoon), more and more birds started singing, but we didn’t see the possessors of this hanging nest.

hanging nest 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Eventually, the road had a steep turn to the left, and there was a sign to cenote Sac-Actun (one of the longest underwater cave systems). We decided not to turn and continued in the same direction, passing through the wooden gates; but almost immediately after that, the road turned right. We were not sure whether it would bring us to Cementerio de Mascota, and decided to follow the road for not more than half an hour. We soon reached a spot with a layer of sand that seemed to have been washed out of somewhere… then we saw the pipe that was probably used for that and followed along it.

naturist 0003 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The trail was going downwards, and the trees were getting bigger and greener – a good sign of proximity of water.

banyan 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

There it was!

cenote0000 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

However, there was something weird about it. It almost looked like a crime scene! Or like people were rushed out, leaving their diving equipment, food, and half-full (or half-empty? :D) glasses of wine!

cenote0001 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Well, what I guess in reality happened was that there were some ‘cleaning’ works on the site, which will eventually transform this cenote into another tourist attraction. To us, it would have actually been more attractive in its virgin state, but at least we could explore it a bit before it was going to be discovered by mass tourism.

naturist 0000 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

We snorkelled, and given the atmosphere of the place (and its name too!), we were happy to have seen nothing but fish in water.

naturist snorkel 0001 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

After we got out of water, we heard some noise in the woods, then we saw the trees shaking! Almost as if someone was trying to fell them with brute force. Soon we figured out what it was: monkeys were jumping from one tree to another. They were actually coming in our direction, so I quickly installed a telephoto lens on my camera. The monkeys got quiet for a moment… and then they reappeared right above us! But they moved so fast in the canopy that we didn’t manage to get any decent shots.

On the way back, we stopped by another small cenote just a bit off the road to/from Dos Ojos.

naturist 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

It made a perfect refreshing skinny-dipping experience before we would get back to the main road to catch ‘camioneta’ (minibus) to Tulum.

naturist 0005 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

A couple of days later we were joined by Miguel, who showed me some less known cenotes previously. This time we wanted to see recently open cenotes in a place that was called, very promisingly, Cenotillo.  Apparently, Cenotillo boasts more than a hundred of cenotes! We had a map that listed just a few of them.

Cenote Usil (Ucil) seemed to be the closest to this little town.

cenote 0003 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

Probably for this reason, there was some rubbish around but surprisingly there was nobody there.

cenote 0002 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

It was the perfect time of day to see solar reflections on the roof of the cenote.

naturist dive 0010 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

The water was quite cold, and it seemed bottomless! Perfect for a skinny dip-dive 🙂

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We were up to visit more cenotes, so we left pretty soon.

naturist 0000 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

By the way, cotton trees seemed to dominate the forest around Usil, but I preferred them to keep the cotton for themselves. I don’t mean that just because we didn’t need clothes in that weather, but also because quite a lot of that fibre was accumulated on the water surface of cenote.

cotton tree 0001 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexicocotton tree 0000 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

After that, we went back to the village in hope to ask for directions for other cenotes. Local police happened to be the best at giving advice, and we were even escorted by a policeman to a guide-vigilante Dani who curated some of the cenotes just recently open to public.

The first one we went was cenote Xoch. Luckily, Dani was absolutely cool with the idea of naturism and didn’t even blink when I got naked while walking through the forest on the way to cenote.

naturist 0003 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

We were truly amazed when we reached the cenote. It was almost as big as the Sacred Cenote at Chichen-Itza. Unfortunately, to my view at least, they’ve already made some basic constructions next to it, but hopefully there won’t be much more than that.

naturist 0000 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

Another disappointment came from the strictly enforced rule of wearing life vests, because “the bottom of cenotes hasn’t been explored yet”.naturist 0001 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

For someone who can swim well, it seems to be an absurd requirement for swimming in absolutely tranquil waters of cenote, but at least Dani didn’t make me wear swim trunks 😀

naturist 0002 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

Then we went to cenote Kaipech.

cows 0001 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

It was next to a cattle farm, but nobody was around; the cows seemed to be intrigued by our appearance.

cows 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

Despite being next to the farm, Kaipech was probably the least developed cenote of this scale that I’ve seen!

cenote 0002 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

There was no ladder, so we had to go down by the rocks (luckily trees and their roots were of great help with that), but this is what made this cenote my favourite one perhaps.

naturist 0001 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

This cenote still felt untouched, although we definitely weren’t the first ones to visit it: a couple of plastic bottles were floating in water. Dani said this cenote was next in their plans for development to bring tourism in the area. But in my opinion, they should not change anything about it, it is just as perfect in its virgin state as it gets. They should only keep it clean…

We cleared the entry point of floating rubbish and went for a swim.

naturist 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

This place seem to be teeming with wildlife. Judging by the constant buzz in the distance, there was a beehive around, so one has to be careful not to come too close to it. I also saw a basilisk, aka Jesus Lizard because of its ability to run on water, but this time it was just sunbathing on a branch above water. The seeds on the photo below are “snakes’ food” according to Dani, but it is hard to believe that, as all snakes are exclusive carnivores, as far as I know. I wouldn’t mind sitting there for a while and observe if any snakes come to eat those berries.

snake berries 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

There was also a nest with one egg that could be easily seen, but I guess the trick was that it was on a palm tree leaf right above water, so any crawling intruders were likely to fall down.

nest 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

As usually near cenotes, there were some blue-crowned motmots, locally known as ‘pajaro toh’. These birds are brightly coloured and have various distinct calls. I can still hear them calling to visit those picturesque and yet mysterious cenotes!

toh bird 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

Samaria Gorge and beach at Agia Roumeli in South-West Crete

Samaria Gorge and beach at Agia Roumeli provide a perfect combo of adventure and secluded relaxation. Samaria is the longest gorge in Europe, 12.4km, so be prepared to walk for several hours. The good news is that you don’t need to carry water with you (maybe just keep half a liter with you), as there are springs at regular distances. It is a very popular national reserve with regular buses departing from Hania and other towns of Crete. It is better to ask in advance if the gorge is open on the day you want to go there, because it may be closed under some weather conditions.

First, you will descend by very well organized hiking trail with magnificent views over the gorge and mountains around.

view 0000 Samaria gorge, Crete, Greece

The second part of the route lies in the river bed (during summer Samaria River comes to the surface only in some parts) between vertical rock walls up to 300m high.
view 0002 Samaria gorge, Crete, Greece
That is especially impressive in several points where the cliffs from both sides get really close to each other, just few meters apart! It can be dangerous as the signs say, and we heard once quite a terrifying noise of falling rocks somewhere aside.

view 0001 Samaria gorge, Crete, Greece

During the first half of our walk, the trail was often overcrowded with tens, if not hundreds, of people literally rushing one by one. Later we realized why they were in such a hurry: the ferries from Agia Roumeli, a village in the end of the gorge, leave to Hora Sfakion and Paleochora at about 16:30. This is why almost all hikers try to walk the whole way in about 6 hours. Luckily we were going to camp in the end, so we spent almost 10 hours in the gorge and could enjoy all astonishing views.

So, during last 3 hours of our walk, after these settlements, our only encounters were feral goats and kri-kri, Cretan subspecies of wild goats, endemic to the island.

view 0003 Samaria gorge, Crete, GreeceAfter eating in a tavern in Agia Roumeli, we went to look for a camping place. A small pinery just left of the isthmus of the Samaria River was already occupied by half a dozen campers, so we continued looking for a place for our tent further on the beach in the dark… and we found it! An entire cave had been waiting for us exclusively 🙂 What was especially pleasing was that the floor in the cave was of fine dry soft sand, whereas the beach itself was mainly covered by pebbles, many of tennis ball size, very inconvenient to walk on. The cave had accumulated the warmth of the day, so not only did we not need to go inside our tent, we even did not need to cover! Watching the starry sky from the cave felt like in a cinema. The only problem was that the noise of waves echoed in the cave and thus doubled, so don’t expect quiet, but the sound of sea is your thing, you’ll be happy.

 

naturist 0000 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece

In the late morning next day, a few people came to the beach, but the cave remained pretty much our own.

naturist 0007 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece
With quite strong waves, the water there gets full of air bubbles, and it gives it incredibly intensive light-blue color… somewhat resembling the Greek flag =)

naturist 0004 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece
Further to the east lies another beach Agios Pavlos with an old church from Byzantine times, but unfortunately we did not have time to go there – it’s good to keep something for the next time, we thought.

Right next to the cave, there were some interesting rock formations.naturist 0002 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece

While swimming around, we found some rocks offshore with sort of bathtubs on them.

naturist 0006 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece

How cool, after a bathtub, you can dive into the sea!

naturist 0003 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece
And getting back to our cave I couldn’t resist imagining myself as a caveman.

naturist 0000 Agia Roumeli, Crete, Greece

Though it was also nice to just lie down and relax there…

naturist 0001 Agia Roumeli beach, Crete, Greece

Hopefully this place will remain as beautiful and unspoiled as we found it!