She opened her eyes, squinted at the ceiling, and promptly freaked out. "Snake!"
Normally, that would've sent me under the covers like the pansy I am. But I had already noticed the weird hinge-type thing on the skylight atop our yurt. And I had the benefit of full consciousness, unlike my wife, who had been jostled out of sleep repeatedly in the last half hour by our fabric walls flapping in 30 mph wind.
(After watching her roll around, I had figured it was just a matter of time before dream and reality merged.)
Plus, there were two other things to consider this evening: For one thing, as remote as Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa feels, it's in Moffat, only about 30 miles south of Salida. Also, the thought of a snake being anywhere above-ground seemed unlikely, since it was snowing like crazy outside.
And, man, the snow! The big, sticky flakes made for something of a hellish drive in our little Hyundai, but when we got to Joyful Journey, it created a spellbinding holiday-weekend night and one worth trying to re-create yourself sometime in the next couple months.
The heat is on
A few dozen yards off State Highway 17, we checked in at the clean, sauna-scented main office/bathhouse. Then we moved on to our corner of a forlorn-looking little vinyl neighborhood.
This was our first time staying in a yurt. While not I Am Legend-ary, the six-pack of little circular domiciles (most of which were empty) did look pretty foreign. At least until we opened the wooden door to No. 3.
Two space heaters hummed. A pair of lights cast a soft glow. Bathrobes and towels hung on pegs near a little wooden table. Dogs barked outside. It felt a bit like a quirky hotel room, albeit one with those damn noisy walls.
Following a quick dinner from our cooler, we padded back to the bathhouse, where we rinsed off and then tried the hot springs. Joyful Journey maintains three pools, without chemical treatments and with what it advertises as good levels of boron, lithium and arsenic. Cement walkways, wooden rails and Plexiglas-type walls separate them from each other.
Even after just 15 minutes in 20-degree weather, the 104-degree pool proved too hot. The 98-degree pool, however, brought magic.
Uber-comfortable, it glowed greenish-blue, with tasteful white holiday lights on the fence around us highlighting the falling snow. Only a teenage boy shoveling the walkways came within 20 feet over the next hour.
As the snow fell on our heads, it half-melted, half-iced. But with us up to our necks in the water, the cold never made its way even down to our foreheads. The whole thing, simply, was awesome.
Only after significant whining did we lift ourselves out, put on our snow-covered robes, and run back inside. We tacked on a short stay in the sauna before cursing our way through the increasingly strong wind to the yurt (and its snake).
Highs and lows
I got my first real sense of where we actually were at about 6 a.m., when I opened our door en route to the bathhouse and looked straight at 13,000-foot Sangre de Cristos to the east. Covered in new snow, the peaks gleamed in the early-morning sun. The majesty of the mountains, combined with flatness of the miles of land leading up to them, made it hard to believe we already were at 7,700 feet.
The cold, however, suggested that yes, we were. So back to bed I went.
When we woke again, it was fair to say the magic had disappeared.
We ventured to the communal kitchen for the complimentary "continental-style" breakfast, where we found seven loaves of bread more than a week past their sell-by dates. We might have guessed all of them had recently come from the freezer, but the three yogurts we saw also proved similarly dated, casting some doubt. We nibbled gingerly while visiting the colorful greenhouse on-premises.
A light breakfast could have made for more comfortable soaking, I suppose and an overnight stay does grant you full-day admission for the day of and day after. Sadly, though, the showers weren't working that morning, and the pools teemed with family.
Too cheap to consider a massage or other bodywork, we discussed a hike instead. But we hadn't scouted our options well enough, and when our request for advice brought only a recommendation to check out Great Sand Dunes National Park, 50 miles away, we decided it was time to head home.
On the way to check out, we got our first good look at the conference center and 11-room hotel approaching completion on the west side of the complex. With increased capacity imminent, management is planning three or four new pools, which are sure to be relaxing and well-kept.
But if expansion wraps up in spring, as expected, Joyful Journey may not feel like the edge of the Earth anymore. For what it's worth, I'd recommend getting there soon ... preferably on a snowy day in a four-wheel drive.
Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa
28640 CR 58 EE, Moffat
Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday-Tuesday
Day passes $9-$12; yurt rental (including passes for two days) $75-$95. Call 719/256-4328 for reservations and information.