Orvis Hot Springs really is tame. And nekkid!

Freedom, Kris Kristofferson wrote, is just another word for nothing left to lose.

So, I guess I should have taken off my hat.

I’m not sure why I was even wearing it. Fear of hat hair? Considering my sartorial situation, I probably had more immediate concerns. Fear of all my body heat escaping from my head? Since I was sitting in very warm water, I figured I’d survive.

I glanced at Melinda, seated to my left and sporting a white knit cap with a big pompom on top.

“My head’s wearing more clothes than the rest of my body,” she observed.

Um… yep. That was about the size of it. I was wearing a red baseball cap, a paranoid expression and…

We were at Orvis Hot Springs, OK? And it’s clothing optional there. And situated as it is in one of my favorite spots on planet Earth — the valley between Ridgway and Ouray — in addition to some sort of lovely tale about Chief Ouray and his beloved Chipeta spending time near there (I’m fuzzy on the details), plus the water is wonderfully warm and mineral-infused, and it was the coldest day of the year so far, and Orvis is famous, especially if you attended Palisade High School and heard stories about the naked place, but it’s very wholesome there, in fact, and what’s the big deal anyway, right? Right?

The deal, it turns out, is crossing the textile divide. 

Clothes are for wearing: This is my motto. And while I’ve never been philosophically sold on the idea that clothes make the man, they do comprise a part of his personal mythology. In part, we create a picture of the person we want the world to see — we self-define — through what we layer over our bare skin.

Plus, clothes are so warm! And cozy! Taking them off when the temperature dips below zero makes about as much sense to me as walking up to a stranger and sticking my finger in her ear. Which is to say, quick! Someone bring me a stranger.

Because a mere six days ago, Melinda Mawdsley and I stood at the edge of a lovely, natural rock pool and let it all hang out.

OK, maybe not all of it, not at first. I was wearing swimsuit bottoms and so was Melinda, and my fevered — but cap-covered! — brain decided it would be weird if I took them off as I stood at hot springs’ edge, having already hung up my towel and taken off the flannel shirt I’d been wearing.

Yes, that would be weird, since everything else about the situation was so deeply normal.

So, I minced down the stone steps and took a seat. The afternoon was frigid so steam wafted from water’s surface, making the other people soaking in the large pool appear as specters in the fog.

And here’s the thing: They were just soaking. Orvis really is a wholesome place — naked, sure, but having nothing to do with any sexytimes notions of clotheslessness. The point is to soak in the warm, warm mineral water and that’s it.

Also, a lesson I’ve learned as I’ve aged, and one that bears repeating, is that nobody is watching. The lone viewer of the movie starring me is ... me. I slunk through my teenage years thinking everybody was looking, but it turns out the rest of the world is just as self-absorbed.

Thankfully, I’m rid of any body insecurities, so the impediment to gettin’ nekkid at Orvis is the fact that people keep their clothes on! That’s what they do! Needless to say, I’m not someone who’d ever self-identify as “laid-back.” And maybe that’s what inspired the trip to Orvis, on top of its being iconic in western Colorado. My brain knew that nobody would be looking, everybody else would be focused on soaking and relaxing, it was No Big Deal, but…

Eek! Naked!

So, Melinda and I sat there in swimsuit bottoms and hats. As one does? Melinda, conservative Iowa farm girl that she is, is 100 percent cool and up for the unusual. I, meanwhile, am a fidgety wreck. And so we’re sitting there, and nobody’s paying any attention, and it’s very chill, and my brain has spun to hamster-on-a-wheel mode, and then…

And then, aw, what the heck.

Bye-bye, swimsuit bottoms.

Inexplicably, we sat there clothesless, be-hatted and holding swimsuit bottoms. And the water felt wonderful. So soothing. So peaceful. Once I’d mentally crossed the textile divide, I felt a boneless sort of benevolence, a beatific rightness with the world.

“I would like to go talk to those people,” I informed Melinda, gesturing to the nice-looking couple seated across the pool.

“Do not go talk to those people,” Melinda said.

Too weird, perhaps? But what better place to sidle up to strangers, bond over shared nothingness and inquire about their hopes and dreams? Maybe they’d even let me stick my finger in their ears.

Get going: Orvis Hot Springs, a wholesome, clothing-optional natural hot springs, is at 1585 County Road 3 in Ridgway. An all-day soak is $14 per adult. For information, go to http://www.orvishotsprings.com.


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