OUT:  Diving shops offer great warmwater getaways from Colorado

People live in western Colorado for as many reasons as there are people living in western Colorado.

Horse rides, sunsets, bike trips, sunrises, fishing, hiking, aspen groves and cactus flowers, the list goes on and on.

Now, you can add scuba diving to the more-landlocked attractions of western Colorado.

Honest.

“No, we really do have people who go with us (on scuba trips) from Florida, Chicago and even Long Beach, Cal.,” said Cindy Stanfield, owner, diving instructor and resident scuba fun-junkie at The Travel Connection and Scubaventures on Patterson Road.

A scuba diving shop in Grand Junction?

Sure. In fact, there are two such shops in Happy Valley. Besides Stanfield’s, there is Adventures Sports at 2896 North Avenue, where shop manager Debbie Mallory sports spiked blonde hair and a serious tan from her recent trip to Fiji.

“I just went snorkeling while the others went scuba diving,” remarked Mallory, who is busy remodeling the shop to better emphasize the scuba side of the business. “I was busy checking out all the amenities because not everyone on our trips wants to scuba dive.”

But do people really come here to scuba dive?

Not actually here, although you could scuba dive in Connected Lakes, and there are valid reports of scuba divers checking out monstrous trout lurking in Blue Mesa and stripers in Lake Powell.

But any warmwater, get-away-from-winter destination offers scuba diving, and most of the residents at those destinations speak English, making it easy on the American tourist.

It’s easy to become a certified scuba diver. Both dive shops offer classes on demand. A local scuba club holds monthly meetings where you can meet other scuba divers and talk about your next adventure.

The lessons consist of a bit of home study followed by class time and several hours in a swimming pool learning underwater breathing techniques. The second part is your open-water dive, which for many divers from Colorado takes place at Homestead Resort, a four-season resort near Heber City, Utah.

Homestead features the Homestead Crater, a 55-foot mineral dome covering a hot springs pool 65 feet deep. The crater and its 96-degree water is considered the warmest open-water diving situation in the U.S.

“It’s a great place to learn your open-water techniques,” said Stanfield, her nails emblazoned with the diver’s flag, a solid red background with a left-to-right diagonal white stripe. “But you also can get open water certified at the resort you’re visiting.”

Anyone can learn to scuba. Mallory said she’s had children as young as 11 learn the sport.

Scuba is an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, and yes, Lloyd Bridges’ role in the TV adventure “Sea Hunt” did a great deal to popularize the sport.

But unlike Bridges, who as Mike Nelson portrayed a former Navy frogman turned underwater detective, you likely won’t be wrestling with a bad guy, only with your camera.

“You see some wonderful, wonderful things underwater,” said Stanfield, who has a 5-inch stack of photo-filled CDs on her desk as proof. “It’s hard not to take a good picture.”

Scuba certification is available through several diving organizations, including NAUI, the National Association of Underwater Instructors; PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors; and SSI, Scuba Schools International.

Every diver has fidelity to a particular teacher, but it’s all interchangeable, said Stanfield.

“If you go to a resort and they ask for your certification, it doesn’t matter if it’s PADI or SSI, as long as (your certificate) is valid,” she said.

Ask Mallory why a dive shop would survive in the high desert of western Colorado and she has a quick reply.

“Vacations,” she trumpets. “You don’t mess with peoples’ vacations.”

You can take away just about anything else, she said, but scuba divers will pinch every penny to make that annual trip to the land of warm seas, colorful fish and unforgettable memories.

“Diving can be a thrilling, exhilarating, exciting experience, or a very Zen, calming experience,” said Stanfield, who is headed to Cozumel in January for her 58th birthday. “Sometimes all in the same dive. For me I am totally ‘in the moment’ when I dive.

“I’m not thinking about something that happened in the past or something I need to do next week. I’m right here, right now enjoying absolutely unbelievable beauty under the sea, calmly floating effortlessly without a care in the world, and then I’ll suddenly see something rare, a very tiny unusual fish or maybe a large school of fish or rays, or shark or something really big and that gets the adrenaline pumping.”

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