The long, slow drive up the outstretched gravel road leads you away from the highway, beyond scenes of farmhouses and agriculture, and toward a crook in the mountains to be accessed through a (mostly symbolic) gateway that is the Orient Land Trust (OLT).
Walk up the dusty steps to the gate house and look around. Snacks, t-shirts, maps and eco-friendly sunscreen sit casually on shelves around the main room. A friendly, knowledgeable staff member provides introduction to this special, secluded place. You'll sign an agreement that you understand about the clothing optional rules, the quiet rules, the no cell phone rules, and so forth. You'll provide driver's license and contact information. You'll pay your entry fee ($15-$20) and if staying overnight, handle the camping or accommodations fee. Then you'll take the metal token you've just been given, and you'll insert it into the gadget at the gate, allowing your adventure to begin.
Start at the restroom/shower building and freshen up before you decide where to start. There's the sauna, the rectangular pool, the tiny and shallow circle of the children's pool, and that is just what's immediately accessible from the parking lot.
Eye these options, but if you can, gather your towel, your sunglasses and hat, your bota bag or Camelbak, and trek up the hill. First stop could be any of the nearby pools, from right or left side. But the real stop should be up, up, up the hill at 9,000 feet.
The trail is easy to see, well-marked and of course, steep. Mustering your energy and your breath, you put one foot in front of the other, and watch where you're going. It's okay to use your walking canes. It's okay to stop every 5 or 10 feet in order to turn around and look at the view while you wait for your sea-level dwelling heart to catch up. You're enveloped in wilderness that includes wind-twisted trees, scores of ancient stones in granite and quartz, bright sunflowers and prickly cactus, and sometimes, deer and bear.
Slowly, methodically, move up the mountain and toward the promise. You'll hear the rushing cheerful water as you trek, the sound of energy that will lure you toward your reward. Gently, but with increasing strength, you'll push yourself to the top pools.
Eventually the sounds become visions and you see the bottom pool, a little circle of clarity surrounded by river stones. You walk more, you see another pool or two. Finally you are at the top, at Valley View. Again, turn around, and this time you'll see...the unending vista of ancients, the stretch of hillside and rocks, trees and shadows, and finally the open plain with its strip of gravel road that brought you here. You'll suck in a great mountain breath, and then you'll move to the little bench under the trees, just to the left of the top pool.
Here you set down your gear, disrobe, and gingerly step beyond the slippery algae bits that fringe the clear water. Tiny bubbles oscillate upward, from beneath the colorful gravel, bringing heat and comfort to your grateful bones. In a few moments you are relaxing and watching the world slow down.
Others might be with you: wrinkled, ancient sages with quiet expressions, their time-worn skin a testament to travels and sunshine; smiling, embarrassed youths who are not quite sure why they're here; middle aged men with bucket hats and bellies, grunting a hello or goodbye; and plump, silly women whose arms are flailing with happiness at all this freedom.
And you might find yourself completely alone.
Unwrap, unencumber, and unwind in the grace and the experience that is Orient Land Trust.
You'll soak, you'll watch the world, this world, and perhaps a deer that wanders into view. At last you'll need to lift yourself from the warmth and the comfort of the gentle water. The bench welcomes you back to sit down, replace your hiking boots on soothed soles, and maybe not put your t-shirt or shorts back on as you disembark from this mountain retreat. Instead you reach for your bag, rehydrate, and trek slanted down toward the beginning of the passage again.
Fellow partakers might pass you on the hillside, and you may smile or tip your hat, but you don't much feel like talking as you move toward the bottom. The scent of pine and the soothing breeze of nature cradles you softly and you move. Thoughts of yours now will be about this place, about this experience, about this one single sojourn that reminds you of your true path, the one that leads you home.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.