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Warm & welcome: The hot springs of the Jemez are great getaways, but there are things you should know before you go

A pool at Spence Hot Springs in the Jemez mountains overlooks the forest. (Steve Virgen/Journal)

COVID-19 is real.

But for a few hours the life-changing virus is gone when escaping from reality into the Jemez Mountains to experience some of the best natural hot springs in New Mexico. That’s how I felt, basically in a different world, during my first experience in a natural hot spring when I took a one-day adventure to dip into the Spence Hot Springs.

I began with a visit to Soda Dam, where I quickly found out that this was not the best place for hot springs, but great because of the scenery.

A few miles down the road I easily found parking near the trail to Spence Hot Springs. I went on a weekday, so there was not as much traffic or crowds as during the weekend.

Spence is usually a very busy spot during the weekend because it is easily accessible, said Leah Hurley, who works for Santa Fe National Forest as the recreation staff officer for Jemez and Cuba. The Jemez Mountains have been overly crowded during the coronavirus pandemic, mostly during the weekends, she said.

I called Hurley a couple days after my trip. In hindsight, I should’ve called her before going to Jemez. But, New Mexico Nomad on Facebook is a good source that advised me to try Spence among other hot springs.

“Do your research,” Hurley says for advice to practice before going to any of the hot springs in New Mexico. “You would want to look at whatever specific agency manages the hot spring to see if that it is, for example, clothing optional, or clothing required. Or specific hours for use.”

The hot springs in the Jemez Mountains require clothing during use, Hurley said.

Soda Dam is a great place to stop and visit, but not ideal for the hot springs experience. (Steve Virgen/Journal)

She also said not to overcrowd the pools. If someone is waiting to get in, it’s customary to spend up to 30 minutes and then get out to let that person have his/her turn.

Hurley advised never to get water in your nose or dunk your head in the water to avoid naegleria fowleri.

“It’s basically a brain-eating amoeba that lives in hot springs,” she said. “It’s in general not going to harm you but people can get it if you dunk your head in the water.”

While at Spence, I met Paul Chavez and his family, who all practiced proper etiquette and followed the rules. Chavez, 42, of Albuquerque, also told me that next time I should try San Antonio Hot Springs, where the water is warmer than Spence and there are colorful views. He warned me that there are sometimes nude people there.

Chavez said he goes to the hot springs in Jemez about once a week.

The trail that leads to the Spence Hot Springs begins with this stairway. (Steve Virgen/Journal)

“It’s peaceful here,” said Chavez, who enjoys making videos and watching others on TikTok. “All that stuff going on in the world, it’s gone here.”

Just briefly meeting Chavez it was evident he cherishes peace and loves all the sights and sounds of nature. He told me, 13 years ago he endured a near-death experience. His work truck collided with a big rig on Interstate 25. The car accident left him in a coma, and at one point a minister read him his last rites.

But, “by the grace of God,” he said he awakened. It took him nearly a full year to relearn all the typical daily functions.

Confronting death, I can relate. I nearly died during a hiking accident when I was 8 years old. My face was hit by a boulder that left me with 40 stitches.

This past year, 38 years later, I took up hiking to overcome fears, and escape reality.

At the hot springs, there is reality: follow the rules and know your surroundings.

If you go

• Do your research. Hot springs across the state vary in temperature, operating hours, and whether clothing is required.

• Never to get water in your nose or dunk your head in the water to avoid naegleria fowleri, which is lethal.

• Stay properly hydrated. Exit the spring if you begin to feel overheated or dizzy.

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