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Enjoy the full range of northern New Mexico’s hot springs — from natural to indulgent to frugal

 

A two-mile hike takes visitors to the large pools of McCauley Hot Springs where the soaking is free. (Journal)

A two-mile hike takes visitors to the large pools of McCauley Hot Springs where the soaking is free. (Journal)

You can get yourself in hot water in New Mexico. Which is a good thing, because after a hard morning’s skiing, or hiking, or just the trudge of shopping on Santa Fe’s Plaza, it can feel really good to slip that aching body into a nice, hot pool of mineral-rich water and just … soak the bones and muscles.

Reeaally good.

Maybe you hope to hike a little more and soak for free in the natural hot springs in the state’s national forests. Or maybe you plan to pay a little for indulgence at the renowned Ten Thousand Waves or Ojo Caliente Spa. Perhaps you like the easier-on-the-pocketbook pleasures of Jemez Springs Bath House. Whatever, northern New Mexico is the place to find that perfect soak.

Urban amenities

We’ll turn first to the more sophisticated amenities of the developed spas: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, Jemez Springs Bath House and Ten Thousand Waves.

The latter entity is not technically a mineral hot springs at all, because its source is good old heated piped water, but its Japanese-style philosophy has provided healthful, sensual pleasure to lucky visitors for 31 years now.

OJO CALIENTE MINERAL SPRINGS RESORT AND SPA: Ojo Caliente is the oldest resort in New Mexico, having attracted yearning soakers for literally hundreds of years. Native Americans knew the springs long before 17th-century Spanish explorers named the “hot eye.” In the 19th century, entrepreneurs developed it into a rustic health spa. In the last couple of decades the place has been consistently upgraded, so that now it provides a luxe experience to people enjoying the multitude of mineral spa treatments, from hot water soaks to mud baths, massages to facials, fine dining to luxurious lodging.

There are 11 outdoor pools of varying temperatures, individual tubs, massages, wraps and mud. The sulphur-free, high mineral content of the waters at Ojo Caliente has been lauded by many of its patrons, who enjoy choosing between iron, arsenic, lithia and sodium pools.

The Artesian Restaurant offers fine dining on the resort’s campus, which sits riverside on the west side of the small village of Ojo Caliente. Ojo Caliente really doesn’t encourage children because the waters are too warm. In the pools, children must be accompanied by parents.

Lodging options range from the renovated old hotel to charming small cottages to enchanting suites with beehive-style fireplaces to private homes perfect for family groups.

“Ojo,” as its devotees refer to it, also is known for rather fabulous skin treatments using locally developed, signature skin products — shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body crème — sold under the “Desert Rain” logo. There’s also a new “Ojo Mica Crème” available in the gift shop and online that uses a glittery mineral that Native Americans liked to crush and use to adorn their bodies. The mica acts as a crystal and creates a barrier to protect the skin and magnify and reflect light, adding a natural shimmer to your skin.

Because Ojo is right in the middle of northern New Mexico’s famous ski resorts, Ojo Caliente Spa is offering an après-ski special: 20 percent off the regular pools’ entry or lodging with your lift ticket or season pass. Seven days a week. Such a deal.

JEMEZ SPRINGS BATH HOUSE:

Jemez Springs Bath House is an 1870s-vintage, completely renovated, Swiss-chalet-style building in the middle of the Village of Jemez Springs. It houses four massage treatment rooms and eight oversized cement bath tubs, enclosed for privacy and filled with 100 percent mineral water from hot springs right there. The source water is about 169 degrees. As the water flows in, some of it is cooled in holding tanks to bring the soaking fluid down to a comfortable temperature.

According to locals, in 1860 settlers heard a roar and then witnessed the hot springs erupt like a geyser. After the eruption, a rock enclosure was constructed around the hot springs, and the water has been used since. The analyzed waters include acid carbonate, aluminum, calcium, chloride, iron, magnesium, potassium, silicate, sodium and sulphate.

The village, Jemez Springs, was named for the nearby Jemez Pueblo. One anomaly is that the bathhouse, while a commercial operation, is a nonprofit entity, owned by the village. All profits go to the village for its operations fund.

Jemez Springs Bath House is rather rustic, but that’s part of its charm. “And you don’t have to hike three miles for a soak,” pert desk gal Della Knowles reminds us.

Another charm is that the prices are kept low enough to be within reach for travelers and locals on a budget.

Jemez Springs is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Towels are available at Jemez Springs and because of the privacy of the tubs, clothing is optional. There’s a fun little gift shop, with bath and beauty products, books, T-shirts, postcards, jewelry and other accessories and souvenirs. No pets are allowed, nor are children under 14. It’s just a great getaway, with the hearty appeal of Los Ojos Bar, a real New Mexican roadhouse, right across the highway.

TEN THOUSAND WAVES: As we said, Ten Thousand Waves isn’t really a natural mineral spring, although its Japanesestyle serenity and sophisticated treatments have improved many a customer’s sense of well-being. It’s just a short drive up Hyde Park road east of Santa Fe’s busy Plaza, but that’s far enough away to give the visitor a sense of seclusion and peace. The water is gas-heated to 97-106 degrees year-round.

Ten Thousand Waves has been dedicated from its beginning in 1981 to providing that sense of serenity and relaxation. Everything from the gardens to the woodwork to the therapies to the therapists themselves has been constantly refined over the past three decades to offer a unique, “Japanese-adobe” aesthetic. It combines traditional soaking with state-of-the-art technology in treatments, like the Ashi Foot Massage, Deep Stone Massage, Thai Massage and Four Hands Massage.

All massage rooms are spacious and filled with natural light. All therapists have at least 650 hours of training in an accredited massage school, membership in a professional massage organization and are enrolled in cutting-edge continuing education at Ten Thousand Waves’ own certified massage school.

The beginning was a small, humble bath house, eight outdoor hot tubs and one massage room. Now there are nine tubs to choose from, a variety of massage options, spa treatments, and facial and skin care offerings. You could spend days here! Some people do — besides the beautiful day spa, Ten Thousand Waves now has a small destination resort hotel.

It’s on the road to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, so it’s obviously a favorite après-ski spot.

Out in nature

Undeveloped mineral hot springs can be found in many places in New Mexico, mostly in the northwest-central area around the Valles Caldera ancient volcanic caldron and in the state’s southwest corner — those warm springs the Apaches were so fond of.

The few undeveloped springs near Taos are only full or accessible when the Rio Grande is low enough, so we’ll concentrate on the springs in the Jemez Ranger District — those mountains to the west/northwest of Santa Fe.

Take NM 4 around Los Alamos and you’ll find yourself on the way to the Old West-style charms of Jemez Springs. There’s a bath house right in the center of the village, but there are soaks for free out in the surrounding forest areas.

For instance:

* SAN ANTONIO HOT SPRINGS, a nifty collection of 129-degree springs flowing out of a steep hillside and forming several usable pools in a magnificent setting. Take NM 4 about nine miles north of Jemez Springs, and park in the lot at Forest Road 376 North. It’s about a five-mile hike into the springs, but aficionados say it’s worth it.

It’s all pretty primitive, although the Civilian Conservation Corps did bolster the source in the 1930s to ensure a regular flow. The water cools as it drops into successive pools; so it’s about 105 degrees in the lowest pool. The road will almost certainly be closed in winter. * MCCAULEY HOT SPRINGS, some spectacular-looking large pools in the forest. These are warm, not-too-hot springs available from Battleship Rock, a natural formation about five miles north of Jemez Springs on NM 4 or the Jemez Falls Campground. The hike in is about two miles. As usual, the lower pools are the cooler ones. The scenery is considered fantastic. McCauley Hot Springs are considered open year-round because the hike in is so short. * SPENCE HOT SPRINGS, heavily visited, these springs are a favorite of hikers in the area. They’re a collection of 100-degree soaking pools on the side of a steep hill, on a trail that is about a 3-5 mile hike into the forest from the large parking lot on the east side of NM 4.

There are several pools, and even a small waterfall in the lower section. Primitive, but very beautiful. They have a reputation for attracting nude soakers. Just so you know.

Before you go

About those free springs …

The U.S. Forest Service has a few rules for folks planning to soak in the undeveloped springs in the Jemez Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest:

Despite the statements of online bloggers, clothing is NOT optional in the national forests. Get caught “nekkid” by a ranger and you’ll get a citation, as well as a crisp lecture.

Don’t drink the water — please. Those mountain streams may look clean and pure but the anaerobic parasite giardia is usually present. The treatment can be fierce.

Please obey the wintertime roadclosure signs on the forest roads. They’re there for your safety. “But the snow’s almost all melted,” you say. Exactly. Which means mud. Lots of mud. The USFS does not have the manpower or equipment to be winching your Range Rover out of the glop. So hike in from the parking lot, please. If you go

Jemez Springs Bath House

062 Jemez Springs Plaza Jemez Springs NM 87025 jemezsprings.org

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa

50 Los Banos Road, NM 414 Ojo Caliente NM 87549 ojospa.com

Ten Thousand Waves

3451 Hyde Park Road Santa Fe NM 87501 tenthousandwaves.com

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