Take a Dip in America's Most Sacred Hot Springs
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this dip comes with a dose of the surreal.
By Nick Fouriezos
For centuries, the Ojo Caliente mineral springs have served as a pilgrimage for folks like myself seeking an escape from life’s troubles. The ancestors of the Tewa Pueblo Native Americans once built large pueblos and gardens in the surrounding cliff faces. And the springs are embraced by ruins of long-forgotten cities like P’osi-owingeh (translated “where the water comes to a point”), home to one of the civilizations vibrant here until the 15th century, according to archaeologists. Conquering Spaniards once wrote of the waters whose chemicals were “so powerful” they seemed a gift of the gods. Even now, that mystical pull is realized: Several times a year, monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India come to anoint the waters with the blessing of the Dalai Llama himself.
Let your toes reshape around the natural pebble floor, which serves as a natural masseuse.
A resort and spa now stands at the sacred spot, about an hour north of Santa Fe. The springs are divided into four pools for the minerals they contain: lithia, soda, arsenic and iron. Beneath charred wooden shelters, the bubbling waters are said to treat everything from depression and digestion to arthritis and blood and immune disorders. How? It’s a mystery that remains unexplored further (the spa declined to chat more specifically).
It can seem like strange voodoo, and the various mineral waters felt mostly the same to me, varying only in heat and mood. The soda pool, for instance, is structured like a Roman bathhouse. Meanwhile, the iron springs swirl around a giant rock that “guards the place where the ancient people of the mesa once received food and water during times of famine,” according to spa literature. How much is fact, how much is fiction, is a matter of your personal willingness to believe.
Still, there is a natural joy in the complete surrender of your senses to such a stunning environment. Feel the steam and breathe it in. Touch the jagged edges of the water’s rocky walls. Let your toes reshape around the natural pebble floor, which serves as a natural masseuse. Dip your hands into the fountain that spits mud out like chocolate and lather it on your body generously. And if a Waspy woman snidely comments that you are “enjoying yourself a bit too much,” kindly tell her to shove it up that place where no healing hot springs can reach.
Then, drive an hour east to Taos, a city caught between dramatic gorges, mountains and forests. You’ll pass over the Rio Grande, which suddenly falls below, and where local indigenous peoples hawk their wares from parking spots. “People come here for the history,” says Patrick A. Trujillo, a native mixed-media artist who also goes by “Mountain Bird Singing.” A history — and communal connection with the past — that refreshes the body and renews the spirit.
- Directions: From Santa Fe, follow US-84 W about 50 miles before turning left on NM-414 W.
- Cost: Mineral Springs: $24 (Monday–Thursday), $38 (Friday–Sunday, holidays). Resort lodging ranges from $169 to $549 per night.
- Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
- Pro Tip: Check out the private tubs and local hiking trails to maximize your trip!