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Stories from our Travelers

Rejuvenate in Northern New Mexico

Truly at rest in Ojo Caliente

Ohkay Owingeh church

Cactus flowers in the Taos Valley
by Melissa Cicci

[From Summer 2008]

Early summer mornings in northern New Mexico are nearly cloudless, crystal and warm. On one such morning at about 7am, a friend and I spontaneously decided to take a drive north of our homes in Santa Fe. The plan was to spend part of the day at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, nestled in the lush Taos valley along the Rio Grande River, just north of Española. Sometimes the journey brings as much pleasure as the destination.

Driving north from Santa Fe, we reached Española in about 30 minutes. Rather than take the more traveled route to the springs, we turned into a small country road leading to Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (formerly San Juan Pueblo), near the site of the first Spanish capital city in New Mexico. My friend suggested that we drive through the small village, past its lovely mission church. The main street was closed to traffic that morning for a bustling street fair. Instead, we turned down a quiet lane and drove for a mile or two along a dirt track. The road ended in the middle of the valley, and not a soul in sight. A scattering of blindingly white clouds drifted across the blue New Mexico sky. It didn’t matter that we would have to backtrack to our destination; just being in the midst of all that quiet made the detour magical.

We circled back to the village, bypassed the street fair and made our way to Highway 285, which would lead us straight to the mineral springs. “Ojo Caliente” literally means “warm eye” in Spanish, although the more common translation is “hot spring.” These ancient springs, located in Northern New Mexico’s Taos valley, have been a healing source for thousands of years. Over the last several centuries or so (at least), Native Americans, Spanish explorers, archaeologists and the modern-day traveler have made the pilgrimage to Ojo Caliente.

These days, the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Resort is a funky throwback to the past, with a nod to modern-day expectations. Renovation and construction are under way on landscaping, the pool area, and new suites and casitas. But the original hotel and many of the pools look as if they haven’t been touched in decades. Wandering through the historic hotel’s hallways is like stepping into a noir film. Dim lighting, heavy wooden doors with large brass numbers, and creaky, opaque transom windows looming over each door. If we weren’t living in such a health-conscious age, one might expect to see a lazy curl of cigarette smoke wafting through those transoms. Things are brighter outside on the long portal (where breakfast and lunch are served) and in the large dining room. Despite a lunch rush and a harried staff, we had wonderful sandwiches with Portobello mushrooms, feta, fresh basil and red peppers.

Several mineral pools are available to visitors: iron, Lithia, soda and arsenic. All were warm and soothing. But our favorite, by far, was the mud pool. Warmth radiates off the high natural -rock walls surrounding the pool. Instructions are posted so novices will know how to participate fully. Recipe for a mud bath: wet the body, lather up with liquid mud and bake in the sun. We had elephant hides within minutes. But after dipping in the mud pool (water so murky we wouldn’t think about entering under any other circumstances) and washing off with clear, warm water, we felt tight and invigorated. A few dips in the mineral pools later, and we were back in the mud pool. We talked, laughed and relaxed under a brilliant sky. As is typical of northern New Mexico summer days, the afternoon brought dark clouds. We left with a sigh just as a vibrant storm rolled into the valley.

Living in northern New Mexico, one doesn’t take water for granted. Beyond the pleasure of Ojo’s soothing waters, the drive home in the valley of the Rio Grande, lush with early summer green from winter run-off, reminded me that the simplest journeys rejuvenate.

How to Get There:
Most U.S. airlines service the Albuquerque International Sunport, the nearest major airport, located 115 miles (or a 2-hour drive) southwest of Ojo Caliente. Santa Fe is a one-hour drive.

More on the Resort:
An all-day pass to the mineral springs, including use of all pools, was $16. Private pools are available for an extra charge. Spa treatments must be reserved in advance. Lunch for two at the Artesian restaurant was $22 (including tax and tip).

For more information on the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Resort, visit

Photographs by Melissa Cicci

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