Soaking Your Bones in Taos’ Hot Springs

Soaking Your Bones in Taos’ Hot Springs

As seen in the Taos Horsefly

The weekend I visited Taos, before I moved here three weeks later, my friend took me to the hot springs at the far end of Tune Road. We hiked down about a half-mile into the Rio Grande canyon from the parking area to find beautiful pools surrounded with stone walls that were hand-placed by bathers over many moons to carve a pool from the river. A ruined stone structure provided some shelter from the path, allowing us to bathe in near-complete privacy. It was the first time I ever skinny-dipped in daylight and I will never forget it—how amazing it felt to bury my toes in the sand at the bottom of the pool, to lay there relaxing and then put my naked toes up on the wall and float in the tiny pools and giggle and chat with one of my closest girlfriends while other bathers and their kids came and went and made mud holes and sang and picnicked—not even blinking that we were naked. It felt whole. And afterwards, with all the owies soaked out of my bones, I felt more whole too.

The United States Geological Survey database of geothermal anomalies lists 77 locations in New Mexico where unusually warm water reaches the surface and can be utilized as a hot spring. However, hot springs in New Mexico and throughout the Southwest were known by our earliest native peoples, long before even the Spaniards came and announced they had discovered the fountain of youth. Hot springs have been attributed with healing everything from arthritis to syphilis over the years. New Mexico's hot springs range from the ultra-luxury resort type to the campy, and even the challenging hike-in for miles 'til you find that one tree and then turn left and look behind a rock outcropping type. Taos has two of the simple next-to-the-river type just nearby, one of the very approachable spa-that-was-once-a-hippie-hangout type just 40 minutes away at Ojo Caliente, and one stunning luxury hot spring just an hour and a half away at 10,000 Waves in Santa Fe.

 

Ojo Caliente

Ojo Caliente is a place of retreat, sacred to many Taoseños. To those of us who already love her, she is known simply as "Ojo." Fortunately, or not, depending on your pedigree and leaning, Ojo is now a very well respected and developed spa. Ojo was once the sacred water source of the Tewa people who built a pueblo just steps from her amazing lithium, iron, soda and arsenic infused waters. In 1868, territorial representative Antonio Joseph moved to Ojo Caliente, where he opened Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs as the first natural health spa in the country. The sanitarium soon became renowned for its curative powers and was visited by thousands of guests over the years. Many structures were constructed, the oldest of which is the co-ed Bathhouse built in the 1860s. This was followed by the Historic Hotel in 1916 and the Adobe Round Barn in 1924. Each of these beautiful structures has been restored and all are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ojo is no longer a hippie hangout, though the simple charming pools remain as last vestiges of what was. Her amenities include pools of varying degrees and chemical compositions, surrounded with patios, portales with inviting hammocks, chaise lounges and two bathhouses.

Every conceivable spa service is offered and a gift shop makes sure you have access to anything you might have left behind, as well as beautiful clothing, swimwear and spa accoutrements. The newly constructed lobby provides a beautiful introduction to the new Ojo. Their competent uniformed staff is available to check in, answer questions and explain the services and layout of the large facility. The charming vintage hotel next door and the beautiful new private casitas offer lovely lodging options for those that might want an overnight retreat. A surprisingly affordable restaurant in the old hotel offers delicious foods that are healthy and flavorful. Rates for Ojo's pools are id="mce_marker"6 Monday thru Thursday, and $24 on the weekends. After 6 p.m., rates are $4 less. Children can get in during the week for id="mce_marker"2, and id="mce_marker"8 on the weekends. Private tubs, some with their own kiva fireplaces, are also available for 50-minute retreats for $40. A great special that locals love to take advantage of is the $20-dollar private bath and wrap package that offers a soak in your own tub for 25 minutes, then the infamous Milagro wrap, which is sure to leave you snuggly warm and very rested. As a super added benefit for locals, New Mexico residents get in free to Ojo Caliente on their birthday! If you haven't been yet, the state made it easier than ever to get there—just turn south at the newly paved West Rim Road just past the gorge bridge on 64. When that road dead ends at NM 567, also known as the Carson/Santa Fe Road, turn right. When that road ends at 285, turn left. Ojo is 10.4 miles down an incredibly beautiful road with massive, moving vistas. Ojo will be on the right at Road 414/Los Baños Drive. There are plenty of signs to help you find your way. ojocalientesprings.com.

 

Manby /Stagecoach Hot Springs

Based on two petroglyphs marked on dark basalt stones above the springs, it appears that the pueblo people knew of, and likely used, what are now called the Manby Hot Springs for many years before they were so named. For many years, early agricultural settlers, including women from the villages and sheepherders, used the springs to bathe and to wash their clothes. When the construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad from Colorado to Santa Fe began on the high plateau on the west side of the Rio Grande, there was cause for Taoseños to find a way across the Rio Grande river to get to the train. In the 1890's, two merchants from Taos built the first toll bridge across the river near the springs. Arthur Rochford Manby, an Englishman of questionable intent, wandered into Taos, eventually buying up bits and pieces of the Martinez Land Grant, in which the springs were included. He took possession of the springs, and built a massive stone bathhouse over a portion of them. The remnants of this stone bathhouse are the ones spoken of in the article introduction. It was his intent to develop the springs into a world-class resort, but with mounting debts and questionable ownership of the land, investors were too wise to invest in the scheme. After 20 years, Manby lost the springs and the rest of his holdings to his creditors. But the springs had already garnered a reputation of being a fine place of respite, and Taoseños have used them for free ever since. To access Manby Hot Springs, head out on US 68 towards the gorge bridge. Turn right at Tune road. Then take lefts at each fork until you get to the parking area at the top of the gorge. A trail leads left down to the east side of the river. Remnants of the old stage road switchback up the other side of the river, and the breathtaking gorge views from this trail are unparalleled. There are three rock-lined pools, and in certain seasons the original spring in the bathhouse is full as well. Pools range from 94 to 100 degrees. This popular spring is visited by a great variety of people, and a small beach just downriver from the springs is a fun place to picnic. If you happen to discover them, please do not touch the petroglyphs as the oils on your hands can easily destroy them, though it will not be visible immediately. It takes years for this kind of irreparable damage to reveal. The walk down and back up can easily take the better part of an hour, so plan on several hours for a visit to this gem of a spring.

 

Blackrock Hot Springs

It was just a few years after the Manby bridge was finished that a second bridge was built a mile upstream at the mouth of the Rio Hondo. In 1900, John Dunn of Taos purchased the northern bridge. The bridge flooded out the next year and was replaced almost immediately so that the enterprising Dunn could offer a stage service from Taos to the rails' whistlestop at Sevilleta. Dunn built a small hotel at the crossing and made it a stop on the overnight stage trip to and from the train. Dunn wanted to exploit the springs a half-mile below the bridge, but the rugged terrain to access it and the regular overflow of the Rio Grande seemed to prevent that. The aptly named Blackrock Hot Spring is one of the most easily accessible "primitive" hot springs in New Mexico today. From the parking area at the hairpin turn above the Dunn Bridge on the west side of the river, a well-developed trail leads to the smallish pool fed by a spring that erupts from black lava rock. The trail is about a quarter-mile long. The pool has a sand bottom and a rock ledge to sit on. It will hold up to about six bathers. The 98-degree warm water collects on the top of the pool and the inner core of the pool is often several degrees cooler. Blackrock is popular and sometimes quite crowded in the summers, due to its easy accessibility and striking canyon views. In the spring, when runoff can be high, it is often flooded with cold water from the Rio Grande.

 

As with all natural hot springs—and participating in natural environments in general—please pack-in only what you need. Be kind to one another, keep the noise down for those that seek sanctuary, don't deface the natural environment and please, please, pack out what you bring in, leaving only footsteps. These springs are a gift and locals are (rightfully) fiercely protective of them.

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