NOTE: I have been off the road for a month attending family visits, followed by over a week with no cell signal. Here is a post I wrote over Memorial day, before I stored the Winnie in Santa Fe to fly out. Old news now, but written, therefore published …
In addition to my mantra for 2018’s travels, “slow down, stay longer,” I also vow to visit more hot springs along the way. Soaking in natural spring water warmed in the bowels of Mother Earth is something I have always found to be soothing as well as restorative. In fact, I often joke that I need a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Hot Springs.”
My best guide to finding little known places with rustic venues for soaking has been my “Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest” guidebook. I have used this resource to find places I otherwise might not have known about, such as Jacumba Hot Springs, CA or Rainbow Hot Springs in the forest of West Fork, CO.
When planning my potential route for my northerly migration this year, I consult my hot springs guide to find a cluster of springs grouped around a town I have never even heard of before. Jemez Springs (pronounced “HAY-mez” Springs,) just west of Santa Fe, is a small hamlet at over 6,000 ft elevation near Valle Caldera National Monument, one of the newest National Park Service institutions. Once a hotbed of volcanic activity, there are still heated springs bubbling up from the earth’s hot core.
On arriving in Jemez Springs, I am surprised to find such scenic beauty in a place I have never heard of before. The narrow two lane road, Hwy 4, National Scenic Byway, cuts right through the tiny town, which backs up to the Jemez River. Steep canyon walls striarated with brilliant shades of pink, coral, and red sandstone flank both sides of the road and river, with numerous small Forest Service Campgrounds along the way. As the highway passes from the lower red rock canyon walls with dark green junipers and granny-apple colored cottonwoods, the scenery quickly changes as the road leaves the river and climbs up another 2,000 ft through the thick Santa Fe Forest of tall ponderosa pines. Where arid desert meets cool forest, it’s two ecosystems for the price of one.
I arrive at my “first come/first serve” Forest Service campground on Tuesday, long before the Memorial Day maelstrom I expect for the upcoming three day weekend. I want to get there to secure my spot and hole up until the holiday blows over. I have seen on campground reviews that Verizon signal is weak and AT&T is near non-existent in the entire area, so I pick the campground nearest to town, thinking maybe I can squeeze out a bar with my booster. But as I approach Jemez Pueblo to the south, my AT&T and my heart drop simultaneously as the “No Service” indicator never waivers while driving through the reservation. How will I manage to stay through the weekend here with no signal? Not only am I already starting to exhibit signs of withdrawal, but I am not able to research any other options.
A fellow GEO Tracker cult follower approaches me in the campground and tells me it’s only 1.7 miles up the road to get an AT&T signal. It’s not even been three hours since I parked, but I am off for a fix. This could be a long weekend…and it’s only Tuesday.
But a couple of days pass, and I soon learn there is more going on in Jemez Springs than I have given credit. It’s another one of those places like Winthrop, WA, where the entertainment value far exceeds what you would expect from a town with a population of a mere 250 people. Yes, there are hot springs. But there are also some good restaurants with patios offering live entertainment. A few small Inns and galleries. And a very impressive Library with “stacks,” DVD rentals, comfortable chairs, and free wifi.
There is also the annual Memorial Day Arts & Crafts fair happening in the adjacent Native American Pueblo. There is music, ceremonial dancing, and just like hotdogs in summer, there is the token Navajo fry bread!
Another curiosity of Jemez Springs, it once supported not one but two monasteries. Although the Christian Monastery, Cor Jesu, former home of the “Handmaids of the Precious Blood” was sold to the Jemez Pueblo, the Bodhi Manda Zen Center still exists along the main road, focusing on the Japanese version of Buddhism. On the night of each full moon, they open the center to visitors to sit in meditation and watch the full moon rise over the mesa, followed by a soak in their natural hot springs alongside the river. Although I have yet to master my “monkey mind” through meditation, I attended the sitting, as there is no greater focal point in my mind than that of the full moon! Never mind soaking after dark in the moonlight!
While in Jemez Springs, I visited four other hot springs in addition to the natural spring at Bodhi Manda; two commercial springs, and two natural springs in the forest, each with its own brand of ambiance.
Next up …a tour of each of these unique hot springs visits…