During my nine days spent in and around the little hamlet of Jemez Springs, I sampled five hot springs venues, each with its own unique atmosphere. I loved them all for very different reasons. Some required more effort than others, but to a hot springs aficionado, each had its own unique payoff. Here they are, in no particular order.
Giggling Springs – Four outdoor pools of varying temperatures in beautifully landscaped grounds alongside the Jemez River. Their policy of “Children over 14 are welcome” (implying those under 14 are not!) keeps it quiet, serene, and free of swim diapers. Lots of comfortable seating areas, cabanas, and even a hammock surround the soaking areas for added relaxation. This place was so nice, I visited it twice! If you can get there early on a weekday, it’s possible to pick a pool and have it all to yourself.
Jemez Springs Bath House – A municipal spring that’s all about the water. It’s piped in as a gusher at 155-185 degrees, so they divert a tank full to cool down overnight, so you can mix your tub temperature to your own liking. Soaking is in a “no frills” concrete tub, strictly for the “taking of the waters.” Though the water was relaxing, I found the tubs to be too “coffin-like.” And I had a hard time relaxing knowing the only thing holding back my body parts from being scalded was a spigot that looked like it was an original fixture in the 1870’s bathhouse. I also had a massage here that I would describe as “ordinary.” But the bathhouse is an institution, operating since 1870 and now a State Historic Site, so it needs to be experienced if you are a seeker of soaking like I am…
McCauley Warm Spring – The 2 mile one way hike to get to this natural spring would be worth it, even if there wasn’t a natural spring at the end. It starts out in the shadow of Battleship Rock, follows alongside the Jemez River, then begins climbing up through the Santa Fe Forest. The sun beaming through onto the pine needles along the trail creats pine fragrance so pungent it burns my nostrils in the cool mountain air. And as if the springs are not beautiful enough, there are wild rose bushes around the largest of the pools. These springs live up to their name of being “warm” at only 85 degrees. However, after a 2 mile hike up, it’s a blissful refresher. A warning to those who might not enjoy bathing in a natural water source…there are tiny neon tetras in the pools that enjoy snacking on your dermis….exfoliation included at no extra charge!
San Antonio Springs – This was by far the most scenic, delicious natural soaking experience I have had yet. Figures, it’s also the hardest earned! It requires a 5 mile one way hike to reach the springs. In the off season, there is a 4WD rutted road that will cut this 10 mile RT hike down to about a mile. The blessing and the curse is that the road is closed during high season. It’s worth the 10 miles on foot to not be passed on the dirt road by dozens of jeeps and Polaris Razors racing to see who’s the last one in the pool.
The stone-rimmed springs cascade down the mountain from the main pool which is fed by two gushing pipes that make for a wonderful back massage. From there, the water cascades down through a cluster of small clear faint-blue pools just big enough for one or two. So although these springs can get crowded, it is possible to isolate oneself in a smaller pool, while the force of the rushing water drowns out the irritating voices of small children who might have broken through the endurance barrier of the 5 mile monotonous hike to get there. If my feet and legs could have sustained a daily 10 mile hike, I would have surely visited this place repeatedly.
The fifth hot springs visited was on the grounds of the Bodhi Mandala Buddhist Center. Although there was a brilliant full moon, the water was black as night and steaming hot. No photos out of respect for my fellow soakers and seekers, who turned out to be an interesting, worldly group of students from nearby UNM in ABQ on retreat for the weekend.
Interestingly enough, the massive crowds I anticipated for Memorial Day never really materialized, or at least they were diffused among the remote areas of the forest. In the end, I did not let my addiction win over me. I stayed in the little Forest Service campground for a total of nine days, only checking emails in town once per day. It was a healthy detox from today’s toxic cesspool of social media.
Having no online access, I was prompted to get outside more, to contemplate and appreciate my surroundings. (That anti-gravity chair finally earned its keep!) Instead of spending evenings with the blue-glow of the laptop screen reflecting back, I watched the blue glow of the full moon casting shadows of gray scale across the sandstone bluff, glimmering off the glossy cottonwood leaves. I actually managed to complete an entire book, something I haven’t been able to do lately with my mutated attention span.
In fact, my departure was not my own doing. I had to leave because “The Forest is Closing.” They are in a severe drought, and are on high alert for fire danger. Yet still, in spite of that fact, idiots continued to build campfires and toss cigarette butts, keeping their Fire Department busy the entire Memorial Day weekend putting out unattended campfires. So in attempt to “idiot-proof” the forest, all campgrounds are closing. It seems building fires in the drought-ridden forest is as much of our holiday weekend culture as the discarded Pepsi cans and Doritos wrappers I picked up along my hike back from the San Antonio Spring. Sometimes I think my friend Jim has a point when he says we deserve to be extinct if we can’t take care of a place as beautiful as this!