The Hot Water of Jemez Springs

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.

This is my go-to resource for finding hot springs.

This is my go-to resource for finding hot springs.

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.

You've gotta love a place that offers "Giggling Springs."

You’ve gotta love a place that advertises “Giggling Springs.”

This is the largest of the pools. Most have welcomed sun shade overhead.

This is the largest of the pools. Most have welcomed sun shade overhead.

Lots of nice sitting areas around. The chiminea would be nice in winter months.

Lots of cozy sitting areas around. The chiminea would be nice in winter months.

The Jemez River runs right behind the springs.

The Jemez River runs right behind the springs.

"I'll have what she's having."

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

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…

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The Historic Jemez Springs Bath House, operating since the 1870’s

No chance of re-enacting the episode from the Lucy Show where Lucy gets her toe stuck in the faucet. Certainly not in a faucet with a "Caution" sign warning of water from 154 to 188 degrees!

No chance of re-enacting the episode from the Lucy Show where Lucy gets her toe stuck in the faucet. Certainly not in a faucet with a “Caution” sign warning of water from 154 to 188 degrees!

 This is actually the original historic bathouse, built in the late 1800's. It remained in operation until the flood of 1941. Across the top, you can still read the words; "Hot Sulphur Spring Water Baths" (tho no sulfur content exists in the water here.)


This is actually the original historic bathouse, built in the late 1800’s. It remained in operation until the flood of 1941. Across the top, you can still make out the faint words; “Hot Sulphur Spring Water Baths” (tho no sulfur content exists in the water here.)

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!

The lovely hike up to McCauley Warm Spring starts at the picnic area for Battleship Rock.

The lovely hike up to McCauley Warm Spring starts at the picnic area for Battleship Rock.

The trail follows the river for a while, then gently starts to climb...

The trail follows the river for a while, then gently starts to climb…

The bluff in the middle of the photograph is Battleship Rock from above.

The bluff in the middle of the photograph is Battleship Rock from above.

Though the pools are only about waist-deep, at 84 degrees they still offer a soothing soak in between hiking up and back.

Though the water in the pools is only about thigh-deep, at 84 degrees they still offer a refreshing soak in between the hike up and back.

Fragrant wild rose bushes frame the pond.

Fragrant wild rose bushes line the pond.

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.

After many miles down a 4WD road, the trail crosses the river. Then begins to climb up to the hillside where the cascading pools await.

After many miles down a 4WD road, the trail crosses the river. Then begins to climb up to the hillside where the cascading pools await.

The individual pools are like terraces, with the water cascading down.

The individual pools are like terraces, with the water cascading down.

The main, upper pool is the hottest. Hot water coming out of the plume on the left makes for a good shoulder massage.

The main, upper pool is the hottest. Hot water coming out of the plume on the left makes for a good shoulder massage.

This was my favorite of the pools, as it was just big enough for one, and the rushing water made it seem very private.

This was my favorite of the pools, as it was just big enough for one, and the rushing water made it seem very private.

The view across the treetops was so scenic!

The view across the treetops was so scenic!

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.

No photo of Bodhi Mandala, but here is "Soda Spring" just a mile down the road. It has a nice refreshing waterfall, but the water in this springs is cold! This natural-made dam made of calcium carbonate is 300 ft long, 50 ft high, and 50 ft wide at the bottom.

No photo of Bodhi Mandala, but here is “Soda Spring” just a mile down the road. It has a nice refreshing waterfall, but the water in this springs is cold! This natural dam made of calcium carbonate is 300 ft long, 50 ft high, and 50 ft wide at the bottom.

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!

10 thoughts on “The Hot Water of Jemez Springs

  1. I definitely need a detox from the cesspool of social media! This sounds like heaven…and I just ordered the book. As always, I’m happy to see your posts!
    Kat

  2. Jim is so right!

    Glad you found so many peaceful places!! Reading this made me breathe more slowly and deeply.

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

  3. What a treat! And I’m not talking about the multi-grain hard crusty toasted roll slathered with butter and Cinnamon Pear preserves I’m having with my breakfast coffee, which is yummy but pales in comparison with this timely (for me) blog post! I am taking fast and furious notes as I read this post and delight in your beautiful photographs. It’s just like being there! Oh, wait! I *will* be there, at every spring you mention here (I hope) come October. Yay! You are making my trip planning to New Mexico much easier, Suzanne, and I appreciate it so. I am committed to being at the balloon fiesta (boo to the crowds) the first week, but that will make my explorations around NM even sweeter as I retreat from the throngs of tourists the rest of the month. As always, thanks so much for sharing your life’s discoveries with us…I am truly thankful for your effort and generosity. :-)

  4. Thanks for the refresher on the Jemez area. San Antonio is my favorite. I like it best in the winter by skis or snowshoes. The whole hillside can be covered in fog from the hot spring steam. Congratulations on the internet detox. That’s a tough monkey to get off your back!

  5. The hot springs are so beautiful and such fun to find along a trail especially. Sounds like you had a wonderful visit to Jemez Springs. Being without technology can be a good thing. It’s actually nice to be forced to take a break.

  6. Hmm, I think I may know your friend Jim 😉

    It’s surprising there were other people, and kids, at San Antonio Springs, given the distance of the hike to get there.

  7. I’m currently near Denver and kept reading about the forest closures in several states.
    Its a shame people can’t understand the reasons for the rules.

    Beautiful pictures and writing, Suzanne. I need to get out to some hot springs.

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