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By Deborah Stone
Special to the Monitor
There’s a reason, actually several, why Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa consistently receives accolades from numerous publications, as well as from the hundreds and thousands of visitors who make their way to this secluded refuge in Northern New Mexico. First and foremost, its historic roots provide a sense of authenticity that so many other destination spas lack.
The property, which was opened to the public in 1868, is one of the oldest natural health resorts in the country, but use of its fabled waters date back even further — thousands of years — to the earliest human migrations in the region. Ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes built their villages overlooking the springs. They deemed the area as sacred and believed that the waters had curative powers.
When the Spaniards discovered the place in the 1500s, they named the hallowed springs, “Ojo Caliente,” which literally translated means “warm eye.” Westward expansion in the 19th century proved to be the catalyst for this unique site to emerge from its ancient origins. Once the first bathhouse was built on the property, folks came by the droves for the healing effects of the waters and they began to spread stories of their miraculous cures.
Today, people continue to make the pilgrimage to this special destination, declaring it a mecca for relaxation and rejuvenation. Set beneath iron-rich red cliffs and nestled in a picturesque river valley west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the resort makes the ideal respite for visitors traveling between Santa Fe and Taos. It’s also a wonderful weekend getaway or escape-for-the-day for locals looking to cleanse and bask in the warmth of the waters.
Ojo is actually the only hot springs in the world with a combination of four different types of mineral waters: lithium, iron, arsenic and soda. Lithium is thought to produce positive effects in mental balance, relieve depression and aid digestion, while iron is considered to be beneficial to the blood and immune system. Arsenic, like soda, is believed to help offer relief from arthritis and digestive problems, as well as heal a variety of skin conditions.
The springs at the resort are blessedly sulphur-free, so there is no smelly odor emanating from the pools. Their source originates from rainwater and run-off from the snow-laden valleys of Northern New Mexico, which are collected in aquifers deep underground. Volcanic pressures return the heated water through the rocks and soils that determine its mineral composition.
The resort has 11 mineral pools, three of which are private and secluded with kiva fireplaces. These pools are very popular for those who want to soak au natural, or simply enjoy a more intimate bathing setting. At night, the stars dot the sky, providing an unsurpassed romantic backdrop for those who opt to indulge in this experience.
Another favorite venue is the mud pool. There’s just something incredibly cathartic about slathering mud all over your body. The act gives adults permission to be children again, and most jump at the opportunity.
Once you’re covered from head to toe with the earthy brown goo, you simply sit and bake in the sun until done. You know you’re ready to rinse off in the pool when your skin looks and feels as if it’s cracking to pieces. The theory is that the mud releases toxins from your pores and has a cleansing effect on your body. I’m not sure about the toxins, but I do know that the experience left me with silky soft skin. In addition to the array of wonderful soaking pools,
Ojo also boasts eucalyptus-infused steam and sauna rooms and a notable spa that offers a diverse menu of body pampering treatments from nurturing massages to hydrating facials. A range of Native American and East Indian-inspired therapies are utilized that incorporate indigenous herbs, flowers and essential oils.
I received one of the spa’s signature treatments, the Ancient Echoes Massage, which blended techniques from the ancient Ayurvedic healing system with western massage and energy work. My therapist, Doug, performed his magic on me and eighty blissful minutes later, I left feeling calm, clear-headed and invigorated. Wellness is the emphasis at Ojo and to complete your experience, the resort offers daily yoga classes, as well as miles of hiking and biking trails.
The property sits on more than 1,000 acres and adjoins thousands of additional acres of national forest and public land. Visitors are invited to explore the areas around the high desert mesas and in the valley. The Hilltop Trail, for example, takes you to the ancient Posi Pueblo site, where some archaeological remains, such as pottery shards, can be found on the ground among the rocks. Other trails will take you to the historic Mica Mines or the Adobe Round Barn; the latter which was built in 1924 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Also on this illustrious list is the resort’s Historic Hotel and Historic Bathhouse. Overnighters have a choice of accommodations, which include small, yet charming rooms in the hotel, spacious suites with kitchenettes, enchanting cottages and even private homes.
For dining, there’s the Artesian Restaurant, which serves up fresh, inventive and locally influenced specialties, as well as a variety of international fare. You’ll find such tasty dishes as Grilled Trout with a Piñon Glaze, Cinnamon Duck, Green Chile Crusted Salmon, Pork Belly Carnitas with Black Bean Mole and a variety of homemade enchiladas and tacos. For dessert, you might find it hard to choose between the Pumpkin Tamale and the Coconut Mango Tres Leches. At breakfast, make sure you order the Blue Corn and Piñon Nut Pancakes.
One is plenty, but I wish I had ordered a stack to-go for later. Lighter fare options and a decent selection of local and imported libations are available at the adjacent Wine Bar.
I can tell you from personal experience that you won’t want to leave Ojo when it’s time for your departure. You’ll drag your feet, look longingly at the pools and take your last glance at the mesmerizing scenery as you head to your car. Reassure yourself that you can, and you will, return to paradise.
Ojo Caliente is offering a holiday special until New Year’s Eve. The “Shop and Soak” gift card valued at $100 can be used at the Ojo El Mercado Gift Shop, or online at the web store.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa offers a variety of overnight and multi-day packages, as well as day use options.
For more information call 1-800-222-9162 or visit ojospa.com.