Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa in northern New Mexico is a rarity among American spas, one that hearkens back to the original spa experience of "healing through water. Serene people spend the day moving from pool to pool filled with geothermal mineral waters, steam rising off the water's surface, their faces turned to the sun. In between they rest in the brightly colored lounge chairs under rustic "coyote fencing" made of narrow branches before padding off in their robes to get a spa treatment. It's a scene that, but for the strong New Mexico vibe, feels very European in terms of the focus on "taking the waters" and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
Ojo Caliente is the only hot springs in the world that offers four types of healing mineral waters: mood-lifting lithia; immune-boosting iron; soda, which aids digestion; and small quantities of arsenic, believed to help relieve arthritis, stomach ulcers and to heal a variety of skin conditions. There are ten pools in all, ranging in temperature from 80 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Some have just one mineral, such as the deliciously warm, bubbling iron spring and the ever-popular lithia pool, while others have a mixture of all four. While one day of soaking (at just $24 for a day pass) is beneficial, several days of soaking, resting, and getting treatments is even better.
While everyone wears a swimsuit in the communal pools, book a private outdoor pool ($45-$55 for an hour for one or two people) and enjoy your own au natural soak. You'll have complete privacy behind a high wall–a kiva fireplace on one side, views of the cliffs on the other, and the sky overhead, be it bright blue or star-filled. This is a highly recommended experience.
Historic Lodging and Luxurious New Suites
Unless you live locally, it's recommended to spend at least one night here. It's a good idea to book well ahead because this is a popular destination for Americans and Europeans alike. And any true spa lover should try to make a pilgrimage here. There is lodging at a range of price points, from the affordable rooms in the Historic Hotel, built in 1917. Its 15 charming rooms have half baths (no showers), as all bathing was historically done in the bathhouses. There are also a number of charming cottages and two historic private homes with full kitchens.
You may, however, want to spring for the luxurious adobe suites, filled with traditional New Mexican furnishings. You'll have access to the fenced Kiva Pool, open from 6 am - 12 midnight every day for suite guests ages 13 years and older. Each of the enchanting Cliffside Suites has its own private back patio facing the stunning cliffs and a private outdoor soaking tub which can be filled with Ojo Caliente's mineral waters.
Supplied with produce from the 1,100-acre Ojo Farm, The Artesian Restaurant & Wine Bar offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with healthy, delicious fare, with blue-corn chicken enchiladas, fish tacos, and don't-miss green chile "fries". The wine list is good, too, with lots of choices by the glass, like the outstanding New Mexican sparkling wine, Gruet Brut. Between the baths, the food, the wine, the spa treatments, the landscape, the daily yoga classes and activities like hiking, biking, and birding, this truly is a haven of good living.
"The Greatest Treasure That I Found..."
Modern people are not the first to flock to these waters. The ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes built large pueblos and terraced gardens overlooking the springs. In the 1500s, the Spaniards discovered the springs while looking for gold. “The greatest treasure that I found these strange people to possess, are hot springs which burst out at the foot of a mountain," wrote one explorer. "So powerful are the chemicals contained in this water that the inhabitants have a belief that they were given to them by their gods. These springs I have named Ojo Caliente."
In 1868, Antonio Joseph, New Mexico’s 1st Territorial Representative to Congress, built the first bathhouse here–and it's still here. As a “sanitarium”, Ojo was known throughout the country as a place where thousands of people were cured each year through the healing effects of the waters. Three original buildings have been caringly restored and maintained and today are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, including the Historic Bathhouse built in 1868; the Historic Hotel, built in 1917; and the Adobe Round Barn built in 1924.
Be Sure to Get a Spa Treatment
Soaking in the mineral waters is the perfect way to prepare your body for a massage, so it's a good idea to add that to your experience. New Mexico has lots of gifted therapists, and the prices are affordable here ($129 for a 50-minute deep tissue massage) compared to most luxury resort spas. Another advantage is that all guests who purchase a spa treatment (with the exception of a Milagro Wrap and Private Tub) receive a complimentary robe, locker, towel and the use of Ojo signature body and hair care amenities to use during your stay–a $15 value.
The spa menu is small but excellent. Among its offerings are a blue corn, prickly pear and sea salt body scrub; hot stone massage with basalt rocks gathered from the Rio Grande River; and the Ancient Echoes massage, which employs East Indian Head Massage, energy balancing techniques, and foot massage to create a sense of calm throughout the body. Facials use Ojo Caliente's own line of Round Barn Apothecary skin and body care products, available in the gift shop.
One of the spa’s signature services is the Milagro Relaxation Wrap (“milagro” is Spanish for “miracle”), a simple detoxifying wrap ($12 for 25-minutes). First, you soak in the waters to raise your core body temperature, then you are wrapped in a light cotton blanket and layered with a heavier wool blanket. While Native American flute music plays softly in the background, you just rest and your body does the hard work of sweating out the toxins.
This timeless “village” is a mere one hour from both Santa Fe and Taos. Do not miss Ojo Caliente. It's a magical place that will truly restore your spirits.