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DESERT RETREAT OFFERS R'N'R WITHOUT ALL THE USUAL SPA GLITTER

Story and Photos by John Geary

As we started up the trail, I glanced overhead and spied a pair of vultures circling above. "I wonder what they know that we don't?" I thought to myself, as I instinctively took a sip from my water bottle.

At the same time, I also thought, "Boy, I'm going to enjoy the post-hike pampering after this is over."

This was my introduction to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, the only natural hot springs in the world that offers a combination of four different types of geothermal mineral waters: arsenic, iron, lithium and soda.

The first 10 minutes of our hike into the New Mexican desert were certainly the toughest. The mid-day heat blazed down upon us as we traversed the switchback trail taking us up to the top of a plateau at a 45-degree angle.

As it turned out, that initial ascent was the only really difficult portion of our walk to the site of a former Posi pueblo (or village); the vultures would have to look elsewhere for a meal, that day.

Guided by archaeologist Martha Yates, we spent the afternoon looking for rock art, the remnants of Native agricultural technology and sites of former buildings of the indigenous people who once called this place "home."

Towards the end of the trip, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Rio Ojo.

Of course, we also spent a bit of time dodging cacti spines and sweating. But that made the rest of our afternoon and evening all that more enjoyable.

Heading back down the switchback, I paused to enjoy the view and shoot some photos. Anticipating a reward for my exertions, I had a relaxing massage booked to help me unwind. Following supper, I planned to enjoy the spa's naturally hot mineral pools to further reduce me to a mass of human Silly Putty.

It worked.

After a massage that seemed to finish all too quickly and a delicious supper, it was time to head for the mineral pools, to continue my melting process. There is nothing quite so invigorating, yet at the same time totally relaxing, as taking the waters in a hot mineral pool at night, watching the desert stars come out to sprinkle the darkening skies with their twinkling brightness.

Situated near the banks of the Rio Ojo, an hour's drive from both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Ojo Caliente resort is not exactly a chi-chi luxury spa; it's more like an "Everyman's spa"-but that's part of its charm. By and large, the management is quite happy to keep it that way. There aren't any state-of-the art, high-end accommodations or massage rooms with electric powered "waterfalls" to create "a mood". The main building-built in 1916 in a "new mission revival style" adobe-houses the office, restaurant and some accommodations. It is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So, if every latest trend and state-of-the-art innovation isn't there, what grabbed my interest? Well …

I could choose between seven naturally fed, outdoor hot springs with four different types of hot mineral waters to soak in. For the completely uninhibited, there was even an area for bathing "au natural" (I'm uninhibited, but not that uninhibited …)

My choice of therapy treatments included regular massage, hot stone massage, the spa's signature Milagro Relaxation Wrap, and mud treatments. (These treatments are all within the same ballpark, price wise, compared with similar treatments in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.)

The spa's Artesian Restaurant provided some incredible meals.

In addition to hiking, the spa offered other activities, including yoga and several types of workshops, including a micaceous clay workshop, run by Jicarilla Apache descendant Felipe Ortega. He is a recognized authority in the field, and museums and private collectors covet his works.

My choice of accommodations ranged from rooms in the hotel, to cottages and even camping on the property. All lodging, with the exception of the RV and camping park options, allows access to mineral pools plus steam and sauna, a private tub and the spa's signature wrap each day. (Tip: Make reservations for any treatments or private tubs prior to arriving.)

I slept in one of the rooms in the old hotel, but only after delaying my exit from the mineral pools as long as possible. Climbing out and heading back to my room for the night was the only down side to my day in the desert …

IF YOU GO

Phone number for reservations, lodging and spa treatments: 1-800-222-9162 or 505-583-2233. Website: www.ojocalientespa.com

Mailing address:
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs,
50 Los Baños Drive
PO Box 68
Ojo Caliente NM 87549 USA

Driving Directions: To reach Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs from Santa Fe, take Route 285 North.

Getting to New Mexico: Several airlines fly out of Vancouver to New Mexico, including Air Canada, United and Delta. While some direct flights to Santa Fe are available, flights to Albuquerque - an hour's drive away - are generally much cheaper, even factoring in the cost of a rental vehicle.

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

Photos:

1 Kicking back on the porch at Ojo Caliente after a hearty breakfast in the Artesian restaurant.
2 Gateway to relaxation: the entrance to the spa treatment rooms. Let the pampering begin!
3 Relaxing in one of the hot mineral pools under desert skies.
4 Archaeologist Martha Yates shows us some pottery shards during our hike to the Posi village.

 


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