In the New Mexico mountains, the beautiful road leads to three great places to soak your worries away
MEET MY BODY: strong for the most part, reasonably fit, but subject to temperamental episodes and sporadic freak-outs.
Now meet my soul: See body, .
My mind, the third part of this "me" trinity, has decided to indulge body and soul for a weekend in hopes that all three will play nice for a while. So I wallow, neck deep in the 90° water of McCauley Warm Springs, 7,350 feet up in the Jemez Mountains, north of Albuquerque. It's the first stop on a fall road trip built around springs and spas in northern New Mexico.
Getting to McCauley involves a moderate 1.5-mile hike; that's enough to keep away the crowds who opt for bathhouses and drive-up springs along State Highway 4. So it's just my wife, Becky, and me surrounded by schools of tetras, tiny tropical fish that someone released into this pool long ago. They swarm around us, a glittery aura.
We grudgingly hike down the mountain, then drive two hours to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, west of Taos. I begin the next morning slathered with mud, then sun myself to dry the goop to a powdery crust. I swig lithium water―bear with me here―from an underground well before soaking in the silky weightlessness of a 110° arsenic spring.
What, under other circumstances, might sound like poisoning, here is called pampering.
Ojo Caliente (literally, "hot eye") has the only springs in the world containing four minerals―iron and soda being the other two. Each boasts its benefits: Lithium is said to aid digestion and mood, and arsenic helps arthritis, among other maladies.
A spa has operated here for 140 years. For centuries before that, ancestral Tewa Indians lived in P'osi, a pueblo on the mesa above the springs. Some accounts say they considered these waters a gift of the gods. Glowing and relaxed, I'm with them on that.
Post-soak, we take the 3-mile round-trip hike to P'osi, where iridescent green collared lizards dart over black-and-white
pottery shards scattered beneath cholla. Like the springs, the shards offer a connection to the people who lived in this pueblo,
turning Ojo into something more than just a spa indulgence.
Down at the baths, the quiet morning has turned to festive afternoon. With new rooms costing up to $299 a night (and a new spa building set to open at press time), Ojo has gone more upscale. But even with Canyon Ranch fans dipping their toes into these waters, Ojo is still Ojo.
Buddhist chants drift through the air as a tie-dyed Ojo veteran—bespectacled, be-Speedoed, and confused by the resort's changes—says to no one in particular, "I can't find my way out. Maybe I'm not supposed to leave."
From Albuquerque, go north on I-25; take U.S. 550 west to State 4/Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway (jemezmountaintrail.org), and continue to milepost 23 and the Battleshop Rock Picnic Area ($5 parking; www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe) for Trail 137 and the hike to McCauley Warm Springs. Afterward, stay on State 4, then take State 501 through Los Alamos. Continue on State 502, then head northeast on State 30/Los Alamos Hwy. to Espanola, where you'll go north on U.S. 285/84. After 25 miles, check into Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa (from $119; ojospa.com). Dine at the resort's Artesian Restaurant ($$).
Morning is the least crowded time in the outdoor communal pools ($22 for nonguests). Hike to 700-year-old P'osi Pueblo. Then head just outside the resort's gates for clothes and local art at Natural Wear at the Mercantile Building (11 State 414; 505/ 583-9131). At night, soak in a private outdoor pool ($40 per couple for 50 minutes) by a kiva fireplace ($10 extra).
Check out of Ojo Caliente and drive about 11/4 hours south to Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa & Resort (on Hyde Park Rd., about 20 minutes from Santa Fe Plaza; ten thousandwaves.com). Pamper yourself in one of its private baths, including Waterfall ($35 per person for 55 minutes), a beautiful outdoor setting, and New Ofuro ($69 per person for 90 minutes), a traditional Japanese atmosphere. Extend your weekend with a stay in a room (from $139) combining Japanese and Southwestern touches.