The concept of “taking the waters” is nothing new. For centuries, people from all walks of life have sought refuge in natural, mineral-rich water for ailments ranging from arthritis to zinc deficiency. Here, in Santa Fe, restorative waters abound. From outdoorsy rustic to a deluxe pampered spa experience, Santa Fe and the surrounding area have much to offer for those of us wishing to unplug from our hectic lives and reconnect with ourselves. As if The Land of Enchantment could squeeze in any more magic, a visit to one or all of these places will deepen your appreciation of what long-time inhabitants have known all along — water is powerful medicine.
Although I can’t claim, as wealthy women in the Victorian era often did, that I am cured of gout or hysteria after a dip, I can tell you that a trip to these spots will relax, rejuvenate, and inspire you with the simple act of slowing down and soaking your body in warm water.
Only about an hour north from Santa Fe, there lies an oasis of divinity known as Ojo Caliente. If the glorious red rock surroundings and wafting aroma of piñon doesn’t immediately begin to calm you, then a dip into one of the many steamy pools will. Bathing suits are required, and my trepidation toward unveiling my ghastly mid-winter-hued thighs was almost immediately put aside. Grandma and Grandpa are represented equally along with plenty of families with young children. Tattooed granola types mingle effortlessly amongst hand holding lovebirds and groupings of “Sex and the City” style gossip circles. If, like me, you are there for some precious alone time, that is welcome, too.
Each pool has a varying temperature and mineral content. My favorite is the iron pool. After soaking in this nutrient dense water, my body felt balanced and energized. I wondered if it was the iron content? I felt flushed with satisfaction, akin to ingesting an 8-ounce filet, but without the bloat. The soda pool was a favorite as well. The only enclosed pool has an effervescence to the water that feels great on the body and is said to aid in digestion. (Word to the wise: this is where the amorous couples seem to gravitate after sunset, so don’t be alarmed by the canoodling that occurs!)
Once the sun is down, the property takes on a quieter, even more serene feeling. With luminarias exuding their gentle light, the rising moon, hammocks swaying, and the ever-present smell of piñon, I dare you not to be more relaxed than when you arrived. If you just can’t find the will to leave there is a lodge, a charming restaurant serving local and organic fare, as well as a first class spa available.
Jemez Springs Bath House
If you desire delving into a bit more adventurous soaking, the town of Jemez Springs is just 1.5 hours northwest of Santa Fe. After the awe-inspiring drive, you will find the charmingly funky Jemez Springs Bath House. There are no frills here, just simple but large individual soaking tubs located within the village-owned bathhouse. While the vibe is decidedly less cosmic than other hot spring spa settings, the water is filled with the age-old healing properties of the minerals, and soaking there will leave you relaxed and calm.
From town, the area offers other soaking opportunities as well. Giggling Springs is a lovely hidden gem situated on private property about four miles from the village bath house. The setting is tranquil and inviting, with the Jemez river running close by. The limited number of guests in the pool at any one time is eight, so call ahead for reservations if you want to guarantee yourself a spot. The water is a divine blue-green color and my skin felt incredible after my dip. Also, don’t miss out on the delicious smoothies that are offered by the knowledgeable and kind owners of this sweet locale.
If you are up for a bit of a more challenging soaking experience, Spence Springs might be the place for you. Located off NM 4, there is a gravel lot for parking, and then about a 15-minute hike up some moderately rocky terrain. Since I am far from an avid hiker, my inappropriate footwear (read: platform flip flops) caused me much drama on the trail. Be sure to throw some tennis shoes in the car, trust me.
Once I was at the top, though, the view was sensational. The springs consist of two pools carved into the rock, with the upper pool being a few degrees warmer as it feeds into the lower one. Because each pools only holds 8-10 comfortably, the experience of this spring seems fairly dependent upon those around you. There is a sign declaring that bathing suits be worn while enjoying the springs, so be sure to have yours on before you hike up. There are no changing rooms, cotton robes, or scented lotions up here- just the purity of the water running wild, as it was intended.
Ten Thousand Waves
Once back in Santa Fe, the crème de la crème of the soaking experience lies only seven miles away from downtown. Ten Thousand Waves is a world-renowned Japanese-style health spa and retreat. Words like “bliss,” “heaven,” and “Zen” come easily to mind after experiencing a soak in one of their outdoor tubs or partaking of one of their illustrious spa treatments. Just walking into the reception area is a feast for the senses — the sound of water, the earthy smells of sandalwood and lavender emanating from the products in the gift shop, and the sparse woodsy decor all combine to immediately relax the body.
There are several options for soaking. I decided to forgo the unisex communal tub (clothing optional until dark) and a private tub, and go for the women’s tub. After changing into a kimono style robe, I paused in the luscious courtyard to sit by the koi pond while I immersed my feet in a tranquil foot bath. Both sexes, all in their robes, mingled about sipping on chilled cucumber water. A sense of well-being permeated the air.
The women’s tub is intimate, large enough for seven. It is surrounded by a wooden deck and scattered with lounge chairs. The birds chirping and the breeze blowing is the soundtrack. I found myself in a sweet spot, with just enough dappled sunlight to warm myself when not submerged in the magnificent jetted tub. My time there was spent in total solitude, but the women who were in and around made me somehow feel like I was part of something grander. Although the tub is clothing optional, a couple of us chose to stay clothed. I must admit that I envied those that felt free enough to let the sun and water bathe them in the magical elixir. My experience there was akin to a quiet meditation, a communing with myself and nature, and a sublime sense of peace that resonated until I foolishly checked that first email.
If you’re staying within the city limits and want a close-by spa adventure, Santa Fe boasts some of the most inventive and wholly original spas and treatments, specifically tailored to incorporate the healing properties of our special corner of the world. La Posada features the Santa Fe Chocolate Chile Wrap, which utilizes Chimayo red chile in a nourishing, skin revitalizing treatment. Heaven! The Spa at Loretto offers a truly unique Santa Fe experience — the Native Reflections package. Soak in a ritual bath infused with local sage oil and receive a sacred stone massage using house crafted Spirit oil. Nidah Spa located in the El Dorado Hotel is known for the use of local botanicals, herbs, and stones during treatments. Why not try the Turquoise Gemstone Massage or Chocolate Mole Wrap? Bliss awaits! The Spa at Hotel Santa Fe offers many treatments specific to the Land of Enchantment. The Squash Blossom Body Scrub and Wrap contains pumpkin extract and malic acid to smooth away any rough areas of your skin, plus a cinnamon brown sugar scrub and wrap — delish.
Do yourself a favor and experience the transcendent power of water. Plan an extra day or two to discover a deeper level of magic. Whether on a solo journey, a romantic getaway, or a family vacation, Santa Fe and environs offer ample opportunity to soak your bones, take in majestic beauty, and maybe, just maybe, be healed.