Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Spa in New Mexico
Historic Hotel at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs in New Mexico
Rustic Pampering at Ojo Caliente Spa and Resort in New Mexico
It may sound contradictory to find a world-class spa and exquisite restaurant far off the beaten path in the mountains of New Mexico, but a few days spent being pampered at historic (and serene) Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs will convince you otherwise.
Ojo Caliente, which is Spanish for “warm eye,” has been recognized as special place for many centuries. Four types of mineral springs converge in one spot, offering soothing (and some believe healing) waters for the road weary, where you can soak in peaceful surroundings and allow the naturally heated springs to leach the stress right out of your body.
The spa prides itself on being the only spot in the world where the four types of springs it boasts are found in one place. Once Native Americans, and later Spanish settlers discovered the warm pools laced with soda, iron, Lithia and (yes, really) arsenic, they recognized the magic and healing appeal of the site and it has been a legend ever since.
Ojo Caliente is about 100 miles northwest of Albuquerque, and a fairly easy hour or so away from Santa Fe, which is an added appeal for those wanting an interesting and varied weekend getaway.
Video About Ojo Caliente
Pamper Yourself With Spa-in-a-Basket Products
Mineral Springs and Spa Treatments at Ojo Caliente
Spa treatments at Ojo Caliente are as varied and professional as any I have experienced elsewhere. The experienced, on-site staff can provide massages, salt rubs, facials and a wide range of other special services (such as a mummy-like experience called a “Milagro Wrap,” where you are soothed by herbal creams and left swaddled in warmed blankets while the herbs do a number on your tension and stress.
You can get a manicure or pedicure and you can even have hot stones placed along the weary muscles of your back to draw out your aches and pains. One treatment involves a brush lightly moving along your limbs to, it is said, coax the toxins out of your system and stimulate your lymph nodes.
I've personally tried the salt rub and the brushing treatment - both were great, both were relaxing, but my preference is probably the salt rub due to the exfoliation it gives and the incredible silkiness of my skin afterward. I've also had a few Milagro Wraps (you really need to try that one!) and I've enjoyed a decadent soak or two in one of their huge tubs.
The spa and resort has worked to retain the charm and history of its heritage, so you might find yourself soaking in an ancient bathtub the size of a small hot tub, or toggling between the authentic (and very historic) steam room and sauna, which still have many original fixtures.
At every juncture, there are piles of large, fluffy and freshly cleaned towels – a handy feature, since most visitors spend several hours dipping into the pools, one by one, and dabbing off the droplets before soaking in the next haven.
Each mineral pool has its own personality and design; there are several outdoor pools - each is labeled, to let you know whether your pores are getting a dose of iron, arsenic, soda or a mixture. One pool is lined with tiny pebbles on the bottom that tickle and massage your feet as you soak. Others resemble small swimming pools, and some waters are significantly hotter than others (take note of the signs you might see posted, letting you know of the water’s temperature for that day).
The pools by the ‘cliffside,’ which are under the shelter of a scenic desert mountain, include a mud bath, where you can smear yourself with mineral laden mud and lie in the sun to bake it into a crust. Mud is thought to extract impurities from the skin; you’ll feel relaxed and purified, no matter what the impact of the mud, and you can rinse off in one of the shower areas.
The soda pool is enclosed in its own little rock-walled room, and you can almost picture turn-of-the-century (that’s the 1900 turn, by the way) travelers paddling gently through the waters while their soft conversations lightly echoed off the walls.
There’s also a swimming pool, which isn’t as warm as the mineral pools, and is a good place to cool off between dips or do laps and exercises. Don’t worry if the weather has gotten chilly (or even freezing), the warm springs will keep your body heated enough (in temperatures that generally range from 80 to 109 degrees, depending on which pool you’re in) to afford a few minutes to dash between the pools.
Spa aficionados recommend alternating hot and cold temperatures to get the most benefit from mineral pools, saunas and steam rooms. The spa has showers where you can rinse off or cool down between dips, and after a few alternating warm and cold sessions, you’ll see why ‘they’ claim it is a great way to release toxins. I don’t know about the toxins, but I can vouch for the amazing effect it will have on your stress level.
Porch of Hotel at Ojo Caliente
Whirlpool Jets Can Massage You While You Bathe in Your Own Tub at Home
Possible Healing Benefits of Mineral Springs
Although the staff at Ojo Caliente does not purport to offer medical advice, you can get information on the folklore or legends about the claims of healing properties for the waters on the site.
There are 10 total pools at the facility, with four types of mineral properties. I was not confident that I wanted to soak in anything loaded with ‘arsenic,’ but I dipped in the pool anyway when I learned the amounts are very minimal, according to the staff, and arsenic is claimed to aid in healing skin conditions, arthritis, rheumatism and even digestion. Go figure!
The Lithia springs are available through a tap on the grounds, and as is understood in pharmacological circles, it is supposed to help with mood disorders or depression.
If you have circulation problems, folk legend has it that the iron pool can offer help, and soda (as with the claims about arsenic) is supposed to help with stomach and digestive issues.
Review of Hotel and Restaurant at Ojo Caliente Spa
As the spa gained in popularity, other buildings were added (and continue to be added in future years). The hotel at the site was built in 1916, and its rambling wooden hallways and small, sparsely furnished rooms resemble something out of an old Western movie or TV show.
Don’t let the rugged floors and walls fool you – the hotel boasts a dining room that rivals any four-star gastronomic experience you may have had anywhere. For breakfast, you can choose from pancakes, omelets, fruit, hot cereal and other selections.
Lunch choices include sandwiches or salads, or a nice selection of Southwestern-themed items such as tacos or enchiladas.
The dinner menu is elegant. During my stays there, I’ve seen pan-seared salmon over risotto, applewood-smoked tenderloin, grilled halibut and other mouth-watering options. All have gotten rave reviews. Prices for meals range from less than $10 for breakfast to $17 and up at dinnertime. There are also a few well-rated local restaurants off-site.
To maintain the peacefulness of the experience, phones and other outside interferences are kept to a minimum. You probably won’t be able to get cell phone reception, but then, you’re on vacation – so do you really need it? If you're absolutely addicted to the phone and Internet, plan to stay a few days longer to detox from all that!
Reservations are a good idea if you plan to stay overnight (especially on weekends), because the spa is well known and very popular.
The hotel has a rustic covered porch with swings and rockers, where you can laze back and enjoy the scenery or let your body digest the great meal you probably just enjoyed.
There are a few other overnight accommodations on the site, ranging from small cottages to stand-alone houses suitable for large groups or families (children under 12 can only use certain facilities and must be with a parent at all times).
Rooms at the hotel are simple (usually a bed or two and a bath that has only a sink and commode, since showers are available throughout the spa area). Other accommodations have additional bath features and even kitchens and sitting areas. I've stayed in the historic inn on one trip and in one of the stand-alone houses on another trip, with a group of friends.
I found the hotel to be perfect for a day or two spent mostly outside of the room, especially if you're traveling with just one other person - the dining area is convenient to get to, and the porch beckons you every morning. The inn adds to the historic feel of the experience, which is also nice.
The stand-alone house was nicely appointed, and just outside of the gate into the main resort area, which meant you had to walk or drive (a short distance) to get to the pools. For a group, the houses are probably a nice choice - we were able to hang out with our friends and visit into the wee hours, and we used the kitchen for storing cold drinks, snack food and some light provisions.
Room rates vary, depending on the season. Small rooms with partial baths in the hotel are available for slightly more than $100 per night, and the houses (which will accommodate fairly large groups) can run $300-$400 per night. Call ahead (1-800-222-9162) for reservations and availability.
Ojo Caliente New Mexico
History and Legends of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs
Ojo Caliente, long known of by Native Americans, who thought of it as a gift from the gods, was stumbled upon and given its current name by Spanish explorers sometime in the 1500s. Since the explorers were in search of the Fountain of Youth, it’s easy to understand how the spot captured their imagination. Its history continued to be colorful and even controversial for the next several centuries.
In 1807, the legendary Zebulon Pike (yes, the one for whom Pike’s Peak is named) also noticed the warm springs, while passing through under the armed escort of Spanish militia for having the temerity to explore the lands of New Spain without the benefit of official permission.
Eventually, the site became what appears to be the first natural health spa in the United States, when Antonio Joseph opened it to the public in 1868. The bathhouse (originally co-ed, but now housing the sauna and steam room facilities) was built sometime that decade, and was a popular stop for years for those traveling in the rugged mountains near Santa Fe.
The springs and hotel are now listed in the National Registry of Historic Sites.
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What to Pack When Going to a Mineral Springs
One downside (of only a very few drawbacks, and then only for the picky among us) to visiting an outdoor spa and springs such as Ojo Caliente is that whatever you sit on, bask in or rub on yourself will also get on your bathing suit and cover-ups.
Definitely take more than one bathing suit, especially if staying overnight. It feels better to don a dry suit each morning, and you’ll want to rinse out the mud and mineral water after each day. Take suits that can handle a layer of mud if you plan to plaster your face and body with the goo (it’s hard to resist!).
Similarly, dainty cover-ups aren’t a good idea. An old bathrobe works well, or a large shirt that can handle the day’s worth of water and perhaps a smear of mud.
Aside from that, you’ll want casual clothes (probably fewer outfits than on other trips, because you’ll be in the pools much of the day), and you can optionally take something dressier for dinner at the excellent restaurant.
A sturdy tote is also handy – but avoid taking anything that can’t tolerate being brushed against something wet or muddy. Most of us have several old ‘conference bags’ or plastic totes we’ve acquired over the years. Even a reusable grocery tote will do, and will be cheaper than a fancy beach bag.
If you plan to spend a day (or even an afternoon and evening) in nearby Santa Fe, take along something suitable for trolling the jewelry shops and stores, and grab a sweater, just in case, if you will be there after sundown.