High Desert, Hot Water

The belief in the ability for water to heal goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

The Romans are credited with creating the world’s first spas, building elaborate bath houses around extant mineral springs. The word spa, in fact, is possibly an acronym of the Latin phrase salus per aqua— health through water.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, doctors in Europe prescribed drinking and bathing at well-known hot springs and seaside towns, such as Bath and Brighton in England and Baden-Baden in Germany.

These sites became fashionable resorts where the wealthy would gather for both the social scene and the relief from ailments ranging from tuberculosis to gout.

Seawater therapy or  “thalassotherapy” (Thalassa means sea in Greek) was invented by a French doctor in 1865. Patients were prescribed a strict regimen of ocean water, sea air, algae wraps, walks on the beach, massage and healthy meals. In my opinion, having come of age in Cape Town, nothing beats the healing powers of the oceans. But mineral springs come close.

In America, thermal springs were held sacred by Native Americans and later frequented by nobility, celebrities and presidents. Franklin Roosevelt was known to soak in mineral waters throughout the country to relieve the symptoms from his debilitating polio.

Proponents of the “water cure” believed that “taking the waters”  replenished our bodies as we absorbed the needed minerals through our skin, but as modern medicine advanced in popularity, interest in water cures waned.

Until now.

Hot springs are hot again.

It’s possible that the current healing waters trend is tied to the desire to be in nature, or due to a growing body of evidence showing  that our ancestors may have been right, (a recent study in Israel in indicates that soaking regularly in mineral water can relieve pain and improve motor function in elderly adults suffering from chronic lower back pain and arthritis.)

Another study by the Italian Board of Medicine looked at data from over 23,000 spa goers and found a major reduction in hospitalizations, sick days and pharmacological drug use.

From the Jemez to Truth or Consequences,  New Mexico has an abundance of hot springs, from beautiful springs at the end of a long hike in the wilderness to local gems that are only a short hike away, and resorts that run the gamut from rustic to luxurious.

One hour from Santa Fe, and 50 minutes from Taos, the little village of Ojo Caliente’s mineral pools are world-famous.

No one knows exactly how long the springs have been used by humans, but the ruins of a pueblo remain on the cliff above the spa. You can hike up and view the footprint of the ruins and the petroglyphs that were the inspiration for Ojo’s (concentric-circles), logo.

Archaeologists estimate  the  pueblo was last active in the 15th century. The Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, and although they didn’t find their elusive Fountain of Youth, they found the springs and gave Ojo its name, which means “hot eye.”

In 1868, a merchant named Antonio Joseph, a New Mexico territorial representative, opened the first spa at the mineral springs (rumoured to be the first natural springs, spa in the country), as well as basic lodging and a general store.

This secluded sanctuary surrounded by stunning mesas is one of the oldest mineral hot springs in the country, with eleven different thermal pools, including a mud pool and three private outdoor pools with kiva fireplaces.

Ojo Caliente is the only hot spring resort in the world with four unique, sulfur-free mineral waters flowing from a subterranean volcanic aquifer: iron, arsenic, soda and lithium. Every pool is filled with different types and combinations of these waters, each believed to be beneficial for everything from depression to digestive problems, muscle aches and arthritis.

After soaking in the pools you can treat yourself to one of Ojo Caliente’s signature spa therapies or take an on-site yoga class. You don’t need to leave Ojo Caliente for your meals. The food in The Artesian Restaurant or the Wine Bar & Lounge, is excellent. Or you can do what my daughter Genevieve and I do on “Ojo dates”, and pack a picnic to eat there.

We are long due a visit to Ojo, and right now, while winter (in the High Desert), is seemingly in limbo, seems the perfect time to escape responsibilities for a day, to swim and soak our cares away in those hot, healing waters.

Ojo Caliente offers a variety of packages which you can discover more about by visiting their site below this post.



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