Mike’s Blog: The Hot Springs of New Mexico

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/ Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.com/Search/Search.aspx?contractUrl=2&language=en-US&assetType=image&p=japanese+macaque

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/ Getty Images)

Among the many natural resources the state has to offer, few are as conducive to well being as the hot springs. Soaking in hot, natural waters, is one of the primal pleasures of humanity – a pleasure shared by many cultures, and even other species, as seen in the Macaque monkeys of Japan.


Some of New Mexico’s most fabled hot springs are found in the Jemez mountains, the resort town of Ojo Caliente, the historic pools of Montezuma near Las Vegas, and the artesian springs of Truth or Consequences.  A brief description of them should help the visitor decide which of these unique offerings might best fit their needs or itinerary.


Ojo Caliente is a true jewel of a town, located about 50 miles north of Santa Fe.  Named by the early Spanish explorer Cabeza De Vaca, the earliest description dates to the 16th century.

“The greatest treasure I have I found these strange people to possess,” De Vaca wrote, “are hot springs which burst from out of the foot of the mountain…. so powerful are the chemicals contained in this water that the inhabitants believe they were given to them by the gods.”


Image of Round Barn from ojospa.com

Nestled in, and fully a part of the landscape, the hot springs of Ojo Caliente offer much to appeal to the visitor. The historical amenities offered by the resort include several buildings entered in the National Registry of Historic Places. These include the famous ‘Round Barn’ who’s unique architecture and design remain remarkably appealing to the visitor.


The hot waters of the town of Jemez Springs have tempted Santa Feans to make the trip for decades. Named for the nearbly Pueblo of Jemez, the small town offers numerous springs and bathhouses.  The atmosphere of the Jemez Valley is a special and spiritual one, being home to both Catholic monasteries and Zen Buddhism centers.


Retreats and spas are found throughout the valley, including a village owned non-profit spa whose proceeds are invested within the community. The Jemez Bath House is over a hundred years old and remains a hub for community life.


Visitors can also find numerous free natural springs throughout the valley and are advised to check visitor reports for current conditions here.


Truth or Consequences has become synonymous for misguided civic boosterism.  Originally named Hot Springs, after the myriad natural pools and springs, the city changed its name to that of a popular Radio show in 1950 as an effort to boost tourism.  The town contains numerous resorts and baths, though there are significantly fewer than there used to be.  Before World War 2, there were around 40 registered spas.  Today there are ten, all featuring the minerally rich and complex waters of the region.


Many of these resorts can be found here, and a discerning traveler should be able to find “The cure for what ails them” through judicial booking and soaking.

Image from ojospa.com

Image from ojospa.com

As you can see, New Mexico has many geothermal amenities for the visitor.  Assistance with booking or visiting any of these locations can be obtained through the Inn on the Alameda.  We can’t wait to hear about your epic NM hot spring soaks!

Winter Outings in Santa Fe

Enjoying winter in Santa Fe

With a whole string of brief storms whirling though the Southwest this winter, the mountains above Santa Fe are primed with snow and full of opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, or just taking a short walk up on a snow-packed trail in winter light. Just look at this webcam up at Ski Santa Fe! Check out the happy hikers enjoying their first snowshoe walk on Outspire’s Facebook page!

Just this past Sunday I needed to get out for some fresh air and exercise, and so I headed up the road to Aspen Basin, just below Ski Santa Fe, and parked at the Nordic Ski Area, armed with snowshoes and a thermos of hot tea. You can’t snowshoe on the Norski trails – those are reserved for cross-county skiers in winter – but the Winsor Trail passes through the parking area, and at this time of year, only snowshoes will let you enjoy this popular hike.

The Norski Trails, especially groomed for cross-country skiing

I headed down the Winsor Trail along a path trenched into well-packed snow.

The Winsor Trail

Lovely winter light streamed down through the trees and kept me warm the entire way.

Down the Winsor Trail!

This particular part of the forest is dominated by wonderful groves of Douglas Fir. Aspen mix in too:

Young aspen along the path

And since we are still within the mixed-conifer zone, a variety of pines and firs tower overhead:

Douglas fir, Ponderosa, and White Fir forming an open canopy below a beautiful winter sky

It wasn’t long before the packed trail became the road less traveled, and the snowshoes proved their worth.

Taking a break for tea

In places the fine, ancient bones of the mountains peeked out on southern slopes,

but along most the the trail the snow was thick and enveloping:

A small stream buried in snow

The winter forest is peaceful, yet remarkably invigorating. I credit the light, which illuminates the forest from below as well as above on sunny afternoons. But even a snowy day will bring its own magic:

“Between every two pine trees is a doorway to a new world” John Muir

So come join us this winter, and make time to enjoy our snowy forests while you are here. The Inn on the Alameda offers an anniversary special that makes a three-night stay in January or February particularly affordable, and there won’t be any summer crowds at your favorite restaurants.  And we’ll be happy to point the way up the mountain for your winter adventure!

The White Fir

The healthy crown of a White Fir along the Chamisa Trail

It’s the time of year here in Santa Fe when an afternoon ramble in the mountains seems like the perfect way to refresh your spirits after a late breakfast, or a bout of Christmas shopping among the shops downtown. A fifteen minute drive from the Plaza will bring you to easy trails that wind through the mixed conifer forests so characteristic of the middle elevations of the Southern Rockies. Typically free from snow this time of year, and bathed in the warm slanted sunlight of the dry New Mexico winter, these trails invite you into a woods of surprising variety. And one tree which is sure to catch your eye is the White Fir Abies concolor.

This is the tree that makes the waxy blue note among all the other evergreens:

The distinctive silvery-blue to silvery-green needles of the White Fir

A closer look reveals ranked and upright needles curling from grey twigs. If you crush a few of these between your fingers, you’ll release the sweet balsamic fragrance of pineapples.

White Fir needles

Although the bark of young trees is smooth and grey, mature trees are clothed in a thick, rough, furrowed ashy-grey bark quite in contrast to the warm cinnamon-colored plates of their companion Ponderosas:

The bark on a mature White Fir

You almost never see these trees’ cones littering the forest floor. Perched high at the top of the trees and sitting upright in the manner of true Firs, the scales of White Fir cones disaggregate easily and fall unnoticed to the ground:

White fir cones

When the White Fir is free to reach for the sky unimpeded by neighboring trees, it takes on a distinctive ‘nose cone’ profile which frequent hikers come to recognize:

The profile of a tall White Fir along the Chamisa Trail

It’s hard to admit that such a fine tree could have a bad habit, but since it is reluctant to self-prune its dense whorls of branches, it often retains a skirt of dead wood right down to the ground. Ponderosa Pines, by contrast, are commonly as free of lower branches as a palm tree. These branches can act as fire ladders to carry flames up into the canopy during forest fires. On a less significant note, this also means that White Firs rarely invite you to sit under them, and while I have climbed high into Douglas Firs, and sheltered under Engelmann Spruce, I don’t think anybody except for a squirrel has climbed a White Fir:

The uninviting thicket at the base of a White Fir

When I think of fir trees, I picture boreal forests high on cold mountain peaks, making a last stand just at timber line. And indeed, in Colorado the slender Alpine Fir occupies this very position, as does the magnificent Red Fir of the Sierra Nevada, dominating the lofty granite ‘flats’ of those mountains. But the White Fir is happy at middle elevations, from 7500′ to 10,000′ in our Rockies, and  it drops out at greater heights, where the snow forest of Engelmann Spruce and aspen takes over. Like the Ponderosa Pine, it seems perfectly content with long dry summers as well as snow.

Young White Firs immediately put you in mind of Christmas trees. It’s that time of year, you know.

A young White Fir along the trail 

The most common Christmas trees sold by local families in Santa Fe are these firs, cut in the mountains east of us. Brought inside and transfigured by lights, ornaments, and love, the White Fir becomes the shining star of the Christmas season:

Christmas in Old Santa Fe


Following the Light

Aspen and light

As the days shorten and the temperature drops here in the Southern Rockies, fall color begins to move downward into the mid-elevation canyons below the crest of the mountains, spilling down like trickles of bright paint toward the old Spanish villages and dreaming Pueblos that dot the broad and luminous valley of the Rio Grande. The great burst of yellow among the high forests of aspen and spruce fades as quickly as it flared, but further below, color seems to concentrate and richen in the smaller groves and stream-side meadows, set off by the deep greens, rich olives, and waxy blues of the mixed-conifer forest.

Ponderosa. “Of all western pines this one seems to the beholder most full of light”

The aspen will follow you half-way down the mountain, clinging to the cooler drainages, and forming a golden canopy of light far over your head as their turn comes to shine:

Aspen high above the Bear Wallow Trail

But now a new palette of color emerges. The scrubby Gambel Oak sheds its dour summer aspect and dons the most surprising wardrobe of warm copper, persimmon, and Indian red:

A tangle of Gambel Oak

Wild currants throw off all restraint:

This dogwood relative goes deep into the red end of the spectrum,

while the Cliffbush simply can’t make up its mind:

Strawberries display a bipolar nature you would never suspect them of

while their proud and thorny relative, the wild rose, takes on a tasteful, conservative dress:

The lovely Rocky Mountain Maple glows in a pure chartreuse yellow:

Other shrubs experiment experiment with warmer combinations of color, flaunting the fashionable yellows:

All of these photographs were taken along the Bear Wallow Trail, about halfway up the road to Ski Santa Fe, just beyond Hyde Memorial State Park, about 8 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza. The Borrego-Bear Wallow loop is a hike we frequently recommend to guests here at the Inn, and while it is a beautiful walk any time of the year, it is simply exceptional right now.

Get outside and follow the light.

The Quietly Changing Seasons

Warm autumnal light among the aspen

‘Then there was the good weather. It would come in one day when the summer was over.’

Apologies to Ernest Hemingway and the opening lines of A Moveable Feast, but I couldn’t help thinking of that quiet commencement as I had a walk up to Puerto Nambe, high above Santa Fe, after last week’s subtle ending of summer, in a day and night of cold, steady rain. The best weather for hiking in the Southern Rockies is here, and the mountains are glowing with warm light and changing leaves. The first flush of the yellow aspen is spreading over the peaks:

Looking south from the trail ascending to Puerto Nambe

Frost has reached the forest floor with colorful results:

Thimbleberry dotting the forest floor

The Winsor Trail leaves the Ski Santa Fe parking lot at a high elevation, well within the spruce-aspen forest, and while you will gain even more altitude if you follow the trail all the way to Puerto Nambe, you will never leave the forest. You’ll be accompanied by chickadees flitting from branch to branch, so close you can almost touch them, juncos rustling along the forest floor, and pine squirrels scolding you from their fragrant perches as they stuff their faces with seeds from their spruce larder:

Englemann Spruce cones sharing their abundance

The trails are littered with the brown scales of these cones, discarded by winter-wary chickarees.

As you climb higher into the Nambe Creek watershed, views open up in all directions:

Looking west down Nambe Creek

Soon you’ll feel like you’re truly in the Rockies, with forested peaks surrounding you

Lake Peak in the south

and a sky that almost hurts your eyes:

Alpine sky

Even the stones seem to throw back an inner light.

Milky quartz and alpine plants

For the next month or so these high country trails will be at their best, so if you’re coming out for a visit, please make time for a walk in the mountains. The color change will peak in about two weeks, among the aspen, but the hiking will be wonderful well into October. Come indulge in a truly moveable feast.


A charming pooling along Tesuque Creek

During my weekend walks up in the mountains, lately, I’ve been exploring a little away from the network of  trails that weave their way through the Santa Fe National Forest just above Santa Fe. It’s nothing you couldn’t do yourself; following a tributary of a mountain stream is not a particularly risky undertaking, especially if you are within earshot of a frequented trail. (Striking off boldly across country is another story. You’ll want a good map, a compass, some basic navigational skills, and the foresight to let someone back home know roughly where you’re going and when you’ll be back)

Creekwalking is always rewarding, and the watershed of Tesuque Creek feeds several small streams that run down wooded canyons with plenty of spots to sit and enjoy your temporary solitude. Some mountain wildflowers grow nowhere else than these damp and cool corridors. One of my favorites is blooming now:

A cheerful Spotted Monkeyflower

Little hanging gardens decorate rocky clefts in the shade:

A fern hanging above the creek

The tributary I chose was full of this beautiful flower, but one with a dark nature, hinted at, perhaps, by its deep color and oddly involuted blossom – the Western Monkshood:

The Western Monkshood, Aconitum columbianum

This isn’t the most poisonous flowering plant in the forest – I think that honor goes to the Water Hemlock – but all parts of this plant are dangerous to ingest, and its roots are particular potent, laced with aconitine, the “Queen of Poisons”.  Its other name is Wolfsbane.

Geologists love creek beds because these are often the best places to find exposed bedrock in wooded places. The upper reaches of the Tesuque Creek watershed cut into various parts of the crystalline heart of the Santa Fe Range, and on my walk, I found a place where the water had scoured right down into the living rock, gliding over polished granite in a gleaming sheet:

A glissade of water over polished rock

Fascinating details emerge in the wet smoothed stone. Other patterns are revealed in the boulders brought down by the water, like this beautiful granite pegmatite cutting across a finer-grained grey tonalite:

A coarsely-crystalline pegmatite cutting through dark grey tonalite

Wherever there’s a sunny spot you’re almost sure to find a butterfly or two, this time of year:

A Satyr Comma on an aster near the creek

In the Ancient Days every spring and pool had its Naiad, and you could be forgiven for feeling like these sweet transparent waters, pausing in mossy basins floored with gleaming coppery stones, conceal a Secret. Perhaps if you sit quietly enough. . .

Singing waters