The Zen Forest

The Zen Forest

The Winsor Trail is Santa Fe’s gateway into the Pecos Wilderness from the west.
Its most popular trailhead is near the western end of the large parking area of Ski Santa Fe, at an elevation of 10,240 feet. On the map for which I’ve provided a link, the portion of the trail from the parking area to its intersection with the Nambe Lake Trail is shown, a walk of about 2.5 miles one way. There is a relentless elevation gain of 760 feet in about a mile, to reach the crest of Raven’s Ridge and the entrance to the Pecos Wilderness, so be prepared – this is the price everyone must pay to enjoy this beautiful walk.

Dogs on leashes, mountain bikes, and livestock are allowed on the Winsor Trail. You can hike this trail year round, but it is snow covered in the winter and snowshoes or cross-country skis might be necessary. Thunderstorms are very frequent in the summer and you’ll want to bring at least some light rain gear, because the showers are chilling. Lightning and hypothermia are dangers once you get above tree line.

The Winsor Trail, the local hiker’s route into the magnificent Pecos Wilderness east of Santa Fe, is beautiful from end to end, but there is a short section that passes through a grove of trees with such a remarkable quality of light and peace that I call it the “Zen Forest”.  And since you can reach this place after only a two mile walk from the parking area at Ski Santa Fe, it makes an ideal destination for a day hike during your visit with us.

A walk in the “Zen Forest” along the Winsor Trail above Santa Fe

I’m not sure exactly what accounts for the appeal of this stretch of aspen.

The mature trees, tall and widely spaced, let in a generous amount of the radiant northern light. The dark spruces are widely spaced as well, and hang their dark boughs down in a manner admired by the Arts and Crafts printmakers, contrasting beautifully with the bright upright aspen. Huge boulders and outcroppings of white stone emerge from the forest floor in sculptural forms, nestled in a sea of bright green heath and wildflowers. At any moment in this forest, you expect to hear the sound of temple bells, or catch a glimpse of a forest hermit reclining in the shadows.

Light and aspen

And the fragrance here is heavenly. In summer the air is drowsy with the balsamic scent of spruce needles, warming in the sun. In spring the powerful life-force of the tasseling aspen adds its note.

And in fall, with the yellow leaves swirling down against an alpine blue sky and collecting on the stones, there arises the subtle fragrance of oriental lilies, faint but unmistakable, distilled somehow from the aspen leaves as they participate in the Eternal Return.

It’s hard for me to tell you exactly when you’ve reached the Zen Forest. Not too long after you’ve left the dense spruce thickets along the slow descent from the saddle at Raven’s Ridge, the trail begins to turn to the right, and aspen begin to replace the dark evergreens.

Forest Service bridge over the Rio Nambe

These trees grow larger, the light magnifies, and presently you’ll reach a spruce whose branches sweep toward the trail, forcing adults to genuflect ever so slightly. You’ve entered the grove. By the time you reach the rustic little bridge over the Rio Nambe, you’ve left it.

Wildflowers are abundant here. In spite of the high elevation, some of these forest dwellers have an almost tropical luxuriance:

Golden Banner

A spray of Corn Lily near the Rio Nambe

The clean white boulders that crop out in the Zen Forest add to the grove’s luminosity. A closer look at these rocks reveals complex patterns that hint at turbulent past lives.

Without leaving the thread of our story too far, I just want to mention that these are truly remarkable rocks. They are called migmatites, and they represent metamorphic rocks that have been subjected to geologic conditions so extreme that the rocks began to partially fuse, bleeding white granitic melt and contorting into fascinating marble-like patterns.

Ancient metamorphic rock on the forest floor

When you reach the cheerful Rio Nambe and leave the Zen Forest, you will catch views of Santa Fe Baldy shouldering its great massif skyward, to the north.

Santa Fe Baldy, looking north from a clearing near the Rio Nambe

This might even be your destination, if you are in good shape and you’ve left the trailhead early enough, on a cool summer’s morning. You’d be about a third of the way there, with a climb to a rocky summit at 12,622 feet still facing you. But you might be content instead to sit quietly by the stream and take in the peace of the forest, and then make your way back home, blessed by your brief sojourn among the aspen of the Zen Forest.

Heading home

A Rocky Mountain iris in a meadow near the Winsor trailhead

Getting there: The parking area at Ski Santa Fe is approximately 16 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza, at the very end of NM 475. From the Inn on the Alameda, you turn north on Paseo de Peralta, and then turn right at the light at the intersection of Paseo with Hyde Park Road. A second right at the next light, which is Artist Road, or NM 475, puts you on your way. The Winsor Trail trailhead is clearly marked at the northwestern corner of the parking area, and the Forest Service maintains some pit toilets and picnic facilities there. It would not hurt to bring a trail map if this is your first walk on the Winsor Trail. You can download the PDF from the link I provided above, or purchase a map at the Travel Bug right next door to the Inn.

The Summer Monsoon

The Summer Monsoon Many people are surprised to find out that Santa Fe’s rainy season corresponds almost exactly to the height of the tourist season – July and August. They become even more alarmed when the locals refer to this as the...

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See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local

Sudden Spring Snow in the Sangres

If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free right here in Santa Fe. As with all destinations, ideas for free fun differ, but these are a few suggestions for times when you want to save your cash for Santa Fe’s restaurant experiences, which can easily consume some hard-earned travelers’ checks.

That being said, we’ll forgo a corny Top Ten list and just offer ten ideas, in no particular order of preference, for entertainment that won’t break the travel budget and are accessible most times of the year, even in the event of a unexpected springtime snowstorm!

Walk to the Cross of the Martyrs

This is one of the best spots to see an approaching summer storm or a glorious Santa Fe sunset downtown, particularly if you are here without a car. The vistas are expansive, so much so that one could actually see the devastating flames of the Cerro Gordo fire that swept through Los Alamos some years back. You’ll get some excellent exercise climbing up the short but steep hill, which is also a favored destination for those who want to watch Zozobra burn but want to stay off the overly crowded field.

The Cross of the Martyrs

Enjoy Summerscene on the Plaza

The annual Summerscene on the Plaza series offers a chance to relax on the grass with a picnic lunch or dinner or rock out with your dance partner to some of the best local bands. Unfortunately due to the local social distancing protocols it is still uncertain as to when, or even if they will happen this year. To stay updated visit: https://santafebandstand.org/

Summerscene on the Plaza 2009

The Southwest Reading Room at the Santa Fe Public Library

Go Back to the Book

Sure, you’ve done it, but have you done it recently? Visited the library that is! In the world of the smartphone and the iPad, a bit of peace and quiet in a good, old-fashioned library is a most welcome thought. Visit the Southwest Reading room at the Santa Fe Public Library and wander through the stacks looking at old, out-of-print tomes about the Southwest, which you can peruse in the hushed ambiance of this lovely room. Hard to believe that this building was once the downtown Santa Fe police station!

Hike the Atalaya Trail

If a more phyical experience is what you want, but you’re not inclined to drive too far to get one, head for the very accessible Atalaya Trail, located near St. John’s College. The vertical incline of this trail offers a sufficient challenge while not consuming an entire day of your valuable time in the City Different.

St. John’s College Santa Fe

Attend a Lecture or Concert at St. John’s College

And speaking of St. John’s, this educational gem welcomes all to a series of free lectures and concerts that take place throughout the school year. While the topic can sometimes be challenging, if not downright intimidating, the St. John’s tutors are a multi-talented group who share their intellects and interests freely.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Center

Tour the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple

Wonder what the small-scale replica of the Alhambra is? Located on the corner of Washington Street and the Paseo de Peralta, this architectural curiosity is the home of the Santa Fe Order of Masons and now hosts a variety of performances and events in its sweet little auditorium. Docent tours of this lovely building, dedicated in 1912, can be arranged by calling (505) 982-4414.

Shidoni Sculpture Garden

Visit the Shidoni Sculpture Garden

Although not technically free since you have to factor in the gas for the car, this is an opportunity to see an acre plus of over-sized and whimsical art in the outdoors. Located in the beautiful village of Tesuque, just 7 miles north of Santa Fe on Bishop’s Lodge Road, visiting Shidoni Sculpture Garden is a wonderful way to see the inspiring landscape of New Mexico and stroll past works by some of Santa Fe’s sculptural masters. In the warmer months, you are welcome to attend Saturday bronze pourings, typically held at 1pm, 2:45pm and 4pm, at which you can learn about how castings are done.

Attend a Pueblo Dance

One of the most intriguing things about New Mexico is the living Native American culture. The remoteness of the state along with its late entry into the U.S. (in 1912, with our centennial to be celebrated in 2012) allowed the Pueblo culture to continue uninterrupted and uncorrupted for years, and attending a feast day is an opportunity to see the unbroken chain of festivities. Seeing the Pueblos also requires a bit of driving and gas, but close to Santa Fe, a few miles north across the highway from Shidoni is the Pueblo of Tesuque, which holds its annual feast day on November 12, in honor of San Diego. Please be sure to observe Pueblo protocol: no photos, no recordings, no note-taking and no entry into a Pueblo home without an invitation.

Head for the New Mexico Visitors’ Center

While not strictly what you might call an entertainment, a visit to the New Mexico Tourism Visitors’ Center at the corner of the Paseo de Peralta and the Old Santa Fe Trail will yield much in the way of destination planning. The knowledgeable and friendly staff there are always happy to share their own ideas for fun, and the place is chock full of maps and guides and brochures. And if you want to “visit” before visiting, the state’s website offers a live chat option!

In Search of the Way

On the subject of maps, you can find all you need right next door to the Inn at The Travel Bug! Maps, topo maps, travel guides and travel gear, along with a friendly dispensing of information, are all at hand, and you are welcome to sit and dream about your next travel destination over coffee for as long as you like. Free parking in the rear for those not staying at the Inn!

A Plethora of Places to Peruse at the Travel Bug

So visit Santa Fe like the locals do….with open eyes and a slim wallet, you can still go far!

The Summer Monsoon

The Summer Monsoon Many people are surprised to find out that Santa Fe’s rainy season corresponds almost exactly to the height of the tourist season – July and August. They become even more alarmed when the locals refer to this as the...

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The Circle Trail

The Circle Trail

THE CIRCLE TRAIL

A view through the trees along the Circle Trail

A view through the trees along the Circle Trail

The snow is slowly retreating from the mountains above Santa Fe, although winter never gives up without a fight in the Rocky Mountains. But the spring runoff is in full force, the authorities are letting water out of the reservoirs into the little Santa Fe River, which is burbling happily across the street from the Inn, and the aspen and river birches are confident enough to put out fuzzy tassels in the lower reaches of the forested canyons that lead you into the Santa Fe Range.

So start planning a few hikes for your upcoming visit to Santa Fe this summer. The snow is leaving, the flowers are blooming and soon it will be time to hit the trail. And to “look at all the sparkly rocks, Mommy!”, as I heard a child up at Aspen Vista once exclaim.

Bright green kinnickinnic coming out from under the covers

Bright green kinnickinnic coming out from under the covers

And believe me: you can get a memorable sunburn hiking this time of year. Don’t forget the sunblock!

Some interesting local history

Some interesting local history

The abundant runoff prompted me to make the short 8 mile drive up from Santa Fe to Hyde Memorial State Park, to check out the waterfall I wrote about earlier, back in the depths of winter. But before doing this, I decided to hike the Circle Trail, on the south side of the road that divides the park into two sections. This pleasant trail, which passes though a classic section of the mixed conifer forest of the southern Rockies, is little frequented, because you have to pay a small $5 fee for day use at the State Park, and most local hikers simply opt for one of the numerous free trails in the Santa Fe National Forest.

There are surprisingly good views along the way, considering that you’re only about halfway up the road to Aspen Vista and the high country trails that leave from Ski Santa Fe:

Yes, that’s fresh snow on Big Tesuque

Yes, that’s fresh snow on Big Tesuque

And of course I had an underlying motive to hike this way: rocks! Hyde Memorial State park straddles an ancient fault in the rugged crystalline rocks exposed in the Santa Fe Range, and I wanted to compare the outcroppings on either side of this important local structural boundary. Hyde Park marks the place where you leave the foothills of the mountains, so to speak, and enter the loftier regions, and as always, there is an underlying reason for the change.

There is an excellent description of the Park’s geologic setting by Shari Kelly, one of our prominent local geologists, here, and I urge you to have a look when you have a moment. As I mentioned in last week’s entry, rocks that are often simply lumped into the generic category “the crystalline basement” or “the Precambrian basement” because of their tangled and brutal history, can reveal some amazing insights upon closer examination.

The dominant component of the crystalline rocks in the Santa Fe Range are granites and other related igneous rocks, rather than the metamorphic rocks I wrote about last time. Everyone is familiar with volcanoes and all their pyrotechnics, and can picture ash falling out of turbulent clouds over Iceland (and clogging jet engines!) or lava flowing into a seething ocean off Hawaii. These are volcanic rocks, the output of Vulcan’s forge. But there is a deeper, hotter, more hellish realm, the domain of the dark god Pluto, and the molten rocks that crystallize here, miles below the surface, are called the plutonic rocks.

Because they form in similar environments, plutonic rocks and metamorphic rocks are intimately related. And of course, to confuse matters, igneous rocks are just as subject to metamorphism as any, and most of the granites in the Santa Fe Range show clear signs of reheating and strain. Here is an outcropping on the south side of the Borrego Fault zone, a very fine-grained, light-colored granite with little quartz “eyes” that were elongated by shearing forces:

Quartz porphyry along the Circle Trail. Penny for scale.

Quartz porphyry along the Circle Trail. Penny for scale.

When you cross the road to climb up and have a look at the waterfall, you find an entirely different look:

Foliated biotite granite just below the waterfall in Hyde Park

Foliated biotite granite just below the waterfall in Hyde Park

This granite is far more visibly crystalline than the one on the south side of the park, and its metamorphism is clearly shown by its abundant and strongly aligned flakes of the black mica biotite.

The waterfall in Hyde Memorial State Park, cascading down a bowl of foliated granite

The waterfall in Hyde Memorial State Park, cascading down a bowl of foliated granite

These are the strong rocks that begin to hold up the higher peaks in the Santa Fe Range. There are more complications above – and even higher summits – but I’ll spare you that story for another time.

Oh – the waterfall. The ice is gone now, and this tiny tributary of the Little Tesuque River is singing in its new freedom:

So start planning a few hikes for your upcoming visit to Santa Fe. The snow is leaving and it’s time to hit the trail. And to “look at all the sparkly rocks, Mommy!”, as I heard a child up at Aspen Vista exclaim, while you’re at it.

A “sparkly rock” along the Circle Trail, with a shiny penny for scale

A “sparkly rock” along the Circle Trail, with a shiny penny for scale

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The Summer Monsoon

The Summer Monsoon Many people are surprised to find out that Santa Fe’s rainy season corresponds almost exactly to the height of the tourist season – July and August. They become even more alarmed when the locals refer to this as the...

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The Dale Ball Trails: Picacho Peak

The Dale Ball Trails: Picacho Peak

THE DALE BALL TRAILS: PICACHO PEAK

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

It’s finally that time of year when anybody stimulated and made restless by the first warm weather we’ve had all year begins to turn their thoughts to – Hiking! The snow hasn’t let go yet – and in fact the trail I chose for a walk on Sunday had some thick patches of corn snow in the shady places. Not to mention some slippery mud. But the sun was bright and warm, and the sky intensely blue, and there was no way I was going to stay inside on such a promising day. So where to go to take advantage of the beautiful weather and still practice social distancing?

The hiking trails closest to downtown Santa Fe are the well-maintained Dale Ball Trails. They are accessible from a variety of trailheads, none of them more than two miles from the Plaza, and they are so well marked that you would really have to work hard to get lost. It’s almost like playing a big game of connect the dots:

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

Typical trail marker on the Dale Ball Trails

At least you don’t need to carry a map!

I chose to make the relatively easy climb to the summit of Picacho Peak, just south of the Nature Preserve parking on Upper Canyon Road. This is a trail I highly recommend to guests in moderately good shape who want to get a taste of the mountains and a splendid view of Santa Fe without taking too much time out of their day. The elevation of the small peak is 8577 feet above sea level, not very high by Rocky Mountain standards, but still about a 1250 foot gain from the trailhead near the Santa Fe River. You’ll feel the elevation – but the views are worth the exercise.

Most of the trail winds through the classic pinon-juniper forest that surrounds Santa Fe:

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

Along the Picacho Peak trail

You’ll be walking over the ancient crystalline rocks of the Sangre de Cristo uplift the entire time. Most of the rocks are very high grade varieties of gneiss (pronounced “nice“):

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

A beautiful banded gneiss – walking stick for scale

The lower part of the trail enters a short segment of a shaded canyon that supports some magnificent Ponderosa pines:

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

Looking up into the branches of a “Grandfather” Ponderosa

These are shot through with plenty of coarse pink granite, and in fact much of the ground is littered with the glittering fragments of these stones. In places the trail is built right on the massive rock:

The rocky path on the way to Picacho Peak

The rocky path on the way to Picacho Peak

The view from the top is wonderful:

The summit of Picacho Peak, looking to the north

The summit of Picacho Peak, looking to the north

All of Santa Fe lies at your feet to the west, with the rounded peaks of the Jemez Mountains beyond. To the southwest you’ll be able to see the little Cerrillos Hills, the rugged Ortiz Mountains beyond them, and dominating them all, the great crest of the Sandia Mountains, with Albuquerque hidden behind. On most days you can see the distant mass of Mt. Taylor, a huge stratovolcano between Grants and Gallup – the sacred southern mountain, Tsoodzil, of the Navajo people. To the south the the Rockies die out in a series of progressively lower granitic peaks. To the north you may be able to see the distinctively mounded shape of San Antonio Mountain, on the furthest horizon – especially if there’s any snow – and will marvel to think this peak marks our distant border with Colorado. But I don’t doubt your eyes will be most strongly drawn to the ramparts of the magnificent Santa Fe Range and it’s snowy peaks north and east of your perch.

So the next time you come to visit us, ask about the Dale Ball Trails and the walk to the top of Picacho Peak. You’ll be well rewarded for the short investment of time it takes to make the climb. Bring a snack: there is a perfect outcropping of gneiss with a welcoming Ponderosa tree about half way up. You’ll know it when you find it. And wave to the ravens soaring over your head. They are waiting for you. . .

 

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The Summer Monsoon

The Summer Monsoon Many people are surprised to find out that Santa Fe’s rainy season corresponds almost exactly to the height of the tourist season – July and August. They become even more alarmed when the locals refer to this as the...

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Randall Davey Audubon Center

Randall Davey Audubon Center

RANDALL DAVEY AUDUBON CENTER

Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary main sign

Sometimes you just need a quick getaway from town, a breath of fresh air, a place to stretch your legs without too many people around, and maybe a spot just to sit and be quiet for awhile. We have the perfect destination for you: The Randall Davey Audubon Center, just a couple of miles from the Inn on the Alameda, with good parking at either the Center itself, or just off Upper Canyon Road, at the Santa Fe River Canyon Nature Preserve. Both are free.

It’s a lovely place to have a short hike and there are a variety of paths in the Nature Preserve south of the Center, with interpretive signs here and there. The “serious” birders are also quick to post their sightings.

Randall Davey Hiker

A pleasant walk on a winter afternoon. That’s Picacho Peak above.

Randall-Davey-interpretive-sign

An interpretive sign near the classroom and nature store

Randall Davey bird sign

Catch of the day

A friend and I love to stop by the River Preserve to see what the beavers have been up to. Lately they’ve been rearranging their dams.  “Busy as a beaver” doesn’t begin to describe these creatures. It’s amazing what they can accomplish!

Randall Davey new bear pond

The latest engineering project on the Santa Fe River

Randall Davey chewed tree

An evening’s nosh

Randall Davey felled tree

And down, ready for stripping and hauling. That’s a big tree!

There are already plenty of birds to see, even though it’s still February, and more are no doubt on the way. The robins are back – that’s always encouraging – and we also spotted mallards on the beaver ponds, scrub jays, white-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, juncos, two kinds of towhees, and a pair of red-tailed hawks circling overhead, keeping everyone in line. The usual menagerie of reptiles is absent since it’s still winter, so for those of you averse to slithery things, this is a great time for a walk.

Getting There:

From the Inn on the Alameda, turn east on Alameda Street (toward the mountains) and follow it along the tree-lined Santa Fe River until it makes a sharp right turn. At the stop sign at the intersection with Upper Canyon Road, turn left and enjoy a slow drive through a very picturesque section of Old Santa Fe until the road makes an abrupt left turn. Here you have a couple of choices: you can turn left here and then immediately right into the parking area for the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe River Preserve, or you can continue straight ahead, along a dirt road, about half a mile to the paved parking area at the Randall Davey Audubon Center itself. There’s a great nature store here, and it’s the meeting place for the Saturday morning bird walks. Check their website for the calendar of events.

Randall Davey's House

The old Randall Davey House seen from inside the Preserve

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The Summer Monsoon

The Summer Monsoon Many people are surprised to find out that Santa Fe’s rainy season corresponds almost exactly to the height of the tourist season – July and August. They become even more alarmed when the locals refer to this as the...

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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.”

Barn-upstairs-empty72

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!

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