Hike and soak at Ojo Caliente

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If getting more exercise and staying relaxed are on your list of new-year goals, a trip to Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring might be a good start.

The mineral springs sit on more than 1,000 acres, adjacent to public lands and a variety of trails for hiking and biking. They range from easy, flat hikes to more challenging ones.

Hikes

The hikes to the Posi Pueblo ruins and mica mines are two of the best known. The ruins are the site of a Tewa village that was occupied from the late 1300s until the early 1500s. All that remains today are pottery shards and sunken areas in the ground that mark what may have been a pueblo of more than 1,000 rooms on the first floor alone. This hike is a bit more than a mile and includes an initial steep climb, followed by easy, rolling terrain. A brochure available at the Ojo front desk describes the known history of the pueblo and provides an interpretation of the numbered signs on the trail. The name Posi Pueblo means "village at the place of the green bubbling hot spring."

The trail to the mica mines is about four miles round-trip. This site was used by native peoples to gather mica for their pottery. This is a moderate hike, and the mines are a glittering spectacle worth seeing. The mica from the mines is still used to make some of the products found in the Ojo Caliente gift shop, including a cream with ground-up mica that gives a shimmer to the skin.

Among one of the most recent trails to be signed and marked is the Tewa trail. This 3-mile loop is named for the Tewa people who lived here. The trail climbs away from the resort to meander through the hills. On the return trip, the trail passes by the historic Adobe Round Barn and a labyrinth.

Tewa trail

To begin the hike, head north past the cottages. Look for the Tewa trail sign and go up the hill in a moderately steep, rocky climb. After about a half-mile, the trail reaches an overlook point with views in all directions.

Continue to head northwest across the gently rolling landscape of juniper, piñon and sage. At a bit under a mile, look for the orange sign to the right. Turn here and follow the trail for another half-mile along the side of the hill. You will arrive at a hilltop that provides a nice place to rest, enjoy the view and have lunch. There are 360-degree views of the hills that you've hiked and the distant mountains on the east and south. The hilltop is a good spot to enjoy the solitude and quiet. The timeless past seems present here.

From the hilltop, head down to the right and descend gradually. The path weaves in and out of a large wash with the crumbly cliffs all around. At about two miles, the hike reaches the Rio Caliente. Turn right here and go through a break in the fence.

You will pass a bridge and the access to the Bosque River loop. To stay on the Tewa Trail, keep to the west of the river. Soon, you will see the Adobe Round Barn ahead. Built in 1924, the barn was part of an operation that provided the resort with dairy products. The barn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and restored in 2002. It is now available for events and workshops.

Across the way is a labyrinth constructed of rock. It is a nice spot to walk and listen to the river.

To complete the hike, follow the road ahead back to the resort and the beginning of the trail. The loop gains about 300 feet in elevation.

History

The mineral springs were first home to Pueblo people, who considered the waters sacred. The Spanish and Americans who followed recognized their healing nature as well.

Several Pueblo settlements were established near the springs. Spanish explorers reached the mineral springs in the 1500s. An explorer recorded, "The greatest treasure that I found these strange people to possess, are hot springs which burst out at the foot of a mountain…so powerful are the chemicals contained in this water that the inhabitants have a belief that they were given to them by their gods. These springs I have named Ojo Caliente." (From the Ojo Caliente website)

One of the first natural health spas in the United States was established here in 1868. The springs provide a special blend of the past combined with powerful healing waters.

Mineral spring resort and spa

A soak at the mineral springs is a great way to spend the afternoon. If you haven't been to Ojo for a while, you will notice some new pools. The daily fees to soak in one or more of the 12 pools, including the new lithia pool, range from $24-$38 with discounted evening rates. Spa treatments, a restaurant and overnight lodging are available. For more information, call (800) 222-9162.

Directions

From Taos Plaza, travel four miles north on Paseo Del Pueblo Norte. At the intersection of US 64 and NM 150, turn left (west). After crossing the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, drive less than a mile and turn left at the West Rim Road. Go another eight miles with the gorge to your left. Turn right onto State Road 567 and go nine miles. You will pass through the small town of Carson and arrive at the intersection with U.S. 285. Turn left for the final ten miles to Ojo. After passing El Rito, turn right at State Road 414. You will pass the Chapel of Santa Cruz de Ojo Caliente, a bed and breakfast and the Ojo Caliente Fire Station before arriving at the entrance to the mineral springs.

Cindy Brown is the author of the Taos Hiking Guide, available at local retailers and www.nighthawkpress.com. Contact her at cindybrowntaos2010@yahoo.com.

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