A hike in the high desert followed by a soak at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs is one of New Mexico’s true pleasures. The plateau above Ojo Caliente offers gentle hikes through the desert landscape and views of mesas, cliffs, and mountains. The hot …
A hike in the high desert followed by a soak at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs is one of New Mexico’s true pleasures. The plateau above Ojo Caliente offers gentle hikes through the desert landscape and views of mesas, cliffs, and mountains. The hot mineral waters soothe muscles tired from hiking and provide a feeling of deep relaxation.
There are several trails that begin near the springs and lead up to the plateau. Joseph Mica Mines is one of the destinations. The mica mines are caves cut into a pink granite cliff surrounded by sparkling bits of silvery mica. It can be reached by taking a mostly easy two-mile hike.
The trail begins just west of the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. Look for the map that says Posi, just beyond the picnic shelter.
The Posi Pueblo and Mica Mine Trails are part of a system administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Starting at about 6,200 feet, the trail climbs up through the rocky pink granite. This is one of the steeper sections of trail. After just over one-third of a mile, turn right at the trail sign at the top of the ridge and head north. There are other trails that intersect the mica mine trail, but if you go north and then turn left (west) at the next sign, you will stay on the right trail.
The path rolls through the sage and juniper- covered landscape and crosses several sand-bottomed arroyos that are usually dry unless they are carrying run off after a big storm. As the trail turns to the west, there are rock cliffs off to the left. Coyotes can be heard nearby and there are many birds, including large ravens and the red-capped house finch. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom, including the red claret cup cactus, the stemless evening primrose, and the bushy scarlet globemallow.
As the trail nears the mica mines, the ground begins to sparkle with silver. Mica is a mineral that splits into thin translucent sheets and bits of it can be seen all over the desert landscape here. It is often found in areas of volcanic activity with hydrothermal vents like those at Ojo Caliente.
Just after the two-mile point, look up to the left to see the three caves cut back into the pink granite cliff face. Here there are larger chunks of mica. Bats are visible flying in and out of the caves.
You can continue on a faint trail to the right that takes you on top of the mines. There are long views east over the mesa tops to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Total elevation gain is about 400 feet from the trailhead; round-trip distance is just over four miles.
For the return, you can retrace your steps or when you reach the trail sign that points east to the spa, follow this path down the hill and you will return to the area just beyond the north cottages.
Ojo Caliente is southwest of Taos and at a lower elevation, so the temperatures are often a few degrees warmer here. During the spring, it can be breezy up on the plateau above the mineral springs. Afternoon thunderstorms are always a possibility, so be sure to bring a waterproof outer layer.
The mica mines were primarily used beginning in 1900 until the 1940s. According to BLM archaeologist Merrill Dicks, the first reference to the Joseph Mine appears in a land transaction in 1910 transferring 48 acres to Elizabeth Joseph, upon the death of her husband. Research indicates that some of the mine pits and the small lateral mine shafts may be prehistoric in origin.
“Mica and micaceous clays were used prehistorically in pottery production. Micaceous ceramics are present at Posi Pueblo above Ojo Caliente,” says Dicks. “The clay sources were almost certainly mined locally, probably in the same area as the historic mines. Micaceous ceramics were commonly associated with Taos and Picuris potters, as well as with prehistoric Tewa Pueblo people in the Ojo drainage who were ancestral to modern-day Ohkay Owingeh.” Dicks reminds people that it can be extremely dangerous to enter mine shafts and urges people not to do so. He also notes that it is illegal to collect any artifacts here.
The mica from the mines is still used to make some of the products found in the Ojo Caliente gift shop, including a cream that includes ground-up mica and gives a shimmer to the skin.
Mineral spring resort and spa
Ojo Caliente is a favorite destination for locals and visitors. The mineral springs provide healing waters for people today, just as they did for the Tewa people. There are 11 mineral pools, with temperatures varying from 80 to 109 degrees. Spa treatments, a restaurant, and overnight lodging are available. There is one large oval pool usually at 80-89 degrees that is great for swimming. The other pools are warmer, with the arsenic pool being the hottest at approximately 109 degrees. For information, call (800) 222-9162.
Beginning at Taos Plaza, travel 4 miles north on Paseo Del Pueblo Norte. At the intersection of US 64 and State Road 150 turn left (west). After crossing the Río Grande Gorge Bridge, drive less than a mile and turn left at the West Rim Road. Go another 8 miles with the gorge to your left. Turn right onto State Road 567 and go 9 miles. You will pass through the small town of Carson and arrive at the intersection with US 285. Turn left for the final 10 miles to Ojo. After passing El Rito, turn right at State Road 414. You will pass a church, bed and breakfast, and the Ojo Caliente Fire Station before arriving at the entrance to the mineral springs.
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