Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs: Spa experience in New Mexico
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Ojo Caliente is one of the oldest health resorts in the country. Long before the Spaniards found the warm mineral springs in the 16th century, the Tewa people had already been enjoying the healing waters for hundreds of years. The Posi pueblo ruins are an easy hike in the highlands just above the springs and west of the Rio Ojo. The ground is littered with ancient pot shards and the remains of pueblo walls and kivas are easy to find once you have trained your eye to find them.
Now, back to those questions at the beginning.
The yurt? It may be a bit larger than your every day yurt. Of course, I don't see a yurt everyday, but this one is pretty big. With beautiful hardwood floors it serves as the Yoga Center. They also have Water Yoga. Those warm mineral waters help loosen up your muscles and add a bit to your flexibility.
As for the funny looking igloo shaped outdoor ovens, hornos, they have more than one purpose. The pueblo people in the nearby villages use them for baking. Really good bread. And it has no preservatives. I'm going off on a little tangent right here, but I have to tell you this. If you like French toast you have to try making it with the Pueblo Indian bread. It has no preservatives so what you don't eat right away will get a bit stale. But that's good because when it gets a little stale it seems to love soaking up your favorite French toast mixture. My preference is beaten whole eggs, skim milk, vanilla and, occasionally some other favorite flavoring. Slice the bread about an inch and a half or two inches thick and soak in the mixture overnight -- refrigerated, of course. When you get up in the morning turn on your oven to about 350 degrees or so, place the soaked Pueblo bread in a baking dish and pop in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. Then top it with Maple syrup, Pineapple jam, Apple butter or whatever makes you happy and enjoy. If you want to fix it the regular way, slice the bread a little thinner, dip in the mix and throw it on the griddle. Either way -- you win.
O.K. the barn. The Historic Adobe Round Barn is the only round adobe barn in the country. One of New Mexico's architectural treasures, it has two floors with almost 5,000 square feet of space. Built in 1924 and recently refurbished it is available for weddings, workshops, seminars, meetings or whatever you can think of. With a wood plank floor and an open-rafter ceiling upstairs and a kitchen downstairs it provides an excellent venue for a truly different event.
Enjoying the Springs> I'll get to the Native American potter in just a little bit, but first I want to tell you a little more about the springs. What makes this place so special are the four different types of springs available. First there is the Arsenic Spring. At about 105 degrees these springs have long been believed to relieve arthritis, skin conditions and even stomach ulcers. Just soaking in the warm water will make you feel great.
The Iron Spring was traditionally reputed to be good for your blood. The outdoor pool has a sandy bottom and the water bubbles up from below at 109 degrees.
The Soda Pool is not quite so warm and was historically used to aid digestive problems. Now it serves as the venue for Woga or water yoga classes and Watsu, an aquatic massage.
The fourth spring is the Lithia Spring, long thought to alleviate problems of digestion and depression.
A really nice feature are the three private pools each surrounded by a high fence and situated beside a steep rock wall. These attractively designed secluded pools are available for 50 minute soaks for two to eight people. As they say two's company... .
I want to spend the rest of this story telling you about the potter and the clay, so let me just mention that the food is great, the spa treatments are wonderful, there are extensive hiking trails, a river runs alongside the spa, the accommodations include hotel rooms, cottages and houses. Some have showers and baths, some don't. But don't worry. There are plenty of showers at the pools and they are close to the rooms. The hotel rooms are pleasant. Transoms over the doors, no TV, no radio, not even an alarm clock. At least not in my room. I did hear an alarm go off somewhere - maybe you can ask for one at the desk. This is not the kind of place where you really want an alarm clock.
The PotterNow I can tell you about my favorite part. It begins with the hike up to the Posi-Ouinge Pueblo on the mesa top above the spa. I mentioned it earlier, but I didn't tell you about Dr. Martha Yates, the archeologist who led the walk and pointed out the many old pueblo sites and artifacts in the area. Her description of what we were seeing made it possible to visualize life as it must have been during the heyday of this thriving village. She explained the lifestyle, the farming and gardening, the hunting and gathering of these ancient peoples.
Martha walks quickly up the trail then waits patiently while the less fit members of the group slowly catch up. Her keen eye points out walls, kivas, multi-storied buildings now reduced to rubble and covered with sand and vegetation the casual observer might miss entirely. Once she points out a couple of pottery shards we then see them everywhere.
I must confess that the pottery is what interests me most. Sure I loved soaking in the pools and getting my massage. And the full menu of spa treatments is great. But I love the clay. I have many good friends who are Native American potters. Some from Jemez, some from Cochiti, some from Santa Clara and on and on. I have been involved with Native art for many years and have watched many potters form, polish and fire their pots. But, I have never had the opportunity to observe a micaceous clay potter at work.
But, most significantly, as he talks he makes a wonderful bean pot. He explains each step in the process of building this pot. We see his skill at forming the sides, making coils, placing them on the sides as he builds the pot, continually scraping and polishing. Because we have such a short time, Felipe then fires two pots previously formed and allowed to dry a bit. I am surprised at how quickly they are completed. I have seen other potters who take much longer to fire their pots. Felipe places the pots in the front edge of one of the hornos, covers them with wood, lights the fire and within a very short time the pots are ready.
What surprises me most is when he takes one of the pots, still too hot to handle, and slips it into a bowl of water. I would have guessed that it would shatter or explode. Or at least crack. But I would have guessed wrong. This is a pot made of micaceous clay that is designed for everyday use. It is a bean pot. It is a pot that can be placed on a gas range or an electric range, filled with beans and no it won't break. Oh, and, of course, if you don't like beans you really can use it for something else. Like soup. But try the beans. Felipe says you will love them and that they will have a much better flavor than if you had cooked them in a crock pot.
So what does this bean pot business have to do with the Ojo Caliente Spa? That's the easy question to answer. Several times a year Master Potter Felipe Ortega conducts a Micaceous Clay Workshop. It includes 5 nights at the Spa, breakfast everyday, a hike with Dr. Yates, spa treatments, use of the pools, a traditional horno feast, dinner with Felipe, and the once in a lifetime opportunity (although I guess you can come back again if you wish) to learn with the Master the art of making a Micaceous Clay pot. All the materials and expert instruction are included.
I had the opportunity to bathe, hike, relax and observe. Now I want to return and join in the workshop. I want to make my own bean pot. I love beans, too.
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Robert Painter is an adventure travel writer currently residing in Southern Utah. When not traveling around the globe his time is spent hiking and exploring the wonderful and beautiful red rock surroundings of his new home.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author