Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs: Spa experience in New Mexico
What does a Native American Indian potter have to do with your spa experience? Whatís the deal with that giant round adobe barn? What are those strange igloo shaped outdoor ovens? Is that a yurt on the other side of the mineral pools? And who is the tall, beautiful woman I keep seeing around the property?
I could answer all those questions by just telling you to go to Northern New Mexico and find out for yourself. But, given the relative isolation of this popular but out-of-the-way spa, I suppose I should be a bit more helpful.
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. First - the beautiful woman - where else would I start? Linda Seebantz is the marketing director for Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. I imagine sheís involved in a lot of the everyday activities around the springs.
The yurt? It may be a bit larger than your every day yurt. Of course, I donít 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. Iím 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 donít eat right away will get a bit stale. But thatís 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 Mexicoís 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
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 twoís 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 donít. But donít 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.
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.
I couldnít have done better than Felipe Ortega. As Felipe sits before our small group forming a bean pot and regaling us with wonderful stories about his childhood, his family and how he began making bean pots we are all enchanted with this wonderful, friendly, smiling man. His stories about eating beans and more beans as a child are amusing and his stories of other aspects of his life are educational and entertaining.
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 wonít break. Oh, and, of course, if you donít 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? Thatís 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.
When you go:
Driving: About an hour North of Santa Fe. Take Route 285 through Espanola and continue North to Ojo Caliente. You can fly into Albuquerque on Southwest Airlines. Visit www.Southwest.com.
For reservations and detailed information, including the dates of the Micaceous Clay Workshops visit www.ojocalientespa.com
A former college professor, Robert Painter is author of one of the highest ranked Southwestern Art and Travel books on Amazon.com. He has traveled extensively throughout Indian country attending virtually every major American Indian art show in the Western U.S. and visiting Native American communities throughout the country. Robert has recently completed cruises on the Crown Odyssey, the Silver Cloud, the Silver Shadow, the Norwegian Dream, Seven Seas Navigator and the Windjammer S/V Mandalay. He has traveled to Italy, Greece, Barbados, Russia, Denmark and more countries than we have room to list.