Monday, November 10, 2014

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, a 2018 update, Sad But True

 
February 2014 my wife and I had been on an overnight retreat to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. It was the dead of Winter with a light snowfall, early morning temperatures began at 7 degrees, with daytime temps reaching 35 at best. This may sound like an absolutely crazy time to visit a Hot Spring, yet I found it to be more magical. It was also much more tranquil in the dead of winter.
On the way there we noticed a few Big Horn Sheep grazing, by the side of the road. Magic was indeed in store for us.
In over 20 years of living in New Mexico I had never visited the Ojo Hot Springs. In Taos we live just up the road from the Ponce de Leon Hot Springs. (http://twograces.blogspot.com/2011/06/blessing-llano-quemado-ponce-de-leon.html). There are a few various natural Hot Springs in Northern New Mexico. All a bit tricky to find perhaps, but they do exist, AND They are FREE.
 So, why pay to visit Ojo Caliente?

The weekday fee Mon-Thurs is now over $24. weekend Fri-Sun rates have gone up to over $38. PER PERSON plus tax.

There are a variety of pools at Ojo all offering unique experiences. Ojo offers a whole lot of services, and you won’t be confronted with a pool of naked visitors, there are rules at Ojo, bathing attire IS required. 

You will however be confronted with extremely crowded and noisy 'Beach Party' pools if you choose to visit after 10:30AM. WARNING: Go between 8-10:30AM or you will no longer find Ojo Relaxing and Tranquil as they promote it.

At the Admission Desk you’ll sign in, check about your reservation if you’d chosen extra Spa Services, and pay the fees involved (please note: No Reservations required to visit the pools themselves). You’ll be given a towel (overnight guests are the ones wearing the special robes). There are locker rooms for day guests, bring a lock for the lockers, locks are not provided, they do sell them if you need one. There is also a terrific Gift Shop attached to the lobby.
From Yoga Classes to Meditation Sessions, Body Wraps to Massage Packages, there’s quite a bit available to visitors, check it all out online before your visit.
I recommend a dip into the pools, a hike, break for Lunch at the Artesian Restaurant and another dip into the pools.
Upon entering the pool area there are now 6 various pools (they've expanded) located to the right after the women’s locker room and massage room area. Iron, Soda and Arsenic (the furthest away with 2 pools). There’s also a large kidney shaped swimming pool, a small very Hot pool and an area for ‘Mud Bathing’. The very hot pool is often crowded. Lounge chairs are everywhere along with hammocks, they’ve done a great job on the comfort level. During cold evenings kiva fireplaces are lit in lounge areas.
You may lounge and soak all day, hours are 8AM- 10PM, 365 days a year!
Let me also recommend along with bathing suit and sandals, bring a robe, hat, sunglasses and bottled water.
There’s a lovely private pool option, these are fenced and include kiva fireplaces (there is now an additional $10. fee for use of the fireplace on top of the fee for the private pool), a way for couples to have some privacy. The private pool is hourly, it’s worth it, especially during busy season.
Ojo posts currently checked temperatures of the water at each pool, mostly around 102 or so.
At the check in desk you may want to ask which pool to enter first, the desk staff has not been helpful with this at all each time I’ve asked. So, I’ll tell you here and now, the Arsenic Pool should be entered first, soak in the bigger of the 2 for a while, move to the smaller of these pools (it’s not as hot). Try to soak long enough in each pool to feel relaxed. 
The Arsenic pool is one of the rare Arsenic Hot Springs in the world.



Before visiting Ojo I checked with my cardiologist if it would be safe for me. My Doctor basically told me to use common sense and not go overboard. Various health professionals have told me they believe that the Arsenic Pool can help draw out toxins from your system. Now I’m not suggesting any miracles at Ojo Caliente, (it’s not Lourdes!) yet my experience has been such that I try to return four times a year.
The Iron Pool should be next, I found this to be quite buoyant it also seemed to give me a bit of a ‘flush’, not a bad feeling at all, but it was unexpected.
Lastly the Soda pool (a covered area, which in the cold of winter was so steamy I couldn’t find where the pool began and the concrete floor ended) large enough and underutilized enough to swim laps in. This is enclosed and supposed to be a Silent meditative space. It is now quite noisy with guests chatting away and the sound traveling over water in the enclosed space more than the other guests realize.





I was scheduled for a Hot Rock Massage. As I am Not the ‘all in’ massage type, this was more for the purposes of having a complete Ojo Experience. My masseuse began with a story of Grandfather Stones, which made me want to gag, so I asked the masseuse to kindly stop. My objection is to a completely made up New Age pseudo-experience. Now don’t get me wrong it’s really Just Not For Me, as for you, please take a look at their website where you can choose (make a reservation) and enjoy your own experience.

There are also a few well-marked hiking trails around the Ojo Caliente Resort. Ask at the front desk for a map, unfortunately most of the staff is unfamiliar with the hikes! I'm told privately by staff members, that they have never done any of the hikes. I highly recommend hiking to the Mica Mines, begin at the northern end of the parking area (furthest parking area from the resort buildings, look for the water tower and head up towards it) walk up a very rocky rutted road, at the top you’ll see signage to which way the trail runs. There are well placed signs and Rock Cairns (basically piles of rocks) along trails to help guide you. 
The other beginning point (between the Hot Springs and the Restaurant Lodge) is much more of a scramble. Bring bottled water with you and bring a camera, your cell phone may not have reception. Although I do not remember ever seeing Petroglyphs anywhere around Ojo, I’m certain they exist, the logo itself is one depicting the Spring. 
The Mica Mine trail is about 2.5 miles (5 miles round trip). You’re close when you begin to see the rocks on the trail change to a peach color. 
A few of the Ojo product lines, creams and shampoos, use this mica in their formulations. Mica is also used in the local Pottery, it creates a way for the pot to expand and contract in the heat of an oven or stove top. Micaceous potter is a wonderful cooking tool, pots are available at the Ojo Gift Shop.
Food at the Artesian Restaurant is wonderful, with Breakfast and Dinner delicious. There’s also a hopping bar scene there with wine and local beers available. The Artesian lunch menu is designed to get people fed quickly as the restaurant is quite busy at lunch time. The move’em in, move’em out lunch crowd misses out on Breakfast and Dinner where this restaurant truly shines. Visitors will more than likely not avail themselves to Breakfast here, everything I’ve had here for breakfast is delicious and perfect. Breakfast is something the overnight guests partake in, but let me tell you, if you go to Ojo early enough for a day trip, run to the restaurant first and enjoy its deliciousness.
The real treat of the Artesian Restaurant is Dinner, go here for dinner, slow down, relax and enjoy. I’d place them in the top ten restaurants of Taos County. I Love dinner at this restaurant, we enjoyed a wine from the local Black Mesa Winery perfectly paired with our meals. 
Take a look at the menu online, you’ll want to make a reservation. Artesian Restaurant should be on your list of places to have dinner when you are visiting the area. 
So who visits Ojo Caliente anyway?
From couples visiting during Ski Season, European Hot Spring Pros, Hipsters from LA, Moms and Pops with Grandparents and Children, Executives on retreat and yes indeed, the New Age and the Hippies. It’s a mixed bag of people from everyday life, including me.
My wife and our friends have been visiting Ojo for years, even my 80 year old Mother has gone. 
There are signs posted around the pools to “Whisper Please”, often this particular rule is ignored. A staff member occasionally walks around discreetly with signage stating “Whisper Please” a gentle reminder. The last few times we've visited Ojo the staff rarely walks around with Whisper Please Signage. It SHOULD be pointed out upon arrival at the front desk by the staff to keep noise levels down. It is not, the staff at the front desk sign in NEVER mentions a word about being quiet. Each time I've asked if they will please send someone out with the Whisper Please signage I am given the absolute unnecessary excuse of, "We are understaffed and it is busy." The last time I was told this I held each manager accountable for their lack of service and lack of maintaining an AS ADVERTISED "TRANQUIL" resort. They wouldn't give me my money back, instead I was appeased with a guest pass for another visit within a year. The staff is NOT engaged with anything other than upsetting you a spa package and themselves I'm certain are underpaid.
A suggestion to Ojo:
PERHAPS some form of soft music may help cut down on the chitter chatter of the guests which does get loud, it has become louder and louder.
I’d like to see local music ‘unplugged’ become a part of this resort, the softness of a Pueblo drummer, the lilting take you away on a breeze of the Native American flute, chanting or even the ring of a bell may help put people into a more peaceful frame of mind and keep them from chattering. At the very least a sound system with flute, maybe some classical music, with some Inuit Chanting and sounds of the Brazilian Rainforest, (alright NOW ‘I’m’ sounding all New Age-ee).
Another alternative to keep noise levels down would be the addition of false Lily Pads floating in each pool printed with simple phrases such as "Whisper Please" "Tranquility" or "Silence". It might help and would NOT need a shorthanded staff to walk around with signs.

Try to take the opportunity in your lifetime to actually visit Ojo Caliente overnight for the full experience. There is lodging that includes a fenced private pool, with Kiva fireplaces in rooms, this is a luxurious treat for guests. The rooms are southwest elegant. Someone recently told me that they took a tent and camped there, if you cannot afford the overnight lodging, then perhaps camping could be an option for you too.

The drive to and from Taos is actually magnificently beautiful. 

For much more information and reservations please visit the website www.ojospa.com

The hot springs and water in the rivers around New Mexico can contain the parasite Giardia. At Ojo you will not be subject to this risk. There is however a great deal of floating oil slick type stuff on the surface from people using sunscreens.

An example of a recent visit and how disconcertingly not relaxing the iron pool was is this. As I was soaking a group of people entered, soon one of them began proselytizing his philosophy of life for all to hear. Disconcerting at best, annoyingly self indulgent. As one fellow entered the Hottest of the pools he immediately announced LOUDLY that it was Hot and that the water seemed a bit low. I whispered to him that there was no need for such obvious statements. He then sat down next to me, and moved closer in an attempt to passively aggressively intimidate me into leaving. Eventually he moved to the opposite side of the pool to be with his partner. A woman in the pool opposite me, looked up and winked at me. She was having a peaceful moment and appreciated that I'd asked the fellow to be quiet and was taking no part of his intimidation tactics. I could go on with the other examples of the rudeness factor at Ojo, I shall not (for now).

A visit to Ojo Calienate Mineral Springs is no longer a Tranquil experience as advertised. It is now a beach party, an expensive one at that. I have updated this blog in hopes that it gives visitors a perspective and perhaps keeps a few visitors from being loud at Ojo and HOPEFULLY that Ojo stops making excuses. There is actually an enormous staff and they are rarely shorthanded. An underpaid staff and a disengaged staff is not doing Ojo any favors in my very vocal opinion.

*All photographs are copyright Robert Cafazzo 2014, except for the vintage ca.1930's images provided by OCMSR&S. Updated May 13, 2018







3 comments:

  1. My sister's favorite place and I cannot wait to go. So nice to see photos Robert and that wine/meal looks delicious!

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  2. Thank you. Excellent. I will be going again. It was all pretty rustic on my last visit: 1971 !!

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  3. Thanks...it is now maybe somewhere I would go for a night or two!

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