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USA: New Mexican Road Trips...Abridged

Updated: Jun 25, 2022


USA: There is nothing like a road trip vacation through the USA. It is a big country and the topography and culture change by the hour. We enjoyed a spa holiday at the Ojo Caliente mineral springs spa in New Mexico and a driving adventure through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near the artist community of Taos.


The very first post for this blog described the delights of road trips. I have learned many things since then. I have learned that no one will read a post that is 16 reading minutes in length. I have learned words and phrases like long-tail keywords, tags, meta descriptions, anchor texts, URL, permalink, and RSS. Jokes! I still don't know what any of these terms mean, which might explain my low subscriber rate. I have also learned, through experience, practice, and personal consultation, that I should never plan road trips.

The mineral spring pool at Ojo Caliente

My recent, last-minute, jump-in-the-car-and-go trip to the Ebbor Gorge National Nature Reserve reminded me of the road trip I took with my two sisters to New Mexico. It was not the jolls we had shared, the spa treatments, or the deep dive into local Native American history that came to mind. It was that I once again found myself lost in the woods.

Back to 2018. My youngest daughter left for university and thus began what, I hoped, would be my Year of Spa. I planned to follow the sun and indulge in spa hotels and deluxe treatments, documenting it all right here on my blog. The dream was that Condé Nast and other publications would pick up the articles and then pay for my Year of Spa, 2019. I got the first bit right, but I am still waiting for the second part of that statement to come to fruition.

Two of my sisters and I met in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and we then drove 134 miles north to enjoy the healing mineral waters of the Ojo Caliente Spa. This health resort is one of the oldest in the country, and many of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ojo Caliente has four natural spring pools. The Tewa tribe, indigenous to the area, believe that the pools are the entrance to the underworld.

After seeing a photo of myself in a bathing suit at the mud pool, slathered in sludge, this has to be true. That picture is pure hell.

The four, sulfur-free pools contain naturally-occurring arsenic, lithe, iron, and soda.

There is then a large pool combining all the minerals as well as the aforementioned mud pool, for a healthy dose of naturally occurring embarrassment.

The spa has a full menu of treatments, a schedule of yoga and other meditative experiences, and two restaurants on-site.

On our second day at Ojo Caliene, I refused to go anywhere near that mud pool, so we left the spa and drove to the Lower Gorge for some white-water rafting. The Lower Gorge is a popular rafting site in New Mexico because it is good for beginners and classed 111 and 1V.

(My sisters are not as wild for adventure as I am, and they were even less pleased when their giant feet didn't fit securely in the raft. They've teased me all my life for being short, so it's alright to tease them for having big feet.) Absent, were the (oh shit!) handles on these rafts, giving beginners no place to hold on to when the water got bumpy. Wildly divaricating appendages, it was a reckless descent down the Rio Grande.

When the water stilled, our guide encouraged us to jump in the river. I am a true adventurer. More likely I am something of a show-off and agitator of sorts. I jumped in, and after displaying senseless amounts of swimming swagger, I discovered that my upper body strength had been mercilessly depleted from navigating the currents. I could not fling myself back into the raft. I swallowed some pride with the river water and asked my sisters for help. I had no plan for how to get back in the raft. Phyl grabbed my life-jacket straps and hoisted me into the raft. Unfortunately, I landed right in her crotch. Then, while trying to find purchase on the rubber raft, flopped about like a fish out of water. For an eternity. I am thankful there is no picture of that.

Back to Ojo for some much-needed massage.

The next day, we donned our coolest outfits and headed to Taos for a day of culture and creativity. Taos is an artist community founded in 1615, its name meaning the place of red willows. It has been the home of many writers including Julia Cameron, DH Lawrence, Dennis Hopper, and Aldous Huxley.

I am not saying that any of this is my fault.

As a dedicated follower of Global Positioning Systems, I insisted we follow it as it led us right off the main road and onto a dirt path. Let's not mention an ominous sign that read ‘no through traffic'. When we stopped in the middle of a field, being told by the GPS to proceed, my sisters suggested we turn back. It was I who said no, refusing to fail in this quest. We persevered.

We were soon three women in skirts and flip-flops in a rented SUV driving straight up a mountainside on a ski path. My sister, who is an excellent driver, had trouble controlling the car on a 60-degree angle of rubble and rock. Tears flowed as we drove straight up for about 30 minutes. Where was flipping Taos???!!!

Then there began a thunderstorm. So now we were three women in a rented SUV on a 60-degree, cliff-side dirt path. There was no reception to phone for help. We had only our wits to help us survive, and we were not very witty. I held on and cried while my sister, the one that hoisted me into her crotch a day earlier, got out of the car and attempted to uproot a boulder that was blocking the road while dressed beautifully for a day out at art galleries. Can the healing waters of Ojo cure hernias and shame?

I am a firm believer in where there is an IN there is an OUT. But in the Taos National Reserve, there was only UP. UP on a now very muddy dirt road in a torrential storm. As my driving sister clutched the wheel and my other sister tried to Sisyphus the bolder out of the way, I meditated on Bear Grylls's survival techniques and decided which sister I would eat first. I repeat, none of this was my fault.

Failing to shift the rock, my sister pulled out her phone in a last-ditch grasp at reception. Bars finally! She called her husband in New York and told him we were going to die on a mountainside in New Mexico. If anything else, they would know where to find our bodies. He called the Taos National Park Rangers, who then called us. They explained that we should consult our car's compass, head south, and we would be fine. After 20 minutes, we were just that.

Five minutes later, we were well entrenched in a liqueur store buying as much wine as we could carry before we smashed the GPS in the store's car park. Upon returning to the resort, we regaled our hotel's reception with tales of our near-death experience. We were pretty drunk but, I think they told us GPS machines don't work in mountains.

Ojo Caliente to Taos is a 47-minute drive via US Highway 285 S.

We conquered US Hwy 285 S the following day and had a wonderful time. It's a cool little place with loads of art galleries. I bought a few prints that now adorn my daughter's NYC Lower East Side walk-up.

The following year, my Herculean sister returned to Ojo Caliente with our hero, Joe. She called me in a panic!. The hotel, it seemed, was using the mud pool photos of us in the lobby promotional slideshow.

I didn't believe her for a second, as those photos would scare away business. But it took her a whole day to admit to me that she was lying. As long as those photos are out there, I'm never going back to New Mexico.

Another interesting thing to do while you are in the area is to visit the Earthship Biotecture and the Greater Earthship Community. This is a strictly off-the-grid collection of buildings, where the structures are made from mostly recycled materials.


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