Discovering the unexpected is why I travel. Potholes encountered along the way are the things you never would have expected.
Teeve and a group of his college friends met us in Santa Fe for a few days of skiing, eating and relaxation before the spring semester started. Santa Fe is one of my all time favorite places to visit. It’s an easy and picturesque drive from north Texas with so much to explore. I was still recovering from a surgery and was not able to ski so Sweetie took me to visit El Santuario de Chimayo nestled in the Sangre de Cristo mountains 24 miles north of Santa Fe while the rest of the group went skiing.
After an hour or so in Chimayo we were planning to hike at Bandelier National Monument but I didn’t feel up to a couple of hours of hiking. We opted to head west on Highway 4 in search of the Spence Hot Springs. The drive on Highway 4 is spectacular, but there are no signs for the springs. You have to look for a small, circular, parking pad between mile markers 24 and 25. It can only hold about half a dozen vehicles so, if it is full you’ll have to drive on. Fortunately, a car was pulling out and we pulled in.
Let me make a couple of things very clear…. there are no facilities (bathrooms), wear hiking boots or tennis shoes, flip flops are a bad idea. We changed into our swimsuits in the truck. There is really no one around so we took turns keeping watch as the other changed. The trail is fairly well marked, rocky and can be steep. If you are wearing flip flops, you’re going to have a difficult time and it does get icy during winter . The hike is a steep15 minutes with the trail becoming less obvious the higher you climb but eventually you’ll spot the 2 natural hot springs. There is a top spring that feeds into a lower pool, both overlooking the Santa Fe National Forest.
We arrived and there was only a young couple already soaking which was odd I thought considering there were about 5 other cars on the parking pad. They all must be hiking I thought. We stripped down to our swimsuits and negotiated our way into the water. Let me make another thing clear… this is a NATURAL hot spring, don’t expect a chemical laden hot tub. The water is warm between 98-100 degrees, not hot, but on a chilly winter afternoon the warm water was welcoming. Soon an older couple with their dog showed up and began striping down to their swimsuits.
We were all chit-chatting away but the conversation turned a little too quirky for Sweetie and I, but we nodded our heads and feigned interest. After about 30 minutes of soaking Sweetie says ‘I imagined the water would be warmer than this’. The younger gal responds, ‘it is, in the grotto, but there’s a couple in there now’. Huh? Grotto? Hidden behind some overgrowth, evidently was a grotto with the source of the spring feeding the pool we were now soaking in. Sweetie and I don’t consider ourselves prude, but the thought of soaking in waters downstream of the couple in the grotto was just too much. I give Sweetie the ‘I want to get the Hell out of here’ look and say that I am really hungry and ready for lunch. Soon, we bid our adieu’s, get dressed and hike back to the truck.
We continue driving on Highway 4 until we reach the quaint town of Jemez Springs for lunch at Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon. This is one of the most memorable places I have ever eaten. Maybe because I was so hungry and trying to rid my memory of the grotto or maybe because the atmosphere is exactly what you imagine an old saloon in the middle of New Mexico to look like, or, maybe it’s because it was the best damn green chile burger I have ever eaten! Damn, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Seriously, have you ever planned a trip around something to eat? That’s what I’m doing next time I plan a trip to Santa Fe. Let me know what food or restaurant you would plan a trip around in the comments, or send me an email at email@example.com. Happy trails!
For more information on Spence Springs, see Santa Fe National Forest