Among my lifelong passions re-energized in this stage of life is hot springs (from luxury spa to hot water bubbling into a make shift pool). My all time favorites include the steam bath/ pool in the lava flow on the big island of Hawaii as well as the chic full service spa at Glen Ivy in Corona, CA. Orienting my internal compass to this avocation leads me to unexpected adventures and discoveries.
|Chinanti Hot Springs on the Rio Grande, TX|
Driving an unpaved road in my Volvo subcompact for an hour in Southwest TX, epitomized my devotion to hot springs. The siren call of healing waters inspired a long side trip. In fact, the call of hot springs was the theme of a three week driveabout of the southwest USA. From the recently upgraded Ojo Caliente (near Santa Fe, NM) to Truth or Consequences, NM (formerly named Hot Springs) to Eldorado (outside of Phoenix) each has its own particular style, mood, and reward. And in each place the camaraderie of the hot springers prevails. This spirit was highlighted at Chinanti (at the end of that unpaved road), where the soakers bantered about the relative merits of a couple dozen hot springs from Big Bend, TX to Wasilla, AL.
But getting there was more than half the story. Fueled by memories of past hot springs trips located in natural settings, soothed by the mineral waters, and mostly by my sense of adventure, I headed south from Marfa, TX and opted for the shorter (by half) unpaved route. This folly was based on my many years of travel to war zones, nature outposts, and the Mojave Desert. How bad could it be? I found out, a lot worse than I thought. Just before the paved section ran out, I spied a Border Patrol truck pointing in the direction of the Mexican border. I recalled a recent news report on how smugglers are prone to bring their human cargo overland through the Sonoran desert. Initially, the unpaved section was well graded and easy to drive but eventually led to a single lane, ungraded, winding mountain road. Picking my way through the large rocks and steep climbs, the 405 at 5 pm suddenly seemed speedy. Stopping at dry creek beds to move rocks out of the way, all the while praying not have a breakdown of some sort. Or even worse meet one of those smuggling crews who would have nothing to lose by commandeering my vehicle. Needless to say, my imagination was hard at work conjuring up disasters and I had no cell service. Passing rusting ruins of old vehicles did not lighten my mood. After about an hour without seeing another car, I met an old truck coming the other direction. I wanted to stop and tell my story but the old guy just waved and kept rolling. Upon hitting the paved road at a village called Ruidosa, I felt like an old time cowboy riding into a frontier town. But there was no saloon, just a boarded up church.
When I finally reached Chinanti Hot Springs and told my tale to the proprietor, she just laughed and declared my passage to be a miracle given the condition of the road. She also said even if I had broken down, Border Patrol had a blimp in the air and they knew my every move. So much for isolation. After my hour’s soak and kibitzing with my hot springs colleagues, I took the twice as far paved route back to the Interstate. Enough adventure for one day.
|Riverbend Hot Springs, T or C, NM|
Another hot springs surprise (albeit not as adventurous) was my foray into the strangely named, Truth or Consequences (or T or C to locals). Although right off the Interstate, it is a town that looks like was abandoned in 1955 and then rediscovered a couple years ago. Old broken down hot springs motels litter the town. Boarded up and derelict they look like a scene from Mad Max, but on the main street there are several gentrified shops selling everything from organic vegetables to crystals to used clothes. The gem of the town is Riverbend Motel & Hot Springs which has four tubs of varying temperatures overlooking the river. Recently, it was redone by the thirty something owner in a style reminiscent of the Palm Springs chic ‘mid-century’ look.
|Funky luxury near Santa Fe|
Santa Fe, NM yielded a wild and scenic surprise. As a frequent visitor to this acclaimed and unique art town, I had sampled its local spa treasures, the city adjacent chic spa, 10,000 Waves. Enticed by the by friends’ recommendations for Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, I drove an hour north of the city. A shower of yellow leaved cottonwood trees greeted me upon leaving the highway at funky Espanola (notable only for its $2.98 per gallon gas). Mile after mile of the yellow leave road was a delight comparable to the fall leaves in New England. The hot springs offered the greatest stew of different mineral baths that I had ever encountered; arsenic, lithium, sulfur, lead AND a separate mud bath. I was like a frog jumping from jumping from pool to pool.
|Homemade resort in Tonopah, AZ|
On the final leg from Tucson, AZ back home to L.A., my hot springs passion led to the obscure El Dorado Hot Springs in Tonopah, about an hour west of Phoenix. Beat up construction vehicles decorate the front yard and as you enter the compound (walled in with wild bamboo) an electronic alarm goes off. Walking into the yard is like going to an old west movie set, wood frame out buildings, an old trailer, and an outdoor office set up on a table. On the table is a collection of rocks and broken bottles and I asked the toothless proprietor about that collection. She reported that it is just stuff they pick up in the yard. On one side of the dusty yard are the semi private tubs and at the entrance one is warned that this is a nude area. A collection of five old claw foot tubs and one converted aluminum water tank comprise the baths. No juice bar, massage sign ups, or changing room. Take off your clothes and jump in. It was a foray into a do it yourself trailer style hot springs resort.
Passion leads us to the unknown in ourselves and the world. It pulls us into situations our analytic mind may reject. My passion for hot springs pushed me off the fast route, the interstate, and into surprises. Beautiful vistas, friendly people, scary roads, strange architectures, healing waters, and a variety of sublime moments were my reward. Find a passion and PURSUE IT. Don’t let your fearful, comfort seeking mind take your eyes off the prize. Your reward is the experience and the experience cannot be televised, tweeted, or skyped.