Southwest Hot Springs Tour

August, 2008

In late August, we blended a family reunion in Colorado and a weekend with friends in New Mexico to create a delicious summer vacation, seasoned with stopovers at several spectacular hot springs. Somehow we convinced our dear friends Kit and Ann H. and Tom and Ann C. to meet us at the Wilderness Lodge in Gila Hot Springs, NM.

While we wound our way north from Silver City via route 15, they arrived from Albuquerque and Emory Pass, and we all got caught in the same raging monsoon thunderstorm. We made radio contact from Copperas Ridge while they were hesitating at one of many washouts along route 35, and arrived in time to photograph the "Amphiprius" in action.

Moe, the Innkeeper Cat at the Wilderness Lodge, knows how to welcome tired, wet travelers.

Her brother Opie is in charge of a pair of delightful soaking pools.

Besides soaking in the hot tubs, we also managed a tour of nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Rene, our guide, did a great job of describing Mogollon life from the woman's point of view. Ann H. was particularly interested in the smokehouse, where polished rocks indicate that uric acid was used to tan hides and perhaps to produce indigo dye.

The monsoon has been especially generous this year, and the Gila Wilderness was even more lush than usual. Heavy dew clung to a carpet of summer wildflowers. The semi-tropical conditions also brought out toads and this odd one-eyed moth/butterfly larva.

An evening stroll included plenty of puddle jumping.

"...And thou beside me pinging in the wilderness." Laptops sprout like mushrooms while Kit looks on in consternation.

Moe entertains Tom with a laptop dance.

Dennis does his best to shave the day.

Left to right: me, Ann C., Tom C., Kit and Ann H.

Happy birthday, Ann!

Kit's toast ... but he's not history!

On Sunday we followed Tom and Ann back to Albuquerque, pausing in Hillsboro for a little sightseeing and a great lunch at the Barbershop Cafe.

Heading north on I-25, we skirted a violent thunderstorm whose grande finale was a brilliant rainbow.

After a peaceful night at Casa Caudell, we headed north through Jemez, pausing to admire the Soda Dam, a large hot spring deposit composed mostly of calcium carbonate. The Soda Dam hot spring waters originate at the Valles Caldera (see below).

Since we were running a little ahead of schedule, we squeezed in a side trip to San Antonio Hot Springs. Here's a shot of the "well-maintained" access road, so gouged with deep potholes and low-flying boulders that many soakers parked their cars and hiked the 4.8 miles from FR 126. A series of cascading hot pools with a dazzling view of the canyon made it well worth the trip.

Pasta primavera at Jemez Falls Campground.

Next morning we hiked the 2½ miles from the campground to McCauley Hot Springs. This pleasant walk through pine-scented forest is part of the popular East Fork Trail along the Jemez River.

There are actually several pools here, and the top pools is neither the largest nor the deepest.

But all the pools are infested with ...

We took the cutoff to Jemez Falls on the way back, and discovered some cooler but more inviting pools above the falls.

Route 4 winds through some of the most beautiful country anywhere in the Southwest, including Valles Caldera. The Caldera is 15 miles in diameter and dominates the Jemez Volcanic Field in North Central New Mexico. The former Baca Ranch was purchased by the U.S. government in 1999 and declared a national preserve in 2000.

We continued north toward Colorado on route 84. An obligatory stop along this route is Tierra Wools in Los Ojos, where fabulous textiles are woven onsite using natural dyes and wool from local sheep.

Across the street at Otra Vuelta you can buy tires that are "guaranteed to stay flat".

We spent that night at Riana Campground overlooking Lake Abiquiu, then continued north toward Chama.

I highly recommend Carlatta's Cafe for great food and conversation in a town whose only grocery store collapsed last winter under 17 feet of fresh snow.

We arrived in Chama in the middle of a gathering of "speeders" — handcars that were used for track maintenance until the 1990s when they were replaced by track-riding Hy-rail pickup trucks. Many speeders have been modified for private use, and more than 900 of them are now registered with the North American Railcar Operators Association (NARCOA). It was also the day that Engine 489 returned to service after five years of restoration at a cost of more than $900,000.

We raced up Cumbres Pass and caught the 487 just as it was pulling away from the station at the top of the pass, elevation 10,015 feet!

We picked up route 285 in Antonito and headed north to our next "hot spot" — Valley View Hot Springs. Now operating as the Orient Land Trust, this clothing optional retreat sits at an elevation of 8750 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The "vehicle camping area" is little more than a parking lot, but the main attraction is a super-heated stream that feeds a half-dozen pools — including an 80-foot swimming pool — with killer views of the San Luis Valley.

An explosion of sunflowers lines the stream, and fireflies illuminate the trails at night. Thick condensation testified to evening temps in the low 40s, but is there anything more delightful than Rocky Mountain early morning summer sunshine? With some reluctance, we packed up and continued up route 285 to our ultimate destination: a family reunion at my sister's summer home near Antero Junction.

My sister Frankie has a place in the mountains overlooking Antero Lake.

At 9200 feet with views of the reservoir and the Collegiate Peaks, the setting could not be more spectacular.

On Frankie's deck from left to right: me (from Tucson), Ruth (from St. Cloud, MN), Evy (from Leesburg, FL), Jan (from Hastings, NE) and Frankie (from Denver).

Frankie and her buddy "Froggie".

Jan, Ruth and Jim from the mezzanine.

Frankie and Ray.

Ruth and Jan.

Jan and Jim at the park in Buena Vista.

No reunion is complete without the running of the cosmetics!

Jan and Evy divide the spoils.

Dennis and I hiked up nearby Buffalo Creek to a pasture with a great view of East and West Buffalo Peaks, elevation +13,300'.

We also scrambled up the hill behind Cora a couple of times to watch the evening storm clouds gathering over Lake Antero.

All too soon it was time to hurry back to Tucson, with over 1800 miles and five nights in the TacoMa behind us. We had a great trip and very much enjoyed our time in the mountains with friends and family. Thanks to everyone for making this trip with us, and special thanks to Frankie and to Tom and Ann for their ever-generous hospitality.