Rock near Jemez Springs, N.M.
warning, hikers. If a little nudity makes you squeamish,
steer clear of the picturesque little hot springs
scattered in the hills around the Jemez area of New
if youíre all for taking a dip in the wilderness and donít
mind a bare bun or two, youíve got plenty to choose
volcanic activity that formed the Jemez Mountains created
an array of hot and cold pools, some of them within easy
hiking distance, where you can soak tired legs under a
canopy of pine trees. More refined types ó and itís
all relative ó can opt for a dip (or a mud wrap) in one
of three developed bathhouses in the area.
in the Jemez (pronounced HAY-mez), a funky nook of the
woods about 60 miles northwest of Albuquerque, youíre as
likely to bump into a lumberman as a hippie, but you wonít
find gourmet restaurants, shopping malls or chain hotels.
If, however, you prefer quirky and home-spun to high-brow
and sophisticated, this is your place.
do, and thatís why my husband and I came here.
the moment, weíre simmering in one of Mother Natureís
saucepans at San Antonio Hot Springs, a collection of
toasty, hot tub-sized pools that cascade down the side of
a mountain not far from the little town of La Cueva. We
walked 6 miles to get here and will walk 6 more to get
out, but if the gate at the trailhead is open you can
drive the rough road to a parking area thatís just a
short, steep climb from the springs.
wearing our skivvies. The six other people and three big
dogs that were lounging in the pools when we arrived are
practically frozen in place, mesmerized by the little
puffs of steam rising from the water and the chipmunks
trying to eat the sack of trail mix someone left on a
though, itís time to trek back to our car and explore
more of our surroundings. We head back to Highway 4, part
of the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway that
winds through these quiet pine forests. Itís kind of
strange to think weíre only 45 minutes from Los Alamos,
where scientists created the atomic bomb.
village of Jemez Springs is ground zero of the Jemez. The
town popped up around the time of the Civil War and
incorporated in 1955 but didnít get telephone service
until 1964. The pueblo north of town, though, is much
older ó it dates back 700 years, and the natural hot
springs have lured people here for years. According to
local lore, Chicago gangster Al Capone enjoyed the
occasional dip in them.
Jemez Springs today consists of a coffee shop that always
seems to be closed, a couple of restaurants (try the chili
rellenos at Los Ojos), two developed hot springs (Giggling
Springs and Jemez Springs Bath House) and a few art
galleries. Canon del Rio Retreat and Day Spa isnít far
town is also home to the Servants of the Paraclete, where
the Catholic church swept away some of its worst pedophile
priests for treatment during the 1980s and í90s, but
thatís not mentioned in most tourist brochures.
circuit today includes stops at Battleship Rock, an
imposing slab of mountain that looks like the front half
of an old war ship, and Soda Dam, a lumpy, 300-foot
formation created by mineral deposits from a hot spring.
From Battleship Rock you can hike to McCauley Warm
Springs, an 84-degree pool in a forest clearing.
Hot Springs is right on Highway 4, but itís often
crowded. If the small parking area is full, the pool is
probably at capacity. Try visiting in the early morning or
staying at a bed and breakfast in La Cueva. Rustic and
comfortable (but we wish theyíd clear up some of the
debris on the property) with a pair of big friendly dogs
and breakfast tacos to die for, Elk Mountain Lodge is
perched on a hillside about a 15-minute drive north of the
town of Jemez Springs.
there itís a quick drive to the actual Jemez Falls on
the east fork of the Jemez River. Thereís a campground
and parking lot there, and itís just a short hike to the
falls, which are lovely but suffering from overuse. The
trail is eroded, and too many hikers have left behind
be better off driving 15 minutes farther down the road
toward the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Stop at the
Las Conchas trailhead and lace up your shoes for one of
the prettiest hikes in the area. The trail takes you along
the Jemez River, beneath high canyon walls and past a rock
face that looks just like the facial profile of a giant.
the time you make it back, youíll be ready to settle
into a chair somewhere and make yourself content just
gazing at the mountains. Because in the Jemez, itís all
stayed at the Elk Mountain Lodge Bed & Breakfast a few
miles north of Jemez Springs in La Cueva, at 37485 Highway
126. Rooms range from $119 to $189; elkmtnlodge.com or
800-815-2859. San Antonio Hot Springs is located on
unpaved Forest Road 376 north, just north of La Cueva. We
parked at the trailhead where 376 meets Highway 126 and
walked 6 miles in, but if the gate is open you can drive
the rough road to a parking area below the springs. From
there itís a short but steep hike to the pools.