In an attempt to make up for missing the Jemez Hot Springs on Saturday, I decided to head for the hills bright and early Sunday morning. Waking to my alarm at 6:30am, I climbed into the front seat and made the quick trip up to the spot. I arrived around 7am and trekked the rough trail up to the spring.
The trail, if it can be called that, starts out with a scramble down a dusty decline to a large log spanning a small, icy stream. Across the log the trail winds through the pine needles, over rocks, and around the bases of tall trees. Some of the trail is covered with hard ice and crunchy snow, while other parts are submerged under steaming spring water. The last leg is involves crawling over and between the large rocks that guard the spring itself.
Nestled between large boulders, the spring is about the size (and temperature) of two hot-tubs set side by side, with another pool set in front of the main spot several feet below. It's uniformly about three feet deep, with plenty of submerged rocks on which to sit or lie upon. The bottom of the pool is covered with fine gravel, strangely similar to that which you'd find in a fishtank. The spring is located about halfway up the east side of a steep, rocky valley, with a clear view of the sunlight slowly creeping down the opposite valley wall.
The snow on the trail was no surprise given that it was freezing cold outside the waters of the spring. As such, I wasted no time stripping down, setting my clothes and pack on a nearby rock, and tiptoeing into the simmering water. After the initial shock, I just had to lay back fully under the soothing waters. Despite the early hour at which I arrived, I was five minutes too late to claim the prize of being the first in the water. Regardless, there were plenty of options from which to choose. I picked a spot near the front of the top pool, as it offered a clear view of the entire valley, especially the sunlight slowly creeping down the opposite valley wall. This spot also provided me with a comfortable rock on which to sit, and a smooth surface on which to spread out my breakfast: hard salami, sharp cheddar, and horseradish.
Watching the sun rise from the hot water, surrounded by the cold mountains, was more wonderful than I can possibly convey. I had been sleeping in my car for several nights at this point, many of which were extremely cold, but the chill was quickly soaked from my body by the warmth of the spring. On top of that, it felt fantastic to scrub away the grime of the trip and comb out the tangles from my hair. A hot bath is always nice, but on that morning, for me, it was particularly soothing.
Before long, other denizens of the Santa Fe area made their way up to the spring to join the ritual in a steady trickle. An hour after we arrived, my nameless companion and I were joined by ten others, leading me to decide it was time to leave. I gathered up the remnants of my breakfast, climbed shivering out of the heat, and slipped back into my traveling clothes. At this point I decided to brush out my hair and go through the morning regiment, so I drug the portable brush through my drying hair. After a few strokes I realized that there was an exceptional amount of "white" accumulating in my brush. At first I thought I was suffering from an extreme case of dandruff -- always a concern after days without bathing -- but soon realized that it was actually snow that I was gathering. While sitting in the pool, my hair had frozen entirely, and it was not tangles I was brushing out but rather ice. Furthermore, when I pulled out my camera to take a few shots, it had become so cold that it refused to operate. Despite a full charging just the night before, the battery was so cold that it acted depleted. Taking this as my cue to go, I finished my grooming and headed back to my car, with the heater turned up full. I then made my way back down the valley, out to Albequerque, and away from the spring, possibly forever.