The big trip

New Mexico’s glorious hot springs

US state’s northern region is one of the best places for ‘geothermal goodness’

In northern New Mexico, “health is in the air”; you can almost feel it in the “feathery-light” high-desert atmosphere. And it is one of the best places “to go in search of geothermal goodness”, says Chris Wallace in the FT, with hot springs “positively littered” across fields and meadows.

The Spanish conquistadors believed they were fountains of youth, and today they attract all manner of “escapists, adventurers and dreamers”. Science is “ambivalent” about the objective benefits of bathing in their waters, “thick with heavy metals”. But it can’t do any harm, and people find it leaves them feeling wonderfully refreshed, thanks in part to the wild beauty of the surroundings.

Manby Hot Springs, in the Rio Grande gorge near the town of Taos, are the best known. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s characters in Easy Rider stop off there on their dusty, rough road trip along Route 66, and it is “easily the most exuberant” scene in the 1969 film. Today, you must walk a few miles downriver from the John Dunn bridge to access them.

Easier to get to are the nearby Black Rock springs, which are frequented by “campers, bikers and backpackers in search of the hippie mecca imagined by Hopper here”, and which afford superb views down the gorge (“an 800ft-deep groove in a millions-of-years-old lava flow”). But even more astonishing – indeed, “Lord of the Rings majestic” – are the views from the San Antonio spring. Here, the tubs descend down the side of a canyon, and vary in heat from “near-scalding” to a “mossy-cool plunge”.

Among the area’s best resorts are the Four Seasons near Santa Fe, the Japanese-influenced Ten Thousand Waves, and the Ojo Santa Fe. But not all of these have their own hot springs – and none of their baths is as “wondrous” as those at Ojo Caliente, the oldest formal spa to have been built on a hot spring in the US.

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