Note: This article originally appeared on Travelocity.com
I have always found a certain magic in northern New Mexico. It’s a land of truly enchanting places, with scenery that ranges from low desert to high mountain peaks. It holds sacred lands revered by Native Americans, wide open plains, and blue skies that seem to go on forever. The capital city, Santa Fe, was settled in the early 1600s and is a mecca for artists and creative types. Spas and healing waters bubble up from deep below the Earth’s surface. And of course, chilis and the inevitable question of “red or green” arises wherever you go.
When I had a chance to visit two spas and take a personal mini-road trip, I didn’t hesitate. It turned out to be a transformational time filled with massages, great food, moonlit nights, artwork, and even a few puppies.
Welcome to New Mexico
New Mexico isn’t on the way to anywhere. That’s part of the charm. I flew into Albuquerque, which has a beautiful, modern airport served by most of the major airlines. From there I rented a car and drove about an hour north to Santa Fe. While the day was cool, I rolled my windows down to breathe in the air as I moved toward the mountains. I could feel the weight of the world floating away as I neared Santa Fe.
Even though one of the spas was in Santa Fe, I wasn’t scheduled to stay there first, so I opted to have lunch in town before heading north—because every visit to New Mexico has to start with fabulous food. I had heard great things about The Pantry, which has been a locals’ hangout since opening in 1948. They serve breakfast all day and use fresh, local ingredients. This isn’t fancy food. It’s true New Mexico. You’re going to get tradition and flavor at The Pantry. My toughest decision? Whether to order breakfast or lunch. I opted for the day’s special, an avocado chicken enchilada. And yes, I ordered it with red sauce.
Visiting Historic Ojo Caliente
I was full and happy as I headed toward my first spa destination, Ojo Caliente. Ojo has a long and interesting history. The ancient ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes gathered there for thousands of years for the healing waters. In the 1500s, the Spaniards wrote of the strange waters coming from the ground. In 1868, the historic bathhouse, which is now on the National Registry of Historic Places, was built and the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs opened as one of the country’s first natural health resorts. A hotel was added in 1917, and it drew a bit of a cult following for many years.
When I first visited Ojo Caliente many years ago, it was still a favorite of New Mexico natives, and folks frequented Ojo for the day to soak in the pools and stay in the historic rooms. On this visit, I found a beautiful destination resort that has seen a great transformation over the past few years. While it still welcomes the day visitors who come for the pools, it also welcomes those who want a more luxurious destination stay and come for the massages and upscale experiences as well.
Ojo Caliente is unexpected. Under new ownership in the past few years, it keeps a sense of the open, rugged New Mexico that always drew locals, but adds a refinement that appeals to a broader audience. I found the blend of massage services, the healing waters of the desert, true farm-to-table cuisine from the onsite Ojo Farm, and the historic charm to be one of the most distinctive spa experiences I’ve had anywhere.
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