A neophyte stumbles on the ancient healing springs—and the advent of a lifelong pilgrimage.
EXCERPTED FROM “MIRACLE WATERS,” NEW MEXICO MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 1949
My first visit to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs was accidental. I was one of a party of four on an extended camping trip through the mountains of northern New Mexico. We had broken camp on the Río Pueblo and were rolling south along U.S. 64 when I asked the driver, “Where are we going?”
“What and where is that?” My knowledge of Spanish—language and place names—was as limited as my knowledge of the state. For an answer, I got a knowing grin and a grunt. I gave myself over completely to the beauty of this landscape and did not care where we were going.
Soon we saw a sign that told us that one-half mile to the right was the settlement called Ojo Caliente. On the surrounding hills and mesa tops were the ruins of prehistoric Indian dwellings. Indians had used the springs for curing their ills hundreds, yes, thousands, of years earlier.
The scene that met our eyes was unforgettable. The clean, cool air floating down from the mountain was mingled with the strong odors of mineral waters. At the hotel desk, we learned that we could not even get a cabin for at least a week! We were amazed. What was here in this faraway place, where living conditions were evidently primitive, to call so many people and keep them? But facts are facts, so we drove around in front of the bathhouses, where people were gathered about an open well like so many insects sipping nectar from a flower. We joined the others.
Looking down into the water, one could see tiny eruptions in the sand as the water came bubbling to the surface, hot and clear. This, we learned, was the lithia well.
“The one across there by the end of the bathhouse is arsenic,” a talkative man informed us, “and over by the door, iron, soda, and sodium water. The only place in the world where these waters are found together. ”
As we talked, we dipped our cups into the well and drank. At first we wondered how water could taste like that, but soon we found ourselves dipping in again and drinking with the others. The taste is one that grows.
“What are you here for?” someone asked.
“Oh, just here.”
“You mean there is nothing the matter with your health?”
“Nothing that a few nights of good sleep and some rest on a good bed won’t cure.”
I got more rest at Ojo Caliente than I had known there was in the world. I have been back there many times since that visit. Like the others, I never miss a chance to get the benefit of these healing waters. Each time I am there, I am surprised by the number of people, and the faraway places from whence they come.
During the years, the facilities have been enlarged. A variety of accommodations are offered. Thousands of people visit the springs each year to enjoy the baths, to rest, or to revel in the beauty of the valley. They go home rested, happier.
Many times, I talk with people who have never heard of Ojo Caliente. I hope they read this, then go there to see for themselves. Those who go are almost certain to go back.
Strawcy Van Druff (1896–1985) Born in Topia, North Carolina, Van Druff moved to New Mexico in 1918. She taught in one-room schoolhouses in Union County until 1927, when she joined the faculty of the Clayton Public Schools. She retired in 1947, and in 1976 was named to the New Mexico Teachers Hall of Fame. A former society-page editor for the Union County Leader weekly newspaper, Van Druff was also an active member of the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs.