destination Ojo Caliente

travel May 9, 2015

I have been to the hot springs at Ojo Caliente (not far from Santa Fe, New Mexico) many times. They have changed much over the years but the different pools with different temperatures and minerals are lovely as always. When I was a child, the place consisted of some funky buildings and a series of pools separated by rock walls. People bathed nude together, man woman and child. The atmosphere was laid back and anything but pretentious. Since then it has burned down, been purchased and remodeled. It is landscaped, there are casitas and a restaurant and a yoga yurt and a gift shop. Though the old northern New Mexico funkiness is gone, the charm lent by the beauty of the surroundings and the essence of the soothing waters remains. The complex is nestled in a valley with cottonwoods and sandy bluffs overhead. There is hiking to be done here as well.

Camping is our preferred method of travel due to financial issues and a family love of the the out of doors, so I was excited to find campsites listed under accommodations on Ojo Caliente’s website. I pictured some cottonwood lined nook, perhaps a creek nearby. A day at the resort swimming and soaking sounded perfect, perhaps I could sneak a massage or a yoga class for Mother’s Day. The prices have gone up, but we decided to spring for a special treat.

At $40 a campsite, I figured the sites would be pretty nice. Our friends were going to meet us and the sites are supposed to accommodate two tents, so that took a little sting out of the cost. When we showed up with the boys in the evening, exhausted and ready to set up camp and go to bed, we found that it is very much an RV park. In fact, the “tent sites” are basically a parking lot with trees. We were tellingly, the only tent campers. And the sites are small. They won’t accommodate two cars and certainly not two tents.

Neighbors are very close by. I spent a good portion of the night in my tent not sleeping to the sounds of car doors and watching the shadows of people move across my tent as their bright lights illuminated my sleeping family. A car horn as they locked their car. Nice touch. Somebody appeared to have been watching TV or listening to the radio. Too close for my comfort. Again, the price.

Additionally, the ground is compacted and it was very difficult to drive stakes in, and difficult to pull them back out. I am now shopping for new tent stakes as mantid ours are now bent.

I have nothing against RV parks, I just choose not to stay in them because, you know, I don’t have an RV. So I think a little honesty on the part of Ojo Caliente as to what this ‘tent site’ actually is, would have been appreciated. $40 for a parking spot. This is all a shame, because the area really is stunning and there could be beautiful campsites if the resort had chosen quality over quantity.

On the upside, the sites have electricity and water. But we camp assuming these things are not available anyway. There is a bathroom available that I did not visit and pretty clean porta potties. Each site also has a nice picnic table.

In the mid May morning of our visit, the temperature was just below 40 degrees and we got a little rain during the night. We were up early before the rest of the lot, so our breakfast and coffee was pleasantly quiet. Just birds and the occasional breeze in the trees overhead. New Mexico after ang moisture is always lovely, and thus was no exception. However, once I was in the tent while the little one took his morning nap, the hubbub of sliding doors and the like could be heard amongst the quiet morning voices of my neighbors.

In the end, we got hailed out of our site and left. By then it was freezing outside and I was irritated that the $32 entrance to the pools didn’t get you more than an unreasonably small towel and that a stay at the RV park didn’t get you a discount to the pools. The place is not as I remembered it and the bottom line seems to have edged out concerns for guests’ overall experience. It is less original than it used to be, and is more like a resort you may expect to find anywhere. The staff though, was friendly and helpful. It is definitely worth a day trip, and rent one of the houses available if money is no object. I would stay away from the campsites though, unless you are an RV owner or don’t mind camping in a parking lot. The picture below is the camp site at its best, green with the moisture and the neighbors carefully cropped out of view of the empty spot.

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