I drove south because south was the only direction I felt like driving. I drove with the windows down and no air conditioning. I sweated my way across the country — chewing my lip, and singing Randy Travis. I was at a teetering point, or a waiting place from there to here. With a bruised-up heart, I was thinking about leaving my home of three years in Idaho, and I needed someplace safe to collect myself.
Santa Fe, that mystical land of ideas, seemed like a good spot to hole up in. People say it’s healing there — rolling plains, high vistas, and sunsets that make you happy to be alive. So I went, chasing down a standing invitation. A longtime friend had called me one afternoon and said, “If you ever don’t know where to go, come here, and everything else will follow that.”
She’s been right about a lot of things in the decade I’ve known her, so this promise was easy to latch onto.
Santa Fe proved to be everything I’d heard — hot and flat and strangely mysterious. The people are kind and afternoon storms roll across the desert to drench you. I ate tacos on the patio of an adobe, while chile ristras dangled from the awning, waving in the hot wind.
One day, we drove north to a mineral springs near Taos called Ojo Caliente to “soak the worry from my bones.” The springs have been a destination of healing for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. It’s now a resort/spa and wellness retreat. If you just want a soak you can pay a much smaller rate and simply walk in for the day. Show up before 7 and you can coat yourself in the red clay mud, dry in the sun, and then, for lack of a better phrase, feel brand-new. We did exactly this before making our rounds through the mineral pools. The sun stayed out for an impossible length of time, and I seemed to fall into a kind of trance.
The pools are infused with lithia, arsenic, iron, and soda — each said to be healing in its own way. The soda pool had a strange enclosure and was covered in tin. When the rain rolled through it pinged the roof, slow and then fast until the sound blurred into one steady thrum. When the storm passed the air smelled of wet dirt and manzanitas. My friend and I talked through the last few years, about how life comes in and takes you apart and puts you back together in new ways. I floated on my back in the pools, watched storm clouds creep across the sky, and tried to decipher where to go next.
When the sun finally went down, it lit the up the sky with desert pinks and deep shades of purple. In New Mexico the stars actually feel closer to the earth, like you might be able to reach out and rearrange them. The hot water seeped into the spaces in me where I felt unsure, and like a child before bed, I was suddenly calm about the shifting state of my life.
I was in the iron bath when I decided I’d leave Idaho for good, that I would go back to California, and that I would start something new. I could have laid in a pool of water anywhere, but I didn’t. It had to be there. I had to put the pieces together in a place that gave me space to see the pieces, where the waters flow out of ancient rock and the sky opens up to show you how small you are, and where you feel the sacredness of time vibrate in the land. I had to drive south.
I left Santa Fe knowing what to do, and at the very least, knowing where I’d go the next time I lost sight of things.
- Ojo Caliente is located an hour north of Santa Fe off the 285.
- Taos is another hour northeast and makes for a perfect day-trip loop.
- The pools are open every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- The latest reservation is at 9pm (and that only gives you an hour to soak).
- Reservations aren’t necessary to soak, but always a good idea.
- The mud bath closes at sundown.
- Daily rates are $20 per person, but if you arrive after 6 p.m. for an evening soak, it’s discounted to $16.
- The whole place is a whisper zone, so hush hush.
- There is a bar and restaurant on site but you’re better off packing a picnic to enjoy nearby.