Sunday, January 8, 2012
Spence Hot Springs in Jemez Springs, NM
~7 miles North of Jemez Springs, East side of Hwy ~MM25
0.5M hike from paved parking lot
While Jemez Springs is (in)famous among ultrarunners for a tough, mountainous race held in May, it certainly has a history that is much longer than just the race. Human habitation in the Jemez Valley has been dated to over 4000 years, while the geology became especially interesting after volcanic eruptions over 1 million years ago. Even today, numerous natural hot springs are found throughout the valley. We were hoping to check out at least one.
I initially wanted to check out San Antonio Hot Springs, thinking it would be a good xc-ski destination (as opposed to driving on a rough 4WD road), but as I was unsure of the snow level, I ruled that out. Pictures of the Soda Dam looked impressive indeed, and I read about a natural waterslide, but it turns out that the hot springs in the immediate vicinity are very small warm pools. Talking with a friendly local that lived near the Soda Dam, he suggested Spence Hot Springs up the road. Backtracking about 6 miles, we pulled off near Battleship Rock (another impressive formation) before hiking another 20 minutes on an icy trail -- the wrong one, in fact -- which would have led to Macauley Hot Springs instead.
We were running out of daylight and J's patience, but I backtracked just a bit further up the road and found the right spot. The sign doesn't label the hot springs itself, but mentions "No Nudity" and such, so we figured we were in the right place. Just over a half mile of hiking on mud and ice, we passed a group of folks heading out that said it was "absolutely beautiful."
Finally, we arrived, and had the entire place to ourselves. There were two pools, with a small waterfall connecting them. The upper, warmer pool, has a small cave as the source of the hot water. I squeezed in there, Gollum-like, and vowed never to leave. Until it was time to go.
I can imagine a different scene in the middle of summer, but as it was in January, we were able to soak in a steaming pool of water and watch the sunset over snow-covered hills. All by ourselves! This is a glorious and magical spot.