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Zen and the Art of Spiritual Maintenance

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Need a little mental clarity? Zen peacefulness? Spiritual centering? Or just a good long soak in a hot mineral spring and a break from civilization? If the crazy pace of daily life has you hyperventilating, hit the road and head to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. A five-hour drive (south on I-25, hang a right at Walsenberg, go left at Alamosa) will take you through the evergreen-covered foothills of Colorado and into the hilly desert of New Mexico. Take a deep breath of the sage-scented air, settle into a hot mineral spring, and let the stress evaporate into the steamy mists. I went to Ojo for the first time last weekend, as part of a girls’ getaway with a dozen other women. I discovered and/or confirmed several things along the way:

Nothing too earth-shattering, sure, but sometimes you just plain forget even the most basic things in life. Here’s how it went down.

We hit the road by late morning last Friday, and arrived at Ojo by mid-afternoon. Many of the girls in our group were already there, lazing and cocktailing in their “cozy cottages” – basically Ojo promo speak for clean little motel rooms with kitchenettes and scruffy-but-private backyards. I opted to settle in and check out the seven different mineral springs, while the main group went off down the road to find dinner. By the time they returned, I’d had a long soak, a glass of wine, and was on my way to properly communing with the rustic desert surroundings. When the rest of the gang plopped back into the pools, it seemed that the party had started. Granted, when you get a gaggle of girls together and add alcohol, it can quickly become less about inner reflection and meditation and more about gigglefests and libations. We were shushed. And shushed again. And soon were barely-politely shooed back to our rooms. Alcohol, it seems, is frowned upon at Ojo. Loud, giggly imbibing of copious amounts of margaritas, sangria, and red wine? Definitely frowned upon. We were clearly not being properly Zen. Understandable. Back at our own private row of cozy cottages, however, we were happy to continue our merrymaking. Sadly, two of the gals were less than impressed with the “resort and spa” portion of the offerings. While Ojo does offer facials, massages, water yoga, river meditation, hiking trails, plus an on-site restaurant, hotel, and other services, some of the gals were thinking more along the lines of the Four Seasons than the dry-season desert hostel vibe of Ojo Caliente. Personally, I like the outdoorsy naturalness, and I like feeling like I’m almost camping. With indoor plumbing and a comfy bed. Those other two? Off they went in a huff, heading off to Santa Fe to try for a flight home. Their loss. Saturday we lounged, took mud baths, got herbal wraps, massages, and lots of beauty rest (naps are easy at Ojo; the motto, we learned, is keep-it-to-a-whisper, folks). In the evening we caravaned into Taos (45 minutes up the road, plus or minus tourist time for scenic stops, pottery studio tours, and the like) for dinner at Joseph’s Table, a delicious little spot on the historic plaza. In between bites of red beet and goat cheese salad, and a luscious entree of beef tenderloin with smashed sweet potatoes and delicate, crispy onion rings, I compared notes with the others about our various experiences during the day. After our meal, a few of the party girls opted to stay in Taos for bar-hopping and boy-watching. I was starting to miss my zen-desert-chick groove though. I headed back to Ojo. Sunday we hiked the mesa overlooking the hot springs and the little river valley below. We saw gorgeous views, occasional wildlife, and one of the oldest round adobe barns in the U.S. Then we hit a yoga class in the yoga yurt, and went back to the springs (You know those little Japanese snow monkeys that live in the hot springs? Clever little critters, those.) I could have stayed all day – and some did – but I had to hit the highway toward home sweet home. Of course, two days later, my desert Zen has evaporated. But that’s okay. Next time I hit Stress Factor Ten, I’ll know exactly where to go. After all, the hot springs have been providing their calm, natural waters for many centuries. Pretty sure they’ll still be there next time I need them.

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