Conserving Sacred Waters in the High Desert
By Wendi Gelfound Director of Marketing, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa | April 30, 2017
Steeped in myth and legend, the ancient springs at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, 60 miles north of Santa Fe in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, have been a gathering place and source of healing for thousands of years. The use of the waters can be traced back to the earliest human migrations in the region, when ancestors of today's Tewa tribes built large pueblos and terraced gardens overlooking the springs.
Now, ruins of these ancient cities are marked by the shadows of walls and a sprinkling of potsherds. It is not uncommon, while hiking on Ojo's 1,100 acres and adjoining BLM lands, to find evidence of a life lived above the springs. Posi or Poseouinge, "village at the place of the green bubbling hot springs" was the largest of 4 Pueblos surrounding the springs and home to thousands of people, and, due to archeological study, we know that Posi was a vibrant center of activity until the 15th century.
Tradition tells us that often-warring tribesman would set their weapons and differences aside to gather in peace at the springs to enjoy the benefits of the waters, and to trade and heal their wounds and ailments without conflict, a true testament to the power and necessity of the waters for all walks of life.
In the 1500's the Spaniards, in their quest for gold and the Fountain of Youth, also discovered the springs. The first explorer's record cites, "The greatest treasure that I found these strange people to possess, are hot springs which burst out at the foot of a mountain…so powerful are the chemicals contained in this water that the inhabitants have a belief that they were given to them by their gods. These springs I have named Ojo Caliente" (literally translated means "warm eye", but more commonly known as "hot spring").
After discovering Ojo Caliente's springs and the lush and fertile surrounding river valley, the Spanish were challenged in their attempts to colonize the area and cultivate the land throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Those attempts repeatedly resulted in the settlers retreating back to the more established and safer settlement of Santa Fe, as result of routine raids conducted by the Comanche and other hostilities. One can still see the old "gun portholes" in the walls of Ojo Caliente's original Santa Cruz church (constructed in the late 1700's) that the Spanish settlers used to defend themselves.
It was not until the 19th century that westward expansion caused Ojo Caliente to emerge from its prehistoric origins. In 1868, Antonio Joseph, New Mexico's 1st Territorial Representative to Congress, built the first bathhouse and Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs became one of the first natural health resorts in the country. Ojo quickly became a hub of activity providing the mineral waters, overnight lodging, a Post Office, and a general store where historical ledgers show Kit Carson frequently purchased supplies.