Written on August 20, 2011
Video still from Jordan Hot Springs; Gila Wilderness, NM 2003
Recently, while waiting my turn at the barber shop, I picked up a copy of Outside Magazine and came across a fun little article. They put together the top hikes ending in a number of different scenarios - one of which was natural hot springs. I was proud to see that out of the four or five mentioned I had been to all but one. The best in my opinion being Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila Wilderness Area of New Mexico. The short description of the hike brought me right back to that day.
The first hot spring I ever visited was in Oregon during my junior year of college, although I had been enamored by the idea of these kinds of places since doing a report on Iceland in fourth grade. Since then I’ve tried to hike to as many natural pools as possible throughout my travels in the Western US, and made it a point to stop over in Reykjavik on trip to the UK just so I could pay homage to the Blue Lagoon (among other mind blowing geographic features in the area).
Blue Lagoon; Iceland 2005
The Gila Wilderness covers 3.3 million acres in southwest New Mexico. It is home to incredible cliff dwellings, and a range of different landscapes. Jordan Spring is several miles from the nearest trail head. Getting there requires dozens of river crossings (I wore neoprene surfing booties for most of the hike) and leads you through Little Bear Canyon - a gorge so deep and narrow that for most of the way you have to look directly up to see even a sliver of sky. Signs warn against entering during any threat of flash floods. The canyon empties into Middle Fork River (which meanders through it’s own equally impressive canyon) and the pool is nestled a little ways up on the bank a couple more miles upstream.
After spending the early morning exploring the cave dwelling national monument, I packed my bag for a one night stay and headed out on Trail 729 toward the spring. I passed one pair of hikers along the way, on the yellow grassy rim of the slot canyon, just before beginning the steep descent. They were the only people I would see until just before nightfall. Arriving at the hot spring in the late afternoon I pitched my tent on a small patch of semi level ground on the heavily wooded bank, then stripped down for a soak. The pool was around 90 degrees, maybe 3 ft deep and 12 ft in diameter, with a flat gravel bottom. In short, it was ideal - not as hot as I’d anticipated, but soothing nonetheless. Ferns and other greenery draped over the moss covered rocks that defined the perimeter. The water was crystal clear and the slightest amount of steam hovered above the surface.
A little later, while enjoying a view of the last orange sunlight disappearing from the tops of the tallest cliffs across the river, my solitude was broken by the arrival of two young hikers stopping to set up camp for the night. After a few moments I got out of the pool, dried off, and went over to introduce myself. I can’t recall their names without digging up my road journal from that year, but they were a couple of recent high school graduates working their way back home to Alabama after a couple months on the road. On the outside they seemed unlikely companions - one with long dread locked hair and baggy corduroys, and the other more of the jeans and baseball cap type. But as we talked I learned they were childhood friends and shared a world view despite conflicting appearances. They were both taking some time off from school and got together to do some traveling. They were clocking serious miles in the Gila Wilderness; this being their fifth day on the trail.
As it turned out they had just taken an epic journey through Baja, and one of my goals on that trip was to do the same. So a lot of our fireside chats that night revolved around their Mexican adventure. Alabama was one of only five or six states I hadn’t been to at the time, so they described the area surrounding their hometown and the predominate mindset of their peers and elders. Of course I shared my Yankee perspectives, and after a couple hours of interesting conversation we all retired for the night.
When I woke up in the morning the air was crisp and still - probably not too far above freezing. The sun hadn’t yet made it into the gorge, and steam poured from the perpetually hot pool. My new young friends were ready to hit the trail by the time I climbed out of my tent, so we said our goodbyes and they departed. After one more long and quiet soak I packed up and headed back to the car. Then drove out the Gila Wilderness and New Mexico, bound for the Pacific.
Filed in: Memoirs.