Friday, October 8, 2010

Spence Hot Springs Getting Spanked

Article first published as Spence Hot Springs Near Jemez Getting Spanked on Technorati.

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Spence Hot Springs near Jemez Pueblo in the Santa Fe National Forest remains spectacular in it’s beauty, yet marred by misuse of this gift of nature.  A few who come to the famous hot springs are ruining the area for everyone.


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The springs, which maintain a constant temperature of about 100 degrees, are collected in various pools on the side of the mountain in the Santa Fe National Forest near Los Alamos, New Mexico.  



There are two basic pools, one perched atop the other.  Water gently cascades from the higher pool to the lower, leaving the lower pool slightly cooler.  The views of the valley beyond are as soothing as is the water.  What a great opportunity to enjoy H2o from Mother Earth in nature’s spectacular back yard. 


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Spence Hot Springs has likely always endured heavy use, even by the early indigenous inhabitants of the region.  Perhaps, they too, struggled with the best ways to keep it pristine and a jewel for the generations who follow.


ana techno Over the years, efforts have been made to construct other pools to alleviate congestion and to provide privacy of which there is little.  However, most of these additional pools seem to go dry.



A sincere effort has been made to control erosion on the access trail, to construct a foot bridge over the river and to keep the foot paths in usable shape.  These efforts aside, there have been few changes to Spence Hot Springs since my first visit in 1983.  Some things should always stay the same.


distant parking lot through boulders of pools

Despite being an easy 15 minute hike from the highway right-of-way, Spence was the place where swimming suits were few and far between.  Literature about the area warns intolerant bathers to beware.  However, during the most recent 6 years, a no-nudity policy has been in place.  Some rangers reportedly insist on adherence. 


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In an odd way, requiring visitors to wear more may be contributing to the damage to the spring.  Naturists, as those who prefer to bathe in the suits they were born in are called, have a certain code of conduct. 


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As Allen Campbell who owns the Wilderness Hot Springs near the Gila Cliff Dwellings points out about his own spring, “Nudists keep the riff-raff out”.   They frown on inappropriate sexual activities in public and are sensitive about the concerns of parents with minors. 


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In addition, most naturists take great care of the springs they use, since there are not many places that cater to the lifestyle.  One must wonder about the wisdom of giving the informal care-takers of this great resource the boot.



The USDA web page warns “Nudity is a violation of state law and you can be cited”.   How much do you want to bet the mother of one of those rangers spent some time skinny dipping in Jemez Springs?


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The Forest Service has also tried to limit use of the spring to day-time only, another failed plan.  It only takes one graffiti artist painting his signature late at night when others are prohibited from being at the springs to destroy the experience for others.  Constant use means constant guardians. 


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It is not how many people use the spring that affects the success or failure of the nature experience.  It is how the spring is treated by those who use it that counts.  The current care-takers, especially those who use it, have a lot to learn.


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The spring is located about 7 miles North of the pueblo of Jemez Springs on State Highway 4 between mile marker 24 and 25.  There are other springs in the area including private springs like the Jemez Bath House which is owned by the city of Jemez Springs. 

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