Cooling Off at Ojo Caliente

With Albuquerque edging towards 100, it was time to go somewhere cooler, at least for a couple days. We thought about Abiquiu Lake in Georgia O’Keefe country, but the Riana Campground was full, with only first-come first-served tent sites left.

Sandstone fin near Echo Amphitheater

Sandstone fin near Echo Amphitheater – Fuji X-E2

Unexpected Camp at Ojo
A search for RV campsites near Abiquiu brought up the hot springs at Ojo Caliente. We’d always laughed at the apres ski at Ojo billboards near Taos ski valley, two hours away. But Ojo was predicted to be 5-10 degrees cooler than Albuquerque, so we went.

We arrived around 2 pm and checked in. It was too hot to walk with pups on any of the neighboring trails, so we checked our spot and went looking for less-exposed attractions.

Abiquiu Lake

Abiquiu Lake

Abiquiu Lake and a Too-Hot Campground
After a diet coke and a root beer, we drove off to Abiquiu Lake, possibly to dip a toe and look at the campground we couldn’t stay in. The sandstone mesas and ridges made for pretty surroundings, and also allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to build the dam impounding the lake. It was constructed between 1956 and 1963, mainly for flood control on the Rio Chama.

Riana Campground was out in the open and hot, so we didn’t miss anything. My wife Pat had found Echo Amphitheater online, and it was shaded and in the vicinity. So we drove back to US 84, headed west past the turn for Ghost Ranch, and watched for signs.

Varnish streaks at Echo Amphitheater

Varnish streaks at Echo Amphitheater – Fuji X-E2

Echo Amphitheater – Finally Worth the Drive
A short walk brought us ever closer to a streaked sandstone wall. Legends say the streaks are the blood of the Navajos and settlers killed here, and that you can hear their anguished voices in the echoes. The science is more prosaic – the streaks are desert varnish likely initiated by water dripping from the mesa top. On the volcanic escarpments I’m more familiar with, this is a dark layer formed through either chemical or biological means (or maybe both, depending on who you ask). Either way, it forms a contrasting dark layer over lighter rock.

Sandstone and sky, Echo Amphitheater

Sandstone and sky, Echo Amphitheater – Fuji X-E2

After a few whistles and shouts that echoed back around 1/4 – 1/2 second later, we walked back to the RV. While I was “oh, wow-ing” and photographing the sandstone walls and cloud patterns, my legs provided a meal for biting midges. I collected a ton of little round pinpricks just above the sock line.

Salmon dinner at the Taos Trail Inn

Salmon dinner at the Taos Trail Inn

Back at Ojo, we cleaned up and headed for dinner at the Taos Trail Inn. Dog-friendly patio dining is a must for us, and this place didn’t disappoint. We also got a live performance by a 3-piece jazz combo as a bonus. The keyboard player had worked many years in New York and Los Angeles, and had Bill Evans, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock in his head and hands. We enjoyed excellent music with our Tractor Milk Mustachio Stout, local rosé, salmon and steak.

We brightened our next morning at the restaurant in the Ojo Caliente Inn. They’ve updated the menu a bit since it was built in 1917. We enjoyed french toast and a breakfast burrito.

The only catch with breakfast calories? You need to hike them off. We chose to hike the short trail to Posi-Ouinge, a 14-century Pueblo IV site.

Buzz on the trail to Posi-Ouinge

Buzz on the trail to Posi-Ouinge

The Ruin That Wasn’t
I had expected actual ruins from the limited information about the site, but what I got was a large mound, a circular depression where a kiva was, and lots of pot fragments – potsherds, or simply ‘sherds.

Potsherds, Posi-Ouinge

Potsherds, Posi-Ouinge

The views from the top were excellent, but it started getting hot. So we hiked back down. At the bottom, we took turns holding the dogs and checking out the hot spring pools. It looked like a comfortable high-end resort on Maui without the Hawaiian tourist prices. Baking in hot water when the air is warm didn’t make sense, but we’ll be back in the fall. Maybe a hot soak after skiing is a good idea after all.

Trail view, Posi-Ouinge

Trail view, Posi-Ouinge

Shot Notes
I somehow accidentally switched my Fuji X-E2 camera to shoot JPEG format near the start of the weekend, so all its pictures appear in simulated Fuji Velvia color, with JPEG’s lack of dynamic range. This meant garish white balance I was only partly successful at toning down.

Because of our late start time and the sun directly overhead near the June equinox, getting adequately-lit, interesting shots of Posi was a challenge.

More Information
1. Echo Amphitheater, accessed from
2. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, accessed from

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