Ms. Gelfound

Eco-Friendly Practices

Conserving Sacred Waters in the High Desert

By Wendi Gelfound, Director of Marketing, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

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. As a "sanitarium", Ojo was known throughout the country as a place where thousands of people were cured each year through the healing effects of the waters and the earth. Three original buildings have been caringly restored and maintained and today are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, including the Historic Bathhouse built in 1868; the Historic Hotel, built in 1917; and the Adobe Round Barn built in 1924.

Generations continue to make the pilgrimage to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs to enjoy the unique combination of four different sulfur-free mineral waters: Lithia, Iron, Soda and Arsenic, with more than 100,000 gallons a day steaming to the surface revitalizing those who soak in them.

The legendary oasis, owned and operated by the Scott Family since 2000, was and continues to be an early innovator in water conservation. With stewardship at the top of the resorts' list of core values, the objective is for both employees and guests at Ojo is to share the great responsibility to care for the sacred waters. That means using state-of-the-art water conservation and protection, and maintaining the level of water cleanliness and purity indefinitely.

Our geothermal system uses the energy from the hot mineral water after it has flowed through our pools to heat and cool our buildings, meeting our goal of heating and cooling 95% of all newly constructed buildings at the facility. This system requires one-tenth the energy of conventional systems to operate. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on electricity to run system water pumps and compressors, seven dollars of propane usage will be saved at current propane pricing.

All of our domestic wastewater is treated through a unique microbiological process at our on-site water treatment facility to ensure the highest possible purity before it is reintroduced to the land. Through this process we are actually recharging the local aquifer, controlling evaporation and eliminating groundwater contamination. Through passive rain harvesting, we are able to route the especially abundant summer monsoons in a way that irrigates our entire landscape, minimizing silt runoff and eliminating use of well water in our high desert climate. In addition, we use all native and drought tolerant plantings to minimize any additional irrigation. Low flow plumbing fixtures minimize domestic water usage as well. All of our domestic hot water is heated by solar energy.

Water isn't the only precious commodity in our region. Conforming to the community's night sky ordinance, we utilize down lighting on all exterior light fixtures, with a goal of optimizing true darkness for guests' enjoyment of the phenomenal Northern New Mexico night skies. Guests often marvel at the number of stars in this remote area, as they walk from the Artesian Restaurant to their casita or room. We also use energy saving light bulbs and utilize non-CFCs gas in heat pump compressors, protecting the fragile ozone layer. We incorporate energy efficient Perform Wall Building Systems, providing great insulation value and reducing energy consumption with beadboard (80% recycled polystyrene mixed with concrete instead of stucco). When possible, we use locally harvested and milled timber and beams, some salvaged from forest fires. Finally, we use low VOC paints and finishes that are environmentally sensitive.

We feel that our sustainability practices are essential to support our commitment to honoring and maintaining these sacred waters, the water quality for our guests and the water treatment before it is returned to the land. In this spirit, and as we approach the 150th anniversary of Ojo's original Bathhouse and the 100th anniversary of our Historic Hotel, we are planning to expand our lodging options and enhance other areas of the resort using sustainable construction as well as state-of-the-art waste distribution and processing. As stewards of this legendary destination, there is no limit to the care with which we will watch over our waters.

In 2015, The Scott Family opened Ojo's sister property, Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe, with the same care and attention to water conservation and environmental sustainability. Sunrise Springs, like Ojo, is steeped in history with sacred natural springs, however, of the cold spring variety. Nestled between the Sangre de Cristo and Ortiz mountains near Santa Fe, Sunrise Springs has also enjoyed a reputation as a destination for rest and replenishment for centuries. Home to Native American pueblos (Tano and Keres) for millennia as well as the Spanish colonial explorers who arrived in the late 16th century, by the early 17th century, Sunrise Springs and the neighboring El Rancho de las Golondrinas became parajes, or resting places, for travelers along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land). Sunrise Springs was the final stop along the trail from Mexico City to Santa Fe. The natural cold springs around which the resort is built have provided a source of nourishment to the multiple generations of Native Americans and Spanish families that settled in the La Cienega Valley. Interestingly, maps dating to Spanish exploration include both Sunrise Springs and Ojo Caliente as important points due to the waters. It is not hard to imagine the respite that both the cold springs, shaded by the massive cottonwoods that still grow at Sunrise today, offered to weary visitors. The hot springs at Ojo must have been a revelation.

Originally opened decades ago as a retreat center, the Scott family has now transformed the resort into a modern and sustainable destination through a series of renovations and updates, bringing new life to the property. The property has been converted to LED and low voltage lighting where possible, reconfiguring all systems to take advantage of the brighter LED lights. A large composting system was also introduced on site and all heating and cooling units were replaced with new energy efficient units. Irrigation upgrades and replacements include zone watering systems which meter the water for specific need, the need for pumped irrigation water was reduced by putting automatic times and pumping systems on the irrigation lines, and all sinks, faucets, showerheads and toilets were replaced with low flow models. Back flushing has been reduced in the pools by replacing some of the original sand filters with bag and cartridge filters. Additionally, evaporation was reduced with new pool covers.

The word "spa" is actually an acronym for the Latin phrase, salus per aquas, which means "health through water"-making both Ojo and Sunrise the ultimate modern day destinations for healing and wellness, in an environment cultivated with the intention of preserving the powerful waters for generations to come.

As a founding member of the Sunrise Springs launch team, Wendi Gelfound played a critical role in defining brand positioning and marketing strategies. With extensive experience in the health and wellness, spa and tourism sector. Ms. Gelfound has led global marketing initiatives for several New Mexico-based resorts, including Sunrise Springs’ sister property Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, and Taos’ El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa. Ms. Gelfound was founder and vice president of the Taos Tourism Council, and at the state level, has been selected for a 2nd term as a North Central Region Board Member for the New Mexico Tourism Department. Ms. Gelfound can be contacted at 505-780-8145 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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