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I am a mystic madman, a wandering wildman, scholar of esoterica, dilettante sadhu, dready-headed hippie (only have a few jata on the back of my head right now, though more be forming of this third set of knotted hair), gentle yogi, fierce foe of falsity. I was a preacher, but I renounced that. I was married, but she renounced me. I was a grad student at one of the top universities in the world on my way to becoming a professor, but I realized they taught lies there too. I am protector of souls, lover of mountains, smoker of herb, fond of hot springs, oceans and lakes and rivers and rain and sunshine, devotee of Devi.

Hindu Gods and Goddesses

Friday, January 7, 2011

Taos Temple Time, Sub-Zero Sleepin' and Hot Springs Soakin' in the Rio Grande Gorge

So I took a little trip up to Taos over the holidays. Seein' as how the publishers, literary agents, and dinosaur bone dealers are either on hiatus or too busy sellin' to be buyin', I thought I'd take the chance to visit the Hanuman Temple and spend some time at Stagecoach Hot Springs soaking in the steaming flow on the banks of the Rio Grande's rather chillier waters. Seemed like a good idea, as the weather forecast before I left Santa Fe called for naught but balmy 40's and 50's during the day, and still double digit Fahrenheit at night.

Stayed in the dharmasala at the Hanuman Temple/Neem Karoli Baba Ashram one night after a pleasant round of chantin' for the twice-daily aarti ceremony, and awoke early to attend another sesh in the a.m. led by a young bearded Afghani convert (hope nobodies issued a fatwa on him for his devotions). This sacred space is a wonderful mix of Hindu ritual and hippie culture, holding space for the faithful in the high country of the New Mexico mountains. Affiliated with Ram Das, author of Be Here Now and former Harvard psychology professor (then known as Richard Alpert--yeah, the dude the character on Lost was named after) who co-taught with Timothy Leary during the licit and officially sanctioned LSD experiments there, this ashram's guru use to do the multiplying food trick (yeah, just like Jesus wit' the loaves and fishes, yo!) when devotees would bring him an orange or some such, then hand out oranges to others all day. Though not my guru, Neem Karoli's alright in my book, and I definitely appreciated the hospitality on a snowy night in Taos.

After a few days in Taos, I caught a ride down Tune Road to the parking lot at the rim of the Gorge with a pair of travellers I met at Caffe Tazza, then hiked the trail into the depths of the chasm. Stagecoach Hot Springs is one of the gems of the Taos area, bubbling up just above the banks of the Rio Grande. Featured in the hippie cult classic "Easy Rider," the hot springs was at one time a crossing for stagecoaches, long before the breathtaking Gorge Bridge was built [as an aside, a former girlfriend o' mine and her brother got struck by lightning on said bridge one time. Lesson: don't touch metal railings in a thunderstorm on such a structure]. The ruins of the inn still stand in places, granting an interesting ambiance to a soak in said steaming geothermal pools adjacent to the bone-chilling flow, though the walled-in pool shown in "Easy Rider" is no longer full, and the current soaking pools are little more than rocks arranged to divide the hot water and the cold rushing by in the riverbed.

(springs not pictured)

I set up my camp a bit downriver from the springs, converting my bedroll into a semblance of a tent, a shelter that served just fine for the snow, though fell rather short during the sub-zero cold which followed. Guess forecasting the weather's still a far from exact science.

Though I've a pretty toasty down-filled sleeping bag, a Walmart mummy bag I gutted and refilled with the stuffing of old coats, seems I coulda gone for another thriftstore parka-full as the temperature dipped to double digit sub-zero frigidness. Even with layers of my clothing pulled out of my frame-pack and strewn across my mummy-bag encapsulated form, concern for frostbite forced me to cup my toes in hands at moments to warm said extremities and get the circulation goin'. My soaks the following days in the earth-warmed waters took on new meaning, to say the least.

After three or four nights in these nigh unbearable conditions, as the sun shone warm one afternoon I broke camp, then made it out of the Gorge just in time to catch the last beams of the setting sun. As all the other hot springs soakers had already departed, I had to hike to the highway, and then as far as a little RV park and convenience store a few miles yet from Taos, where I squatted on the front porch, too exhausted and fatigued to continue. Next morning I caught a ride the rest of the way into town, and I don't think I've ever been happier to return to so-called civilization from a beautiful place in nature--let alone from a geothermal hot spring!! Coldest camping I've ever known, and I'm from Wyoming, even!!!!

If you do get the chance to visit Taos, do consider checking out this natural wonder, just don't count on the extended forecast . . .

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