Feeling recovered from whatever was ailing me on Sunday, I head to Hay-Yo-Kay. Their website says “Hay Yo Kay” is derived from a Lakota word (heyoka) used to honor and respect the Apache belief system, as this area was once the home of the Chiracuahua Apaches.
I’m greeted by the manager, Michael, who presents the indoor options – baths ranging from 99-106 on either side of a hallway. I feel pretty perky today, and would like to keep it that way, so I choose the lowest temperature available. I fear a long hot bath might make me want to lie down.
Then I tell Michael I’m on this 21-day mission, and he offers the grand tour. Of course I am game!
We visit the Long House, accessed via a path leading across the property. I’ve heard of this Long House (aka “The Pagoda,” according to a friend), and guess I just always figured it was something I’d never get to see up close and personal. What is wrong with me? Anyone can go there; you can, too.
On the walk over we stop at a natural pond that (I’m told) is an example of what the hot springs once were like, before the river was diverted in 1911 as part of the Elephant Butte Dam construction project. Its redirection allowed for the swampy marshy “springs” area to be filled over and developed into what we now refer to as “the Hot Springs District.”
Michael explains how, when workers were doing the diverting, they (oops!) cut into the aquifer’s protective clay layer.
As a result, ever since, water temperatures can easily be altered by the level and flow of the river, because water in the riverbed exerts hydrostatic pressure on the hot springs aquifer. The higher the river is, the hotter the mineral baths will be. Lack of water in the river results in lowered mineral water temperatures. That explains why, after each irrigation season, an earthen dam is built near Rotary Park, just south of the hot springs district. (If you’ve walked the Healing Waters Trail, then you’ve likely been at Rotary Park.)
Hot Springs vs. Mineral Baths
Michael also tells me there’s a distinction that is often ignored. Hot springs flow naturally. Mineral baths are pumped. Some local spas call themselves “hot springs” but this is not exactly correct unless their pools are truly artesian. I’d never considered the difference. Hmmmm.
Confusingly, across the way, I see a sign (correctly) offering Mineral Baths – but they’re offered at the Artesian, a name I now view as somewhat inaccurate, because…their water is pumped. I’m already a bit of a hair-splitter, so dang, I’m thinking maybe ignorance was bliss.
But back to Hay-Yo-Kay. The Long House, the biggest bath in town, is 8’ wide and 18’ long. It’s touted as group-friendly due to its size, and Hay-Yo-Kay stresses that it’s perfect for families since the water temperature is around 99 degrees and therefore safe for children of all ages.
Hay Yo Kay even provides free “swimmers” (a combination of a diaper and a plastic pant) so that babies can join the party without mucking things up. (NOTE: children are not allowed in some bathing establishments because the water is considered too hot to be safe for them. If you’re bringing your kids, be sure to ask in advance!)
The Long House
At the last minute, I’m upgraded to the Long Bath for the price of a standard. Lucky me!
My spirits are high and it’s a real treat to be in a bath that’s so flippin’ big, I can actually swim laps. There’s a spring breeze blowing through the long house, colorful curtains are billowing, I have the whole place to myself, and it’s all pretty sweet.
After I swim/soak, Michael and I talk about the weather, which leads to how local spa business tends to slow down when our temps gets hot. (And oooh, they do get hot. I’m not complaining, I love summer and all that goes with it.)
Michael assures me that the best way to cool off when it’s baking out is to get in the springs. The theory is that when body temperature is increased, external air feels cooler.
(As already discussed, Gina Kelley agrees.)