SPA WATCH | Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe

I AM on edge. Winter in the Midwest is something else. Unlike any other nightmare I've ever experienced. There's no cafe culture, so my only outlet on days and times that aren't Friday or Saturday night -- the only time people in this part of the world will go out and deviate from a soul-destroying schedule of work, gym, sleep, work, gym, sleep -- is... well, no escape at all. Because it's THE GYM.


That sounds like just the thing to make me less depressed about winter in this place. No, it really does. Swear I didn't actually get teary eyed on the flight back to Chicago from Vail in January.

As evidenced by that last statement, the trick to surviving winter here is to not spend it here. 

Might I recommend one such place that'll make you never want to come back... It's a Japanese-style onsen (bath/spa) just north of Santa Fe in the southwest called Ten Thousand Waves.

Yes, it's a bit crunchy.

Sure, there are some creepy men. (But newsflash: there are creepy men EVERYWHERE there are women wearing less than a hazmat suit.) 

It's also serenely and wonderfully woodsy, in/on the edge of Santa Fe State Park, so you can go on a hike right from your front door.

The baths (women's and mixed. They closed the men-only bath. It appears men get even creepier when left alone) are surrounded by minimal oriental, wooden decks with outdoor cold showers, plunge pools and saunas just an amble away. If you're up for it, splurge on one of the private huts with baths, showers and private decks. They're pretty sweet and run about $45 for 90-minutes per person (plus, no creepy men unless you bring them with you). You feel like a movie star renting one of the private huts, I swear.

And even during the winter it's a pleasant 55-65 during the day and 45-35 at night. Not a mind-numbing 20 below ZERO (that's zero in Farenheit, not Celsius, so a whopping 52 BELOW FREEZING, common in the Midwest). Sometimes there's snow, in which case you can do a nudie dive bomb into the powder before running back into the sauna. 

Thankfully, for now, there's no on-site bar. But we heard there's a sake bar in the works on our last trip which could make things a bit more interesting... or sloppy or both.

If you don't want to stay in Santa Fe proper (and I feel you. It can be suffocatingly touristy), there are 12 (or is it 13?) lodges on premise that are the BOMB and feel proper Japanese. We staying in one of the smallest on offer, and it was amazing. Futon-style beds, wooden screens, kimonos and slippers, hibachi grill, private patio with super cool Japanese-style gardens (rock and otherwise) and... drumroll...

Japanese toilets. The ones that can do everything, even, I suspect, your taxes. 

Early in the morning, before the main baths were open, we'd creep out in our canvas kimonos and slippers in the morning dew and scurry up the winding stone pathway to the women's pool -- open for all lodgers before the rest of the spa opened -- where we'd stew in the hot bath while reading books and drinking tea we'd snuck up from the cabin. 

We also took advantage of the spa menu, something I highly recommend doing along with bathing and sauna-ing. Not least of all because they have real therapists there. No 18 year-olds with icy hand who went to massage school because they didn't know what else to do. 

My masseur had hands like Gerard Depardieu's -- huge, in a word. And he was French to boot. Maybe he was his cousin. Or brother...

I think one paw covered the girth of my back. Mr. Magic Paws was In. To. His. Work. And I came out the other end as soft as a stick of butter sat on the counter all day. No more knots in my back. Or neck. Or anywhere. 

I'm still on the hunt for someone with similar talent (and hand girth) locally. My last massage here was given by a man who had hands the size, softness and strength of a five-year old girl's. Not exactly Magic Paws. 

The only downer (other than aforementioned creepy dudes) is the lack of on-site food. Fair enough as they only have 12 lodges and everyone comes there for the atmosphere, treatments and amenities. But they wouldn't go amiss with something, even a small sushi bar for the lodgers. Because, man oh man, were we hoooongry (so hungry we were almost hangry (hungry angry) sometimes and didn't feel like driving into town and sifting through the tourist trappy restos.

That aside, I'd happily take up permanent residence (at least to winter) here and no doubt would look, feel, smell (stress makes me stink), sleep et al better.


Japanese style baths and spa above Santa Fe in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in/near Santa Fe State Park. Beautiful, manicured landscape done in, duh, Japanese style that weaves itself up and amid the mountain range's foothills. It's wooded, quiet and private. There are several public baths and saunas and indvidual bath houses. 12 private, minimal (but gorgeous) Japanese lodges that vary in size and amenities. Treatments available from massage to facials. The prices are pretty standard in the US, meaning everything is priced as, sadly, a luxury. 

Located just a mile north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Lodging runs from $119 to $269, treatments run $65 to $179 and hot baths runs from $18.80 to $49. However, the communal hot baths, sauna, etc. are complimentary to lodgers. 

Ten Thousand Waves