I Miss Travelling, So Here’s My Attempt at Travel Writing

When I was seventeen, I watched Yuri On Ice; a sports anime about a figure skater from Japan. In this anime, the main character’s parents own an onsen resort, or basically a hot springs/bath house kinda place. You may also have seen one of these in Spirited Away, but just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, hot spring resorts (or onsens) are just like spas centered on a big ol’ hot tub with pretty scenery.

Upon watching the characters have an awesome time in the onsens, I thought, “wow, I gotta try this for myself”. And thus began my quest to find a hot springs resort in the US of A. As luck would have it, I found one. Literally one. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, or maybe there really is only one in the US, but whatever the reason, I stumbled upon a place called Ten Thousand Waves, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or rather, right outside Santa Fe.

Finally, after like thirty minutes of Googling, I had found the resort of my dreams! Little did I know it would be three years before I went. I thought about it often and wished to go for so long, it felt like something I would never actually end up doing. I thought it would just be one of those things that stays on your bucket list for your entire life.

Incidentally, my 21st birthday finally rolled around this past December, and my parents asked me what I wanted to do for it. And I could think of nothing I wanted more for my 21st than to finally visit Ten Thousand Waves. So, my mom and I did just that! Right after the new year began, we set off to New Mexico for my birthday trip. Man, I miss travelling.

To my surprise, my mom bought us first class tickets, which I was totally stoked for. On the drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, I was astounded by the layout of the land. The scenery was so vastly different from my corner of Ohio. Red desert and mountains as far as the eye could see, stretches of highway with no buildings or towns for miles upon miles. I consider myself decently well traveled, but before this trip I had never been to any desert state, besides California. But basically the entire West is uncharted territory for me.

After the twilight shrouded drive, we arrived. Hidden in the snowy mountains (or maybe it was only snowy because it was January) was the place I had dreamt about for years.

Ten Thousand Waves has fourteen rooms. Two “Zen” rooms, eight “Townsman” rooms, and four “Emperor” rooms. These names basically mean, good, better, and best. The whole place is set up like a little village, with all the individual rooms being completely separate from each other and basically being like little one room houses. They each even have their own names. My mom and I stayed in a Townsman room called Hangetsu.

What you don’t see in the picture is the little kitchen area to the right, and the bathroom with the double headed shower, and the wood stove fireplace in the corner to the left. It was pretty nifty. And on the end of the bed there, are robes and slippers to wear around the spa! Also, there were chocolate Buddhas. The fridge in the room had their homemade granola in it, along with organic milk and almond milk, as well.

But enough about the room! Not only is there an amazing spa I have yet to talk about, but there’s also the single greatest restaurant I’ve ever been to! While the Houses of the Moon (the rooms) are located towards the base of the hill, further up is the restaurant, and the spa across the way. Here’s a map!

Like I said, it’s like a little village. Everything in the top right corner is part of the spa, those are the names of the onsens. All the way to the left is the restaurant, and everything towards the bottom is the Houses of the Moon.

As I was saying previously, the restaurant, Izanami, has the most wonderful food. Everything I ate was incredible, there was not a single dish where I thought, “yeah this is alright.” I mean it was literally amazing how delicious everything was. From the yuzu panna cotta with blackberry gelée and white chocolate coconut sauce, to the smoked pork ribs with sweet chile glaze and peanut parsley sauce, everything was truly delectable. Especially the wagyu short ribs. I couldn’t believe how good they were, it was truly an experience.

But enough about the food, let’s get to the meat of it! The spa itself. Where to begin? With the steaming hot onsens and freezing cold ice baths, or with the to-die-for massages (which I got two of, because, hey, it was my birthday trip!). There are eight baths total, including a women’s-only tub in which clothing is optional. Here is the biggest and most popular one, the Grand Bath:

Best Hot Springs in the World - Luxury Hot Springs | ICONIC LIFE

If you happen to be someone who is actually lodging with the spa rather than just visiting during the day, you get an extra window of time to be in the tub when the public isn’t allowed. My mom and I took advantage of this and the few times that we went during this time frame, we were totally alone. It was strange to me there were no other lodging members who wanted to take a dip before the public arrived, but I was totally okay with it.

Like I mentioned, I got two massages, one standard one, and one hot oil exfoliation yada yada specialty one. I’ve had many a massage in my day and I must admit the standard 50 minute one I had knocked my socks off. I figured it’d be good, considering it’s a spa and all, but it was like, astoundingly good. First, they have you change into a robe, and they give you fancy fruit-infused water, then they take you down a path that leads away from the rest of the spa, and you pass by a bunch of little buildings, each one is a private massage room. Finally, you reach yours, and the ascension to relaxation begins.

For the second massage, one of the specialty things they did was rub hot oil all through my hair and scalp, and afterwards suggested that I get in the sauna. Of course, how could I say no? I love saunas. Though, I should’ve maybe thought a little bit more about the fact there was oil in my hair. Oil that heated up in the sauna and burned my ears and shoulders because I’m a dummy. All in all a great massage though!

We stayed for four nights and it was just such an amazing experience that I would a hundred and ten percent recommend to anyone and everyone. It is a trip that I will cherish for the rest of my life, not just because of the unique experience I got to have at the amazing and wonderful spa resort, or because of the sights of Santa Fe I got to see, but because I got to spend it with my mom, and honestly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. There was no one I would’ve rather gone with than her, because in all honesty, she’s my best friend.

And she bought us first class tickets for the ride home, too! Woohoo!

-AMS

48 Comments on “I Miss Travelling, So Here’s My Attempt at Travel Writing”

  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I visited the Blue Lagoon in Iceland last December right after my flight landed, which was about two hours before sunrise. Watching the sun rise from the lagoon (admittedly, an artificial lagoon) while it snowed on us was quite an experience.

  2. We went there last year during our trip to Santa Fe and it was amazing. I keep thinking about it and can’t wait to go back. We didn’t stay there, but just visited for a morning for some massages and soaking.

  3. That sounds a blissful experience in a kind of SFF world; and what a blessing to belong to a family who are all so crazy about each other.

    Live long and prosper 🖖

  4. As someone likely old enough to be your grandmother, I’d never considered visiting this spa near Santa Fe. Now it’s on my list, and definitely I’ll plan to go in the winter when there is snow! Thanks for such a descriptive introduction to the place.

  5. Nice article Athena!

    If you like hot springs, put the Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden, Germany on your list when the stupid virus lets us travel internationally.

  6. Nice. And very good recollection and setting the scene. You had me at “smoked pork ribs” and “wagyu beef ribs” but that’s just me. I’m not a spa or massage kind of guy.

  7. There is no doubt that the Japanese onsen is one of the great cultural innovations.

    This was a fun read, and it’s so sweet that you ended this with an homage to your mom!

    For those needing their Japan fix, I just read a great book Walking in Circles by Todd Wassel. He did the pilgrimage around the island of Shokoku, where you visit 88 temples dedicated to Kukai aka Kobo-Daishi. It’s a great travelogue, and I can only imagine how good it feels to onsen every night after hard walking every day.

    Athena, I hope when this COVID thing is all over, you can take Amtrak cross country. There’s no better way to see the country, IMHO, and the ridership is incredibly diverse – everything from penny-pinching parents traveling with young kids, to Amish types who don’t drive, to wealthy train buffs.

    A couple of years back, I went from Kalamazoo to Flagstaff (destination Sedona – lots of red rocks there), but you can buy a 15 day ticket with stops, so along the way back I stopped in Albuquerque to see relatives. Then took a train north to Santa Fe and Las Vegas (more relatives), and that train ride was itself cool.

    See, the best travelogues get you nostalgic…

  8. Was your interest in the Japanese setting, or the hot springs? Arkansas, remarkably, was a center of spa activity in the last century. There is a Hot Springs National Park, and an entire town grew up around ‘taking the waters’ in Hot Springs, AR. Not as far as Santa Fe, for your next road trip, either.

  9. MadLibrarian – two spas recently opened in the middle of Indiana. (Yup.) One is called West Baden and the other French Lick. The whole spa, golf, resort experience.

    Basically, they were decayed wrecks and a pharmaceutical billionaire poured money into restoring them back to their original condition.

    I stopped by one last year (didn’t stay) and was agog. It was like dropping into an Edith Wharton novel. I was simultaneously stunned by the beauty and luxury, and raging at the income inequality that made it possible for someone to do this. People are saying this is the new gilded era, and this would be exhibit #1.

    https://www.frenchlick.com/about

  10. I’ve been researching these new virtual travel / exercise sites like Zwift and The Conquerer. (For personal use.) Anyone using any of them and have any feedback?

  11. That sounds amazing. My partner is a bit of a touch-me-not and used to think that massages were icky and weird. And then I asked if he’d get a couples massage for my birthday a few years ago and he reluctantly agreed. Since then he’s been a total convert and actually bought us monthly memberships to the local spa. Of course we had to cancel them back in March and i have no idea when we’ll be able to renew!

    I suspect I could totally convince him to take a vacation that included an onsen experirence. I’d never heard of it specifically before this post, but I’m sold. I have been to some of the Korean spas here in Atlanta, but they’re more communal (and naked) and I know he just wouldn’t deal well with that at all. ;)

    And Santa Fe is one of my favorite places in the country. When I was in high school and college, my best friend’s father lived in Los Alamos and we spent many a summer in the Los Alamos/Santa Fe area. A few Christmases, too.

    Finally, I second the recommendation to visit Arizona when you can travel again. The Grand Canyon and Sedona and the desert Southwest is lovely to me. Not the same as trees and mountains, but a whole different kind of beautiful!

  12. Another place to research is Berkeley Springs, WV. It has been in use since the days of George Washington.

  13. As someone who lives in Arizona, you might want to consider visiting more desert states. I’d say Arizona is the 4th prettiest state in the Union (Alaska, Utah, Hawaii, Arizona), and then maybe Nevada and then New Mexico to round out the prettiest 6.

  14. There are several hot springs spas in California – Harbin Hot Springs (although I don’t think it’s still there after the recent fires), and a few around Calistoga that I’ve visited. I don’t know of any with the Japanese theme, but the massage/hot tub/spa-resort experience definitely exists.

    In fact, there’s an indoor hot tub/massage place in Palo Alto called Watercourse Way with wonderful decor that I used to visit every few months with my wife. Haven’t been for a while – hope they’re still around when I can go again.

  15. Another one to consider, while not strictly an onsen, is Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, located in Olympic National Park in Washington state. It’s about three hours from Seattle, very scenic, not Japanese-themed at all, but Northwest-themed, which means mountains, giant evergreens, and salmon, and there’s a lot of other nature-y things in the immediate area (the Hoh Rainforest is incredibly lush and beautiful, on account of receiving 14 feet of rain per year). https://www.olympicnationalparks.com/lodging/sol-duc-hot-springs-resort/
    And if you find yourself in Europe any time soon, Hungary (especially Budapest) has some of the best thermal baths on the continent. There are a zillion write-ups, so you can check it out if you find yourself headed that way.

  16. If you ever find yourself n Fairbanks, Alaska for some reason, try the Chena Hot Spring resort. It’s not as luxurious as the one you went to, but the spring is surrounded by the most gorgeous scenery, the massage I got there was great, and there’s an excellent restaurant and an ice sculpture museum with an ice bar. They served me an appletini in an ice glass! I was only there for a day, though, so I don’t know what the rooms are like.

  17. @Prophet, Harbin Hot Springs is back! It reopened in 2018 after a couple of years rebuilding and renovatingafter the wildfires in 2015. Haven’t been here after the reopening, but it was amazing before the fires. (For those of you who don’t care to bathe European style [i.e., nude] you may not be comfortable there.)

  18. This sounds amazing! The only hot springs resort I’ve ever been to was in Canada, oddly enough (Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia), but it was fabulous.

  19. It sounds like you might enjoy visiting Japan, if you have the opportunity. My trip truly changed me, and I would return in a hot minute. Thanks for sharing your US onsen experience. It sounds way more posh than the average japanese onsen, but I think the experience of watching the sun rise from Mount Fuji makes up for any lack of hot oil massages 😉

  20. We’ve been to Ten Thousand Waves – it was very nice as you described and we enjoyed it thoroughly. But once we lived in Japan and got to experience their onsens, I can say the experience is totally different. My favorite was Hell Valley (Dai-ichi Takimotokan) in Hokkaido. The tubs ranged from 37C to 41C and had seven types of baths. When you can, you should try the onsen there.
    Also the Ghibli film Only Yesterday has a great onsen scene.

  21. This sounds completely amazing – thanks for sharing! I am reconciled to the likelihood that I will never travel to Japan (expense, time, age), and it is wonderful that this little piece of Japan exists within range.

    I miss travelling too!

  22. There are actually a LOT of hot springs in New Mexico. One I’ve been wanting to try is called “Giggling Springs” Don’t you just love the name? It’s in Jemez, a bit south and west of Santa Fe

  23. New Mexico is awesome. (At least when we visited there.) I would happily go back. I still have the entrance stickers from the Very Large Array and International UFO Museum and Research Center in my wallet.

    For your 25th birthday, you should talk you mom into a trip to Japan.

  24. The details of your trip brought back memories of my 10,000 Waves experience. Four friends spending the evening stargazing while soaking in a private hot tub. Followed by massages. Thanks for sharing.

  25. I loved your story about your trip. Definitely going to add it to the bucket list to see when it’s safe to travel again.

  26. A little slice of heaven. I’ve been there several times with my wife and, indeed, proposed to her there. You’ve done the place justice with this fine little review.

  27. The fact that we don’t have many resorts like this is really a shame. We used to. I live in Colorado which is full of natural hot springs, but none are directly tied to a hotel or resort, which is certainly the ideal. When I was around your age I had a summer internship in Germany. The company I worked for gave 1 week’s paid leave at a spa for their workers (not American interns unfortunately). They also insisted that this time be used. This is standard, because a healthy workforce is happier and more productive.

  28. my latest tweak for mental health: penguin cam’s at aquariums… they each got personalities which become evident when you watch enough hours… I swear they can hear the motors as POV shifts and they try to move back into the frame like a bunch of Hollywood wannabes… second choice being jellyfish cam’s…

    the problem with massage: ADDICTION

    every halfway decent massage leaves me boneless, lowered BP, reduced IQ and rumble-purring… which was why a (now ex) girlfriend loved to rub me down… in addition to my having two cats who she adored, having a “two hundred pound male meat eating predator” (her words, she was approximating vegan) sprawling out on my back and purring triggered giggling and videoing… the cats seemed just as bemused…her friends watched the video and would not stop giggling for nearly an hour and they all went home to try it out on boyfriends… I never minded trading a neck rub (me) for a foot rub (her) especially since it left her boneless and purring… now I regret not videoing her laying there all goofy-smiling… the downside of being a gentleman…

    to combine a high-end massage with hot tub and/or sauna…? OMG it might just become impossible to ever leave… chocolate buddha demonstrate a wry sense of humor which is always nice to stumble over…

    someday we will travel again for fun, be handled by trained professionals not wearing medical gear (unless that’s your dark hunger) and not cringe when someone breathes on you… three years? two?

  29. I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Ten Thousand Waves. About 25 years ago (before I’d even met my now-husband Andy) I spent a week motorcycling with a half-dozen friends through the Southwest. We scheduled a one-day layover in the middle of the trip in Santa Fe, staying at (I think) the La Posada, with an evening visit to Ten Thousand Waves as part of the agenda.
    I remember checking all my credit card balances to make sure I could actually afford to get a massage as well as access to the baths.
    It was a lovely respite after several days of touring on motorcycles in August. (I know, what were we *thinking*?)

  30. Wow! That sounds amazing! BTW, the Ocean’s Originals cosmetics came this past week. The lip gloss is great. I’m taking it slowly because sometimes I have allergic reactions to stuff, but so far, so good. Thanks for the recommendation. Sadly, I won’t be trying the onsen quite so soon (T_T)

  31. For the next time you’re in the Santa Fe area.

    I subscribe to John Scalzi’s “Whatever” blog. His daughter, Athena, is now writing for it.

    Love ya both, Dad

  32. I forgot — hot spring resorts are all around Yellowstone as well, in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The same hot spot that creates geysers and thermal features in the park doesn’t stop making stuff at the park boundaries.

  33. Thank you for this wonderful travelogue—glad and your mom had such a great trip!

    Our household has become big fans of Julie Nolke since your dad posted links here a few months ago of her videos explaining the pandemic to her earlier self (selves).

    In that spirit, here’s a link to her most recent video, Travel Influencers Be Like:

  34. As others have noted, there are many hot springs in the US with resorts around them. I suspect that what Ms Scalzi meant is that this was the only Japanese-themed one (or, strictly, an onsen) in the US, at least that she could find. I’m pleased she was able to achieve her dream (and just in time too – I also made a long-mooted journey in January, and am also glad I did), and let me add: it’s the long-whetted anticipation that makes the memories so warm after the achievement is over.

  35. Thanks for your post, Athena! I’ve been living in Southern NM for 15 years and did not know of this place. We had our 15th anniversary this June, under lockdown, so maybe I’ll plan a trip up there for us when conditions improve! I’d never heard of the place, it’s nice to know that it exists.

    If you ever come exploring back to New Mexico, I’d suggest the Very Large Array of radiotelescopes in Socorro, maybe an hour south of Albuquerque on I-25 (well, that’s where Socorro is, the VLA is further) – but the food in Socorro sucks so bring Subway or something), late November would be a good time to come and also visit the Bosque Apache Wildlife Apache slightly further south of Socorro at San Antonio, NM where there’s normally an annual Flight of the Cranes event – hopefully the birds will be there even if the event isn’t held this year. Further south of San Antonio is Las Cruces, nice city with some excellent Mexican Food. Mesilla is a nice touristy town that’s sort of a suburb, they have a boutique movie theater that dates back to the 1890s.

    White Sands is a neat thing to see: the world’s largest gypsum desert. Next to White Sands is the city of Alamogordo with some excellent Mexican food – but contact me and I’ll tell you the dangerous places to avoid. Up the mountain is Cloudcroft at 9,000′, very pretty and lots of good mountain hiking. Near there is Apache Point Observatory, where my wife operates a 3.5 meter telescope, and the National Solar Observatory. We’ve got Carlsbad Caverns also. And a place north of Tularosa called Three Rivers Petroglyphs that has > 10,000 petroglyphs and is a reasonably easy hike – but not a lot of fun in the middle of summer!

  36. Glenwood Springs, Colorado has a hot tub as big as an Olympic pool… if the resort hasn’t been hit by the current Glenwood Canyon fire. The whole hotel is heated by the hot spring, and steam rises from the banks of the river in town. Salida, CO has a municipal indoor pool with a huge hot pool, they share hot water from a hot spring west of town.

    Lava Hot Springs, Idaho was once a town full of treatment centers for polio victims, until Dr Salk et al released a successful vaccine. Now it’s full of old fashioned resorts based upon hot water. People tube in the little river too, which has hot steaming spots where a hot tub overflows across the bank into the river.

    Gila Hot Springs is in Gila National Forest, NM, very near the AZ border and way, way south of Santa Fe. I think it’s developed to some degree, we didn’t visit it when we passed through, too many ancient ruins to see.

    Arizona has quite a few hot springs. There are several near Safford, just a ways west of the NM hot springs in the Gila National Forest. There are big mines in Safford, I suspect hot springs are related to high dollar metal deposits which are often created by hot mineralized water cooling down and dropping the minerals into the host rock.

    There are some warm springs in the east, but mostly not really hot compared to the springs out west, which have much more recent volcanic activity than we do back east.

    Definitely planning a visit to the resort you wrote about, sounds splendid in every way. We like to eat well too.

    We used to have a spa in the ground floor of the house, redwood hot tub with jets, small plunge lap pool. Being part of a pack of hippies, we used it nude. Which had a great side benefit, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came the last time, it was The Last Time, because we were pink wet naked people. I’m pretty sure we went into a book they keep of satanic places to avoid at all costs, so that was all good!

    When the dehumidifier died and I priced a new one ($35K!!!) that was the end of the spa. So Sad!!

    PS, glad to see you working on the Whatever Blog again, I enjoy your different and young perspective.

  37. There’s also a hot springs resort up towards Taos NM, not as Japanese as 10,000 Waves, probably, but deluxe in a New Mexican way. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa.

    If you use Google Maps and search for hot springs Taos NM you will see a whole bunch of resorts that claim to have spas… how many of those are actually hot springs, who knows?

  38. Probably 20-25 years ago, after we’d moved to the Bay Area first went to Watercourse Way in Palo Alto, really enjoyed it. My friend Lile Elam, who lived there at the time, an artist who was one of the early people to “design web pages” and also frequented Watercourse, did a web site for Ten Thousand Waves, and the place looked gorgeous.

    We were much more likely to just go to Whole Foods, which had chair massage back in its more hippieish days. If you want an interesting spa to go to, Osmosis, in Freestone CA (an hour or two north of SF, near Sebastopol and Occidental) does a Japanese-style fermenting-cedar bath; you’re basically sitting in hot enzymatic aromatic sawdust, soaking in heat, and then optionally (after washing off the sawdust), massage or walking around their bamboo gardens, and sometimes they have food, but usually you’d go into Sebastopol for that. Some nice B&Bs in the area, and lots of wineries.

  39. Athena, I enjoyed reading about your spa experience, it brought back some pleasant memories. One more location to add to your travel list; Breitenbush Hot Springs, in Detroit, Oregon (about a two hour drive from Portland).
    It’s sort of a hippie resort. People are naked in the pools, it is very forested, and the food is vegan. If those are things that appeal to you, that’s where to get them. These comments seem like a great way to build a 202X spa itinerary!

  40. How good is it to read about your delightful experience without having to sit on a plane for 15 hours or fork out any cash?

    I first read of onsen-style baths in James Clavell’s novel Shōgun. There was an updated iteration of the idea in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway. Someday I may visit one in person! Never say never. ^_^

  41. Pretty much off-topic, but SFnal: Did anyone else look at the property map and immediately think “map of your village”?