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Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs and Spa in Truth or Consequences

By David Burch

Last updated on Thursday, January 02, 2003

The Hay-Yo-Kay logo, is an Apache symbol representing the highest healing power.
The Hay-Yo-Kay logo, is an Apache symbol representing the highest healing power.
Downtown Truth or Consequences sits on a hill above an aquifer. The acquifer was estimated in 1942 to produce 2.26 million gallons a day, making it one of the largest aquifers in North America. The water flows to the surface through faults, taking routes short enough that the water is still hot when it reaches the surface. The hot water also aids in freeing and dissolving minerals along the way. These unique mineral hot springs have long drawn people to Truth or Consequences.

Some think the use of these hot springs goes back as far as the first inhabitants. It is not inconceivable that indians who first settled this area would have discovered the naturally flowing, warm pools of water. The pools were discovered by all followed. The Chiricahua Apaches named these springs "Place to Pray" and considered the natural hot mineral springs a sacred place: a place for healing, a place for praying, and a gift to be shared with all.

In 1910, before there were bath houses, people would come down to the water and pull mud up over themselves to soak. Soaking in the mud bogs was a famous therapy for rheumatism. The Rio Grande river ran between present day Truth or Consequence's Main and Broadway streets, but at that time there was only one homestead in Truth or Consequences. Truth or Consequences began to grow with the construction of the Elephant Butte Dam in 1911. Growth of the town was spurred by a ban on all liquor and gambling establishments within five miles of the dam. In 1919, the dam was finished and it was decided that twenty miles of river channels were too much to maintain, so a new channel was cut between Truth or Consequences and Williamsburg. The new route shortened the channel length to seven miles, moved the river two blocks south of the present day Hay-Yo-Kay bath house location, and reclaimed the area, allowing the bath houses to be built.

Built in 1920, the Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs and Spa is the oldest continuously operating bathhouse in Truth or Consequences. The original owner was the U.S. Marshal for the area. He lived in one small room and always kept a shotgun in the corner. When he had to go chase the bad boys, he would put up sign telling bathers to toss their change in a can. Baths were a quarter back then.

Just before World War II, the number of bathhouses had grown to forty. Today, only eight remain and only three of these have natural flowing pools: Marshall Hot Springs, Indian Springs Bath House and Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs. Twelve of the eighteen pools exist on Hay-Yo-Kay property. The remainder of the bathhouses obtain their mineral water through wells.

The Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs have been in the Kortemeier family since 1972. The original building was a plaster-covered, poured-cement structure with a ceiling that was less than six feet tall. The building had no plumbing or electricity. The Kortemeier family extended the walls, raised the ceiling and added lighting and electrical outlets, but there is still is no running water (other than the pools) in the building. Steve Kortemeier, the present owner, has added a separate building that has showers and baths. The Hay-Yo-Kay sits on three quarters of a city block. Three larger pools are located to the rear of the main building: one pool is all that is left of the Yucca Bathhouse, once the most popular bathhouse in town; one pool sits beneath a new Japanese pagoda-style structure; the remaining pool sits within a West Coast Indian longhouse-style structure. Steve's plan is to develop the area with different architectural styles and landscaping around each turn.

Natural flowing pool of mineral water.
Natural flowing pool of mineral water.
"Oh wow," was the response of a photographer taking the tour with me when she saw the pools for the first time. These are natural, flowing pools. Water comes up from the bottom of each pool separately. No water intermingles from pool to pool. No water is reused. And no water goes through a treatment plant. No soaps, shampoos, or loofahs are allowed in the pools.

For most of the pools, the spring source is located located at the bottom of the pool. The pool's natural bottom is covered with gravel. The gravel is nice to look at but also acts like a reverse French drain, allowing the water to come through the bottom while creating a barrier between people and the soil bottom. The water flows out through an overflow channel at approximately 20 gallons a minute and empties into an overflow ditch.

Since these pools are naturally flowing, each with its own source and separate outflow, no water intermingles from pool to pool. The springs are constantly flowing, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The pools are in private rooms and the Hay-Yo-Kay spa currently has five of its seven pools open to the public. Because each pool has its own source of water, temperature of the pools vary from season to season and are affected by a variety of factors. One of the factors is the route that the water takes as it travels to the surface; the shorter the route, the warmer the water. Typically, water temperatures range from 101 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit in the Summer and are two to three degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the Winter.

At over 2500 parts per million, this is some of the most heavily mineralized water in the United States and it has a couple of unique features. First, the water has sulfates but no sulphurs. A lot of mineral water is high in sulphur and you have to contend with the odor. This is not the case in Truth or Consequences. Second, the largest single ingredient is chloride. Chloride kills germ life in the water. These all occur naturally and ensure there are no germs or parasites in the water. Furthermore, anything that comes off your skin is sterilized by the water and, due to the flowing action, is flushed out.

The chart goes out to a tenth of a part per million (to two decimal places). Go out a few decimal places more and you get traces of almost every element. Some trace elements that appear in the water are iodide, gold, silver, lithium, sodium fluoride, potassium chlorate, potassium permanganate, and magnesium sulfates. Many of these have known benefits: sodium fluoride is a disinfectant; potassium chlorate and potassium permagnanate are anti-septics and disinfectants; magnesium sulfates are more commonly known as Epsom salts. The effects of the hot water and the elements of the water work in concert. The hot water opens up the pores and the salts aid in pulling toxins from the body.

 

What's it like?

It only takes ten minutes for the heat to completely permeate your body. This is significant because the heat is a vaso-dilator. So, all your veins and arteries are going to expand, your blood pressure will drop and your heart will begin to beat faster in attempt to build up your blood pressure.

The sunlight coming through the vent above the pool lends the atmosphere of a kiva. Photo by David Burch.
The sunlight coming through the vent above the pool lends the atmosphere of a kiva.
The heat is also a metabolism exciter. People who are managing diabetes who get in 104 degree plus water can get into trouble if if they are on the tail end of their sugar supplies. Diabetics who are not aware of their blood sugar levels can get into trouble in the hot water and get so weak that they cannot get out. The hot water also lowers blood pressure and increases the heart rate. Steve and his employees educate first-timers on the effects of high temperature water. It is important to the staff that everyone understands the effects of the hot springs so that everyone has a positive and healthful experience. For these reasons, Hay-Yo-Kay attendants always remain with earshot.

Bathers are also encouraged not to drink alchohol before they soak. This is not a glorified hot tub or a place for partying. A hot tub is regulated by a thermostat. The hot tub heats up, shuts down and cools down, then heats back up again, allowing your body to cool down. These hot springs never cool off.

 

 

How much does it cost?

A 30 minute soak costs only $4.25, $7.75 with a shower, and $6 with a towel and bottled water. The Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs and Spa maintains trained therapists on call. The therapists are are primarily trained in Swedish and deep tissue massage but each therapist has additional, particular skills. Massage prices range from $40 for half an hour to $75 for an hour and a half. The spa also has an experience called Me Toca or My Touch. An hour soak in the pools followed by an hour massage for $60.

About the Owner

Steve Kortemeier, owner of the Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs and Spa. Photo by David Burch.
Steve Kortemeier, owner of the Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs and Spa.
It was Steve who changed the name to Hay-Yo-Kay. Hay-Yo-Kay is the Lakota word for what many call "the clown". "The Clown" is the symbol of the highest power of Apache healing. Steve chose the symbol because he wanted to honor the Apache heritage of the springs, but chose the Lakota word because it is easier to pronounce. Steve sees himself more as a caretaker for the springs, than an owner. He believes the hot springs exist for a purpose, and that if you come without any consciousness at all and soak in the water, the water will take care of you physically.

This article is a virtual tour of the Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs and Spa in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The bulk of the content came from a tour I took with the owner, Steve Kortemeier.

Ask Steve for a free tour when you go; it is better in person.

I had to leave the day of the tour because I had appointments to keep along the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway. The next day I returned and paid the meager sum of $4.25 for a thirty minute soak in the spa's hottest pool. It is an experience I would recommend to all whose health allows soaking in the high temperatures. Alone in a pool of naturally flowing, 107 degree water is definitely the cure for the hectic pace of day-to-day life. I wanted to go back the next day for the Me Toca but had to return home a day early. Well, there's always next time.

Hours are 9 am to 8 pm year-round. They are open until 9 pm in the Summer. The prices quoted were current at the time this article was written and are subject to change. Contact Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs for current hours, prices, and services:

Where to Stay

A condominium adjacent to the spa is available for nightly or weekly stays. The condo is fully-furnished, is over 1,000 square feet, and has a kitchen complete with dishwasher, pots and pans. If you really enjoy it, I'd bet you could stay longer. Contact Steve for more information.

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