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Big Bend

Hot Springs Historic District

Photograph by Aaron Bates

“The desert will scour your soul,” wrote the cantankerous environmentalist Edward Abbey. But not everybody who comes out to Big Bend, an area Abbey knew well (his classic Desert Solitaire can be purchased at Panther Junction), is looking to get roughed up. Fortunately, there is the Hot Springs Historic District, where channeling the spirit of the wild is as easy as stripping down to your swimsuit. Here, at the end of a short hike, you will find a primitive spa of sorts, where a spring pumps a steady stream of 105-degree mineral water into a tank on the banks of the Rio Grande. 

The tank and a few abandoned cabins are what’s left of a resort developed by J. O. Langford in 1910 and sold to the park in 1942; the Mississippi native sought out these therapeutic waters near Tornillo Creek to help cure his recurrent bouts of malaria. Judging from the rock art in the area, he was not the first  bather; pictographs and the stain of smoke on the surrounding fissured cliffs attest to centuries of others. When I arrived, after exploring the nearby overlook, I found a prim young couple and a middle-aged RVer already bobbing in the water. But they soon left, and I basked alfresco all alone, my soul and muscles restored. 

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