The John Dunn Bridge and Blackrock Hot Spring


SDC10006The John Dunn Bridge is located in Arroyo Hondo, Taos County, New Mexico.

According to, The John Dunn Bridge

crosses the Rio Grande near the confluence of the Rio Hondo.

[It] is located about three miles west of Arroyo Hondo on a gravel road that parallels Rio Hondo.[1] The road, off of NM 522, runs through Bureau of Land Management property, [and] is known as John Dunn Bridge Road and County Road B-007.

In or after 1893 John Dunn bought a bridge that crossed the Rio Grande and established a business taking passengers and freight from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad at Tres Piedras to Taos. The bridge burned down and he rebuilt it in 1908.[5]

He operated the bridge until 1912 when he sold it to the Territory of New Mexico who made it a free bridge.[5]

Black Rock Hot Springs are located off of a dirt road on the western side of the Rio Grande after crossing the bridge.[10]


This is a view of the Rio Grande flowing through the Rio Grande Gorge, taken from the trail to Blackrock Hot Spring.

According to,

Few of northern New Mexico’s bounty of hot springs have escaped the hands of developers and remain in a primitive condition. Blackrock Hot Spring has two characteristics that kept it from development: It has low flow, and it is located on the west bank of the rugged Rio Grande Gorge.

In 1900, John Dunn of Taos purchased the bridge at the Rio Hondo with money he won at the poker table. It turned out that owning a bridge on the Rio Grande was quite a gamble, too, for the next spring, flood took the bridge with it into the rugged gorge below. Dunn was a tireless man who quickly rebuilt the bridge and then expanded his business interests by starting a stage service running over the bridge from Taos to Sevilleta, a whistle stop on the railroad.

Said to be a fugitive from the Texas Rangers, Dunn was full of brilliant if somewhat shady ideas. He built a small hotel at his bridge and made the crossing an overnight stop on his stage line, an arrangement that forced passengers to pay for food and lodging before continuing to Taos the next morning. With the crossing securely his, Dunn eyed the hot springs a half-mile below, wondering how he could exploit them. He probably took a few guests over the rugged walking trail along the river to the springs, but the low flow of hot water, plus the fact that the springs were frequently covered by the runoff-swollen Rio Grande, kept Dunn from taking further advantage of the spring.


View of the Rio Grande and the eastern gorge wall, taken from Blackrock Hot Spring.

Far from isolated today, Blackrock Hot Spring is New Mexico’s most accessible primitive mineral spring. From the parking area at the hairpin turn above Dunn’s bridge, a well-developed trail dives from the road and heads downstream. The trail descends quickly to the river, reaching the spring in less than a quarter-mile.

The pool is small, and the volume of hot water is low. The mineral water issues from the base of the thick pile of black lava in a narrow drainage in the wall of the gorge. Boulders that have tumbled down the watercourse have completely covered the spot where the water bubbles up from the surface.

I’ve visited the John Dunn Bridge and Blackrock Hot Spring many times. In fact, Blackrock Hot Spring was the first natural hot spring I ever soaked in.

In the summer, visitors and locals alike enjoy swimming or floating in inner tubes in the Rio Grande just below the John Dunn Bridge. Blackrock Hot Spring is popular for soaking year round.

There are actually two pools at Blackrock Hot Spring, one warmer than the other. The cooler one is right next to the Rio Grande, and I’ve seen strong swimmers jump right into the river for a quick cool-down. The less adventuress can achieve a similar effect at a slower rate by taking a dip in the cool pool.

There’s no closing time on the hot spring pools, and although folks are not supposed to stay overnight in the small parking area, I’ve done it with friends a time or two. Because I prefer to soak in the hot water when the air is cool, my favorite time to utilize the pools–especially in the summer–is around 2am. It’s usually (although not always) empty then, and other middle-of-the-night soakers (if they’re not drunk partiers), tend to be quiet and respectful of the sacredness of the spring. A friend and I once sat in the hot water with no one else around and watched a meteor shower. That was a sweet night.

Blackrock is one of my favorite undeveloped soaking spots. Clothing is optional as far as the hippies who soak there are concerned, and I’ve never heard of a ranger hassling anyone for being naked there. The water is full of lithium (so the locals say), and it’s not only relaxing, but mood-lifting as well. The view is fantastic, and if there are no stupid rich people around talking about their real estate investments, it’s a wonderful place to rest and rejuvenate.


View of the John Dunn Bridge from the trail to Blackrock Hot Spring.

 I took all the photos in this post.

About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

5 Responses »

  1. Hi! I have been to Black Rock Hotsprings many times and I love it too. I am looking for information about why the hot springs are considered sacred. I saw that you mentionned that in your post but without any details. Do you know more about it? I can’t find anything about it online, and I am too far to go there, unfortunately.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Lauriane! Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your comment.

      I don’t have a quick or simple answer to your question about why the hot springs are considered sacred.

      For me, personally, the Black Rock Hot Spring feels sacred in the same way so many aspects of nature feel sacred. Mother Nature does amazing things and most natural places make me feel like I’m somewhere special.

      If you’re referring to native people’s holding hot springs sacred, I don’t have any evidence. Maybe I read something along those lines in the book Touring New Mexico Hot Springs by Matt Bischoff? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just projecting my feeling onto our human ancestors?

      A Huffington Post article ( on a hot spring road trip through New Mexico calls Ojo Caliente “secluded sacred sanctuary surrounded by stunning high desert mesas is one of the oldest mineral hot springs in the country,” but doesn’t say why the word “sacred” applies.

      A Texas Monthly blurb about Truth or Consequences says, “This natural hot springs aquifer and resulting aboveground steaming pools were once considered a sacred place of healing by the Apaches.” But again, no reason given for why the pools are considered sacred.

      I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. If I run across something, I will try to remember to post the information here.

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