Rio Grande Hot Spring

Rio Grande Hot Spring

Hot Springs Historic District

Shaka Guide


Introduction to Joseph Oscar Langford's Journey

Alright, how's everybody doing on this long desert road? Now, maybe you wish the speed limit was just a little faster, but consider yourself lucky. Just a century ago, it took over a week to reach the Rio Grande from Marathon, only 100 miles north of here. And that was without air conditioning.

Today, that same journey in a car takes about 90 minutes. Well, it's out that way, in Alpine, that we'll meet a character named Joseph Oscar Langford. Before he made the trek to Texas in 1909, Joseph Oscar, or J.O. for short, was living in Mississippi, where he struggled with recurring symptoms from malaria.

Well, the motto of those days was that going west solved all your problems. So that's what J.O. did. Joined by his pregnant wife, Bessie, and their one-year-old daughter, they headed to West Texas. 

Discovery of the Healing Hot Spring

And one day, they found themselves inside a hotel in Alpine. There in the lobby, J.O. heard an old man talking about a hot spring down on the banks of the Rio Grande that could cure anything. But the old man huffed, nothing down there but rattlesnakes and bandits, and it's too far away.

But J.O. had come this far. If there was a way to cure his malaria, he was gonna find it. Or buy it.

He confirmed with some other townsfolk that the spring actually existed, and then he bought the land, sight unseen. Well, the Langfords set out for their new home, and eleven days later, when they got to their land, they found something they didn't expect. People! A man named Cleofas Natividad, his wife, and their ten children were already living on and farming the land. 

J.O. suspected that the family had lived on the land for generations. So he let them stay, and as it turned out, the Natividades made excellent neighbors, always ready to lend a hand. And with Bessie expecting a baby, you know they needed another hand. 

Or twenty-four. But back to this hot spring. J.O. soaked in the spring and drank the water every day for twenty-one days. 

And you know what? He was cured. Now, was it the dissolved mineral salts in the water that cured him, or the dry climate, and the lack of mosquitoes? I don't know. But the important thing is, J.O. thought the water worked.

Legacy of the Hot Springs

So he built a bathhouse around the spring, opened a little resort, and charged ten cents a day to soak in the springs. By 1927, he'd added a motel, a post office, and a store. Folks from both sides of the river treated the hot springs community as a gathering place.

And so it remained until the National Park was established. Today, the park preserves the hot springs area as a historic district. The bathhouse is gone, but the foundation remains, and so does the hot spring. 

The water stays a constant 105 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius. And you're still welcome to soak in it.

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