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Charming, quirky desert town

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Soak in (pun intended) the offbeat New Mexican hot springs town that re-named itself after a wacky game show.

  • Truth or Consequences is best known for its geothermal mineral waters, but Riverbend Hot Springs is the only spa right on the Rio Grande. You can wave to rafters or kayakers as they go by. Photo courtesy Riverbend Hot Springs.
  • Approaching TCS you’ll see the paved, 7,202 x 75-foot Runway 13/31 and what appears like a giant asterisk of gravel runways that cross the paved runway and range from 2,933 to 6,981 feet in length. The longest, Runway 11/29, is in good shape but the others are rough. There are no tiedown fees. If you take the courtesy car and ask, you can get the cash price for your aircraft fuel, return and refuel the car by end of day. Local dealer Whitehead Chevrolet will leave your rental car at the airport, where you can simply drop it off before departure, 575-894-7155. For a taxi, call David at Need A Ride, 575-740-9499. Photo by Dennis Anderson.
  • Turtleback Mountain glows in the late afternoon sun, as seen from Riverbend Hot Springs. After your warm soak you can cool off at the cool shower, bake in the sauna, or rest on a lounge on the shaded patio. Photo courtesy Riverbend Hot Springs.
  • Colored lights lend a festive glow to the pools and cascading water at Riverbend Hot Springs. Photo courtesy Riverbend Hot Springs.
  • At Riverbend Hot Springs, clothing-optional private pools are walled off on three sides but open toward the river. Photo courtesy Riverbend Hot Springs.
  • Grapes Gallery is a popular hangout during the Second Saturday Art Hop each month. Photo by Melissa McKinstry.
  • Golf is available in both T or C and Elephant Butte, a few miles north. T or C’s municipal course is a Class-A PGA Professional course with nine holes, par 72, with five sets of tees, no tee times required. The Sierra Del Rio course in Elephant Butte, shown here, is an 18-hole championship course with good views of Turtleback Mountain. Photo courtesy Coral Quail Photography.
  • The birdwatching is exceptional at two reservoirs near T or C. South of town, look for vermilion flycatchers (shown here), yellow-throated warblers, Gambel’s quail, Texas horned lizards, Bullock’s orioles, lesser and Lawrence’s goldfinches, western bluebirds, red-naped sapsuckers, purple finches, and great kiskadees in the trees around the Caballo Reservoir, and herons, grebes, geese, and ducks in the water. North of town, you may see American white pelicans, thousands of western and Clark’s grebes, several terns, and unusual gulls in Elephant Butte Lake, especially between September and May. Photo by Jack Snipe.
  • In 1923, the James family locked the door to their Pioneer Store, in Chloride, and left. Edward James, Jr. planned to re-open it when he finished college. Instead, the store sat untouched for 56 years until one day in 1979 when James drove up and asked Chloride resident Don Edmund to help him break into his store. Once inside, Edmunds turned to James and said, “If you sell me this store, I’ll turn it into a museum.” Walk through the door today and the artifacts inside will take you back nearly 100 years. Eleven souls still call Chloride home, and numerous original buildings still stand. Next to the museum, the old dance hall is now a co-op gift shop with unique, locally-created gifts. The old bank-turned-saloon now houses a café with down-home cooking like chicken fried steak, burgers, and homemade pie. Photo by Don Edmund.
  • California native Sid Bryan brought a colorful surf vibe, mixed with mid-century Palm Springs furnishings and mellowed with a generous dose of Zen, to create the Pelican Spa. Walls of fuchsia, turquoise, and periwinkle are accented by bright paintings from Bryan’s large collection (many of them for sale). The main building also houses this affordable hotel’s private indoor mineral baths. Three other properties, the Pink Pelican, Red Pelican, and Pelican Apartment Motel, are scattered across downtown. Guests enjoy complimentary unlimited soaks on a first-come, first-served basis. Rooms have Wi-Fi and satellite TV; some have kitchens. Photo courtesy Pelican Spa.
  • In 2012, billionaire and philanthropist Ted Turner visited Sierra Grande Resort & Spa and was so taken with it he purchased it the following year. In 2015, he added the lodge to his TTX offerings, providing visitors with T or C’s most luxurious hotel, spa, and restaurant. Each room imparts a timeless elegance, with hardwood floors, Southwest ranch-style furniture, and stone-tiled, private, oversized and/or jetted spa baths. Private scheduled use of the hot spring tubs, a deluxe hot breakfast, Wi-Fi, fitness facility, and lobby refreshments are all complimentary. Photo courtesy Ted Turner Expeditions.
  • At Sierra Grande, the spa offers a wide selection of massage, facial, and body treatments. The elegant onsite restaurant offers local delicacies from Turner’s ranches such as roasted trout, bison tenderloin, and an antelope chop. Photo courtesy Ted Turner Expeditions.
  • You can visit Turner’s ranches via tours that leave from the Sierra Grande Hotel. Hot air ballooning over the Amendaris Ranch is one option. Photo courtesy Ted Turner Expeditions.
  • In addition to safari tours of Ted Turner’s Amendaris Ranch or Ladder Ranch, you can stay overnight at the Ladder Ranch. This is the master bedroom. Photo courtesy Ted Turner Expeditions.
  • Bison graze at the Ladder Ranch. Ted Turner has purchased large tracts of land in New Mexico, Montana, and elsewhere with the goal of restoring the lands to their natural states. His teams of scientists have worked closely with government officials to reintroduce native wildlife and vegetation. Bison pay their way by providing meat that is served at “Ted’s Montana Grill” restaurants across the country. Photo courtesy Ted Turner Expeditions.

My favorite places to fly are Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico. In Utah, it’s all about the incredible red-rock landscapes. In Idaho, where I live now, it’s all about landing on backcountry airstrips and camping in the wilderness. But New Mexico is all about the culture—what the people have created with the resources available. The unique cultures of New Mexico, created by the indigenous people, the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the latest influx of Americans from other states is exhibited in local architecture, cuisine, and the arts. And so, I just can’t stay away. I love all the different little towns. Among them, Truth or Consequences, which New Mexico magazine called the “per capita most creative little town in the United States.” And that’s what T or C, as the locals call it, feels like: a place slightly out-of-the-norm, where life slows down enough so you have time to let the creative juices flow.

Established in 1916, the town was first named Hot Springs, and its bathhouse district remains the top attraction, with nearly a dozen places to immerse yourself in warm, odorless, natural spring waters. Facilities range from swanky-spa to bare-bones. It’s a tough choice, but we spend our first day and night at the only bathhouse that comes with a view of the Rio Grande. Riverbend Hot Springs offers five rock-lined pools along the river that cascade from one to the other and offer a spectrum of water temperatures. They also have a sauna, shaded patio, and clothing-optional private pools, walled off on three sides but open toward the river. The place is a mini desert paradise, quiet and peaceful. Occasionally, someone floats or kayaks by on the river and waves, because, yes, the Rio Grande cuts right through T or C. It’s about two hours from Elephant Butte dam to town, no rapids; Captain Bob or First Mate Vicki will handle logistics for you.

Surf & Turf at Los Arcos, a T or C institution for over 20 years (and owned by a pilot). Photo courtesy Bob Middleton.

We emerge from the hot springs serene and rubber-legged, to wander among the low-slung storefronts that house galleries, thrift shops, bookstores, and boutiques loaded with locally made crafts—the fruits of those who moved here to live their dreams. Grapes is a sophisticated art gallery with a SoHo vibe. We stumble into Black Cat Books and Coffee, a tiny white unmarked storefront with a blue awning. You can pick out something interesting from a vast assortment of used tomes, fix your own java (it’s good), and immerse yourself in the book, or, better yet, get to know a few friendly locals as your cobwebs clear. Xochis Bookstore and Gallery sells museum-quality Native American cultural artifacts and ceramics from modern works back to 1,500 years old, plus paintings and rare and out-of-print books. Studio de La Luz is a community wellness center offering yoga classes, belly dance, reiki, a walk-in wellness day, and singing bowl healing sessions. The Second Saturday Art Hop is when shops and galleries host artists and entertainers and many businesses stay open late. Live music echoes throughout the streets and performances are often spontaneous.

Take a photo safari, visit a bat cave, or hunt on the 362,885-acre Amendaris Ranch with Ted Turner Expeditions. Big game species on the ranch include bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, desert mule deer, mountain lion, javelina and oryx, shown here. Photo courtesy Ted Turner Expeditions.

You can play golf, go boating and fishing at the Elephant Butte Reservoir, go birding at Caballo Lake State Park, or visit a ghost town. T or C is even becoming a food destination, with unique local eateries that offer everything from traditional or nouveau breakfast creations to Asian fusion dishes or traditional steak and lobster. We sleep (and soak again) at the colorful Pelican Spa, but if luxury is your desire, stay, soak, and dine at the historic Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa, acquired in 2013 by billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner, who owns two sprawling ranches nearby, also open to visitors (see photos for details).

So, what’s up with that name, anyway? In 1940 NBC launched a zany quiz show called Truth or Consequences, hosted by Ralph Edwards. In 1950, to celebrate the popular show’s tenth anniversary, Edwards offered to broadcast live from any town that would change its name to match the show. Read the details here or come for the May fiesta, when the town celebrates its name with a parade, rodeo, concerts, boat races, and more. Now home to about 6,400 people, T or C continues to pull in new residents who want to get out of the rat race and feel their souls blossom in an environment where anything goes.

A triple suite at Riverbend Hot Springs. Photo courtesy Riverbend Hot Springs.

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Crista Worthy
Crista V. Worthy
Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: U.S. Travel

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