The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

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“Lalo” learns to fetch a canvas “duck”
“Lalo” learns to fetch a canvas “duck”

People enjoying the therapeutic health benefits of the hot mineral springs
The earliest known photo of people enjoying the therapeutic health benefits of the hot mineral springs in the town now known as Truth or Consequences.

Truth or Consequences today The Charles motel and spa
Truth or Consequences today The Charles motel and spa

Elephante Butte in Elephant Butte Lake
Elephante Butte in Elephant Butte Lake—notice the “bathtub ring”

 

Hot Springs weekend

—BARB AND TY BELKNAP
Truth or Consequences has changed a lot in the ten years since we shopped for real estate while enjoying beach camping trips to Elephant Butte. Geronimo, whose band of warm springs Apaches used the hot springs and mud to cauterize wounds and heal themselves, would no doubt be amazed at the changes, too.

Soldiers, cowboys, and miners soaked at the shelter over Government Springs, erected in 1882 for four hundred dollars, invested as Sierra County’s first official act.

After completing Elephant Butte Dam in 1916, construction workers settled in the community then known as Hot Springs, establishing residence in houses and hotels built from surplus buildings and materials floated down the Rio Grande from the dam site. During the 1920s and -30s, Hot Springs grew into a tourist health resort with nineteen bath houses and fifty-one hotels.

In 1950, Hot Springs took game show host Ralph Edwards up on his offer to change its name to Truth or Consequences in exchange for publicity. Stretching the truth may have resulted in the consequences of losing the reputation as a health resort, and T or C withered, the historic district acquiring an end-of-the-road, ghost-town atmosphere that we find most attractive.

Ten years ago would have been a good time to invest in cheap T or C real estate. The town is now reviving its reputation as a destination since the state decided to invest in a nearby tourist space port. Investors flocked to town and bought crumbling hotels and storefronts. An investor from Palm Springs reportedly bought seventy properties, many of which stand empty awaiting the coming boom.

New Age healers and artists continue to move to T or C, lured by the promise of a laid-back, hippy retirement community. Galleries have sprung up on Broadway and historic buildings have been repainted in garish shades of green and yellow.

The resurgence has not come without controversy. Residents seeking to consolidate profitable real-estate investments have flooded the State Engineer’s Office with applications for domestic wells in order to tap into the supposed shallow ocean of hot water that flows beneath town, bubbling up to the surface at established hot-spring resorts whose owners worry publicly that their livelihood may be depleted by opportunistic newcomers.

Right-wing Christians struggle to prohibit modern-day moral decay by sponsoring local ordinances to ban pornography, including nude representations of the human anatomy that might appear in local art galleries. There is an abundance of churches, born-again and regular. A Tibetan Lama has taken up residence out on Riverside Drive.

We had the good fortune to pick the monthly Art Hop weekend to visit T or C in November, finding excellent accommodations at the historic Charles Hotel and Spa, on Broadway. Our room, which included unlimited soaks in the spa, cost a whopping thirty-three dollars for us plus five dollars for the dogs—or was it five dollars for us and thirty-three dollars for the dogs? Either way, it was a good deal, especially considering that the dogs were still dripping wet from a dip in Elephant Butte Lake. (Our favorite old lakeside camp was now a good two hundred yards from the water because of the drought.)

After check-in, we walked Lalo down Broadway so he could dry out and relieve himself in the historic alleyways. Friendly locals accepted us with open arms. When Lalo and a big black lab noticed each other from the opposite sides of the street, his owner invited us across to get acquainted.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed Happy Hour before taking our first soak in the big pink, lime-green, and peach tile tub. The proprietors allowed us to share a tub on the ladies’ side. Then we wobbled out to the galleries, thrift shops, health-food stores, and import emporiums. A street band performed bad music for a hip-looking crowd. The galleries displayed no nudes, but the owners said they would hang them if they had any, despite the proposed ordinances. An Albuquerque anesthesiologist-musician opened his first-floor storefront party palace to passersby. He told us to come back later for musical jams and drumming, but we made the mistake of going back to the hotel to rest. Wine and hot springs are not conducive to late-night partying.

We woke up at dawn and walked the dogs around the sleepy town until the spa opened again, at eight a.m. Then we met some Placitas transplants for breakfast at a downtown diner. The shops were all open, even though it was Sunday morning, still basking in the previous night’s festivities. Our friends enjoy a small-town sense of community that they find lacking in Placitas. It would have been nice to check out the afternoon ceremonies at the lama’s place. Heck, it would have been great to stay for a week, but we moved on to tour the El Camino Real Scenic By-Way. (To be continued ....)

 

 

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