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
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
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