What is it about a small town that makes it interesting? … worthy of an exploration? Most small towns are less than idyllic … they have their scars, warts, and missing teeth. Many, if not most, truly are not all that interesting to me to explore. Sometimes though you can sense that blend of interesting bone structure and bearing that suggests you may be rewarded if you look past the cosmetic shortcomings to try to dig a bit deeper into the essence of a place … to try to get a sense of what the place really has to offer.
I’ve passed through Truth or Consequences, New Mexico in Sierra County many times … most often passing by on Interstate 25 which is the main north-south artery in New Mexico. Commonly referred to as “T or C” for short, the community is about 75 miles north of Las Cruces and 150 miles south of Albuquerque. A few times I even detoured off of the interstate to take the route through the old downtown area to see what was there and once our family stayed the night in one of the little family motels near the highway to break up a long drive from the beach in Mexico back to Northern NM. Plenty of weedy spots, buildings that have seen better days, and empty lots where there used to be buildings. Yet, a few interesting looking businesses dotted the way and I could sense history there that I wondered if it would be interesting to learn about.
Finally the stars lined up, and we decided to pay a visit instead of just passing through. As it turned out, it was Fiesta weekend … the first weekend in May which is one of T or C’s big community events.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is located in Sierra County in the south-central part of the state on the Rio Grande river and Interstate Highway 25. The town was known as Hot Springs up to 1950 when, responding to an offer by Ralph Edwards of the Truth or Consequences radio show to broadcast an episode of the show from any town that would rename itself after the show for a day, accepted the offer for the publicity. The decision to change the name was affirmed in multiple elections over the following years.
T or C is a town of about 6500 people that sits at about 4250 feet (1295 m) in elevation in a desert environment. There are desert mountains both to the east and to the west. A large reservoir of the dammed Rio Grande called Elephant Butte Lake is to the north and another reservoir called Caballo Lake is to the south. There are State Parks at both lakes. The nascent “Spaceport America” which aspires to be a hub of future space travel is being established to the east. Two National Scenic Byways, the Jornada del Muerte and the Geronimo Trail branch from T or C.
Geronimo Springs Museum was a great stop for getting a sense of the history of the place. Located on Main Street in the downtown it has multiple rooms and alcoves featuring different parts of the story … Native American history and artifacts, trappers, miners, ranchers, hot springs history, and … of course …. the Ralph Edwards room. To me, the star attraction of TorC is its rich history as a place of recuperation and healing. The hot mineral springs have been in continuous use for as long as people have inhabited the area. Some say that Native American tribes treated the hot springs as a neutral zone where it was safe for members of tribes hostile to each other to gather for a hot soak and recuperation. (Read about my hot springs soak experience here.) The Jornada del Muerte (journey of death) area of the El Camino Real (royal road) passes through the area although I didn’t came across much mention of the Spanish use of the springs. The big construction project of the Elephant Butte Dam (circa 1916) led to the settlement being established around the springs. Healers of many types gathered here over the decades and still do to this day.
The Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway is shaped like an open jaw with the hinge at T or C. The upper section heads generally north west to Beaverhead where the pavement ends at the continental divide and the north reach of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. The lower jaw extends to the south west over the Black Mountain range ending up at San Lorenzo. (Read more about our adventures on the Geronimo Trail)
We did not go very deep on the Fiesta event, but it provided an interesting backdrop to the weekend. It looked like a prototypical small town affair with local people bustling around wearing themselves out. We watched the parade which seemed to include every emergency vehicle in the County plus a few cool entries that wouldn’t be seen anywhere else. A small fair that could have been anywhere, anytown occupied Ralph Edwards Park … observing people in their habitat. There were a bunch of other activities, but that is as deep as we got. Sometimes you wonder if everybody in a small town has at least three roles to play in these kinds of things. One of the main restaurants was closed on Fiesta Saturday … the owner told us that all of her workers were occupied or worn out with Fiesta activities.
We did all right with dining out, although you always have to improvise a bit in small towns it seems. Notables included dinners at Bella Luca and Latitude 33 and coffee and a roll at the Passion Pie Cafe. Bella Luca is an italian place in an attractive old building in the center of downtown. The food was quite good … memorable “Calabasitas Fettuccini” – local organic summer squash with zucchini & fire roasted corn & Hatch green chili and crispy pancetta in a white wine cream sauce ($18) and a good “New Mexico Calzone” with red sauce, green chili, bacon, onion, mushroom ($8). After adding side salads we thought it a bit on the pricey side and the place would be so much more attractive with some basic clean-up/fix-up attention. Latitude 33 is an Asian fusion place in a little hole in the wall location also in the downtown. Wasabi, peanut sauce, and red chile all come together in tasty dishes here. They seemed overrun due to other restaurants being closed on Fiesta day, and in fact the Bella Luca owner (whose place was closed) was there waiting tables to help her friend out with the crowd … that’s small town stuff for you. This place is BYOB so the bottom-line tab seemed very inexpensive here. The most memorable dish for me was a black rice pudding dessert. I hit Passion Pie Cafe for coffee and some quiet writing one morning while waiting for my wife to sleep in and wake up. It is in an old store front on Main Street that is nondescript except for cool tabletops that are hand painted with an eclectic variety of images. I relaxed with a good cup of basic coffee ($1.85) and a hot from the oven cinnamon roll ($3). The proprietress told me that you can count on something fresh coming out of the oven every morning. There were some imaginative menu options like “candy bacon chocolate brownies”, a “Jackson Pollock” (imagine chocolate dribbles), and a range of different waffles including the “Elvis” and the “Fat Elvis”. Espressos and wifi are also available. Salads, soups, and sandwiches are available for lunch in the $5-7.50 range.
What would I go back to Truth or Consequences for? More of the hot springs experience to be sure … and probably some more exploring around out on the Geronimo Trail.
Shriners love a parade …. who doesn’t?
The Hatch, NM Chile Festival Queen riding in the T or C Fiesta Parade. Hatch is a small community nearby to the south that is famous for its chile crop.
This little guy may have had a tired arm by the end of the parade