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Charlyn Keating

An Affordable Spa Town with One Odd Name

By March 20, 2008

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Truth or Consequences, NMFrom Las Cruces, I headed north to a town I'd heard of before but knew nothing about. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico was known as Hot Springs until 1950. That fateful year, game show host Ralph Edwards put out a call for an American town willing to change its name. The town voted, the name was changed and Truth or Consequences broadcast its 10th anniversary show from New Mexico.

This quirky town, populated by an equal mix of old-timers, recent big-city Internet entrepreneurs and eclectic healing arts practitioners, floats on a huge natural hot springs. In the historic bathhouse district, 1930s motor lodges are reinvented as spa resorts. And they still celebrate game show host Ralph Edwards every year. It must be something in the water.

Truth or Consequences Board GameSo is it time to change the name back to the less original, but more accurate, Hot Springs? From the folks I talked to, the general consensus was "no." The best explanation came from an unlikely source: a Manhattanite who, two years ago, relocated his family and business to T or C after discovering (and becoming hooked on) the healing waters. The name, he told me, is exactly right. Soaking in the ancient healing waters can be an emotional, cleansing experience, and he's seen friends have life changing epiphanies. Once you're in the water, he said, "you have to face your truth - or deal with the consequences."

What's in the water here? Truth or Consequences floats on an enormous aquifer, one of the largest in North America, which produces over two million gallons a day of water which, at a natural temperature of 110+ degrees Fahrenheit, is odorless, completely clear and said to have healing and restorative powers. (Geronimo took his warriors here to recover from battle.) It's so full of minerals that you are more buoyant in the water -- it literally lifts you up. And, because of the high mineral content, the water doesn't prune up your skin as tap water does.

Vintage 7-Up Machine at the BlackstoneBack in the 1920s and 30s, T or C was a thriving spa town, and now seems to be on the cusp of a renaissance. They call themselves "the most affordable spa town in America." You can rent a very comfortable room with a kitchenette and your own private hot springs soaking tub for about $75 per night. (Read that again - that wasn't a typo.) But don't think of large luxury spa resorts I usually tell you about. These are, for the most part, converted 1930s motor lodges, made over with desert gardens, hand carved furniture, and plenty of vintage charm.

The spa resorts - the whole town - is the perfect place for a retreat. Miles away from most city dwellers would call "civilization," out in T or C the stars are brighter, the air fresher, the water magical. Two of my traveling companions, one from Hollywood, the other from Manhattan, were making plans to buy property within hours of our arrival in this quirky town.

Waterfall Tub at Fire Water LodgeThey weren't alone. The town's population of 7,000 is a mix of original denizens and recent transplants. In the same day I met two people who had relocated from Hawaii (they hadn't yet met each other). The buzz in town is about Richard Branson's Spaceport, to be built about 30 miles from Truth or Consequences and promising jobs, development and space tourists.

The town is also a magnet for practitioners of the "healing arts." I ventured out along the Rio Grande to see Ova Luethye, who offers Thai massages both at the Sierra Grande Lodge and in her home studio. Formerly at the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui, Ova spent ninety minutes stretching my limbs, cracking my joints, and using acupressure to soothe my body into a state of relaxation. In town you'll find practitioners of Reiki, Reflexology, even Tarot card readers.

Happy Belly DeliLunch was at the Happy Belly Deli (313 Broadway, 575.894.DELI (3354)), where I had homemade hummus, a sandwich made my way, a bowl of vegetable soup and a bottled water for about $10. For dinner, we ventured across the street from the Fire Water Lodge (where I stayed) to the town's newest and most upscale restaurant, Cafe BellaLuca (303 Jones, 575.894.YUMM (9866)). Inside, a sleek and casual dining room faced an open kitchen. The menu, limited since the restaurant had only been open a week, had flavorful pasta dishes, pizzas and seafood entrees.

Spa Resorts in Truth or Consequences:

  • The Blackstone, where each room is themed to a different television show (I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone) and the steamroom is heated with water from the hot springs.
  • The Fire Water Lodge, which is so laid-back, the owner left a key in the door for me when I checked in. My private hot springs soaking tub filled quietly with 112 degree water in under five minutes - I soaked as often as I could.
  • Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa, the most luxurious resort in T or C, although luxurious is relative. There is still plenty of rustic charm here.
Previously: Image of Truth or Consequences, Truth or Consequences Board Game, Vintage 7-Up Machine at the Blackstone, Waterfall Tub at Fire Water Lodge, Happy Belly Deli © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
July 23, 2008 at 7:32 pm
(1) Joy Hunner says:

I hope you visited Celestial Creations while you were in T or C. It is owned by my sister and is a fabulous place featuring everything made in New Mexico.
She is also a transplant from Cambria, CA and has been determined to get national recognition for getting so many local artists noticed.

July 28, 2010 at 11:58 am
(2) Eric Eddler says:

Sounds like a really quirky little town. I would love to visit T or C for a relaxing vacation. Thanks for the great blog post and for finding this little gem.

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