Spa going in the hot springs of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is a quirky family endeavor that may start your kids on a lifelong path to wellness. It’s also among the most affordable winter family vacations we know. That’s the truth and, you may be wondering, what are the consequences?
Well, the story begins a century ago in the town of Little Hot Springs, where mineral water bubbled under the streets. Locals had their first star turn when the nearby Elephant Butte Dam was constructed. From 1911-1916, Little Hot Springs residents promoted wellness to immigrant dam workers in the form of gambling and drinking venues. Most of the laborers didn’t care about a hot water soak.
Then came an opportunity for reinvention. A very popular, long-running TV game show called “Truth or Consequences,” hosted by Ralph Edwards, was looking for publicity. As a stunt in 1950, producers said that any town in the U.S. that would name itself after the show — for just one day — would become famous by having the show’s cast and crew broadcast from there. Little Hot Springs took the gameshow bait and, enjoying newfound celebrity, has kept the name ever since.
T or C is always evolving
In an era when hot springs and wellness are in vogue, the consequences of renaming a town that sits on a natural aquifer could have been worse. Instead, locals still proudly call their hometown “T or C.”
That pact with the devil as some saw it -– obscuring the truth about Little Hot Springs’ genuine identity -– did cause T or C’s population to dwindle. Ralph Edwards, however, remained loyal to his show’s namesake town.
The annual Ralph Edwards’ Fiesta which celebrated the name change each May attracted fans, many of whom stayed on. Since the millennium, more retirees, better educated and affluent, have moved in, happy to find a place where a retail shop may rent for only $300 a month.
Healing Waters of T or C
As the town struggled to find its place for a new generation, young people began to find it. T or C today is a quietly hip and still cheap town where quality of life is prized, and a dollar goes a very long way. The town’s genuine healing water, running so hot below ground that it’s hard to keep the streets from buckling, is paying off.
The best-known bathhouse today is Riverbend Hot Springs, in the area known as the Historic Bathhouse District. Riverbend’s tubfulls of slightly salty artesian water are scenically located on the banks of the Rio Grande River. Day visitors can select spotless community baths (from $12 per hour) overlooking the rushing river to enjoy a soak with a view. Among the string of eight pools, the natural water temperature varies from 95-108 degrees Fahrenheit.
Riverbend also has a few large and private geothermal baths at different temperatures, and a wet/dry barrel sauna. Even better are private soaking rooms, where rates start at $30 per hour for up to two people. These wooden cabanas have ceiling misters and open out onto views of the Rio Grande and Turtleback Mountain. Note that in warm weather, the river below can be busy with canoes, kayaks and passing inner tubes.
However, the private cabins are swimsuit optional and suitable for romantic adults or family experiences, because young children over age 3 are allowed to rest in the lower temperature pools. Riverbend has newer guestrooms and overnight cabins whose rates include a towel and robe.
Bathing Overnight in Your Own Tub
Truth or Consequences has several small hot springs resorts operating, some of which flew the wellness banner throughout T or C’s colorful history.
La Paloma Hot Springs & Spa renovated the mail-order Sears Roebuck catalog cabins brought in for Elephant Butte Dam laborers into tiny guestrooms and private soak cabins. Vintage cabin rooms start at $72 per night for 24-hour access to your private thermal waters. Fishing is good at what is now Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Expansion next door has brought new two-bedroom cottages that are very roomy for families.
Blackstone Hotsprings, a restored 1930s motor court and public bath, has 10 large, stylish rooms. Each has its own interior hot springs-fed waterfall or soaking tub plus kitchenette and bright décor, often themed to vintage TV characters such as Wonder Woman and The Jetsons. Guestrooms start at $90 per night and include use of four other public soaking grottoes with waterfall, plunge pool and lounge chairs.
Wellness overflows into the town, waiting to be discovered. There’s a new yoga retreat joining older studios, a mindfulness center, holistic medicine practice and massage parlors.Even a craft brewery. For activities and information about nearby ghost towns, download this page from the Sierra County New Mexico tourism office website.
Living Up to New Mexico True
As New Mexico thrives in a tourism market where young travelers look for “New Mexico True” and authenticity and ways to connect with the locals, the truth about T or C has found recognition.
It does have a long history. Pensioner guides at the Geronimo Springs History Museum proudly display a priceless collection of Native American pottery cajoled from the homes of local collectors, plus exhibits ranging from wax portraits of native son Geronimo to a history of cowboy hats and children’s games.
Of course, the homespun museum has a fascinating homage to Ralph Edwards and his impact on the town.
Making Room for Space in T or C
T or C official believe the future may lie with three billionaire entrepreneurs.
Sir Richard Branson built Spaceport America outside T or C in 2008 as a base for Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital space ventures. Given the volatile nature of testing spacecraft and charting a path toward new frontiers, this investment in tax dollars may not have paid off yet, but it’s coming.
Ted Turner, one of New Mexico’s largest landowners, owns the elegant New Age-inspired Sierra Grande Hotel in town, launched to welcome civilian astronauts booked on Virgin Galactic. Expert massages begin at $90 and 17 rustically luxurious rooms start from $155 including breakfast, WiFi and a private mineral soak in their outdoor pool. Given that there’s an excellent Southwestern cuisine restaurant on site, it’s a remarkable bargain for spa-goers or families seeking a wellness getaway.
Additionally, Turner has dozens of statewide businesses, including Ted Turner Experiences that promotes environmental tours on his vast estates and Gruet Wines, known for its fine sparkling varietals.
Last but not least is Elon Musk, who has been testing rocket launchers for his SpaceX venture at Spaceport’s launch facilities in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin. Southern New Mexico’s nearly mile-high altitude gives them a literal leg up over similar facilities at Cape Canaveral and in Texas.
Seeing the Future of T or C
Which is the fool’s gold, outer space or the geothermal activity just four feet below the surface? We’re betting on the people of T or C.
At our next visit, Truth or Consequences just may have established the first spa town satellite in outer space.
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