Yes, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico Is a Real Place
The weirdest town name in the Southwest.
At this point, it should take a lot to make your eyebrow arch in this part of the world. But without fail, motorists who head about two hours south of Albuquerque regularly find themselves taking a sharp swerve to the right when they come across a giant road sign that reads “Truth or Consequences.” It’s not a dare, it’s a welcome sign.
Though Truth or Consequences sounds like a place where you’d watch a sheriff and an outlaw have a shootout, in reality, it’s a mountain town where mineral springs melt away your muscle tension. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of bafflement from out-of-towners. Heidi, a local and my guide on the Armendaris Ranch just outside town, shared stories of public officials outright refusing to believe that her ID was real. “Imagine a bunch of Kindergarteners learning how to spell Truth or Consequences,” she recalled.
The name—usually shortened to T or C by locals—comes not from some Wild West tale of vigilante justice, but rather from a radio game show of the same name. In 1950, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show, host Ralph Edwards held a nationwide contest to see if any town would be willing to change its name to Truth or Consequences. In the interest of increasing tourism, the little New Mexican town formerly known as Hot Springs threw its hat into the ring and won—and thus, a bizarre-ass town name was born.
Though it began as a gimmick, the name fit perfectly—after all, the town and surrounding area are full of contradictions. Head to soothing hot springs or nuclear test sites? Embrace blazing hot days or freezing nights? See flowing river bends or bone-white deserts? Eat red chilis or green? Here’s what you’ve got to choose from while you’re in town.
Spend all day soaking in hot springs
Before T or C was T or C, it was called Hot Springs, and for a likely obvious reason: the town has long been known for the healing powers of its piping hot ancient mineral springs. The water—which reaches up to a perfect 115ºF and contains more than 38 different body-and-soul cleansing minerals—flows from a rift in the Rio Grande that formed more than 50 million years ago. Today, there are about 10 major hot springs resorts and inns spread throughout T or C.
Toss a stone in any direction and you’ll likely hit a bathhouse, but the Riverbend Hot Springs is arguably the best of the bunch. It sits right on the shores of the Rio Grande so that every pool offers a view of the river and the Caballo Mountains beyond. For about $25, you can enjoy the eight pools in the common area (plus hammocks, chaise lounges, and fire pits, as well as a sauna and an ADA-accessible pool lift). But if you can, spend just a bit more on an intimate soak in one of Riverbend’s private pools.
For best results, come during magic hour when the mountains glow in the warm evening sun, and you’ll find it easy to drift into bliss as relaxing music plays overhead. Then stick around after dark, when fairy lights glow in the surrounding trees, reflecting off the water until you feel like you’re floating amidst a dazzling starfield. And if you book an overnight stay, you can head straight from the baths to the bed.
Go on a New Mexican safari
Moving away from the Rio Grande, a stay at the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa gets you out into the grasslands and mountains that surround T or C. While the hotel has its own relaxation program—including aromatherapy, indoor hot springs, facials, and hot stone massages—the real highlight is the excursions to the nearby Ted Turner ranches, which double as animal conservatories.
Trek past caves and through steep mountain canyons where mountain lions and bighorn sheep wander, or try a sunrise or sunset tour of the ranch’s 200,000 acres, where you’ll likely spot pronghorns and coyotes wandering the grasslands or oryxes hiding out in the mesquites. There are also about 200 bison to see on the ranch, all of which seem peacefully undisturbed (unlike those in, ahem, a rather popular national park further north). “Most people choose to go up into the mountains,” Heidi shared on our trek. “So we may be the first humans they’ve seen in a few weeks.”
Eat and shop your way along a colorful main street
T or C’s Main Avenue really pops against the dusty beige of the desert and mountains. In the past couple of years, the town has become popular with artists, so the handful of galleries, antique shops, and eateries (as well as the Geronimo Springs Museum) that line downtown are decorated with vibrant murals.
Arguably, the best, quirkiest shops actually sit a few blocks away: There’s Galactic Digs, where you’ll find unusual furniture and crystals; bright-yellow Junkology, where you can score vintage records and southwestern art; and Dukatt ‘71, whose weird, custom tie-dyed shirts are much cooler than the regular-degular souvenir tees you’ll find at most gift shops. (Not to mention the owner is an absolute legend.)
Although T or C isn’t necessarily a foodie destination, it’s got a pretty dece smattering of options. Casa Taco (technically in Elephant Butte) and El Faro both do tasty Mexican food, while Los Arcos is a solid choice if you’re looking to splurge. Sweet tooths will find a home at Passion Pie Cafe, where the name of the game is waffles (although DO NOT skip out on the quiches!). And as the sun sinks below the mountains, stop in for a brew at Truth or Consequences Brewing Company, with 30+ beers on tap, friendly staff, and plenty of space-themed merch to go around.
Visit during a festival week
New Mexico loves it some festivals. Competing against the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and the Roswell UFO Festival for the title of “State’s Best Party” is the Truth or Consequences Fiesta, held every year during the first week of May (and set to return in 2022).
The party’s been happening annually since 1950, when crowds gathered downtown to celebrate the Truth or Consequences radio show’s anniversary and the town’s momentous name change. Although you’ll no longer find radio host Ralph Edwards strolling the festival—which he visited every year from 1950 until 2000—you’ll still find plenty of food, vendors, contests, and music, as well as a parade and a rodeo.
Experience limbo IRL in White Sands National Park
Dear reader, have you ever wanted to know where we go after we die? There are two ways to find out: wait until you kick the bucket (not recommended) or visit White Sands National Park, which sits a little under two hours outside of Truth or Consequences. Formed about 10,000 years ago by gypsum crystals leftover from a shallow, long-evaporated sea, it’s easily one of the most unusual sights in the entire US.
If you’re coming from T or C, drive over the Organ Mountains, so twisted and bright they look like monumental, petrified swirls of soft-serve ice cream. Then suddenly, you’ll see colossal sand dunes rise from the earth, appearing much more instantaneously than you’d expect. This is what limbo looks like: walking barefoot through snow-white dunes—no beach whatsoever, despite what your brain may expect—beneath bright blue skies, for all eternity. The fact that few people seem to visit this park only exacerbates the feeling.
Head past the visitor’s center (where you can pick up water or purchase a sand sled) and out into the largest gypsum dune field in the world. You can dip your toes in first at the Playa or Dune Life trails, both less than one mile around, but I highly recommend driving further down the 227-square-mile park’s sandy roads right away. From a parking area, you can climb over slopes that reach as high as 60 feet, no shoes required.
A few words of advice: One, check the closures schedule in advance to make sure the road to the park is actually open; since the park is located within a missile testing range, the road sometimes closes for a few hours, for obvious reasons. Two, bring a lot of water. A few liters per person may seem excessive, but once you’re out in the heat, you’ll quickly see why signage around the park says things like “water is required to enter” and “stay alive.”
Enjoy all things stargazing, science, and space
About halfway between Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, you’ll see the exit sign for the Very Large Array—the 27 absolutely massive, somewhat intimidating satellites that comprise the most widely-used radio telescope on Earth. (Shocking that such a simple name was given to such an impressive scientific achievement, but hey, works for me.)
Sitting at 6,970 feet above sea level and weighing 230 tons each, the dishes each measure 82 feet around and help scientists observe cosmic entities, including the center of the Milky Way, the remnants of supernovas, and supermassive black holes.
Alternatively, if you’re headed south toward White Sands, you’ll pass through Las Cruces and the Alamogordo Space Mural Museum, where you can check out a collection of NASA and space exploration artifacts donated by industry pros, former astronauts, and enthusiasts. A bonafide Dark Skies park, White Sands is one of the best places for stargazing in the US, where the cosmos really come out to play. Arrive in the evening for a sunset stroll and stay after dark to watch the sky explode with stars, or plan your trip around a transcendent full moon hike.
As a heads up, the Very Large Array is currently closed due to coronavirus, but keep an eye on their website for updates and get pumped for when the site eventually reopens.