Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Truth About Truth or Consequences, NM

I had planned a relaxing, romantic, semi-adventurous, warmer weather getaway. And I had done it in stealth. It was my Christmas present to Kevin, and I was determined to keep the cat in the bag. That part, at least, was a success. The trip, however, turned out a little differently than I had imagined.

The first omen was logging onto the Virgin Galactic website two days beforehand, with the intention of buy two tickets for the Hard Hat Tour of Spaceport America (still under construction). If you haven’t heard, that’s the brainchild of Sir Richard Branson, the place where starting next year, the average wealthy-as-all-get-out citizen will be able to take a commercial flight into space for $200,000.

Credit card in hand, ready to book our three-hour tour, which I was sure would be the highlight of our trip, I instead find myself confronted with the following message: Due to the safety implications of increased construction activity on the spaceport site, we are unable to accept new Hard Hat Tour reservations until further notice. We anticipate tours to resume shortly.

Nooooooooooo. Okay, I think – this is disappointing, but not the end of the world. I’m sure there are plenty of other things to do over two days in Truth or Consequences, NM (formerly Hot Springs, NM). Certainly a town that renamed itself after winning a 1950s game show contest had all sorts of kooky stuff to get into. (And if you count drinking $4 cocktails at the bar at a bowling alley called Bedroxx as one of them, maybe I was right.)

As we pulled into T or C (as the locals call it), approximately three hours south of Albuquerque, I will admit that I was a bit startled, especially given some of the descriptions I’d read. An East Village vibe in the Southwest,” New York Magazine had called it, as well as "a town with a low-key, ambient weirdness.” The New York Times had talked about the “stark beauty and quirky local vibe.” And Budget Travel magazine, to which I swear loyalty, had named it one of their “10 Coolest Small Towns” in 2008.

But I wasn’t really seeing any of that – the funkiness, the coolness, or even enough live human beings to get a clear vibe. It appeared rather deserted and thus jived most with Sunset magazine’s phrase: a dusty one-stoplight town on the banks of the Rio Grande.” (We had to look around to find the river, but we did finally - here's a shot of a pretty stretch of it below.)

It didn’t help that we arrived in the heels of a cold snap that had lowered temps from 75 degrees the previous week to the 30s, with lots of blustery wind. Or that it was Wednesday of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, apparently a dead zone of activity in a town that locals told me comes alive on the weekends. Or that we arrived around 4:30 p.m., and all the shops closed by 5:00 p.m.

We checked into our hotel, scheduled our complimentary 30-minute hot springs soak in one of the private tub rooms for 9:00 p.m. (you get one free soak every day of your stay as well as hot springs water piped directly into your bathtub), strolled around downtown long enough to get thoroughly frozen, and thus, not sure what else to do, headed off to dinner at 5:15 p.m., just like my parents would do.

This shockingly early meal was the harbinger of the sleepy feeling that would engulf our trip – yet without any actual restful sleep. (More on that later.) The meal itself at CafĂ© BellaLuca, just a block away, was good. We had a crabcake, a salad, a bowl of carbonara pasta. We sipped our glasses of wine and then an apertif. But after all that, it was still only 7:00 p.m. What to do now? We asked the waiter for a suggestion, and she sighed and told us there wasn’t much nightlife. The hip kids go to the bowling alley, she said.

So at 7:15 p.m. on a Wednesday night, we found ourselves at the Leopard Lounge at Bedroxx Bowling Alley, wondering what twilight zone we’d entered. Bowling a few games might have passed the time, but it was league night. No dice. We drank our bargain cocktails, watched music videos on the TV and eventually found it was time for our soak back at the hotel. Great.

After changing into our robes back at the historic Sierra Grande Lodge (built in 1926, and the only hotel in a town of retro motor court motels), we headed to the spa for our private soak in a lovely stone tub. Things were looking up. The water felt great, and they even had a pitcher of ice water with two glasses set out for us.

And boy did I gulp it down. You see, the geothermal hot springs that sit just 30 feet below the town are hot. Real hot. Like 107 degrees hot. The kind of hot that gives you a flush feeling and elevated pulse when you get out. I found it very relaxing at first – and nearly unbearable at the end. (I was reminded of a motel I saw downtown called "Fire Water Lodging," pictured below.)

Back in our room, our bodies refused to cool down, and our heart rates wouldn’t slow either. Combined with an incredibly hard bed and thin pillows, this led to the first of two nights of tossing and turning. When Kevin told me he’d slept like crap as well the next morning, I couldn’t believe it. The whole point of a relaxing spa getaway was to sleep better than at home. Also, this was supposed to be the “nicest” lodging in town. True, the staff couldn't have been friendlier, and the exterior and grounds of the hotel as well as the spa were nice, but the creaky bed could not have been more uncomfortable. WTH?

Clearly, I had to readjust my understanding of what “nicest” means in a health-spa-boomtown-gone-bust that was trying to revive in an economically depressed region. Yes, there were big city transplants opening stores, giving massages and teaching yoga. But even with the New Age set, this was still a rough n’ tumble place with “kicker bars” (aka, “where shitkickers start fights,” as one local told us), and any notion of “luxury” really has no audience. Or at least not yet.

Perhaps when the millionaires start showing up for their trips into space, that will be the tipping point. I can only imagine the seismic impact that will have on this sleepy little town, which, with some preservation efforts and an economic infusion, definitely has potential. It certainly has all the history. (Geronimo soaked here!) Not to mention some of the most striking cacti I've seen in New Mexico - including the "fuzzy" kind pictured below.

Until then, I have to tell my truth. T or C really wasn’t the right getaway for this particular trip. Retro romance,” as New Mexico Magazine called it, was not what we found. But after reflecting on the experience, we both agree that we’d give it another chance if spaceport tours resume. We’d stay at Blackstone Hot Springs, a restored motel with kitschy theme rooms that’s about half the cost of the Sierra Grande Lodge, we’d avoid soaking at night (and soak for shorter periods), and we’d go on a weekend so that hopefully we’d encounter some of the cool folks that clearly do frequent this place.

Oh, and maybe we’ll bring our own pillows, just like a fellow we saw in the parking lot of Blackstone Hot Springs.


Anonymous said...

It's been a few years. Have you been back to T or C? I moved here a few years ago and it has been changing for the better. Spaceport tours are going strong. There are always art galleries. Coming during the week isn't the best. Small economies run on limited resources. The best time to come is the second Saturday of any month when we have Art Hop. All the galleries are open 6-9, along with some restaurants that might otherwise be closed. Live music. One time we had a fire dancer. In a few months we will have a micro brewery open. The spas usually tell you the temp of the pool you are going to soak in and some pools are cooler than others. The Riverbend has a wide range. Recommended is 15 minutes in and then out to cool off and then back in again. Get a massage. Check out the local and state parks. The El Cortez is a grand old movie theatre where tickets are only $6 a piece for first run movies.

Kathryn said...

I enjoy reading about your travels. T or C in particular. My experience was different - spending the night in a flimsy tent at the Old Fish Hatchery. If you wish my T or C story is on blog: cathmaestra. :)

Jenny Lee said...

Great blog...
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