Water is at the heart of the city of Truth or Consequences, which is known for its mineral hot springs and has the Rio Grande running through it. Upstream is Elephant Butte Lake, the state’s largest lake and a playground for boating, sailing, fishing, water skiing, scuba diving and canoeing.
“Many years ago, when I was very young, my mother caught a 75-pound catfish in Elephant Butte Lake,” recalls Sherry Fletcher, a town historian and former assistant superintendent of the Truth or Consequences school district.
Water has been so important to Truth or Consequences, which is located in the high desert of southern New Mexico in Sierra County, that the city’s original name was Palomas Hot Springs. In 1914 the name was changed to Hot Springs.
In 1950, NBC television producer Ralph Edwards began a search for a town that was willing to change its name to Truth or Consequences (the name of Edwards’ radio program).
After a special election, Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences. Edwards aired the first live coast-to-coast broadcast of his new “Truth or Consequences” television show from the city of Truth or Consequences.
A lot of promise
“What I love about Truth or Consequences is that it’s laid-back and old-fashioned and yet has a lot of future promise,” says Ed “Hans” Townsend, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Truth or Consequences and Sierra County. “Spaceport America, a new commercial spaceport, is just 27 miles away. I’m getting calls from companies tied to the Spaceport that might be interested in setting up businesses in town and Realtors who are checking out properties.”
Most visitors to Truth or Consequences, which has a population of approximately 6,400, come to the area to experience its hot mineral waters and outdoor recreational opportunities.
The first commercial bathhouse in the area was built in the late 1880s. Truth or Consequences began developing a reputation for having healing waters. Prior to World War II there were about 40 hot spring spas in town.
Currently there are 10 hot spring spas operating in the area. Water temperatures start at 102 degrees and go up a few degrees from there. Water temperature varies slightly from spa to spa. While many of the spas were built in the 1920s and 1930s and retain an atmosphere that harkens back to earlier times, several have been completely modernized. Most of them offer massages on site.
“In late 2012, we created a 2.7-mile walking tour in the heart of town that includes most of the spas,” explains Fletcher. “This past spring we put together plaques that have been mounted on the front of the spas so tourists can read about the history of each of them.”
Although many visitors choose to spend the night at one of the town’s hot spring spas, there are bathhouses in town that allow people to be day guests and soak by the half hour or hour.
For outdoor fun, visitors often head to Elephant Butte Lake, about five miles up the road. This 40-mile long reservoir, which first opened in 1965, attracts as many as 100,000 guests during Memorial Day weekend. There are many camping and picnicking sites in the area as well as more than 100 developed campsites and 100 electrical hook-ups for RVs and trailers. Comfort stations have showers, nature trails, dump stations, playgrounds, boat ramps and most everything else a visitor needs.
Elephant Butte Lake is known for its bass, walleye, catfish, crappie, white and black bass and stripers. Fishermen also enjoy catching bass, crappie, catfish and walleye at Caballo Lake, which is 20 miles downstream from Elephant Butte.
Culture and art
While the mineral waters and abundance of outdoor activities draw visitors to Truth or Consequences, the cultural opportunities provide intellectual stimulation while they’re there.
The city has a variety of shops and art galleries along its downtown streets. Rio Bravo Fine Art, the largest art gallery in town, is among a dozen businesses that participate in a monthly art hop from 6 to 9 p.m. on the second Saturday.
“The art hop goes along Broadway and Main streets,” says Rebecca Speakes, a fiber artist and board member of the area’s arts council. “There’s work by local artists as well as items from outside the area. Most businesses serve non-alcoholic refreshments during the art hops.”
Among the painters whose work is on display at Rio Bravo Fine Art are Delmas Howe, Nolan Winkler and Dave Barnett.
A great way to learn about Truth or Consequences’ colorful history is by visiting The Geronimo Springs Museum on Main Street.
The museum’s collections have everything from fossils and pottery to historic Hispanic and Apache artifacts. One of the permanent exhibits is a Southwestern pottery collection dating from A.D. 200 to 1350.
As a tribute to the Apaches who lived in the area for centuries, a life-size wax statue of Geronimo dominates the museum’s Apache room, which also contains artifacts and photographs.
An authentic miner’s cabin, dismantled in the nearby Black Range Mountains and reassembled on the museum’s grounds, contains relics of the area’s early gold and silver mining industry in the mid-1800s. The museum even has a Ralph Edwards Room where visitors can watch an episode of “Truth or Consequences.”
For locals like Fletcher, Truth or Consequences’ rich past and promising future keep her committed to the community.
“Truth or Consequences is maintaining its history while reinventing and rediscovering itself,” she says.