My pal Robert Nott describes the decor of the Fire Water Lodge as “Early Aldo Ray.”
You don’t have to be a movie buff to visualize this place’s funkiness. Patio walls made of mortar and wine bottles. Lounge chairs from the 1970s. Turquoise walls, red screen doors and Christmas lights. A hippie watering the plants. No one is here to check us in; a note says to help ourselves.
Well, this is Truth or Consequences, so what should I have expected? Denver’s Brown Palace?
After all, this town got its name from a TV show. In 1950, on the 10th anniversary of Truth or Consequences, host Ralph Edwards mentioned that it sure would be wonderful if some town liked the NBC show enough to change its name to Truth or Consequences. Word found its way to Hot Springs, New Mexico, a little burg in the desert about halfway between El Paso and Albuquerque.
Folks in Hot Springs were experiencing something of an identity crisis. The town offered hot mineral baths for tourists and locals, fresh air, history, the Rio Grande and, since 1916, nearby Elephant Butte Reservoir, which was the world’s largest man-made reservoir at the time. But Hot Springs just wasn’t an original name for a town.
Arkansas had a Hot Springs that not only had hot springs, but also history, lakes, hills, horse racing and mosquitoes. South Dakota had a Hot Springs in the Black Hills, not far from Mount Rushmore. You could find hot springs in the mountains of Colorado. California had some 30 towns called Hot Springs.
So a special election was held—actually two— in 1950, and the residents overwhelmingly voted to ditch the name Hot Springs and take up the game show’s challenge. The town could have fared worse. Beat the Clock, New Mexico. What’s My Line, New Mexico. Life with Linkletter, New Mexico. Take it or Leave it, New Mexico.
This wasn’t the burg’s first name change. The Spanish called it Ojo Caliente de las Palomas (Hot Springs of the Doves), but that got shortened to Hot Springs when the town grew after construction on the Elephant Butte dam began in 1911.
The town put the new name to votes again, in 1964 and 1967, and both times the majority of residents wanted to keep the name Truth or Consequences.
For all its funkiness, the town is not a bad place to spend time.
You can get your history fix at the Geronimo Springs Museum. Yes, the museum shares plenty of info on Ralph Edwards and his show, but it also showcases Mimbres pottery, dinosaur bones and exhibits on mining, ranching, the Camino Real, the Jornado del Muerto and Apaches (They called the springs “Place to Pray,” and some say—but many disagree—that Geronimo bathed here).
You’ll find that this is a good base camp for exploring the ghost towns of Sierra County, such as Cuchillo, Chloride, Hillsboro, Kingston and Winston.
And, yes, you can still soak in a hot spring. Around 1882, John Cross Ranch cowboys built a bath house over Geronimo Springs, but Indians soaked in those waters long before that. People still come to soothe their bones and worries in 100- to 115-degree water. Blackstone Hotsprings Lodging & Baths. Charles Motel and Hot Springs. Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs. La Paloma Hot Springs & Spa. Pelican Spa. Riverbend Hot Springs. Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa.
Some of these hot springs are historic, some are upscale (not all allow children) and plenty are funky. But in this town, funky is all right.
Johnny D. Boggs recommends you stop for a hearty meal at Los Arcos Steak and Lobster while visiting Truth or Consequences.