“Do you smell it? It’s the smell of millions of pennies.”
It was the first thing that I noticed after pulling the car off the road on our way to Truth or Consequences.
We’d seen the mines on the way into Silver City but with our pending lunch reservation and sputtering tank of gas, didn’t feel that a close inspection of the mine would be a good use of time.
Now, there we stood, facing a magnificent expanse of copper and stone, the Santa Rita copper mine; a mine used by Apaches, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Americans since 1800.
There’s something eery about a mine of this size. There’s the smell – familiar yet different; copper tinged with the industrial smell of truck exhaust and smoke. But more surprisingly, there’s a stillness in the air. There are no people, no visible machines, just a few trucks, the size of ants, groaning imperceptibly beneath their heavy loads.
We took in the immense view, squinted at the Kneeling Nun rock formation at the northern tip of the mine, and then climbed back into the Beetle. Next stop, Truth or Consequences.
After the popular NBC Radio program of the same name promised a yearly festival to the town that would change its name to Truth or Consequences, the town formerly known as “Hot Springs” made the switch.
Our destination in Truth or Consequences, or “T or C” to the locals: the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa, a property recently purchased and renovated by Ted Turner Enterprises. Although the natural hot springs have always been the main event in Truth or Consequences, the town and surrounding areas are readying themselves for a new frontier in tourism: space exploration. Spaceport America, home to Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, lies 20 miles to the southeast.
The hot springs in Truth or Consequences are known to be some of the best in the country, without the distinctive sulphur smell that accompanies so many other hot springs locations. We arrived at the hotel and booked private tubs – each one situated in its own soaking room. Some of the hotel’s soaking rooms are minimalist while others are designed like Turkish baths, with extensive tiling and wall murals.
Dinner at the Sierra Grande Lodge was a surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting from a hotel restaurant, but it certainly wasn’t chef Tatsu Miyazaki, dressed in his Le Cordon Bleu chef whites, a school where he was previously an instructor.
At a sunlit outdoor table we sat down to a meal that ranged from an appetizer sampler (fried alligator anyone?) to coffee-braised short ribs and the grand finale, a bubbling dry ice-encased custard.
With bellies full, we were ready for our post-dinner soak. I’d booked the property’s outdoor bath; a small pool, steaming with hot water, the outdoor patio designed with soothing stonework, a privacy fence and crystal stars above. I floated there, buoyed by the salt water, missing my kids but feeling very much at peace.
The next morning I visited another local hot spring, Riverbend, a mineral springs resort and spa on the banks of the Rio Grande.
In addition to communal baths, Riverbend offers private baths with their own lounge chairs and river-facing sundecks. I spent some time relaxing in one of their pools, facing the Rio Grande and the mountains beyond.
While I was soaking, the hotel restaurant at the Sierra Grande was busy packing us a breakfast of scrambled egg burritos and fruit with lavender honey. It was time for our much-anticipated visit to Ted Turner’s Ladder ranch.
For those who aren’t aware (including me before the trip), Ted Turner is the second largest individual landholder in North America. This property – Ladder Ranch – is one of three ranches in the area – and covers over 150,000 acres.
Dan, our tour guide for the day, was a recent transplant from Arizona. He’s an outdoorsy guy who moved to Truth or Consequences with his wife to set up eco tours on Ted Turner’s ranches. Like some of Ted Turner’s ranches, Ladder Ranch will soon open its doors to overnight guests, but for now, the eco tour business is operational.
Our tour was filled with information about the land, its vegetation and its animal inhabitants. Dotted with bison and elk and home to many other species of wildlife from rattlesnakes to red-tailed hawks, Ladder Ranch is nirvana for nature-loving hikers, cyclists and other adventurists.
“You see that?” Dan asked as we drove from the Sierra Grande in the direction of Ladder Ranch. “Those are dry clouds. Dry on the bottom, dry on top. You normally don’t see that too often at this time of year.”
A modest sign adorns the entrance to the ranch.
“Here we are. Ever been to a ranch of this size?”
Never. Not even close. After touring the ranch for hours, Dan pulled out a map. “This is what we saw today” he said as he traced a pinky-sized outline within the vast area that marked the ranch’s property lines.
But despite the beauty of the landscape, our favorite moment was when we passed a gang of elk. Gang being the correct term, thank you wikipedia.
We loved how they craned their necks in curiosity, taking in the sight of the foreigners driving past their living room. This isn’t the zoo, these animals aren’t accustomed to seeing people. In quiet moments when you’re truly off the beaten path, it’s easy to feel a sense of wonder at how vast, beautiful and wild the world can be.
At last it was time to say goodbye to Truth or Consequences and head back onto I-25. Our destination: The Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque and a Cinco de Mayo party to celebrate the end of an action-packed trip.
Our party was held at the Hotel Albuquerque, a grand space with high ceilings, Southwestern architecture and lush grounds, fit for the many weddings that come through its on-site chapel.
We were scheduled to fly out the next day, a flight, thankfully that wasn’t until the early afternoon. So I cleared the decks, ordered room service, and stayed in bed all morning, doing what else, but eat.
I want to thank the New Mexico Department of Tourism for inviting me and my Mum for a trip that will go down in the record books – for the most food eaten, the most miles traveled, and the most fun had by two women since Thelma & Louise took to the open road.
Until next time New Mexico….