Mar 10, 2010

Truth or Consequences

Tuesday 9th & Wednesday 10th March - Days 30 & 31

We took the highway till the road went black
We marked Truth or Consequences on our map

Last to Die - Bruce Springsteen

I first became aware of a town called Truth or Consequences back in 1989. What an incredible name for a town. And looking at it there on the map, stuck in the arse end of New Mexico, it was impossible not to be seduced by the romance of the name. Surely it was linked to some morally fraught real-life cowboy drama. There had to be a gripping story behind the name. We didn't have the internet then so I couldn't just check it out on wikipedia. Which protected me from the sadly prosaic truth... Truth or Consequences only took its name in 1950. And it did so to be part of a publicity stunt for a radio game show of the same name. The show later became a TV show. Seemingly it's very well know amongst Americans of a certain age.

Ok, so it may not be as legendary a story as I'd hoped for, but it was still enough to make me want to check out the place. Plus the town used to be called Hot Springs, so after discovering the joys of hot spring bathing in Chico, Montana there was no way we were going to miss T or C. It was here or Las Cruces. But all I knew about that place was that there's a jail there.

But that would probably have been okay too as I fell in love with New Mexico. Arizona had great skies, as did Wyoming and of course Montana. But none of them could compete with the skies in New Mexico.

Enormous. With Simpsons title-esque clouds rolling over almost constantly. The land was pretty cold too. As soon as we crossed the border from Arizona we saw a ghost town. A place called Steins. I thought places like this just didn't exist anymore. Or if they did, they didn't look like they make 'em look in the movies. But in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, they do. I don't know why Land of Enchantment is the New Mexico state nickname. But it fits like a glove. It seems like a cross between the wide open plains of Wyoming and the arid deserts of Arizona. It's a curious mix of sunshine and cold which I've never experienced before. Driving along in glorious sunshine I'd have guessed the temperature was in the low 70s. But it was barely above 40. And the reason is altitude. T or C sits at an elevation of over 4800 feet. That's higher than any point in Britain or Ireland. Thats very high. It's also very windy.

From what I could see of the good folk of T or C, plenty of them were well used to being very high. The town is an oddball mix of vaqueros and new agers all brought there by the hot natural spring waters that bubble up in the town. There are seven lodges in town that you can check into and partake of the waters. We spent a while cruising round trying to pick the right one and I don't think we could have done any better. La Paloma is a bit new age, which might put some off, but it's run by a very down to earth child of Aquarius who reminded me of Chuck Barris. When he checked us in he told us about how the natural springs in the area had been sacred to the native Americans and how the land around was a place where they didn't even hunt. Geronimo, he said, had hung out around here, possibly right at our feet, as the La Paloma baths were filled naturally unlike some of the other lodges where they had to drill down to reach the water. He had a respectful admiration for the way the Indians lived before the white man came. He described the area around as the church of the American Indians and talked animatedly about how terrible it must have been to have people come in and blow up your church. He even used the T word. We bonded.

La Paloma has 8 little two room cabins, which used to be used by construction workers on the Elephant Butte dam. Our little home was as cute as pie. All second hand furniture and full of character. Walking in we both knew one night wasn't going to be enough. And after our first bath we were certain. Five rough around the edges but wonderfully basic baths were housed in a very plain almost agricultural white washed concrete building. Water temperature ranged from 93 to 105°F and they were so relaxing that they even made the piped in new age music sound good. We could use them anytime we wanted, even in the middle of the night. Sorry we have no pictures of us inside the bath house. But here's a shot which I think gives you an idea of how they made us feel.

Three other things we discovered about T or C, NM.
1) It has an Italian restaurant called Bella Luca which is way better than a town of that size or in that part of the world has a right to expect.
2) Property prices in the area doubled when plans to build Spaceport America just thirty miles away were announced. That's still in the pipeline.
3) And it's home to the artist Delmas Howe. I hadn't heard of him either. But if you are a fan of gay cowboys then his art is for you. And I'm not trying to make a joke there.

Howe loves New Mexico and his adopted home town of T or C. And it's easy to see why it's a fit for him. There's a mix of people here that you wouldn't get in a big city or a more accessible state. But I did read that at some of Howe's recent shows there had been some anti-gay demonstrations by the more conservative folk of the town and that was a little depressing. But it's out of character with the town as far I can tell. Having said that, Howe's recent works have left the cowboys of his Rodeo Pantheon behind and he's now working in the same style on a series he calls Stations. These paintings combine what he calls the "sexual theater" found under the piers of NYC in the 70s with the images of the stations of the cross. It's a little more provocative.

Oh and yeah... people have written songs about the place. But not as many as you'd think. The most notable act would be The Soledad brothers. But I'd also like to draw your attention to a guy called Drew Danburry who has a song called Artex Died In Truth or Consequences, NM. He also wrote a song called It's Illegal To Frown In Pocatello which is based on a real life true fact. The city of Pocatello, Idaho (also the place where Judy Garland's character in A Star Is Born was... er... born) once passed a law making it illegal to frown. I wanted to go there but it just didn't happen. I would, however, like to direct you Drew's video tribute to Britney Spears. Be warned, many of you will hate this. I, however, love it.

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