Our next stop in our journey through New Mexico were the towns of Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences, located in Sierra County and along the Rio Grande River in the southwestern part of the state. Both of these small towns offer fun distractions and adventures — especially for folks who like water!
Both towns look a bit depressed and rundown, but we also visited the area in the slow season. For the town formerly known as Hot Springs — they changed their name almost 70 years ago in 1950 to Truth or Consequences, the name of a popular NBC radio quiz show — the days of being a tourism hotspot seem long ago now. But, true to its original name, several hot springs facilities are located throughout the town. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
More than 100 million years ago, this area — like most of the western states we have visited — was part of a vast shallow ocean. Later, Tyrannosaurus Rex and other dinosaurs roamed these lands. Even later, Native Americans (mainly Apache) lived on the lands. Later still, the Spanish and other European settlers migrated to the area.
We spent our time here at one of the more friendly and nicer RV parks on our road trip: Cedar Cove RV Park, in Elephant Butte. (Also great bathrooms and showers, as well as inexpensive and nice laundry facilities.)
We started our adventure at another New Mexico state park, exploring the trails and beaches of Elephant Lake (a reservoir on the Rio Grande River, created when a dam was constructed in 1916 — and shown in the first collage). The state park is both the largest and most popular in New Mexico. The 40-mile long “lake” is recognized as one of the best managed fisheries in the Southwest, and is part of the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway, but the lake levels looked severely low — and reported at about 4,300. Even at low levels, the state park receives high boat traffic. In season, boat rentals (including paddle boats and kayaks) are available. We enjoyed a several mile hike along the West Lakeshore Trail.
Continuing our adventures in nature — and with both of us seeking some real trees and pine forests — we traveled north and west up to the Gila National Forest, which includes 3.3 million acres of forested hills, majestic mountains, range land, and rugged wilderness — making it the sixth largest national forest in the U.S. We traveled along Highways 52 and 59 — both part of the Geronimo Back Country Byway — passing once again over the Continental Divide.
And while the federal government remains shutdown, the forest was wide open and available for adventure. We drove up to Beaverhead and the edge of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness (named for the early naturalist, conservationist, forester, and father of wilderness protection and wildlife management) . The Gila National Forest is also known for the Gila Wilderness, the first Congressionally designated wilderness in the United States; it also includes a third wilderness area: Blue Range Wilderness.
Besides a fair amount of snow, we also saw deer and coyote during our time in the national forest.
We ended our visit to the area with a stop at Riverbend Hot Springs, which was recommended by one of our campground neighbors. At one point, Truth or Consequences had as many as 40 spas offering hot springs soakings. Of the current companies offering these mineral-rich hot springs, only five get the water from free-flowing springs — and only Riverbend is situated right on the banks of the Rio Grande River, offering open-air soaking so that you can also take in the beauty of the river and mountains while relaxing in the tub.
The hot springs (about 105-degrees) was a wonderful way to spend an hour. Visitors can do a private soak — which is what we did — or soak in one of their public pools. Riverbend also includes a small hotel and tiny RV park, if you want to spend more time soaking! People use the hot springs to find relief from pain, detoxify their bodies, and melt away their stress. We had a blast — as you can see!
One final recommendation for those visiting the area. Several people recommended visiting the Geronimo Springs Museum, located in Truth or Consequences, which includes a world-class collection of ancient pottery,
fossils, arrowheads, and Apache artifacts. If you go, be prepared to spend several hours reviewing all the exhibits and artifacts.
In terms of organic food options in this area, they are pretty slim. Happily we did see a few organic brands in Bullocks market — and enthusiastically supported that they sell eggs from a local farmer, South 40 Farms in Monticello, NM. (Truth or Consequences also has a Walmart, which probably offers the usual limited fare of organic foods, but we did not stop there.)
Next, we continue northward up to Albuquerque — partly to restock (there’s a Costco and Whole Foods), partly to get in more hiking, and finally to take a Breaking Bad tour to satisfy our geeky love of that show (filmed mostly on location in and around the city).