In 1956, a 10-year-old LaRena Miller donned a new fiesta dress to watch the annual parade that marked the annual return of TV and radio host Ralph Edwards. Two visiting stars riding in a parade float invited her and a friend to hop in. Soon the fifth-graders were waving alongside Bob Hope’s sidekick, Gerardo Luigi “Jerry” Colonna, and his wife as they cruised through downtown Truth or Consequences.
These star-studded days in the southwestern New Mexico town’s past came about through a curiosity of history. Ralph Edwards had made a national promise to broadcast his quiz show from any town that changed its name to the show’s. In 1951, tiny Hot Springs became “Truth or Consequences.” According to Miller, townsfolk always intended to change the name back. But Edwards developed such affection for the place—and the residents for him—that the name stuck and the annual celebrations continued.
The Geronimo Springs Museum dedicates a room to the town’s Hollywood heyday. Visitors can see the saddle Edwards rode in the annual parade and photos of visiting celebrities, among them Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone of Gunsmokefame. The museum also nods to the region’s Indigenous residents, such as the early Mimbres people and Apache tribes. Those were the first people to soak in the geothermal waters that still burble to T or C’s surface. Today, relaxation is nearly always close by throughout the 10-resort-strong Hot Springs Bathhouse Historic and Commercial District. All you have to do is say ahhhhh.
There’s plenty left to do when you dry off, though. Quintessential Wild West towns dotted the region in the late 1880s, and their ghost-town vestiges still call to road warriors. Kingston, founded nearby in 1882 when silver ore was discovered, once played host to the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Miners became magnates in towns like Chloride, where the Pioneer Store-turned-museum and several original buildings still bookend the main street. Historic Hillsboro tells the story of all these boom-and-bust towns in the Black Range Museum.
That little girl in the fiesta dress is now director of the Geronimo Trail Visitors Center. Miller describes her town as quirky—an oft-cited portrayal. T or C has equal measures of cowboys and artists among its nearly 6,000 residents. The town took its artistic turn a decade ago, when artists found an affordable cost of living, access to markets online, and ample inspiration in the eccentric town and nearby mountains. Installations and sculptures dot downtown street corners, and creativity takes the spotlight during the second Saturday Art Hops, with destinations such as Rio Bravo Fine Art.
In this town of contrasts, it’s possible to pull up a bar stool next to a celebrity—or even an astronaut—at local gathering spot Truth or Consequences Brewery. After a visit in the early 1990s, media mogul and conservationist Ted Turner purchased national-park-size tracks of land outside of town and continues to visit each year. Turner has since opened his Armendaris and Ladder Ranches to the paying public for eco-tours, hikes, bat flight viewing, and sport hunting.
Travelers pass Armendaris Ranch and another statewide outdoor mecca, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, on the way to Spaceport America, where Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is moving ever closer to liftoff. If visitors don’t have the $200,000 or more needed for a trip to lower orbit on SpaceShipTwo, they can hitch a shorter ride on a tour bus. Outings depart from the Truth or Consequences Visitor Center for the world’s first purpose-built spaceport.
Reflecting on T or C’s latest star turn, Miller says the town has changed a lot since her family moved there for the high-desert air’s health benefits. Yet, it remains “a quiet, small town where people are neighborly and help each other out,” she says. Maybe even give each other a ride during a parade.