For years, I’ve been wanting to stay at Riverbend Hotsprings, a modestly fancy resort in Truth or Consequences, NM. A room there is pricey, and in the times I’ve been down that way, either I haven’t had any money, they haven’t had any room, or some combination thereof. Evan and I had been talking about going there for a while, and conceded on spending the night boondocked outside of town and taking a dip in the springs.
Evan found a hike online in nearby Radium Springs, a small ranching community, that would take us into a slot canyon. The first blog he found gave ample description of the place, but no directions and limited landmarks, so as to not “blow up the spot.” The second blog, however, included the GPS tracking information and Google map of the hike. We combined the information and after a few false starts, ended up relatively where we thought we needed to be. We crossed the Rio Grande at a shallow section and hoofed in and out of what seemed to have possibly been a trail at some point, now well overgrown with cacti. We knew we were on target because we passed the abandoned ranch, but the trail was all but nonexistent. We had to carry the dog most of the way, due to the low thorns of the brush, and I was leaning towards turning around and calling the trip a bust when we made it to a wash clearing, where the water from the canyon floods out and nothing grows.
We hiked up the wash for a short while and found ourselves immersed between high sandstone walls along a little crevasse that wound deep into the mountain ridge. As we walked along, bats could be heard chirping and flapping away. One little sleepyhead stayed put as I passed, so small and still that I would have missed him if it weren’t for my hand almost crushing him as I lazily grabbed at the canyon wall for support as I passed. I didn’t touch or wake the fuzzy little creature, though, and he was still sleeping on our return out the canyon. Also seen along the walk was scat from bigger animals. Mountain Lions and coyotes are common on the area, so we read, so we listened to the noises ricocheting off the canyon walls as we moved about, marking which were bat, which were us, and which were the dangerous other.
Once we found our boondocking site for the evening, we made ourselves comfortable and boiled some tamales we picked up in Las Cruces. The flame went out and we noticed the heater hadn’t kicked on for a while. We tried to crank the heat and reignite the stove pilot, and realized immediately that we had run out of propane. The tamales were cooked, though, and we have plenty of blankets, so we hadn’t much else to do but cuddle up for the evening and wake at sunrise to purchase propane and make coffee.
After the cold night against our sore muscles, and the four nights of free camping since leaving Terlingua, we decided to treat ourselves and park at the Riverbend Hotsprings Resort to utilize their electricity, water, and close proximity to the springs. For one person to soak for one hour is a reasonable $10. For us to camp for the night was $50, which included unlimited soaking. We each soaked four times, plus used their shower twice each, and enjoyed the sauna twice, so it paid for itself quickly before even calculating our filled jugs for drinking and use of their dump tank. After a few rather cold nights, it was nice to sit in hot lithium water and watch the sky dim to dusk and the stars flicker on singly, and then in the morning the steam from the pools float in the sunrise as the sound of water from the lowest pool cascaded into the river below, onto the carp that waited there for the warm water like dogs begging for food.
On the first day, we hiked up Turtleback Mountain, which we had attempted two years ago when we came through town and Riverbend had no vacancies. At that time, it was Evan’s first time hiking along a ridge and the exposure was intimidating. Due to the winds, we make it about 75-80% up the ridge before turning around. This time, we made it up to the top of the mountain with no problems, and were rewarded with an incredible view and the honor of signing the mountain’s journal, tucked into a pipe at the peak. After, we sat in the hot spring along the river and stared up at the summit, feeling satisfied and in awe of being able to go anywhere.
The next day, before heading to Albuquerque, we hiked along a flat path with Major Tom, who had been so good to wait in the camper while we pampered ourself in the springs. We met a man there who will inevitably make it into a book someday, who regaled us with stories of having punched the local dog catcher, chasing away the meth and opiate dealers in town, and growing up in Lawrence, MA (which made his other stories much more believable). He had spent 17 years in jail for marijuana trafficking (“But I mean, it was A LOT of weed, lots of border crossings”), and ended up in Truth or Consequences to lay low and open up a trailer park where he could just relax and soak in hot springs every day. When the trouble moved in, he wasn’t going to have it ruin his good time, but it did ultimately ruin the town and all the formerly thriving businesses there.
Regardless of the town’s problems, it’s still one of my favorite small towns in the US, full of mystery and charm, not as if time forgot it, but as if its own watch stopped, and the town itself forgot time. Old 60s neon still glows into the otherwise deep darkness of night, like an American Acapulco in the middle of the quiet high desert. I can see myself, like that man, ending up in Truth or Consequences when I’m sick of learning of friends’ deaths (two this week) and wars of greed, when I’m tired of arguing about nonsense and defending things that shouldn’t have been attacked in the first place.
For now, though, we are still on our spirit journey, pushing along and enjoying the beauty of the planet that waxes and wanes between magnificent and pure magic. At the end of the day, we still have friends who are breathing next to us or halfway across the planet, we still have stars that pull us from our bodies into the the vast space of which we are already part, we still have the smell of pinion and sage, the hushed comfort of snow.