Chapter 5 of our On the Road series brought us some unexpected twists and turns—three of the places we booked didn’t work out, and we had to find alternative accommodations, which made for a richer experience in the end. This part of the journey takes us to Silver City, Truth or Consequences, and Elephant Butte NM. Photos by Bill and Kate Poss
After leaving Cave Creek AZ on Monday May 2, I thought how can any experience top what we experienced with Bill’s nephew’s elegant and gracious wedding and our magic time at The Grotto Cafe in Cave Creek.
We drove east and south, expecting to stay in the city of Safford at the Essence of Tranquility Hot Springs. Driving through shadeless Safford, I was reminded of Stephen King’s book,The Stand. It takes place after the apocalypse. Here in Safford, like in the book, few people were out, the wind blew cardboard through the streets, and the 97° heat was stifling. We found the hot springs place, but it was closed. We walked around the closed gates, calling hello. We phoned and emailed our cancellation, and did not hear back from the owner until more than 90 minutes later, when we were on the road driving to Silver City, NM. The owner did not charge us for cancelling, thank goodness.
We felt the good vibrations of Silver City when we pulled in hot, sweaty and hungry at Manzano’s RV Park in Silver City. Getting a spot near the bathroom, Bill showered. We enjoyed dinner in the trailer. The following morning we were rapt at the song of the Curved Bill Thrasher, perched on top of a century plant.
We ate breakfast in Silver City, marveling at the town’s murals and creative buildings. I wrote my previous story at the Silver City Public Library. Bill found a pair of great hiking shoes at a nearby thrift store. We were stoked by the good vibes we felt.
We had reservations at Gila Hotsprings Resort for the next two nights, up a narrow and winding Hwy 15 in the Gila Wilderness. When Bill mentioned it’s a clothing optional place, I balked at the thought. At 67 I’m not comfortable sitting around naked with other people, it’s just the truth. Water temperatures over 100° make my heart race as well. Hot springs are typically 102° to 104°.
When we pulled up to the dirt driveway leading down a quarter mile of sharp downhill descent to the place, Bill decided we couldn’t get our trailer down such an incline. The drive had taken us two hours into the wilderness with views of beautiful multi-colored cliffs and no cell or wifi reception. We spent another two hours driving out of the canyon. I emailed the hosts when we finally got a signal and she understood our dilemma. No problem with cancellation here, either. That was a relief.
It was later afternoon, Bill’s blood sugars were dropping precipitously and his hangers rising. Again the heat in the 90s was unmerciful. We debated, rather hotly, on where to stay next. We decided to return to Silver City. I said I longed for a bathroom and shower and relief from the heat. We needed wifi so we could regroup. The historic Murray Hotel beckoned like an oasis. Showered and cooled, we felt the relief of a clean room with character.
The following morning we walked to Tranquil Buzz Coffee House and felt like we’d landed in the center of our favorite universe. The place was full of gorgeous woodwork, art pieces, gemstones, interesting faces that looked into our eyes and smiled. Its interior and exterior was filled with cozy nooks that invited conversation. Friendly folk here. We met a creative dude in a hat wearing jeans with paint on them. His laptop cover sported original art that looked like Wyatt Earp with a heart. Franky DeAngelis told us it was a self-portrait. He had moved recently from Vermont to be with his girlfriend Hillary Klein, a talented artist who creates iconic Southwest flora and fauna paintings and prints. We bought one of her prints, a card, and a replica of Franky’s laptop cover printed on a hand mirror. We will never forget our time with him. He brought us for a visit to their studio and to his apartment. We felt so comfortable with him.
We just left the Tranquil Buzz and ran into an old-timer wearing a coonskin hat. His name is CJ and he lives nearby. I admired his turquoise bolo tie and he told us of a place nearby in the city of Deming where we could look at local rocks and minerals and perhaps even find a bolo. CJ regaled us with his stories of travel in 48 states, his love of history. He asked for help in typing his thoughts because his hands are too shaky to type. I told him I would help him. He had recently read a story about Daniel Boone and his brutal job in conquering the west.
While Bill was getting some coffee, I sat on a bench across from Tranquil Buzz Coffee. I felt so happy, I started singing Amazing Grace. A local silver-haired fellow walked by with a guitar and asked I minded if he sat on the bench next to me and played. I told him I’d welcome the company. Bill returned and we got talking with John Willow, who runs an Airbnb nearby. He played Elton John’s song Holy Moses in-between chatting. He plans to travel to the border near Ukraine and work with the refugees with a friend of his. Just so easy and friendly talking with him.
I enjoyed delicious pulled pork at the popular Little Toad Brewery & Distillery, a fun place with craft beers and good pub food. Our host arranged the bands who performed each weekend there. Wish we could have seen Famous Raymos and the Mayflies performing there over the weekend, but we had plans to stay with friends Claudia and Girard in Albuquerque. Great vibe at the Toad. As usual, my lunch was too much for one meal and I enjoyed it that evening in the common dining room at The Murray Hotel.
Franky suggested we walk around Boston Hill, above town. With views of the red-tile-roofed Western New Mexico University, the surrounding Piños Altos range, just east of the Continental Divide, and the rainbow tailings of the Santa Rita Copper Mine in the distance, we enjoyed rock-hounding, marveling at the sandstone and quartz layers, the open pits, where gemstone collectors mined out the amethyst, and the piñon pine and juniper trees.
We just returned to the Murray when I received a text. Surprise surprise! Allysyn Kipplinger, who we met in Tucson two weeks ago, was staying at the very same hotel we were while she’s enroute back home to Oakland California. Had we stayed at Gila Hot Springs we would’ve missed her. We met in the hotel lobby that evening for a short while and made plans to have coffee the next morning with her friend Shirley Pevarnik at the Tranquil Buzz.
Shirley seemed like a familiar friend when we met the next morning. She lives nearby in Gila part time and the other half is spent in Tucson.
We sat outside in a cozy nook and were introduced to Seah Correa Hemphill, New Mexico State Senator. She had just returned from a visit to Washington D.C., where she was honored for her work promoting a women’s right to her body in the state. She recalled going to the local doughnut place as a kid growing up here. Wow!! Sen. Hemphill talked easily about working in the Senate, how deals are made before bills are passed to avoid unnecessary filibusters. She is a proponent of saving the Gila River from damming. We visited for about an hour, Bill and I marveling at all the great experiences that came our way in Silver City. We felt like we belonged here. Senator Hemphill said we belonged here. A possible future home? We shall see….
We said our goodbyes to Allysyn, her faithful dog Marmaduke, and Shirley, our new friends.
Driving east on Hwy 180 toward the city of Deming, where CJ recommended we visit Trina’s Rock Shop, we drove by the town of Hurley and noticed the mountains of mining tailings. Billboards and caution signs with red letters warned of EXTREME danger of dust storms and zero visibility. I wondered what steps mining companies took for maintaining the dust. To be fair, the landscape was desert and its dust blew as well as the tailings. I was taken by the miles of bleached grass that passed by our windows, which reminded me of platinum blondes. I wondered how the cattle could eat the stuff and stay nourished.
Trina introduced us to a beautiful gemstone Chrysocolla, a ‘cheap cousin’ of turquoise, she explained. It is one of the minerals where copper is found. She said that when mining rocks are dug up and crushed and then put into smelters where the metal drains out and then what’s left are the tailings. We bought a piece of Chrysocolla, but didn’t find the right bolo tie.
Driving on Hwy 27 to Hatch, the world’s chili capital, we noticed towers of dust rising in the sky. We were headed for Sparkys world famous chiliburger and barbecue. Senator Hemphill’s husband Jay recommended we try the place out. With its kitschy statues, the place was fun and the food delicious. I especially appreciated my fresh lemonade.
In Hatch, nearly every shop sells chili ristras. We stopped in at the local grocery to buy fresh tortillas, locally made salsas and Queso blanco, great Mexican cheese. We got chatting with the friendly store manager, telling him we’re from Washington State. He asked the state to send water his town’s way, since the drought is so severe in New Mexico. “They ship oil and gas, why not water?” he asked. Hmm. Our son in Portland and friends in Langley report an excess of rain in the Northwest.
We’d made reservations for Caballo Lake State Park for the next two nights. Not happening! Google Maps had us driving out in the middle of nowhere, so we had to backtrack 14 miles to find the place. The lake was way down due to drought, and the Rio Grande river a trickle. The campground was hot and dusty and we did not want to bake in the sun.
Shirley, who we had met that morning at the Tranquil Buzz Coffee House, suggested we would prefer the town of Truth or Consequences, or T or C, as locals call it. It’s a town built on natural thermal hot springs. With the temperatures at 97° that afternoon, hot springs at the moment seemed not so appealing.
I phoned Reserve America to cancel the following night’s reservation and we just gave Thursday’s reservation away. We visited nearby Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and found the lake at 13% of its capacity. The lake is actually the dammed Rio Grande. Its campsites were baking in the dusty campground. No thanks. We found the Elephant Butte Lake RV Resort to be to our liking. It reminded us of our friendly mobile home park we lived in for 19 years, Seminole Springs Mobilehome Park in Agoura CA. Pulling into a shaded campsite, we were grateful for the air conditioned bathroom next door. Elephant Butte is so named for the rock formation in the lake of the same name that looks like an elephant.
The resort has a pool. When we walked over to swim we were disappointed to find it was indoors. Have I mentioned that hot weather makes us irritable? There we were, hot and sweating again. Then a one-armed tattooed man came in with his caregiver. The one-armed man said he loved coming to the resort’s hot tub. Often when we’re moaning and groaning about something, we meet someone who is happy in much tougher situations. Our instant karma. We changed our outlook and appreciated a dip in the pool with shouting tween girls having a ball leaping into the water.
Bill found a great local station, KBWQ, 88.7, which played interesting music from all kinds of genres, rock, to country, to jazz, 1920’s tunes to 1950’s crooners.
The next morning we visited the town of T or C, learning the town was once called Hot Springs. When folks stopped taking the waters in favor of pills, the town looked for an opportunity to survive. Ralph Edwards, host of the show Truth or Consequences, hosted a contest in 1950, seeking a town that would take the name of the show. Hot Springs won and ever since then there is a fiesta held to celebrate Ralph Edwards, who while he lived until 2005, visited the town each year, riding horses in a parade with his celebrity friends. The fiesta was on the weekend we visited. Local stores offered discounts.
We swam in the mineral waters at the T or C public pool. Refreshed, we ate a snack at the Ralph Edwards fishing pond in the shade. A local woman with a pair of Toto-looking terriers, stopped to chat. Her name is Janet and she moved a few years ago from Sonoma County to T or C, finding it a good place to live.
Our neighbor and friend Lisa Blessing had emailed we “should not fail to visit the Geronimo Springs Museum.”
We stopped in and were pleased to find stories about the Apache leader Geronimo, who fought fiercely to protect the Apache land from encroaching white men. He lived to be an old age, fierce and proud.
We chatted a long while with Craig Warwick, of the Sierra County Rock and Gem Society, which had just established a room in the museum. He posed by a rebuilt skull of a Stegomastodon, which roamed this part of New Mexico 800,000 to 1.2 million years ago. Full of good stories, Craig mentioned that the Rock and Gem Society has a claim near Hatch. It contains gems and minerals. A commercial rock and gem outfit pays the society $3,000 a year to explore the claim.
The Southwestern Native pottery displays were amazing and impressive. Apparently a colonial housewife collected the pots from abandoned Indian lands. When she died, her son kept a few pieces and donated the rest to the museum.
Visiting the Miner’s Claim store on Broadway, we met Robert and Maria Hanseck. Robert is a long-time jeweler and gemologist, Maria his friendly wife. Bill found a beautiful antique turquoise bolo tie with a dragonfly design worked in silver, and silver cones covering the string tie’s ends. I found a beautiful turquoise necklace in heishi beads. We bought them as anniversary presents for being married 43 years. Robert said he’s only had his store 40 years. He gave us a discount on our purchase.
We ate an early dinner of chili cheeseburger, chicken sandwich and giant lemonade at the nearby Sonic Burger. This is good fast food.
Later we visited the Spaceport America Visitor Center. Its nearby ‘airport’ is the first purpose built commercial space port, located on 18,000 acres of New Mexico trust land. It hosted Virgin Galactic’s first commercial passenger spaceflight from Southern New Mexico with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson on board. Commercial applications for the venue include asteroid mining for rare earth metals, commercial cellphone satellites and more.
Afterward we drove to Hwy 181 for a 360° view of the Caballo mountains, the Rio Grande River, its blue lake dammed in the reservoir, views of Turtle Mountain. We watched the sun set, painting the clouds various shades of peach, pink and yellow. A good evening. We noticed fire clouds to the north. We wonder how the New Mexico wildfires will affect the rest of our trip here for the month of May.
This morning we woke up to the song of mourning doves. We packed up early and headed along I25 to Albuquerque, where I am now writing this story at the Tony Hillerman Public Library. The author’s Jim Chee Navajo mysteries are among my favorite stories. I just finished reading the Ghost Way last night. Hillerman’s familiarity with Navajo culture and its emphasis on hozro, or balance is a way to learn about the indigenous soul of this country.
After publishing this story, we head to Claudia and Girard’s and our next adventure. Stay tuned from the Land of Enchantment.