After a 3-year hiatus, it was time for my friend Andrew and I to clean our adopted highway in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Per tradition, we used the opportunity to road trip elsewhere in the Land of Enchantment.
The original plan was to visit Bandelier National Monument in the north of New Mexico. However, due to wildfires, we were forced to audible. I selected the town of Truth of Consequences, 2 hours south of Albuquerque.
The town derives its name from the game show. In 1950, the host of Truth Or Consequences, Ralph Edwards, said that if a town were to change its name, he would air an episode of the show from the town and would throw a big party with “celebrity friends”. The then Hot Springs, New Mexico took Edwards up on the bargain, officially changing its name on March 31, 1950.
Edwards did indeed host the show from T or C (as it is colloquially known) in early May. But the story doesn´t end there. Edwards fell in love with the city and every year during the first weekend in May, he would return with celebrity friends and a big parade.
The event still goes on and is known as Fiesta.
May 7, 2022: Rockets and a Fiesta
Andrew and I left Albuquerque early in the morning on Saturday May 7. The drive south followed the Rio Grande on its way towards El Paso and the border with Mexico.
There are a few pueblo towns just south of Albuquerque (including one where we got breakfast burritos), but most of the drive was empty desert. After seeing the scenery, it made sense why there are fewer attractions in Southern New Mexico.
We arrived in town at 11 and were surprised to see the streets blocked off by the police? New Mexican towns are notoriously quiet. What could possibly be going on? It turned out to be the parade for Fiesta.
Since we both love nothing more than a small-town parade, we stood in the shade of the First Baptist Church and watched the spectacle.
The floats were very homemade. My favorite floats were the candidates for sheriff who all wore cowboy hats. One guy jumped off his float, walked through the audience asking if there were any registered Republicans around before asking the respondents for their votes. Needless to say, he did not approach me.
Other floats included local business such as the community theater, the town museum, even a hair salon.
There were plenty of cowboys and even a tin foil wrapped car and an alien!
A lesbian couple from Las Cruces noticed that we didn´t quite fit in with the crowd here in Truth or Consequences. They asked us to go to lunch. We would have taken them up on the offer, but we had a strict timeline in the afternoon.
For lunch we headed over to a local drive-in for green chili cheeseburgers.
At 12:30, we walked over to the town´s visitor center for the day´s main event, a tour of Spaceport America.
Spaceport America is best known as the place where Richard Branson famously went into space less than a year before on July 11, 2021. But it is actually publicly owned and operated. Virgin Galactic is merely a tenant along with 8 other aerospace companies.
The spaceport is located about a 1-hour drive east of Truth or Consequences. Public tours are run once a week via a concessioner and leave from T or C in their sprinter van.
The tour was run by a funny duo of long-time friends Chris and Curtis. Chris is a lively very talkative man. He used to be the host of the Miss New Mexico pageant. Curtis was the mysterious driver. He had an insane level of knowledge of the Spaceport. However, he has a speech impediment so he chimes in only when necessary. It turns out that Curtis actually owns the contract but can´t host it on his own, so he recruited Chris to help him out and be his voice.
Spaceport America is a publicly funded operation. Funding came from tax increases in two counties: the county with Truth or Consequences and the county with Las Cruces, New Mexico´s second largest city. Since the T or C county only has 11,000 residents, the spaceport was really funded by the people of Las Cruces. Given that the spaceport is 90 minutes away and not in their county, most people in Las Cruces are bitter about the spaceport. Ask anybody from Las Cruces about the spaceport and they will share their head.
What the public doesn´t know is that the spaceport is a big moneymakers and, at least in the short run, has been a good investment.
The burning question is why would they build a spaceport here? What´s wrong with Cape Canaveral? Well, it turns out that there are a few reasons why Spaceport America is a better launch site. The first is elevation: at 5,000 feet, it is that much closer to space making launches cheaper. 5,000 feet may not seem like a lot, but it is the 5,000 feet with the most gravity. Launching from New Mexico therefore saves companies millions of dollars. Additionally, Spaceport America sits within the White Sands Missile Range no-fly zone, giving companies more leeway when scheduling launches knowing there will be no disturbances.
The gamble has so far been a success, there are currently 9 tenants that are paying rent. The craziest tenant is a company called Spinlaunch that, for lack of a better term, catapults payloads into space at 1/20 the cost of a traditional rocket. The concept is very real, they completed a test launch in October 2021! Check out this insane video.
Our first stop was the mission control building. It looked like a normal small corporate office building. On the second floor, we visited the empty mission control room and took pictures. Compared to the NASA mission control room which I had coincidentally visited the day before, the Spaceport Mission Control room was tiny, there were just three stations with computers. This is partly because each tenant also has their own mission control where the real magic happens– this room functions more like an air traffic control tower at an airport.
Next, we were visited by the Spaceport America fire department. They have some insane equipment including a 2-million firetruck tank that can chase down rockets on the rugged dessert terrain. The firefighters let us climb into the monster truck and even did a demo to showcase the truck´s water shooting abilities. Since there are so few launches here, it seems like this is the dream job as a firefighter.
After driving on the launchpad runway itself, we then headed over to the Virgin Galactic hanger. The impressive building currently hosts the legendary SpaceShipTwo, which is visible behind frosted glass. Soon this building will host space tourists.
After 3 hours touring the facility, we finally headed back to Truth or Consequences just in time for the evening Fiesta party.
I walked up to a police officer and said you must be “Consequences”. He laughed and said that he was also truth.
We got dinner delivered to us at the local brewery before walking over to the big concert in the town´s main square. Local bands played mostly country music as the townspeople dressed up in their bizarre, best outfits danced. As this was the first Fiesta in 3 years, everyone was overjoyed to be here.
In addition to the main concert, smaller events were happening all down Main Street including a hippie drum circle and a bona fide club with a $15 cover. The town´s atmosphere was electric. It is a shame that the town is probably completely deserted the other 363 days of the year.
With that, we went to bed to drive back to Albuquerque the next day.
Truth or Consequences is an incredibly well-rounded destination. In addition to the town and the Spaceport, T or C is the home of New Mexico´s largest lake, Elephant Butte Lake, which draws people from all over the region.
Additionally, T or C has numerous hot springs in the town (the town used to be called Hot Springs). The springs are all run as private businesses – mostly hotel rooms with private soaking pools. It was too hot for us to go in May, but during the winter I can see this being a draw.
While Andrew and I certainly got lucky by arriving on the town´s big day, I do believe that Truth or Consequences has enough going on to spend a non-fiesta weekend. I would not call it a top destination in New Mexico, but if you´ve already been north, then T or C is a good chance to experience the south.