Most visitors to southern New Mexico know of its reputation for strangeness. They don't call it the Land of Enchantment for nothing. Where else can you find a spaceport, UFO museum, bat caves, moon-like dunes, and a hot-springs town named after a TV game show? Those odd places were all on my itinerary. What I didn't expect was to be so taken in by their magnetic appeal.
Why embrace strangeness? Strange places are intriguing, mind-boggling, and never dull. I'll take bizarre over boring, mystery over history, quirky over quiescent, and mystifying over mundane every time. If you're of the same mindset, southern New Mexico is just across the border, two hours east on I-10 from Tucson. So come along for the ride.
Steamy: Spa Town
The strangeness starts with the name: Truth or Consequences, or as the locals call it, "T or C." But before townsfolk accepted Truth or Consequences game-show host Ralph Edwards' rename-your-town dare in 1950, it was Hot Springs, New Mexico. The motels that sprung up in the early 20th century, like the geothermal "healing waters" that fill their pools and tubs from the water table beneath, have been updated and still draw mineral-springs enthusiasts.
These inns are clustered in a five-by-five-block Historic District just above the Rio Grande, with most offering soaks in pools and private tubs for day use (charged by the hour), which are free to overnight guests who also enjoy in-room hot-spring spa tubs or bathtubs. Each inn exudes its own character. The romantic Riverbend Hot Springs' public pools and private tubs overlook the river. Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa is a Ted Turner–owned luxury inn with a holistic spa and candlelit tubs. Blackstone Hot Springs offers spacious, TV-show-themed rooms, and The Wet Room is a private room with a tub and sauna waterfalls that can be reserved. Finally, the Charles Motel and Hot Springs offers no-nonsense indoor and rooftop private tubs for $6–$10 per hour. The 100-plus-degree waters are mineral-rich, clear, and odorless—a stress-reducing treat even if you don't believe in their healing properties.
Surreal: Dunes Forever
White Sands National Monument might as well be on the moon; it's just as white and ethereal, and nearly as barren. But it's only two hours southeast of Truth or Consequences, so no spaceship is required to reach the world's largest gypsum dune field.
From space, White Sands National Monument's 275 square miles of powdery sand must look like a sparkling spoonful of sugar. Blinding white at midday, the rolling, shifting dunes that rise up to 60 feet in height take on shades of pink, orange, blue, and purple at dusk, making late afternoon the best time for picture taking and the daily, ranger-led sunset strolls. Arrive earlier (and carry water) if your kids want to sled the snow-like dunes on disks (sold at the museum store) or to take on the longest hiking trail—the 4.7-mile Alkali Flat loop, marked by tall orange poles.
The visitor center/museum screens an excellent orientation film, and park admission lets you drive the sand-covered, 8-mile road deep into the dunes, with frequent pullouts for picnics, sand play, dune walks, and vista points.