Day #197: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Way Out”
This was the first trip that Phil and I took where we loosely planned most of the itinerary for the days we traveled around New Mexico when the conference ended. Basically, we had a list of things we wanted to accomplish and a rough timeline in which to do it, but that was it. We made no hotel reservations, so we never had to rush to be anywhere. That was probably the best way to do things, especially in New Mexico, where most of the touristy sites like the parks and museums close around 5 or 6, and most of the town shuts down around 9 pm. Maybe 10 on Friday and Saturday nights, even in the bigger cities.
Our trusty paper map helped us navigate from town to town, particularly along the remote scenic byways where there’s sporadic cell phone reception, but we relied on our phone maps and apps to find places to eat and stay once we got to wherever we would settle for the night. One thing I learned in doing this is that you won’t find a lot of the little interesting places that way. Albuquerque, for example, must have a hundred hotels just on the Central Avenue stretch. A lot of the old Route 66 motor lodges that have managed to keep going, but unfortunately, you’ll find almost none of them listed on things like Hotels.com. Most weren’t found in the guidebooks, either. Eventually, we just stopped looking at apps and started driving around the towns we wanted to stay to see what our options were.
We lucked into two great places this way while driving from Ruisdoso (just outside of Roswell) to Truth or Consequences. The first was Sparky’s, a funky barbecue joint/music venue that is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to believe that, given location, Sparky’s has a world-famous reputation, or that the town of Hatch, which is otherwise a blip on the map, could be the Chili Pepper Capital of anything, much less the World. It’s also hard to believe that a place like Sparky’s would even exist in a place like Hatch, since little else does. It wasn’t surprising to hear that their clientele were mostly commuters from other towns. There were a few old timers when we were there, but mostly, it was younger, tattooed, not-quite-hipster folks that we otherwise hadn’t seen much of while driving around the state.
Perhaps the advantage was location. The place sits just about at the crossroads of the El Camino Real and Interstate 25. The outside of the building and the sidewalks across the street quickly draw attention, decorated with what I guess were sculptures salvaged from now-defunct businesses. The inside of the restaurant, and the neighboring building, which is used as a music venue, are just as loaded with quirky commercial artifacts. (The music venue may have even been an old pharmacy from the looks of it). One of the waitresses told us that Teako, one of Sparky’s owners likes to collect “weird” things like that, and we think we found the lot nearby where he stores the rest. He’s probably a picker, and a habitual one at that. Meaning that he’s acquired so many collectibles that he needs bigger space to store it all.
All of that, chunks of Americana from 50 and 60 years ago, are reason enough to stop. The food is another. World-famous or not, Sparky’s does serve up some excellent barbecue. Though, my favorite part of the lunch break was the Mango Chili Milkshake. How could you be in the Chili Pepper Capital of the World – or hell, just in New Mexico – and not try something like that? (Earlier in the week we tried Green Chili Ale at Eske’s Brew Pub, a micro micro brewery in Taos). With the mango chili milkshake, I didn’t put it together that I’d probably need the water the waitress offered when she saw what I was drinking. While the chili beer was rather mild for kick, the milkshake was spiced with a good dose of cayenne pepper.
Another great place we discovered by accident was the Pelican Spa, located in the Hot Springs District of Truth or Consequences. The place was originally called Hot Springs, but picked up the more unusual name when radio quiz show host, Ralph Edwards, announced that they would air the first episode from the town that took the show’s name. Supposedly, he visited the town every May for the next 50 years. There’s even a park named after him just off Main Street. Next to T or C is the village of Williamsburg, which was established by Hot Springs defectors who didn’t like the name change.
We only learned about the Pelican Spa after having talked to a woman who regularly stayed at places like these (because once you go Spa, you don’t go back). There are several to choose from in town. “They have hot springs in the room,” she told us, and neither of us knew exactly what that meant. I thought maybe it was the Southwestern way of saying jacuzzi or hot tub. You know, like the way some say soda pop and others say coke. But no, in fact this was a place that had real concrete soaking tubs used for mineral baths. PVC pipes pumped in water from the nearby spring. Supposedly 110 degree water, though it didn’t quite feel that steamy and thank god it didn’t because we were already visiting the desert at the height of the summer and had enough of the heat.
The place reminded me of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but you know, in New Mexico, not falling apart, and not just catering to retirees. It’s a funky, eclectic, laid back, welcoming little place that’s characteristic of most places we’d seen around the stat. In other words, the complete opposite of the sterility of corporate hotels. That you might wander down to the main building to make a cup of coffee in the kitchen or sit in the living room waiting on a load of laundry to finish or outside on the patio, it’s possible to strike up conversation with other guests at the hotel who came to do the same. The rooms themselves were spacious, colorfully decorated little studios with a dining room, living room, kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom. And when you thrown in the private soaking rooms (there are 5 of varying sizes), that’s quite a lot of bang for the buck.
“Do you have any other questions?” the kindly lady from Cambridge (England) asked us before showing us to the room. I asked her if whether the Pelican Spa was used in a movie — it would certainly be a great setting for one — because a certificate of thanks from the New Mexico Film Industry hung in their lobby. She said no, it wasn’t in a movie, but that film people from Hollywood hang out there all the time.
Really? They come all that way to Truth or Consequences?
Like most of the towns we came across in our travels around New Mexico, it seemed like T or C was just another one of these dying little towns, even if it the county seat. But, New Mexico seems to be a quietly bustling source of Hollywood activity, or so we assume from the stories we heard. Troy Bradley, the pilot for our hot air balloon ride, talked about how he flew the mock up house of balloons that was later animated for the movie Up. And Nest, our guide for the horseback riding trip, talked about how he taught both Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Alba how to ride for movies they were working on. Who knew?!