Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Sitting on the Hot Springs Artesian Basin, Truth Or Consequences is a town and experience unlike any other in the state. A quirky town that is quintessentially southern New Mexican, T Or C is an eclectic community of artists, hippie-types and wanderers. Home to historic bathhouses, a burgeoning culinary scene and a base to explore Sierra County, T Or C is one of the state’s famed destinations.

We started our weekend in Sierra County by arriving in T Or C on a Friday afternoon. Tired and looking to recover after a long week, we made our first stop at Truth Or Consequences Brewing Company. Boasting brews to meet any taste, Truth Or Consequences Brewing Company is a pillar of the town’s rebirth from an under-the-radar highway town to an outdoor and glamping destination.

Usually satisfied with any ale, lager or IPA, I couldn’t help but order a Pineapple Habanero Sour. Light, tart, with just the right amount of heat, the sour was the perfect way to begin a weekend in Sierra County. We complimented the brews with Hatch Green Chile Burgers and the Ultimate Homefries, which are loaded potatoes with spicy mayo, all the cheese that one can hope and fried to perfection.

Stuffed and ready to unwind, we managed to hobble over to Hot Springs Glamp Camp, which is one of several bathhouses/resorts in the town, and were met by Mike, who with his unassuming and friendly charm made us feel right at home among the glammed-out RVs and tubs to soak in.

The tubs are directly fed by geothermal waters beneath the city and a toasty 104F. The facilities were some of the cleanest that I’ve come across, and the other guests were either friendly locals or other friendly travelers looking to rest their weary bones in the town’s waters. Caballo Cone towered to the east, overlooking the extensive Elephant Butte Reservoir and the Rio Grande. The evening turned to dusk, and soon Mike had a fire going that was thoroughly enjoyed by us, the other guests and two lethargic and friendly borzois.

Hot Springs Glamp Camp is a reflection of the balance that the town and its longtime residents are trying to achieve: it’s accessible and endearingly quirky. Other New Mexico destination towns have either priced out locals or are simply too expensive for many. Glamp Camp is not only affordable and one of the many great bathhouses in this famed southern New Mexico oasis, but the staff and the owners are down-to-earth, friendly and will leave a lasting positive impression on any guest.

Kingston

Lying at the eastern edge of the Gila National Forest lies Kingston, a former mining town that was once the largest in the state during the heyday of silver mining in the late 19th century. The mines closed at the end of the century and the once boisterous Wild West town now hosts a few dozen colorful and friendly residents. 

Nestled in one of the countless valleys that drain the Black Range, a single street lined with ancient Junipers will take the off-the-beaten-path traveler to the Black Range Lodge. A sanctuary for those seeking a little R&R, Black Range Lodge is one of Southern New Mexico’s best open secrets.   

Owned and operated by Catherine Wanek along with her partner Gary Harvell, the lodge operates out of one of the original structures from Kingston’s time as an epicenter of New Mexico’s silver rush. The two have managed to turn a formerly neglected and dilapidated historic building into a retreat and paradise for musicians and anyone traveling off the beaten path.

Constructed of ancient stone and old-growth pines, the building transports any guest back decades. The Black Range Lodge property also serves as Wanek’s own personal lab for her passion for sustainable architecture. Wanek is one of the cofounders of Builders Without Borders and has authored several works on sustainable architecture, including The Art of Natural BuildingDesign, Construction, Resources (Second Ed. Completely Revised, Expanded and Updated); The New Strawbale Home; and The Hybrid House: Designing with Sun, Wind, Water, and Earth. Wanek is an international authority on sustainable architecture. Her expertise is on full display at the property: everything works with the surroundings. Windows face north to weather a punishing New Mexican hot summer sun, buildings on the property are made of clay from the soil and orchards flourish in the small valley.

Before Wanek purchased the property, she was a director and film producer in Hollywood back in the 1980s. On one of her scouting trips to find a location to film, she and her former husband and fellow director stumbled upon the lodge and the near-forgotten town of Kingston. Memories of the towering Black Range and the laidback town stayed with her, and soon she was operating an inn at the base of one of the largest wilderness areas in the country.

Photo by D’Ali

During the summer, the lodge serves as a lab for creatives of all mediums, but has especially established itself as a destination for musicians around the region. Harvell, along with serving up one of the most delectable and hardy breakfasts I’ve ever had, is a lifelong musician and has effectively transformed the lodge into a creative and musical haven. Boasting a studio, stage, and with few distractions other than miles of wilderness to explore, the Black Range Lodge has the facilities to cater to any musician’s tastes. 

A night at the Black Range Lodge will recharge an exhausted soul. The 10,000-foot snow-dusted peaks of the Black Range, protected by the expansive Aldo Leopold Wilderness, nourishes and inspires. The smell of bacon and hash browns fills the Inn in the early hours of the morning, courtesy of Harvell. Wanek will never shy away from a conversation about film or her passion for sustainable living. The chance of a show or a jam-sesh is always on the horizon. The creative and sustainable experiment that is in the works in Kingston, New Mexico, will win over any traveler willing to take the road less traveled. 

“Kingston is a quiet community of people that recognize their interdependence. And we feel like we are kind of a microcosm for the world, we may not all agree with each other. And certainly we don’t all agree with each other. But we might agree to disagree. And if we can do that, maybe in our own little community, maybe there’s hope for the world. So that’s sort of my personal goal in life is to enhance that feeling. To be a good neighbor, to consider the community in what we do. And to also be a gathering place that can bring people together,” Wanek said.

Hillsboro

Just 20 miles east of Kingston lies another former mining town and our nearest option for a bite, Hillsboro. Another eclectic scenic highway town, Hillsboro has become a haven for artists and vendors looking to escape the suffocating rent of the state’s larger metropolitan areas.

We stopped at The General Store in Hillsboro, a quaint and unassuming American cafe that serves some of the finest American cuisine in Southwestern New Mexico and the most memorable pie I’ve ever had on my numerous wanderings around the state. The staff has been working there for years and there’s an ease by which everything flows. The regulars are friendly and more focused on catching up with their friends than on tourists looking to satisfy an appetite.

The Hillsboro General Store general store first appeared on my radar after rumors that a small southern New Mexico town had one of the best pies in the entire state. Nearly eight years later, I’m back once again and I can say with confidence that these rumors were not only true, but they have more than held up over the years. Both their bumbleberry and apple pie have the right to back up this bold claim, but for me, it’s the bumbleberry pie that keeps me coming back every year. With the perfect balance of tart and sweet and some of the lightest crusts one can in the southwest, the bumbleberry pie should be on any pie-lovers bucket list. Like any seasoned pie connoisseur, a piece of pie should always be accompanied by two healthy scoops of ice cream.

Photo by D’Ali

Despite its relatively small size, Hillsboro is a treasure of history about the county. Like Kingston, Hillsboro was conceived from the mining boom in the late 19th century. The town offers several accommodations and places to rest, including Enchanted Villa B&B and Black Range Vineyards, both of which serve local brews and wines. The ruins of an old jail and courthouse overlook the town and golden rolling hills surrounding the town.

Sierra County is one of the best open secrets that New Mexico has to offer. Home to vast wildernesses, quirky former mining towns, a thriving culinary scene, and some of the friendliest and genuine locals in the state, Sierra County will continually surprise and charm you.