Things to do in Sierra County
I'm about to miss my own deadline, so I'd better get cracking
In my How to get the spouse to come along writing project, I have challenged readers to come up with lists of things besides sailing that can be done near their home sailing venues, so sailors' non-sailing travel companions have something to do, and so sailors themselves can have something to do when the weather doesn't favor sailing. The deadline that I set for that project is July 31, so that means I'd better get to work on my own answers to the problem.
So here are some activities available in the vicinity of Elephant Butte Lake:
- Get started with a visit to the Geronimo Springs Museum for an overview of the history and culture of Sierra County. Part of the charm of this gem is that it is not slick or fancy like a big-city museum; rather, the people who have put together and maintain the exhibits show a great love for what they do, and the small-town feel of the place is beautiful.
- Have a soak at one of the many hot mineral baths in downtown Truth or Consequences. They're available in all price ranges and all styles: natural pools, semi-constructed pools, classic tile bathtubs, hot tubs, family-style, clothing-optional, you name it. One of my favorites is the Charles Motel and Spa, where the baths are like those in a classic sanatorium from the 1880s through the 1930s.
- Get a massage or other spa services, available at many of the same places where you can take a bath.
- Float down the Rio Grande on an inner tube or in a raft or kayak. The water may look calm, but when the farmers downstream are taking their irrigation allotments, that current is powerful. The rapids may not be world-class, but they're just right for getting wet and beating the summer heat.
- Go birdwatching. In the desert, a large body of water like Elephant Butte is a mecca for wildlife. In addition, being close to the Mexican border means that Sierra County gets many species that aren't seen in the rest of the United States. You can wander around Elephant Butte State Park on your own, or you can take a guided tour, either on land or on water.
- Dine at Los Arcos Steak and Lobster House. If you are a carnivore, this is the place to eat. Sierra County is beef country, and the folks at Los Arcos know how to prepare it. The seafood is also good, especially for someplace more than 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. From 5 to 7 p.m., the early-bird specials are a bargain, especially given the high quality of the steaks.
- Visit Spaceport America. No, it's not a whimsical amusement park; it's a real, honest-to-goodness spaceport, the first commercial spaceport in the United States. It's still under construction, but when it's complete, tourists with a huge pile of money to spend will be able to take a flight on Virgin Galactic into space. Already, the spaceport launches scientific experiments and special payloads such as cremains – one of the most famous "passengers" to get such a launch is James Doohan.
- Eat at Hodges Corner. This eatery offers great prices and hearty, down-home cooking with a New Mexico flavor. The fried chicken is the best in New Mexico (sorry, Mom, yours comes close, but Hodges' is better), and it beats most of what I've had even in the Deep South. You can also get such classics as liver and onions, chicken-fried steak, and meatloaf, plus New Mexico favorites like massive smothered burritos. Breakfast is especially great – the cook gets over-easy eggs perfect. (I wanted to provide an online link to the restaurant, and I predicted, accurately, that Roy Hodges would not have created a website for his restaurant, but I couldn't find an online review of the place either. I'm going to have to correct that oversight by writing my own online review.)
- Go fishing. You can bring your own boat (be sure to have it and your trailer steam-cleaned before launching if you come from someplace with quagga or zebra mussels); use of the boat ramp is included with your state park admission fee. You can rent a boat at Marina del Sur or Rock Canyon Marina. Or you can hire a fishing guide, who will provide the boat and guide you to the best fishing spots. Elephant Butte is most famous for all sorts of bass.
- Go geocaching. In honor of the New Mexico State Parks' 75th anniversary last year, the Parks Division placed a special geocache in each of the 75 state parks. In addition, there are several independent geocaches in the area.
- Take a hike. The Friends of Elephant Butte Lake State Park have been helping to expand and maintain the trail system, so there are plenty of good places to explore.
- On Labor Day Weekend, head south about 40 miles to Hatch to take in the Hatch Green Chile Festival, celebrating the harvest of New Mexico's most famous food crop.
- Visit Ralph Edwards Park and enjoy the playground, skate park, picnic area, and free wi-fi.
- The second Saturday of every month, enjoy the evening Art Hop in downtown T or C, when most of the galleries and some of the other businesses are open late into the night. The hot springs have attracted many alternative healers, new-age philosophers, and others to the area, and the result is a vibrant arts scene.
- Take in a movie at El Cortez, a classic movie theater built in the 1930s and currently kept alive by a couple who run it more as a labor of love than as a money-making operation. The atmosphere and the prices (for tickets and snacks) are both something out of the past (although they don't have Junior Mints).
- Head up the road to the Camino Real International Heritage Center. This stunning museum is, alas, located somewhat off the beaten path, so far fewer people will bother to go there than should. A joint project of the governments of Mexico and the United States, the museum celebrates the history of the region, especially the highway that formed a lifeline from Veracruz, through Mexico City, to Santa Fe during the Spanish colonization. On Sundays, admission is free for New Mexico residents.
- Shop for used bargains at one of the dozen or so thrift shops, including one run by the Humane Society.
- Check out the used books and bargain-priced remaindered new books at Black Cat Books and Coffee – where you can also get, as the shop's name implies, coffee, tea, and awesome homemade baked goods. You may also meet the current resident black cat.
- Visit the half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park. Because T or C has a veterans' hospital and an excellent veterans' home, there are a lot of veterans in Sierra County, and there is a strong commitment to honor the fallen.
- The first weekend in May, enjoy the Ralph Edwards Fiesta. It's a classic sort of small-town fair, with a parade and carnival and various other activities – with the twist that it honors a nationally famous game-show host who caused the town to acquire its current name.
- Buy vintage clothing, jewelry, and accessories at one of the boutiques in downtown T or C, where you can find just the right non-conforming fashion statement.
- Go bats. The most famous bat cave in New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns, which is about a three-hour drive away. But about once a month during the summer, there's a tour you can take if you have a sufficiently rugged vehicle and make a specified donation to the Geronimo Springs Museum, onto Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch, which abuts most of the eastern shore of Elephant Butte Lake. The tour departs from the museum in early afternoon, visits some wildlife-viewing and habitat-restoration sites on the ranch, and arrives at the mouth of a cave about sundown, in time to watch the bats pour out on their nightly foray to devour half their weight in mosquitoes.
- During the holiday season, about two weeks before Christmas, there's the Floating Lights Parade on Elephant Butte Lake, in which people who have boats decorate them (often quite spectacularly) and then participate in a parade to display the lights. Shore activities include bonfires and local civic organizations setting up booths and trailers giving out free food to anyone who wanders in – visitors can sample dozens of different recipes for posole and chile con carne, plus a lot of other tasty dishes – and drinks too, especially hot apple cider and hot chocolate.
- If you love a scenic drive, take all or part of the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway. This loop passes through the Rio Grande Valley and up into the Black Range and around and about. You'll see small villages, ghost towns, panoramic views, desert scenery, mountain scenery, old mines, apple orchards, and all sorts of other things. Some of the mountain parts of the drive are especially fun in a small, nimble car, as the road does awesome twisty hairpins; other parts of the drive are unpaved, so four-wheel-drive might be a good idea in bad weather.
- Volunteer at the Humane Society's no-kill shelter. This animal shelter takes in some pretty hard cases, animals that have been abused or that have disabilities (such as deafness) that in other shelters might mean the animal is euthanized. But at this shelter, animals get the best possible treatment. The shelter works hard to find adoptive families for all of the animals, no matter their special needs (I know of at least one person who adopted a deaf cat and has never regretted it), and for those animals who don't find an adoptive family, the shelter provides a nurturing environment. One friend of mine, upon reading the Humane Society's brochure, said, "I wish I was a cat, so I could get that kind of treatment." Note: this shelter provides services for more than just cats – dogs, rabbits, horses, goats, guinea pigs, and all sorts of other critters find a home here.
Coming up next: Activities near Heron Lake.