There is much more to be explored and Hayes hopes his monthly tours and a new history club at the Geronimo Springs Museum will attract other lovers of local history.
“It’s one of the best regional museums in the Southwest,” Hayes said.
The tours, led by Hayes, will meet each Sunday after the Saturday Art Hop, making it the second Sunday of the month. Triangle Park–where Main and Broadway meet–is where tours begin at 9 a.m. The next tour is Dec. 15.
Each tour will be followed by a talk given by a “living legend” at 11 a.m. at the Black Cat book store. Delmas Howe, a famous local artist and native of the town, was the first to speak at the inaugural November talk.
Hayes starts the tour at Triangle Park because it marks “The beginning of the old hot springs.”
He has divided the town’s history into periods.
Not much is known about the early period. Unlike other parts of New Mexico, Truth or Consequences was never settled by the Spanish. They avoided the area because of the proximity of the Jornada del Muerto, the desert the Conquistadors had to cross between Las Cruces and Socorro.
The hot springs used to be a big swampy area, water welling and artesian springs burbling up. “One thousand years ago indigenous people came and took the waters,” Hayes said. “It was a place of peace. We all take hot water for granted, but imagine how remarkable and special this place must have been. It was seen as a very sacred place.”
The second period is dominated by the construction of the Elephant Butte Dam. Begun in 1912, “It was the largest engineering project in the world at the time,” Hayes said. It brought 6,000 single men to the area, who lived on site in barracks. “There was no drinking or gambling,” and Truth or Consequences sprang up to service the men’s pent up energies.
“TorC was among the last of the Wild Wild West towns settled,” Hayes said. The town was first called Ojo Caliente des las Palomas and then Palomas Hot Springs and then Hot Springs and then Truth or Consequences.
Hayes reveals which buildings still existing were hotels, bars, banks and houses of ill repute. He drops other gems—the post office is in the “Starved Classical” style–built by WPA workers with an award-winning artist’s mural inside.
During the third period, “Something happened,” Hayes said, which needs much more research to fill in the blanks. The town, once prosperous due to gambling, liquor and prostitution, was mysteriously taken over and cleaned up in the 1950s, beginning its slow demise.
Hayes relates details about the next era, which saw Ralph Edwards’s influence and Magnolia Ellis’s, a famous healer who brought other healers in her wake.
He also knows what’s happening now, such as owners’ intentions for buildings downtown.
Past, present and future, Hayes is a walking archive of information, enriching one’s experience in living here.