Chile harvest season in New Mexico falls in late August -- just when I was visiting -- and I'd timed my trip so I could swing down to the annual Hatch Chile Festival.
In Hatch, about three hours south of Albuquerque, roasting chiles infused the warm Southwestern air with an amazingly addictive scent. Hand-turned gas roasters were everywhere, next to guys selling 50-pound burlap bags of chiles. At outdoor markets, vendors braided together bright bunches of red and multicolored chile ristras to sell on the spot.
A few miles out of town, the festival was set up under huge tents. More roasters were there and food shacks were hawking everything from chocolate chile pecan brownies to the biggest seller of all: a fresh mango, stuck on a stick, peeled and then rolled in chile powder. Chile eating contestants included even the Chile Festival princesses, while a Mexican "yell" competition made me wonder if I was still in the U.S.A.
Since Hatch has only one motel, I stopped in Truth or Consequences, about 40 miles north, for the night. Long known for its natural and healing thermal waters, it was originally called Hot Springs, but changed its name in 1950 to the title of a TV show for some hoped-for publicity.
A faded sort of hippie charm pervades the downtown, which has retro pastel-colored architecture and businesses like Mothership Yoga Lounge. When I booked my room at the Blackstone Hotsprings, a renovated but cool 1930s motor court, I thought it would be fun to say later that I had actually slept in the Twilight Zone (rooms at the Blackstone are named for old TV shows). But the other attraction is that each room has its own piped-in hot springs tub -- or in my case, a walk-in, sit-down, pour-forth shower. After a soak in mine and a nod at the framed photos of Rod Serling's stories on the walls, I slept like a rock.
The next day before I headed back to Albuquerque, I stopped at Bar-B-Que on Broadway for breakfast. As I looked around the friendly, busy place, I thought how this could be a great spot to retire someday. Then I experienced my own mini Rod Serling moment: My eggs and pancakes arrived with the two slices of bacon atop -- arranged in an "X" as if to mark the spot.
DONNA TABBERT LONG