New Mexico town eyes economic lift-off from Virgin Galactic space launch

12 July 2021 | International

NAMPA/REUTERS

NEW MEXICO

As the first passenger rocket plane gears up for take-off, a sleepy desert town near Spaceport America in New Mexico is hoping for a lift-off from tourism.

The oddly named town of Truth or Consequences, 30 miles from the launchpad, relies on its hot springs, healing waters, and nearby Elephant Butte reservoir for its livelihood.

But tourism has evaporated with the drought, which brought the reservoir's water level toward record lows. Residents of TorC, as they call it, are looking skyward for relief.

"This is real pioneering stuff, opening up the heavens to the entire world," said town manager Bruce Swingle, who is organising a watch party on Sunday for Richard Branson's launch of Virgin Galactic Holding Inc's space tourism flight.

The town never expected the lion's share of revenue from activities around Spaceport America, but rather a steady stream that would grow alongside the launch facility, he added.

When Val Wilkes and her wife Cydney bought a motor lodge a decade ago, she named it the Rocket Inn.

"I've always been a science fiction fan and I love living around the corner from where science fiction is becoming science fact," she said.

Motel bookings have improved as pandemic curbs have eased, and will keep rising throughout the town, she said. Las Cruces, New Mexico, about 80 miles south, with its direct route to

Spaceport America, will have little impact, she added. "If people want to come to our town, they'll come."

One thing that has not been rising is the reservoir, originally built for the agricultural industry, but has become a major draw for tourism in the town of 5,800. Recreational activities include boating, fishing and camping.

Built from 1911 to 1916, the Elephant Butte reservoir was once 44 miles (70.81 km) long and 11 miles across. However, after years of drought, the man-made lake is now an estimated 18-20 miles long and 5 miles across.

Rings around the edges show where the water once rested, and Phil King, an engineering consultant for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District said the high-water mark was last reached in

1995.