Wednesday, June 30, 2010

wild wild west part III

part III - santa fe, new mexico

early the next morning in cimarron we bid our farewells to the bsa, and i forgot to look over my shoulder as we parted ways with philmont. philmont's mountain range includes an arrow shape in the rocks, from which philmont gets its trademark arrow badge. legend has it that if you look over your shoulder as you leave and you see the arrow, you will one day return to philmont; if you don't see the arrow, you won't return. like i said, i didn't look, so who knows what the future will hold.

we made it in to santa fe just in time for lunch and we unknowingly hit up a very popular place, thomasina's, as we had a 30 minute wait to be seated. the food wasn't spectacular, but did begin to sate my immediate need for some real new mexican cuisine. i had vegetarian enchiladas and when given the new mexican choice between "green or red," i went green. the question refers to which color of hatch chile (a local variety of chile pepper roasted/simmered to a sauce) you want piled on top. green is the local's choice, or so i heard.

we stopped by our lady of guadalupe church, the new mexico history museum and governor's palace, and strolled through countless stores selling "indian goods," and turquoise/silver jewlery, (or places like kowboyz). it felt like santa fe embodied the old west spirit more than any place we had visited thus far.

after parting ways with emily and we settled into our hotel, the sage inn (which was luckily only a few blocks from downtown).
the next day we headed to loretto chapel to see its famed staircase whose properties apparently defy the laws of architectural physics (above). the previous day i spotted an ad for a scooter rental and we decided to look into this alternate mode of transport. though i was technically more experienced with scooters than dan (i was a passenger in japan and vietnam), i supposed his motorcycle license gave him a slight advantage at two-wheeled driving. we took turns at the wheel (handlebars?) and checked out some of the nicer houses just outside of town, as well as the war veteran's cemetery.

after getting back on our feet, we stopped for lunch at the blue corn cafe where we had what i thought was one of the best meals of the entire trip. huevos rancheros with green chile sauce, pinto beans, and fried potatoes. messy, cheesy, and gooey, they were serious comfort food and one plato was more than enough for the two of us.

we made our way back to the hotel, stopping in several galleries along the way. taos and santa fe both have vast art communities, though most of the art seems to be based on western nature-motifs and/or native american motifs. the works are sometimes unfortunately unintentionally cheesy, like they should be airbrushed on t-shirts and mudflaps at the mall. look hard enough though and you can find some interesting stuff, including a huge chuck jones gallery with hundreds of looney tunes cels. apparently, jones spent a lot of time in santa fe, thus the connection. random, yes, but i had recently watched the one where the coyote shrinks to 1/100th the size of roadrunner and tries toslice into his foot with a teensy knife. there was the original cel for that scene right before my eyes. it was called "the one where coyote catches roadrunner."

we continued our coyote fueled evening by dining at the coyote cafe downtown, where i had a horrible glass of wine and delicious veggie tacos and dan had a delicious chile margarita and not-so-awe inspiring cuban sandwich. we ended the night in santa fe sampling our way down the line at second street brewing company, toasting to our sunburns.

  • we stopped by r.e.i. (outdoors sports megastore) where i found revenge on the overpriced patagonia stuff in boulder. got a patagonia longsleeve pullover (i had failed to pack any jackets, forgetting that it can get cold in the desert at night) on super sale.
  • the next morning in santa fe was spent figuring out that when the hotel shuttle says "anywhere within a 2 mile radius," they didn't actually mean a radius. they meant "anywhere within 2 miles towards downtown." alas they wouldn't take us to the rental car store (and we later found out that hertz would've picked us up for free) so we took a $12 cab ride about 1.5 miles down the road. the cab ride came back to us twofold as we were upgraded from our cheapo chevy aveo to a toyota corolla for free. so white corolla, dan, and i got the heck out of new mexico...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

wild wild west part II

part II - new mexico (cimarron, philmont, and taos)

kyle, dan and i made our way to cimarron, new mexico, home of one of the boy scouts of america's (bsa's) largest camps, philmont. kyle has worked many summers there and currently our friend emily is working there as well (yes, girls can work for the bsa!). the camp has both boy scout campers and adult training programs.
the landscape slowly started to change as we left colorado and entered new mexico, though cimarron and its surrounds were hardly the barren desert i expected. the northern part of new mexico is filled with grassy plains and dramatic mountains rising in the background. philmont's vista includes a profiles of peaks, each with their own myths, such as the tooth of time, said to guide travelers on the santa fe trail, informing them that they had reached the 2 weeks point until santa fe.

the afternoon quickly came to a close and i'm pretty sure it was around this time that dan and i realized neither of us had been drinking nearly enough water to make up for the high altitude and dryness we were experiencing. did i mention we went to a bar whose real name i have forgotten because the giant letters on the front and side of the building reading "cold beer" have renamed it such? right, water, not beer. on the way back to the camp from cold beer, i saw my first wild buffalo herd. they were just close enough to distinguish as buffalo, not rocks or shrubs, but there's something you don't see in virginia.

we also got to see emily's boyfriend eric's spectacular and weird adobe house. first, it must be one of the largest properties in the whole cimarron area, or at least it just seems to keep going on and on. the house/store is owned by an artist who is trying to sell it (it's what you'd call a real fixer-upper), but with the right touches, the place could be a museum. every room has beautiful old tile work on the walls and/or floors, two rooms have replica wood stoves, the storage space has an elevator to one of the basements (eric thinks there is another basement, but they haven't found it yet), and eric's made himself a lovely vegetable garden in the greenhouse.

not to mention, it's right next door to one of the area's most historic spots, the st. james hotel. had i known what a historical hot spot for gunfights it was, i might've stopped in and had a drink at the saloon (water, of course.)the next morning at philmont, we got to ride stallions into the back country to rescue stranded campers from a hoard of hungry grizzly bears with nothing but bowie knives! um, no.
but we did get to take a suburban ("philburban") with emily to pick up a kid who must've eaten some bad camp grub and had some tummy troubles. his group was checking out the 1920s log cabin kept as a historical artifact, complete with biscuits cooked on a wood stove, period costumes, and original game trophies mounted on the walls.

emily had to go back to work, so dan and i carjacked her subaru and headed to nearby clear creek trail to see some waterfalls. we even discussed what we would do in the (somewhat plausible) event of a bear encounter. all i kept thinking about was the scene in disney's version of white fang (you know, the one with ethan hawke?), where a grizzly chases him down and he hides under a pile of logs only to have the bear's claws dig through the wood pillars like butter.
"do we punch it in the face?" i asked. luckily, dan had it all planned out - stand on a log, make ourselves appear to be one large, scary entity and growl. didn't sound too hard, but luckily bears were nowhere to be seen.

the trail was halfway between cimarron and taos, so we moved along to the rio grande gorge bridge, a sort of appetite-whetter for the grand canyon. by the time we got back into downtown taos, parked the car, and oriented ourselves, we realized (again) that we were both well on our way to dehydration. we got lunch at the next place we saw and ordered the waiter to just keep bringing the pitchers of water. taos seemed a bit contrived to me, the downtown adobe section was clearly made up for tourists. but, we did get a chance to see some adobe truer to history at the martinez hacienda, a 200 year old home built by spanish settlers.

by the time we got back to cimarron, made dinner, and cleaned up, we were both pretty wiped out and the pull out couch was looking delightful. it would be an early morning the next day heading to santa fe with emily...that night i'm not sure if it was sunburn, a virus, or too much time spent with his girlfriend, but dan had a fever that made his skin feel like it was on fire. luckily with a new outlook on water consumption, heavy sunscreen applications, and nap time in the car en route to santa fe, he was better by the next afternoon.

miscellaneous thoughts:

  • i never knew about the new mexican accent. it sounds like blend between native american english, canadian english, and the standard midwestern american accent. interesting to hear, very hard to replicate. emily has picked it up a little bit with the expression "aye!" (pronounced less like a sailor saying "yes" and more like "aieee") used at times of pain, disbelief, or surprise.
  • the stars in new mexico were unbelievable. i've always loved stargazing and astronomy, though i can't remember much from one of my favorite college "filler" classes. i remember the first time i looked at saturn and mars and the moon through the telescope i got for my 8th birthday. they were completely different places from the ones i could see from my very nearsighted eyes. i've never lived in a place that was very conducive to getting lost in the night sky...newport news, fredericksburg, osaka, and richmond all have more than enough light pollution to block out all but the brightest orbs. it was nice to sit in the back of a pickup truck at eric's house counting the satellites passing by overhead and picking out constellations whose names we'll never know.
  • santa fe preview...

wild wild west part I

part I - boulder, colorado

it's a different experience starting a trip somewhere you've already been before. you don't get that same sense of curiosity, but rather a welcomed familiarity mixed with wonder at what new things you'll discover that you may have missed the first time around. this is how things felt for me heading into boulder, colorado almost a year ago from my initial visit.

dan and i were both glad to be visiting friends neither of us had seen in a while. we stayed with kyle, a friend from college and now a chef at jax (might sound familiar to my fellow top chef fans - season 5 winner hosea was working there when he was scouted by bravo). his apartment is conveniently located near downtown boulder and on his days off with us, kyle was more than happy to give us a full on food and booze fueled tour of the city.

because dan only gets basic tv channels and i get none at all, we were both more than happy to realize that we'd have many more chances to catch some world cup games on our trip than we would at home. so, what better way to start off fresh in the morning that with a spectacular bloody mary bar at the west end tavern.we walked off the morning's ambivalence (portugal and cote d'ivoire tied 0:0) and vodka around downtown boulder gawking at bike shops, one of the nation's exclusive tesla dealerships (sellers of high-performance electric cars and the first to use lithium-ion batteries) and sweet outdoorsy clothing that none of us could afford (i'm looking at you patagonia store).

no worries though, we chased away our inability to have buyer's remorse by heading to avery brewery, home of such creations as my personal favorite, the belgian white rascal to the wicked 15.1% abv mephistopheles stout. colorado made a beer lover out of me.

the next day we worked off the booze with a hike to the royal arch at chautauqua park, which took about 2 hours round trip. followed by lunch and more world cup at what kyle described as the locals' favorite mexican joint, pupusa's, where we had delicious homemade salsa, and of course, pupusas!

we checked out the factory tour of celestial seasonings tea, where you can drink free samples of any flavor (go for the sweet coconut thai chai), enter the wonka-esque mint room which feels like someone planted a peppermint farm inside of your sinus cavities (refreshing though), and where dan was forced to wear a beard net over his 5:00 shadow (we all had to wear hair nets but this was particularly amusing).

onward to counteract the healthful benefits of hiking and herbal teas, we went to twisted pine brewery. though the beers weren't quite as on point as those at avery, they did offer a raspberry beer and more importantly, a chili beer, which were both quite good. lots of ogling at the fantastic downtown boulder farmer's market where they had fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and every other organic/granola substance one could imagine.

we had dinner at jax where i had a wonderful tuna tartare-like dish over sticky rice with a spicy peanut sauce. the thing i liked best about jax? really high quality food in a relaxed atmosphere. it was all about the food, none of the stuffiness or showy nature of a lot of upscale restaurants back east. unfortunately i didn't try a custom cocktail made with their own infused liquors. it only took three days in boulder and a dull background headache to make me recognize that water, not alcohol, was the remedy to a mild case of altitude sickness.

the next morning started off with a run around the university of colorado campus in the morning before hopping in the car to make our way south to our next stop: cimmaron, new mexico and the philmont boyscouts of america training camp.

last minute thoughts:

did i mention that boulder simply has to be named the nouveau-hippie capital of the nation? though i haven't visited portland or seattle, of the places i have been, i've always thought of san francisco as the old school hippie capital of the u.s.

these were the people who went to the original woodstock, who smoked weed when it was 100% illegal, and some of whom have survived on the streets preaching free love and flower power for decades.

boulder hippies are a different breed completely. teva sandals, all organic diets, and daily yoga sessions, i'm assuming that boulder is a highly educated city, even though it didn't rank in the top 20 most educated cities (based on on what percentage of the population has a bachelor's degree or higher). however, denver and colorado springs both placed, making me wonder how commuters to and from boulder might affect those findings...anyway, boulder hippies must make enough money to buy the prana yoga clothes and to pay 4.00/bag of mesculin mix.

oh! and to pay for the prescription marijuana! it was a bit strange and amusing to see dispensaries (being from the east, they are known only in fables of those crazy states out there that have - gasp! legalized pot).

it seems like a truly enjoyable, relaxed place to live. perfect weather, beautiful scenery, healthy lifestyle, great beer...cheers boulder!

more pics @ picasa

Sunday, June 6, 2010

sweet sweaty summer

somehow the month of may came and went quickly, taking with it any legitimate springtime weather and now those of us without central AC have our fans oscillating at full speed. it seems like just yesterday we were talking about cabin fever from being snowed inside the house, now i'm wiping sweat from my brow and glowing inside and out from high doses of vitamin d.

summer vacation is just around the corner and the bf and i will be heading out west next week to visit friends, see some classic americana sights, chow down on tex-mex cuisine, and take the ever coveted photo of straddling 4 state lines at once.

i also plan on fulfilling a particular road trip fantasy of staying at at least one kitschy roadside motel. (see: the wigwam hotel in arizona as a prime example).

it seems that a lot of the classic motels (think neon signs like richmond's very own westlake shopping center sign) were demolished years ago
however, in a quest to plan a few retro encounters, the following sites are proving invaluable:

roadside america: basically allows you to search any city/locale for weird and/or vintage sightseeing.

roadside peek: allows you to view pictures of notable places and search by location and theme. for example, i started looking at arizona roadside signage, arizona roadside neon, and arizona tinpan alleys.

it's all a bit overwhelming as we are covering a vast area, so it's going to take a while to narrow down the choices. between dinosaur tracks, ghost towns, about 60 separate oversided muffler men, and atomic test sites, i don't think we'll be able to fit everything in. not to mention that las vegas is a self-proclaimed mecca of oddities (sadly, the neon museum is closed this summer).

speaking of atomic test sites, atomic tourism is not a new idea, but one that got started literally as the bombs were being detonated, as is chronicled in pbs's american experience. the "bureau of atomic tourism" provides lists of museums and testing grounds, hopefully now radiation free.

may the chronicles of a western adventure begin...