2008 Western Trip – July 15 through August 4


20080715 – Ear, Ear or It’s Posted or Danny Boy: Left St. Louis about 7:10 this AM and drove close to 700 miles ending up in Burlington, CO for the evening. Getting through KC is always fun with how I-70 twists and turns. Kansas is, well, Kansas. The Flint Hills are always pretty to drive through. Stopped in Manhattan for lunch at a Village Inn. It was a bit off the Interstate, but the only place to get food and gas in the area, and we were about out of gas.

Then it was westward through the part of Kansas where many of the fence posts are made of stone. Getting fewer and fewer as the years go on. Near the border with Colorado, we stopped in Goodland, KS to see the 40’ tall replica of the Van Gogh sunflower painting up on an easel right in the middle of town.

We drove through a big storm near the border which lasted only about five minutes. When we got to Burlington, we checked into the Comfort Inn and immediately drove to a discount store for some supplies we needed. From there, we looked up the street to see where there was a gas station. I filled the car while dancing a bit from having to pee. When the car was full, I went in to empty. As I was heading for the restroom, Dan Anderson greeted me with his wife, Caroline, right behind. They were on the first day of their trip west, too. It’s nice to be in the right place in the right time and have something like this chance meeting happen. I sent them outside to tap on Marian’s window and we all talked before they headed west and we went back to our motel.

Dinner was at the Route Steakhouse. Credible chicken for Marian and shrimp/pasta for me. Now back in room for the evening. Off to Boulder tomorrow.

20080716 Boulder: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes or Please Get Fresca with Me or Don’t Hound Me at Huckleberry’s: Got up about 7:00, had a Comfort Inn breakfast (love to make waffles), and were on the road by 8:00. Marian has been itching from unknown causes, so took an anti-histamine and was soon fast asleep.

The drive into the Denver area is through really arid plains. Everything is brown even this far into summer. And there was a haze in the air. So, instead of being able to see the mountains from miles and miles away, we only could start seeing them about 30 miles south of Denver. Seems like the haze is from the California fires, or so the local weather people say.

Got to Noel and Terry’s about 10:50, moved our stuff in, and looked around at their new art, patio, talked about Wilma, etc. Around 12:30 or so, Terry came home and we headed over to Louisville for lunch at the Huckleberry Tearoom and Bakery. Very nice lunch (turkey reuben, chix salad) and then back to the house for a while. Later, we went to Chris and Tara’s and visited with them and Koben, who had just awakened from a nap and needed to warm up to folks being around. We saw Koben’s play area in the basement, which is an example of what Chris is doing with his new company. Through a colorful scheme, there are areas for rough play, reading, and art. It’s a nice concept. Koben was fun to be with.

We headed home about 4:00 to prepare for a 5:45 seating at Frasca, a wonderful Boulder restaurant where you have to make reservations a couple of months in advance. Met Chris and Tara there. It’s a four-course dinner and we had terrific wines with it, naturally. I had a lamb salad with fava beans, hand-made pasta with prawns, boneless short ribs with beets, and a combo of strawberry gelato with blood orange and raspberry sorbet. Marian had something like a tuna carpaccio, gnocchi, the short ribs, and a combo of dark chocolate, vanilla bean, and coconut gelato. Of course, see the pictures! Wonderful evening. Chris and Tara are so very easy to be with and we love being with Noel and Terry.

Went to bed a bit after 10.

20080717 Boulder: You’re a Pearl or Garden of Eating or It’s a Wrap: I did not sleep well last night, b\was up about every hour, don’t know why. Got up about 7:00, did some writing, had breakfast. Marian slept a little later. Noel and Terry had things to do, so we stayed here while they went out.

After noon, Noel, Marian, and I went into Boulder for lunch at the 14th Street Café. Yummy lamb meatballs, cous cous, and greens for me. Spicy chix salad for Marian and Noel. Then we shopped Pearl Street going to the usual haunts and some new ones. Lots of changes in stores as some go out of business and some start. So, we wandered for a couple of hours.

Then to Whole Foods to buy supplies for dinner that Noel was making and home. I went out to visit Ed and Barb Seifert, who do landscaping and also are sculptors. Noel and Terry have a planter and a bench they did. See seifterstudios.com for their stuff. Very nice. Might get some. It was about a 30-mile round trip, so I was not back before Tara and Koben arrived and then Chris came and then Terry.

Lots of fun playing with Koben. The pictures tell the story. And he eats about anything. He had a lot of what we ate, which was a marinated salmon, cucumber, and miso lettuce wrap and some grilled asparagus. Very yummy as were the three different wines we enjoyed.

Watched beautiful sunset over the front range. Then the Humes left and we’re at our own devices for picture downloading and doing a trip log.

Very nice, but too short, visit. Great fun to be here. Tomorrow off to Carbondale.

20080718 Carbondale – I Like Ike or To Noah, Vail or This Place Has Ambiance: I had a restless night again. Might be the altitude. Got up before 7:00, did some computer stuff, and had breakfast. Terry and Noel are going to Reno today for a series of events given by one of his racing buddies. We and they will leave about the same time.

After some goodbyes, we all were off about 9:45. It took until about 1:20 to get into Carbondale. Our route out of the Boulder area was to Golden and then on U. S. 6 through Clear Creek Canyon toward Idaho Springs where we joined I-70 westbound. It’s a pretty drive through the canyon, not a way to make fast time.

I-70 is twisty, turny for many miles. And it’s up and down, as you can imagine. About 30 miles west, you go through the long Eisenhower Tunnel. Speed limit varies from 50 to 65. Lots of runaway truck ramps on the downhill slopes. The scenery changes from green mountains, trees, snow at tops to southwest, barren, arid mountains as you go west. We thought about stopping at Vail, but didn’t. At some point, the speed limit went to 75, but I have no clue why it is that high in the mountains where it’s really hard to go that fast.

We got off I-70 and headed down to Carbondale, about 11 miles south. Got in and had to call the innkeeper to get the combination to open the front door of the Ambiance Inn where we’re staying in the Aspen Suite. It’s a very big room with a sunroom off the bedroom, refrigerator, microwave, deck, etc. Nice. We unpacked the car and then headed out for lunch.

Across the street and down a block is the Village Smithy restaurant where we had eaten with Sue and Evan two years ago for breakfast. So we went there. I had a garden burrito and Marian an egg white mushroom omelet. We had left word on both Steve and Penny’s mobile phones after we talked to Sue, who told us they had gone site seeing in Aspen, which is not too far away. They called us back and Bob, Jane, Penny, and Steve joined us on the deck of the restaurant for a really good visit. Lunch was late (about 2:00) and we have a BBQ tonight nearby. Finished after 3:00 with all our conversations. We walked to a nice shop near the B&B and then back to our room.

We understand that where we’re going tomorrow for the wedding is outside, will be in the mid-90s, and that there are only portapotties available if you gotta go. Ah, well. Looks like an all-day affair tomorrow. Right now it’s raining. While they need it, would not be a good thing tonight or tomorrow.

Just got back from the BBQ. Sorry, no pictures of food. Friendly evening with strangers and family and dogs and children. All the cousins sat together and talked. Jodi and Mario were here. I think it’s the first time we’ve met Mario (Jodi is Sue and Ted’s daughter). Evan and Jeet look happy. Tomorrow should be fun.

Got the whole story from Ted about why and how they are looking about going to Phoenix. Heard all about some vein surgery Steve had. Got caught up with all.

20080719 Carbondale – Would You Like That Fried or Scrambled? or Rising to the Heights or Jeet?: Up about 7:00. Another restless night. Thinking hard about sleeping pills. Nice breakfast with a couple from Minneapolis. He’s British; she’s from NZ. They’re here to celebrate a child’s 10th anniversary along the river where they were wed. He’s involved in environmental engineering at the university. Good breakfast of fruit, juice, breads, quiche, waffles, coffee.

We drove up to Missouri Heights way above town arriving about 10:00. It’s up the same road that leads to the B&B where we stayed last time, but much, much higher up. It’s an old school house with a broad field and a clear view of Mt. Sopris. Wonderful chuppah with lots of symbolism and an alter table with family memorabilia … much stuff to honor those not here to celebrate.

Hot would not even describe this. Altitude and heat and blazing sun. We all put sun screen on and had bottles of water with us as we waited on chairs in the sun. It was a beautiful ceremony. All the words had been handwritten into books so that the person who officiated and Jeet and Evan and the two mothers could pass the books around and read from them. We cried quite a bit throughout the whole thing. The woman, Sheri, who “officiated” (no legal person or clergy are required in Colorado) has been Mary Beth’s artist coach.

After the ceremony, we all moved under tents. There was a huge buffet laid out in the school house itself. Then there were toasts which were followed by us all moving back to the chuppah for a whole group picture and then several smaller family groupings. Ted’s toast started off with the “Mawwidge …” quote from Princess Bride, a favorite of Evan and Jodi’s. All was over about 1:30. We headed back into town where Marian, Penny, and Steve did a bit of shopping while I tended the electronic thingies.

Dinner was at Six89 (which is at 689 Main St.). It’s a wonderful restaurant where Sue, Evan, and we ate two years ago. They had a three-course dinner with four choices in each of the small plates, big plates, and sweets categories. I had a salad with gnocchi and mushrooms, a chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese that came with asparagus and wild mushroom risotto, and a chocolate and banana bread pudding. Marian had a warm beet salad, a veggie risotto, and a brownie with ice cream. We are more than stuffed. Ted and Jeet’s dad sang a song that the wedding couple had asked them to learn – Ted on guitar.

Part of the crowd went to Phat Thai, another restaurant/bar, for drinks and dancing. Us older folks headed for our rooms.

Some of us will meet tomorrow AM for brunch at the Redstone Inn. Lots of our kin will be leaving tomorrow AM or afternoon. We’ll have a whole day/night here by ourselves.

20080720 Carbondale – Is Redstone Inn? or Hasta Luego: Got up around 7:30. Had a better night. Sleeping pills. Headed about 20 miles up the highway to Redstone and the Redstone Inn where we met the families and others who were still in town for a “post nuptial brunch.” It was a big spread of cold and hot stuff.

Saw Steve and Penny on our way in and their way out. Waved goodbye. Said goodbye to Jane and Bob at the inn, but saw them later when we were walking around town. After brunch, we strolled through town and looked into the various shops and galleries. We also went on a small bridge over the Crystal River, which runs alongside. There are also some old coke ovens across the highway from the entrance to Redstone … pretty interesting. And this is an area where marble is quarried. Who knew?

We headed back into Carbondale and our B&B for a short while after stopping for some supplies at a super market. Then we walked along Main St. to a book store and got some bumper stickers for our favorite oldest child. Stopped into a coffee place for a nice iced latte, returned to our room.

About 30 folks had gone rafting or kayaking on the Roaring Fork River leaving Carbondale about 1:00 and returning a bit after 5:00. We had made arrangements for Sue to call us when they got back since Ted, Sue, Marian, and I were going to Jeet’s condo for wedding leftovers for dinner. We all met there after 6:00.

It was a wonderful time with stories and lots of laughing. Good wine and food, too. We headed home around 9:00. Jeet’s condo (which she has sold, but is renting back until their new house is finished) is on the second floor of a retail strip. There are only two condos and the rest is commercial and retail. Interesting. The balcony in front has a super view of the mountain. So we watched as the shadows rose and the sun disappeared on the peak.

After many hugs, we said goodbye to Sue, Ted, Jeet, and Evan and returned to the B&B for the night. It’s been a terrific family occasion for all of us. Sue and Ted are off to Phoenix where he is interviewing for a job at the university. Jeet and Evan are going up into the mountains to a cabin for three days. We’re off for a day trip to Aspen tomorrow.

20080721 Carbondale/Aspen – King of the Road or Bingo or Gondolier:  Got up in time for the B&B’s 8 AM breakfast. Sandy tells me that sleeping pills are the wrong way to go; need drug that deals with lower oxygen up here. Good idea.

Nice breakfast of eggs, bacon, breads, waffles, juice, fruit. Left for Aspen about 9:00. It takes about an hour to get there – 27 miles, but lots of traffic and some construction. And we get to go that way again tomorrow. What fun.

Parked near the old opera house where there is an information booth so we could get maps and an idea if anything was going on with the music festival or otherwise (nope). Walked around and shopped for a couple of hours. Then we moved our car to a garage since street parking is limited in space and time. Had lunch around noon at D19 near the fountains in the middle of town. Then we walked uphill to the gondola entrance and took it way up onto Aspen Mountain.

It was nice, but very noisy up there. Lots and lots of young folks who are here for the Aspen Music Festival and its school were up there. One guy was toting his cello. Good thing he didn’t play bass fiddle. It was beautiful. We found one place where we were pretty much alone and later sat in some chairs in the sun near the gondola terminal. Went down about 3:00, I think.

At the bottom, we walked toward Little Nell (a Relais hotel). There was a whole long line of black Caddy Escalades with a police escort leaving the hotel. Seems like King Abdullah of Jordan is in and was speaking today. Wended our way back to the garage and our car. We wanted to find where Sardy House was (corner of Aspen and Main), the place we had all stayed when we had a family reunion here in the 90s. By the time I had programmed it into the GPS, the friendly voice told me “You have reached your destination” and there it was.

Back in Carbondale, Marian did laundry for an hour while I downloaded pix back at Ambiance Inn. I got gas at the 7-Eleven, actually cheaper here than in Aspen. Around 7:00, we went about a block from here to Russets for dinner. Really nice spicy tuna/smoked salmon on fried wonton to begin. Then Marian had lamb shanks and I had medallions of veal. I wanted elk, but they were out.

Back to the B&B for some final stuff before packing up tomorrow and heading toward Mosca. Been a good four days here. Today was a nice excursion. Tomorrow we tackle Independence Pass. Yikes.

20080722 Carbondale to Great Sand Dunes – Give Me Independence or Pass or Feeling Edgy or Hmmmmm: Forgot some stuff from yesterday. At breakfast, there was a couple from Minneapolis. I said that there had been another couple from Minneapolis here earlier. “Yes,” she said, “that was my ex.” Seems the 10th anniversary celebration I wrote about earlier was for their son (this woman and her ex). Ah, well.

Also, a guy who is here for a seminar on solar energy, Clint, is from the Dallas area. His dad owned a Dairy Queen in Marfa. Finally someone who knows where Marfa is.

Got up today for breakfast at 8:00. Had hard night to begin with, but new sleeping pill worked wonders and I had a restful rest of the night and was chipper this AM. Spent breakfast talking alternate energy with three men here for the seminar. Dragged our three tons of luggage down the steep stairs and stowed it all in the car. Left Carbondale a bit before 9:00.

We went through Aspen and over Independence Pass. I love it. Marian doesn’t. The only two places where I am nervous is where the road narrows so there is no center line and winds out of sight around a bend. This happens twice. It’s about 20 miles of twisty roads and the rest is fine. When you get down to the bottom on the other side, you’re in a valley all the way south. And that gets flatter and flatter and road goes in a solid straight line forever.

Steve and Penny suggested going a couple of miles out of our way and having lunch in Salida. Good idea. It’s about three hours from Carbondale and close to the halfway point of the 200 miles to our destination. So we had a lovely lunch at the First Street Diner (veggie casserole for Marian, Jamaican jerked chix for me). It’s a really cute town with all the original old facades. We walked around for a bit. Many of the shops are only open Thursday through Sunday, so were closed today.

While the motel we went to has a Mosca address, it’s right across the highway from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve … the only accommodations anywhere near the park. The host is very gracious and the rooms are up-to-date and clean. Only 12 of them. And in the back of the room, you can sit and look at the dunes and watch hummingbirds by the dozen at all the feeders near you. It was cloudy and stormy over much of the dunes, some lightening, too.

We went into the park as our host suggested. Got maps, went to the visitor center, drove around to get the lay of the land. Went back to motel, did pictures, got Internet access. Around 6:00 we went downhill to the Oasis (the only restaurant within a zillion miles) and had chicken enchiladas with green chile. After dinner, we drove into the park again in hopes that the sun would come out for some interesting photos. No such luck. And we found out that to climb the dunes, you have to cross over (by foot) the creek that is between the car park and the dunes. Hmmm. Guess we get wet feet tomorrow.

20080723 Great Sand Dunes – Collegiate or Maurice of Chesterfield or We’re All Duned, I Tell You! or Anti Climb at It or Keep Us in Suspense or I’ve Reached a Plateau or Nice Rack: Again, I forgot something from the day before. As we drove southward after crossing the mountains, we passed a whole string of mountains over 14k feet and many named for colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, etc.).

Since we’re on such flat land, I have gotten into thinking we’re much lower than we actually are. At the park center, it shows we’re over 8,000 feet. So, it’s a plateau … and you can tell the height when you walk. And everywhere to walk is up!

Had breakfast at The Oasis right below the motel. Decent oatmeal, toast, and coffee. Headed over to the park (the entrance is only a couple of miles down the road) and spent a bit over an hour climbing on the dunes. First you wade across a wide creek (Medano Creek). Then you cross a level sand field where small rocks are mixed into the sand and it’s pretty hard. The creek is still running this time of year with part of it on the surface where you can see it and lots more underground. It flows under the sand field and feeds some nice size lakes and wetlands (that are outside the park in a property owned by the Nature Conservancy).

From the sand fields, the dunes loom ahead. Climbing is a task. We followed where others had walked, usually along a sand dune ridge. The altitude and soft sand (softer in some places than others) makes the walk hard. We stopped every short while to let us catch our breath and to drink some water. It was clear to both of us from the beginning that there was no way either of us could climb to the peak of the highest dune we could see. Too far. Too high. I went a bit farther than Marian, but not that much.

It was after 11:00 when we got down. We made a brief stop at the motel and then headed the 30 plus miles into Alamosa, the nearest town of any size (Mosca, which is closer, is so small you cannot blink as you drive through or you’ll miss it.). On the way, a warning buzzer sounded in the car and the dashboard screen told me “Compressor System Failure Workshop.” Well, that means the air compressor that deals with our suspension was in trouble. Called Parktown in St. Louis, but they had no clue. Nearest Porsche dealer is in Albuquerque. Luckily, the warning has not appeared again so far, but it could farther down the road. Ah, well.

Got into Alamosa and stopped at the first restaurant we saw, Cavillos Mexican Restaurant. I had a nice carne asada with beans and rice, Marian had a tasty veggie soup with avocados in it. We drove around town, walked over to where there are some old train engines, went into a book store that had the biggest magazine rack I have ever seen – covers all of three walls. We stopped at a liquor store for wine, filled up on gas, and headed back an alternate route, the one we’ll be taking tomorrow.

On Hwy 150 nearing the park, we went up a long and winding and washboarded gravel road way, way, way up. The idea was to see Zapata Falls. I walked the half mile up, up, up to the falls, stopping along the way to breathe. It was an anticlimax. Nice flowing water, but one cannot see the falls unless you get into swiftly moving water and trudge upstream for a bit. Screw it. I headed down.

On the way back to the motel, we passed by the entrance to Zapata Ranch, the Nature Conservancy property. It’s a big deal. And it’s on the same site as where there used to be a country club where we had an elegant lunch the last time we were here.

Dinner was at the Oasis (there’s really no other choice). Had decent chix and bean burrito with green chile. Back to the room around 7:30 to watch TV and think about our kids.

20080724 – Great Sand Dunes/Rancho de San Juan – Don’t Mesa with My Butte or Almost in Hot Water or Juan or the Other: Got up about 8:00, packed the car, and headed south. Crossed the Rio Grande in Alamosa, CO (town where we had lunch yesterday). South into New Mexico along US 285 and headed toward Ojo Caliente for lunch.

There is a very nice hotel and hot springs in Ojo Caliente and a good restaurant. Got there before it opened at 11:30, but only had to wait a few minutes. They are building a new entry to the spa and hot springs – very nice. Food in Artesia Restaurant was good. Marian had a veggie wrap and sweet potato fries and I had a chix stacked enchilada with green chile, posole, and black beans. Afterwards, we strolled around the grounds and went over to the spa/hot springs. There are four different pools with different mineral waters bubbling up from the earth. Looks nice. We will probably come back.

We drove the few miles south to Rancho de San Juan. The main hacienda has a few rooms, a living room, and the renown restaurant. We’re in a casita a bit uphill from the main building. We were supposed to be in Santa Clara, but ended up in Sierra Negra since the switch for the Jacuzzi was broken in Santa Clara. Que lastima! It’s a beautiful place (as it should be since it’s a Relais & Chateau and a tad pricy). It was only about 1:30 when we got here. Spent the afternoon lazing around. But, horrors, there is no Wi-Fi! What will we do?

Massages in the room, one after the other, starting at 4:00. And they were terrific. If I could take this therapist home with me, I would. We showered and read and relaxed and went down to the main building for our 8:00 reservation. They do two sittings a night (6:30 and 8:00) and you can stay as long as you want (table is yours for the evening even if you have the early sitting). There was a group of four at the only other table that was occupied when we got there. They were fro 6:30 and, given their age, were deaf and talked really loud. One woman was talking so loud I could not recognize the background music being played.

Dinner was three courses and, since this is one of the most highly rated restaurants in New Mexico, really good. Started with amuse bouche of an oyster with pesto. Marian had a soft shell crab over jicama slaw followed by halibut over corn and then a molten chocolate cake. I had a roasted poblano torte, veal roulade stuffed with cheese and spinach over rice with raisins and then a pistachio gelato sundae with bananas and strawberries and raspberry coulis. Nice NZ sauv blanc, too.

Went to bed way to early (like 10). I had my usual restless night.

20080725 – Rancho de San Juan – Georgia on My Mind or Robin’s Cat or Spooky or Dem Bones: Got up at 7:30. Didn’t want to be late for breakfast which is served from 8:00-9:00. Drove down to the main building (about a quarter mile from here). As with dinner, it was excellent and way too much. We had juice, coffee, bowl of granola with yogurt, strawberries, huge slices of honeydew and cantaloupe melons, and flaky pastries. Our waitperson here is named Mary. She is very friendly and had lots of good advice for our trip today. She’s been here nine years and does both breakfast and dinner.

We took some pastries and fruit home with us and put in casita fridge for who knows when.

After breakfast, we got online at the guest computer and I paid some bills, Marian checked email. Then back to the casita to stow the food and onward towards Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. It was about a 70 mile round trip overall. Our first stop was at Bode’s General Store in Abiquiu (well, our first real stop was getting stamps at the post office and then across to Bode’s). Bought some wine and funky postcards.

Abiquiu is about halfway from our inn to Ghost Ranch. The ranch is where Georgia O’Keefe had a studio. It seems to be owned or run by the Presbyterian Church and they’ve built a conference center there, too. We drove around and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Lots of wonderful red rock formations. Went inside the two museums they have there. One is for Native American culture and the other is anthropology. Seems as if there is a quarry on the ranch where they have been excavating dinosaur bones since the 30s. Old pictures of researchers from Berkeley adorn the walls of the museum.

We then retraced our route back to Bode’s and got a T,B,L,T,A (hold the bacon) grilled on grilled wheat bread and some French fries to go. Went across the street and uphill to see the O’Keefe house, which is only open by appointment (months in advance). Then we drove back to Rancho de San Juan and had our sandwich with bottled water from Wales out on our patio. Rest of afternoon was fooling with pictures and doing games on the computer. We’re resting up for dinner at 8:00.

Met a lovely couple from the SF area at breakfast. They are celebrating their 25th here and in Santa Fe. They have children the ages of Jake and Anna. Had fun talking with them. On our adventures, saw a car with wonderful stickers on it (see pictures). The woman who owned it told us where to go in Madrid, just south of Santa Fe. It’s an old mining town.

It’s nice to not have any real plans. We’ve been in this area eight times now. So, there is nothing we really have to see or do. And having a full week means whatever we do is at a leisurely pace anyway. Sprinkling in three massages along the way doesn’t hurt either. Well, time to get back to the depressing book I’m reading.

In the afternoons both at Great Sand Dunes and here, clouds come up and there are small storms that sweep across the horizon. The rain is hit-and-miss, so some small areas get lightening and heavy rain and others get nothing to even settle the dust. In both places, the rain has been off in the distance for the most part. Today it’s closer and it’s windy as well. The storms and lightening are one reason why the park rangers at the dunes don’t want you up there in the afternoon. It can be clear one minute and dark the next. One ranger at the dunes called the showers we saw “female rain.” Guess I should look up the term. Now the rain is here, pounding down while there is sunshine all around. And we are treated to a double rainbow over the mesa to the east.

Tonight the dining room is full. Most of the diners are from the 6:30 seating so that by the time we get to dessert, there are only three couples left. But it’s nice to see a full room and all its energy. Our waiter is David and we have a good Malbec to go with dinner. The menu for the week is the same, so it’s a matter of choosing what you want to rotate through or have again. Luckily, all the dishes are good and, being here three nights, there are enough choices. The amuse bouche tonight is a tomato flan over spinach with almonds and balsamic vinegar. I had the soft shell crab and Marian a cold cantaloupe and ginger soup with a grilled spicy white prawn in it. We both had the chicken breasts with green mole, mashed potatoes, and pea pods. I had the pistachio gelato sundae again.

We did email on the guest computer. Then back to the casita. I read until midnight rather than crashing at 10 as I had the night before. Tonight I only awakened at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7:20. It’s amazing how I wake up on the hour, or within five minutes thereof. Lots of fun.

20080726 – Rancho de San Juan – Gorgeous Gorge or Follow the Yellow Yuck Road or From This Valley They Say You Are Going or Enshrined: We had nothing to do today on our car trip, so we drove 200 miles sightseeing.

Breakfast the AM was a frittata with cheese, onions, peppers along with juice, strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, three pieces of pastry, and coffee. After consuming most of the above, we headed to a unique place on the property. After the owners had just purchased the place and had built the main building, a man approached them and asked if he could carve a shrine into the sandstone that is the face of the mesa above. They said yes and after two-and-a-half years, it was done. Neither description nor pictures can do it justice. It takes about 20 minutes to climb up to it over some rocky switchbacks. The inside contains soft columns, carvings, places to sit and meditate, a high chair for storytellers, a desk and book shelves, and windows overlooking everything below. Fascinating altogether. Small weddings are held here for up to 20 guests … and they have to hike up and down again, which is hard to do in a wedding dress. We took lots of pictures, of course.

We walked down, sat in the main building for a bit, did email there, and went back to our casita. Around noon we started on our driving adventure. The idea was to head toward Taos and decide what we wanted to do/see. Options were Taos itself, Taos Pueblo, and the Enchanted Circle drive up into the ski areas. We chose the last of these three. So, up US 285 to Tres Piedres and then east on NM 64. Our first stop was at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. It’s a huge iron bridge over a very deep and wide gorge with the river running through it. We walked out onto the bridge and looked down into the gorge. There were roadside vendors in the parking lot at one end of the bridge and a sign saying there could be no vending on highway right of way. Ah, well.

From here we continued east until right before Taos and turned north toward Questa. There we headed east again into the mountains and the town of Red River. And it was raining hard all around us. After a Puffs stop in Red River, we were on our way. The terrain is so different up here. Not only are we in the mountains, but it’s lush green, lots of trees, valleys with grass. A few miles after Red River, we came to a place in the road where State Police had blocked it due to a flash flood that covered the road with yellow mud and rocks. We had noticed the yellow in the river alongside as we drove, but had no idea what the color was from nor that there had been a flash flood. The police guided cars across and we continued uphill through a pass at about 10,000 feet. From there it was downhill into a long, lush valley ending at Eagle Nest. We joined US 64 there and, after 30 plus twisty miles (you know how much Marian enjoyed this part), we ended up in downtown Taos. We crawled through Taos traffic southward on NY 68. The GPS showed us a way to cut over to our inn north of Espanola and we got home around 5:00. We snacked (had never stopped for lunch – horrors) and put away our laundry that had come back from a fluff and fold operation in Espanola..

Dinner was pepper encrusted tuna for amuse bouche. Marian had the roasted poblano tart and I had the soft shell crab. Then she had the halibut and I had a rib eye steak (cannot remember when I had a steak last). Finished with pistachio gelato sundae and chocolate mousse cake. Nice Oregon pinot noir.

20080727 – Santa Fe - At Least One of the Seven or Moon Folks or Tapas Dancing: Got up about 7:30 and drove down to breakfast about 8:45. Today, along with the juice, coffee/tea, strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, and pastries is the Ranch Huevos which are scrambled or fried eggs over a cheese/tomato/scallion quesadilla and smothered with red chile. Woooooo.

We went back to our casita and packed up leaving a bit before 11. It’s only about 40 miles or so down to Santa Fe. Before we went to the place we’re staying, we went to Best Buy to get a replacement mouse for Marian. I got to pick from a limited edition mouse with designer colors. Ooooo. Picked a nice green. Then to a market for some supplies, Walgreens and Office Depot and CVS same. By then it was about 1:00 and we went up the 4 plus miles above the city to Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese inspired spa and lodging. Unfortunately, check-in time is 4 and our room was not ready.

Frankly, I had been feeling tired and cranky all morning and really needed something to eat. So we drove up Bishops Lodge Road to Tesuque and the Tesuque Village Market. It’s become mostly a restaurant since the last time we were here. Before, there was a pretty nice store as well. The store part is smaller and they sell lots of wine. The place was jammed. Marian had a wonderful tortilla soup and I had a turkey reuben. Then we drove around the area before turning back to town and up the hill. We drove many miles above where our inn is located into a state park. Way up the mountain is the Santa Fe ski area. We got back to the inn a bit after 3 and, luckily, our room was ready.

It’s the Rising Moon room, the second floor of a two-unit place. Nice living room, bathroom, and bedroom. Vittles are in the fridge to make your own breakfast. Kimonos and sandals are provided for your walk uphill to the spa for a soak/massage.

We found out that there is no mobile phone reception up here, but there is Wi-Fi! So we played games, uploaded pictures, paid bills, answered emails, etc. Dinner was at La Boca, a tapas restaurant I had heard of through the Food Network. It was terrific. We highly recommend it. We split five tapas: some special grilled peppers (pimiento de pardon) that were smooth until you found a really hot one, grilled shrimp with a chocolate-based sauce, quail over greens, cannelloni with scallops and crab, and eggplant covered with honey, cheese, and capers. This was followed by splitting a tart lemon tart.

Back to our room where we had a nice iChat with Donna and Jeff and then watched the Food Channel (gonna be the final of The Next Food Network Star on tonight).

20080728 – Santa Fe – The Medium is the Massage or Ansel’s Airy Photos or Georgia’s a Peach or How to Spot Someone Who’s Not Jewish: I had a solid night’s sleep. Guess it was no coffee, no wine, waiting four hours after eating before sleeping, some homeopathic sleep drops. We watched The Next Food Network Star – two episodes including the finale. Whew. Now we know.

Got up at 8:00. Had breakfast in our room with stuff they had put in the room. Satisfying and not too much. Went into town around 11 and visited the O’Keeffe Museum where there is a show of her work along with that of Ansel Adams. Really nice juxtaposition of these artists. Interesting where they had done the same subject or nearly the same.

We walked around the plaza area, went into some shops, and had lunch at Tia Sophia’s on San Francisco, a place we’ve been to many times before. Marian had a nice chix taco salad while I had a combo plate with a cheese enchilada, chile relleno, and sopapillas. Then some more shopping before going back uphill around 3:00.

Walked waaaaay uphill from our room to the spa around 3:30 for 4:15 massages. Checked in and went to the communal hot tub. There were two gorgeous women there (Marian included), but both were dressed. The only nudes lolling around and showing off their nasty bits were some not-so-good-looking men. Ah, well.

Had terrific massages in the same room side by side. We walked downhill in a drizzle just escaping a downpour. But, there was also a nice rainbow over the mountain when it was over.

Went into town to Santacafe for dinner. It’s always excellent. We shared some spring rolls with shitake and cactus and a ponzu sauce. We also shared two main courses: rack of lamb and a halibut served over corn risotto. Then we shared three sorbets: blueberry, raspberry, and pina colada. Yum. We called Caroline P. during dinner since when we were last here two years ago, we took her here and had rack of lamb.

Up the mountain and TV.

20080729 – Santa Fe – It’s a Coinkydink or The Real Grand Canyon or Head for the Hills: Got up around 8:30, had breakfast in the room, did computer stuff, watched TV (just love that Kathy Lee!). Headed downhill around 10:30 and went to Canyon Road for a day of looking and some shopping.

Saw some really elegant stuff. Oddest was by Donald Roller Wilson, who has the strangest sense of humor but whose works are terrific (although really expensive, but all the celebrities own him). Stopped by the gallery owned by Jane Sauer and had a nice conversation with her. You can see the downturn in the economy in that on a nice summer day in high season there were not crowds along the street as there have been in the past. There were even places you could find to park.

At lunch (El Farol), we saw two people who had sat next to us at La Boca. In a shop at the beginning of our walk we ran into a woman from New York who we talked to at length and then saw her again two times later in shops along Marcy St. And we also saw a guy who had been in the casita next to us at Rancho de San Juan (with his woman friend from another state). Same time next year? In the “things” category, saw work by the same artist who did the two horses behind Chesterfield Commons. He’s local. Small stuff goes for $18k and up.

Nice lunch of gazpacho, posole clam chowder, and a grilled romaine salad with goat cheese. Yummo. Did some more shopping/looking. Then we headed to Marcy St. for a shop we had seen the night we went to La Boca. Fun place. Next to Whole Foods (which is hard to find if you don’t know where it is) for some wine for tonight.

Back at the lodging around 4:30, Marian went to do some laundry. We’re going to Steve and Kristen Flance’s for dinner tonight. It’s in the mountains sort of in the direction of Canyon Road. Last time we were there, we got lost in the subdivision (no real marked roads) and had to call Steve to come and get us. Unfortunately, I did not mark their place on my GPS, so will flounder around finding it again.

Had a wonderful time with Steve and Kristen. They are both so dear. Lots of good conversations and stories and great dinner of salmon and ribs. Stayed up there until quite late. Had such a good time. When you come down, you can see how high up they are with all the lights of the city well below. Love spending time with them. And Marian was a big hit with their dogs, two Bernese Mountain Dogs … same breed as two of our hosts in Canada had last summer. Marian actually had her toes licked and loved it.

20080730 – Santa Fe – Fowl Idea or Brassed Off or Plastic on a Stick or A Site to Behold: Got up around 8:00, had normal breakfast about 9:30, were out of here by 10:30.

Went to SITE Santa Fe, a biennial art installation. We really loved this year’s stuff. A huge electric cable is draped through the exhibit ending in a huge electric box. There are other thematic things that are throughout like a series of red tote bags with five different “warnings” from Homeland Security. There was a computer-generated projection of people walking along an adobe wall. If you put your hand on some of them as they passed by, they stopped and told you a story, sang, danced, etc. You had to keep your hand on them or they would turn and start walking again. Then there was a bronze work where the original of four Navajo children riding a horse downhill (picture of it on wall) had been melted down and recast as the horse dead with a hole thorough it and the children in disarray after what was supposed to be an alien abduction. Weird but neat. And lots of other stuff. On the way, we saw that Casa Pacifica, the place we had stayed last time was closed and for sale.

We shopped a bit afterward and then headed north to the SF Opera parking lot to see artwork on each light pole made out of empty plastic water bottles and grocery bags. Sketches of the installation were at the SITE Santa Fe building.

Then back to Tesuque Village Market for lunch (tortilla soup and posole/pork shoulder – which was hot, hot, hot – and some bread pudding). This was followed by a visit to Shidoni Foundry for a walk among all the outdoor sculpture. Could buy the chicken bone keychain I have been carrying around with me for many years and did so.

Back to room for downloads and getting ready for massage. Super massage, of course. Relaxed in room (well, did computer stuff). Headed downhill to Andiamo’s for dinner at 7:30. When we got there, we realized we had eaten there last time we were here and loved it. Marian had beet salad and chicken marsala. I had crispy polenta and penne with spicy lamb sausage. All very good. Then back uphill for an evening of TV, computers, and …

20080731 – Carlsbad – No Country for Old Towns or “Bats, senor?” “Si. Bats” or Come On Down: We’ve come from about 7,000 feet to about 3,100 feet. Still higher than St. Louis, but about the lowest place we’ve been since eastern Colorado. This is our last stop in NM. Tomorrow, after a cave walk and guided tour, we’re off to Texas and the central time zone.

Up about the normal time with breakfast in our room around 9:30 and on the road around 10:30. It’s about 280 miles from Santa Fe to Carlsbad. I was pleasantly pleased by the route the GPS chose to get us around the city and south on US 285, the highway that we took all the way to Carlsbad.

There are very few towns of any size along this route. In those towns, almost everything is closed. Closed gas stations. Closed motels. Closed restaurants. People live there, but lots of abandoned buildings. Biggest city along the route is Roswell, where we had lunch at the Rib Crib (chix salad, brisket burrito). We were surprised how large Roswell is. My aunt and uncle were stationed here during WWII. Bet they wouldn’t recognize the place if they could see it now. Big airport, too. Wonder if they call it “Roswell Intergalaxy.”

We’re going to see the bat flight out of the cave tonight. Have to be there for the program at 7:15. No cameras or other electronic devices are allowed … they might confuse the bats. The cave is about 20 miles and 30 minutes from here. Staying at a Days Inn on the southern outskirts of town.

Got to the park and walked downhill toward the natural entrance to the cave where there is the Bat Amphitheater. Hundreds of folks gathered and a ranger told us all about the type of Mexican bat that inhabit the cave. At about 8:00, the bats started to come out of the cave entrance. They whirl in a counter-clockwise direction, like a reverse tornado, and then fly up and out in waves. We sat there for almost a half hour and the bats kept coming and coming. They estimate that between 100,000 to 150,000 bats come out to hunt food each night. These bats mostly feed on moths, many are agricultural pests, so the local farmers love having the bats around. They cover a 35-mile radius during the night, returning near dawn, but in a less concentrated bunch than the swirl in the evening. It was a real treat and we highly recommend it to anyone coming anywhere close. Tomorrow we’ll go in to the cave itself, but will not be within a half mile of where the bats nest during the day.

We returned to Carlsbad and went in search of food. We stopped at a Chili’s, but there was a long wait. So we drove a few miles to a Denny’s. Mistake. The kitchen was not putting out food as customers ordered. So, they made our omelets with real eggs and then had to remake them with egg substitutes. And my grits were cold. And it took forever. Ah, well. Got back to motel about 10:30.

20080801 – Marfa – Marfa Stewart or 20,000 Pees Under the See or Dr. Strangelove or Baby Steps, Sir. Baby Steps: Another wonderful day. Got up at 7:00 and left the Days Inn about 8:15 getting to Carlsbad Caverns around 8:45 and into the cave by 9:00. We spent 3 ½ hours in the cave. We went to and through the bat amphitheater from last night and down a series of switchbacks into the natural entrance to the cave. Altogether, we descended 750 feet below the surface.

The route to the end of the natural entrance trail takes about 1 ½ hours walking at a pretty easy pace. It’s pretty steep at times and you have to take small steps. There are stainless handrails all along the route and the path is paved. Wild to think how they did all this. You go through some very large rooms and lots of wonderful “decoration” from the ceiling and floor. The trail is 1 ¼ miles, but really all downhill.

At the end of the trail, you come to the Big Room. We did the shortened walk through it since we had a guided tour to catch. The Big Room is really huge (see the nps site for the cave for details on all of this). By about 10:40, we were at the underground rest area where there is food, a concession stand, and restrooms. How to do they vacate sewage from 750 feet underground?

We then took a guided tour of the Kings Palace and Queens Chamber. The ranger who gave the tour spent way too much time telling us stories about the discovery of the cave, how it was formed, how they had mined bat guano in the old days, etc. I wanted more walking and looking. We emerged from underground on an elevator into the visitor center.

I grabbed a sandwich and cookie from the gift shop area, snarfed it all down, and off we went downhill out of the park and southward. The trip to Marfa is around 180 miles from the cave. You enter Texas (and central time zone) in only a few miles south of the cave. Next you drive through Guadalupe Mountains National Park where the road came up to over 5,000 feet and the biggest mountain to over 8,000.

Then it was boredom city for driving. The roads are straight and there is nothing to see. Like Kansas but in a desert. Got into Marfa about 5:15 or so. The Hotel Paisano is an historical landmark place. Very nice. We have a corner room. The bathroom is so small that if your cheeks were bigger than ours, you’d have a hard time sitting down. And there is nowhere to put anything (e.g., shelves, counter). But the room itself is very nice.

We walked around the street out front. The town was empty. No cars, no people. Went back to hotel and had dinner downstairs in Jett’s Grill. Very good. Split calamari. Marian had a cilantro chicken and I had marinated flank steak. We split a chocolate torte.

After dinner we took a walk up to the main drag. Met some nice people along the way. A man and his blue heeler. A couple from San Antonio where she is a mixed-media artist. Then back to the room for picture downloading, TV, and bed.

20080802 – Marfa – Marfa, the Giant Marf or Do You Want Quail, Dan? or Please Judd Me: Got up about 7:30. Went to the Brown Recluse for breakfast – used book store and coffee house, restaurant. Very good. Had eggs with nopalitoes (prickly pears) with beans and tortilla. Marian had granola with yogurt. Good coffee.

Headed over to the Chinati Foundation for the 10:00 tour. The tour was mostly on the foundation site with the last part in town. The day was amazing. The site is an old military base of over 300 acres. The buildings are original, but amended and improved by Judd when he got the foundation started. First buildings we went in housed the 100 Judd aluminum boxes, each the same dimensions, each different. 52 in one building, 48 in the other. Wonderful. Impossible to describe the mass, the lines, the light.

Next we went to a building housing a representation of a Russian school of the Lenin era by Ilya Kabakov. There were desks, papers on the floor, blackboards with writing, chipped paint on the walls.

We visited the Arena that had furniture Judd designed plus architectural drawings by David Rabinowitch. It’s now used for catered affairs, so it’s mostly open with great textures on the floor.

And we all went into town to a building not too far from our hotel. Here we saw the work of John Chamerlain, mostly sculptures made out of old truck and auto doors, hoods, trunks, fenders, bumpers. Huge building. Fascinating.

I’m sure I’ve missed some artists in this list and the one that follows after lunch. The pictures should show the details.

The morning tour was over about 11:45 and we went to the Austin Street Café upon a recommendation from Amanda, our tour guide. Wonderful couple own the place and we had long conversations with them about their restaurant and where to eat this evening. Marian had a tomato basil soup and greens salad. I had a terrific black bean soup and half a chicken wrap.

From there, we drove around town, went to a grocery, got gas, mad a reservation for dinner at a place the owners of the lunch restaurant suggested, and headed back to the foundation for the afternoon tour at 2:00.

We started with a series of six u-shaped buildings each housing two pieces by Dan Flavin, all colored fluorescent tubes in yellow, blue, green, pink. Each long building (old barracks) had an installation at its end. In most cases, the two parts of the u-shaped building showed the work one way in one part and in reverse on the other. It took quite a bit of time to go through all these buildings (really went in 12 doors for the 6 buildings).

We saw lots of other artists along the way including Arnarsson, Barnet Newman, a whole building of poems by Carl Andre (very visual). There was a big outdoor sculpture by Oldenburg and Van Bruggen commemorating the last cavalry horse. And there was a field with 15 big concrete Judd boxes. All a bit overwhelming. The tour was over a bit before 4:00. We were supposed to go to another tour of the Judd house in town, but decided to stay in our room since we were fried by the sun and tired from the day.

It rained really hard once we were in the hotel. No storm drains, so lots of water everywhere. Oh, and there are no parking meters anywhere in Marfa.

Went to Cochineal for dinner. Owned by two men who moved here from Manhattan. By the way, for a small town in the middle of nowhere, this is a pretty sophisticated place and you see lots of people of wealth. Dinner was a twice-risen salmon soufflé followed by a quail with champagne grapes over polenta for me and a greens salad followed by salmon with sun-dried tomatoes for Marian. We shared a warm date pudding. Nice Malbec, too.

Back to the hotel where a wedding reception was in full swing as we sit in the lobby to uses the Internet.

Well, it’s time to go home. We’re not going to Big Bend National Park since it’s too doggone hot, we want to be in St. Louis to see  good friends, and we’ve had such high experiences that we didn’t want to end on a hot, soggy one. We’ve had some super times with family, climbs on the dunes, down in the cave, Judd and lots of art, massages, spas, meals to write home about, and out having the time to concentrate on each other.

20080803/04 – Way Home Reflections – Chip Shot or Chris Isaak Show or High Plains Drifting or Feed Me, Seymour: Marfa is at about 5,000 feet, so while it’s hot during the day, it cools off at night. The town is interesting in how Donald Judd changed it forever. It’s a hub of arts of all types. There are galleries, exhibits, and lots of buildings that are part of the Judd Foundation, which is separate from the Chinati Foundation (which he set up first). For a small town in the middle of nowhere, it has wonderful restaurants, accommodations, architecture.

Insofar as the Hotel Paisano, we would not stay there again, I think. There is no elevator which is fine for everyday activities but bad when you want to bring luggage in/out. And we do have luggage! And the bathroom. You sort of have to sit a bit crooked on the toilet since it’s right against the wall. There are no shelves to put anything out, so I had my dop kit in the room and carried things in as I needed them. And the shower. The knob for water is stripped and it takes talent to get the water to come on or turn it off. Other than that, the corner room was quite comfortable and well appointed. Oh, except for the lamp that had no switch to turn it on.

Yesterday, on our way to lunch midday, we noticed there was a chip in the windshield. A woman on the tour after lunch suggested putting clear nail polish on it, which I did.

Next time we’re here, I would like to have more time to see Judd Foundation stuff (we bagged one tour we had due to being tired). And Chinati is a wonder.

Today we got up around 6:30 since both of us were awake anyway. We left the hotel about 7:30 and decided not to have breakfast then, but to wait until later. Bad choice. We drove east on US 90, up US 67, a couple of miles on I-10, and then up Texas 18 to I-20. All the while, we looked for somewhere to stop and eat. Nothing. Oh, McD, but that’s nothing. Did find a Starbucks along the highway in Midland and got a scone and coffee drinks. Up 1-20 to Abilene. We hoped to find a place for lunch there, but where we got off, US 277, you skirt around town and there was nothing. In the small town of Hawley, we found a Shell station. A few miles up the road, we were in Anson and went to the Sirloin Café at 1:30 (just as they were trying to shut down for the day) for lunch. Big and very good chicken quesadilla with beans and rice and back on the road. We go up 277 to Wichita Falls, TX where, once we cross the Red River, we’re in Oklahoma and on I-44 heading home.

Oh, as I write this, Marian is driving and I’m plugged in and keyboarding. We got to OKC for the night at a Comfort Inn. Lousy breakfast the next AM. And we headed into the middle of the heat bowl. Oklahoma had recorded 109 during the previous day. And St. Louis doesn’t look much better.

Had lunch at a Waffle House near Springfield and got home about 3:30. Odometer says we went 3,777 miles on our journey.

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