Thursday, February 25, 2010

Road Fodder, Part One

Irrigated field of onions along the Rio Grande River, Garfield, NM

On my recent trip to New Mexico, I had a few unique experiences. I’d like to share a couple of them with you. First of all, I wasn’t planning on a trip. I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to get away at all for a mid Winter break. Winter can be long up here in the Northland. Sometime in November, it starts to get pretty cloudy most days, the temperature drops and the snow starts to fly, slowly with small accumulations at first, then with some kind of storm that buries the landscape in white.

December, January and February are just plain cold here in Wisconsin. If it isn’t cold, it’s snowing. The warmer weather seems to make for the snow, and the clear skies usually harbor the below zero bone chilling cold. March can have some better, (ie: warmer) days, and so does April. But there also can be some massive snow storms that come in those months. I tell you, even though Winter is officially December 21st to March 20th, having non Winter weather on days before or after those dates is a crap shoot at best. Winter is a long season. Some folks tell the story that there are only two seasons up here, Winter and poor sledding!

I've always liked the Red and Yellow combination. No wonder, then, that I like the State flag of New Mexico and the state itself, The Land of Enchantment

There are diseases, or syndromes they call ‘em I guess, like SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also known as Cabin Fever. A lack of sunshine, because of the shorter duration of daylight in the Northern latitudes, and generally a feeling of being shut in because it’s just too damn cold to go out and do anything!

One way that I have been beatin’ Cabin Fever in the past has been to get in my car and head South. Yuma, Arizona is usually nice along with the well known destinations like Tucson, Phoenix and Miami Beach. But I like the more moderate climes. Many people seem to say that Fall is their favorite season. I agree, so why not seek out Fall type weather? For my money, New Mexico fits the bill. Warmer than up here in Wisconsin, but not hot. A light jacket or sweatshirt will do just fine. I can even crack the windows on the pickup a bit and roll ‘em all the way down when cruising slowly through town on my way to the coffee shop.

So, I get this e-mail asking me if I am interested in driving a car down to Albuquerque. This person has used my services before, about 4 years ago I flew out to California and drove a car back to Minnesota for her from Santa Rosa. She paid expenses, I did the driving. This time, I drove the car from Minnesota and flew home, but not before I spent four extra days wandering around New Mexico. It was a trip made in heaven for me. A mid Winter break to my favorite playground.

Highway signpost in Boise City, Oklahoma. I was following US 56 West

The car was a late model 2008 Honda Civic. A newer car meant no worries about its functionality. I left on a Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. (What the heck, I’m up anyway!). I packed some sandwiches and a few hard boiled eggs, some cut up veggie snacks and couple of pieces of fruit. I was stoked as far as day one meals were concerned. I pulled in to Boise City, Oklahoma at 7:30 p.m., exactly fifteen hours and 947 miles from my home. I did use the Interstate down to Emporia, Kansas, but then took off West on US Highway 50, a two-lane affair, across the heart of Kansas. Highway 50 meets US 56 in Dodge City. Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty were nowhere to be found, so I moved on.

No snow in Central Kansas, February 17th, 2010

The weather was great. Sunny and in the 50’s. There was no snow on the ground and I was counting hawks on fence posts, telephone poles and in tree limbs at the rate of about three per mile! Boise City, (pronounced Boys City by the locals), is at the far end of the Oklahoma panhandle, just a few miles before crossing the Mountain Time Zone line at the New Mexico border.

I gassed up on Thursday morning and headed on US Highway 56 into Springer, NM and got on I-25 South. I landed in Santa Fe by noon. I hung out there and fooled around at my favorite haunts. In one of the shops, I spotted the works of a clay artist from Oaxaca, Mexico. Her figurines stood about 12 inches tall and depicted women and family scenes from the heart of Mexico. I was drawn in by her fabulous Los Dios de Los Muertos, (Days of the Dead), pieces. I am doing a search and trying to order something directly from her. Her name is Irene Aguilar and she is from Ocatlan de Moreles, Oaxaca.

Later that day, I met a friend from Minnesota, a college student who studies art there, for dinner at Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, a place I have mentioned on these pages before and one of my favorite restaurants. After dinner, I headed for Albuquerque and had the car delivered and a ride to my hotel right near the airport before the clock struck nine.

On Friday, I took the hotel airport shuttle to the car rental office and secured some transportation and went South. I stopped in Socorro at a coffee shop I had been in many times before. They had changed the name and remodeled a bit, but it was a fine stop for a hot Americano. The Black Dog Coffee House had become the Manazares Street Coffee Shop. I drove further South to Truth or Consequences and was there by noon. I checked in to a small Mom and Pop called the Desert View Inn. The rates were cheap and the room was clean. And it did have a nice view of the desert beyond the town from high atop a hill.

My favorite place to shop in Hatch, NM

Friday afternoon, I drove down to Hatch and shopped for some chile peppers. There is a small shop there operated by a family called Hatch Chile Sales. Since they are independent and don’t have the high overhead of a website and credit card sales, their prices are low. I have used their products in the past and have always found them to be of high quality and freshness. This trip, I purchased hot and mild red chile powder, some Xtra Hot Green Chile powder, some chipotle and some shelled pecans. I ate lunch at Sparky’s and found out about their troubles with the Pink Pig.

The facade at Sparky's restaurant in Hatch, NM

The State said the use of a large likeness of a pig as advertising needed to be removed or a variance from the city be enacted to use said pink pig at the South end of town. The huge fiberglass hot dog at the North end of town was also in question. Since my visit, the City Council of Hatch, NM moved to allow the variance, so the pink pig and hot dog signage stays. The owners of Sparky’s have a number of larger than life figures in a whimsical display of this eating establishment, which, by the way, serves great green chile burgers BBQ and tacos!

The famous Pink Pig that was in question

The food was good. I had a couple of tacos and a green chile burger. Just a hamburger with sautéed Native medium hot green chiles and a hunk of cheese. I sat outside and sipped an iced tea, all the while, the film crew from an Albuquerque news crew filmed an interview about the pink pig to show folks up North in the big city. I talked with Sparky about the pig dilemma. He was pretty laid back about it all. Seems like it turned out okay for everyone concerned.

Elephant Butte Damn on the Rio Grande

I left Hatch and returned to Truth or Consequences just in time for a great sunset. My drive back North to T or C was great. I used a small two lane State road that runs just to the West and out of site of the Interstate superhighway. The Rio Grande lazily sits to my right as I head North. I drove through fields of irrigated farmland where onions, chile peppers and pecan trees abound.

Elephant Butte, August 2006

Elephant Butte, February of 2010. (Note the water level near the same as August 2006)

This road crosses under the freeway and then travels along the shores of small lakes made from the Elephant Butte damn that sits on the Rio Grande at Elephant Butte, just North and East of T or C. Caballo Lake, just South of Elephant Butte, is a place where I have camped before. As you can see from the photos above, the water level in the reservoir lake is still down and has been for years. I stopped and soaked in the sunshine along the shore and watched birds enjoying the weather along with me. A light dinner ensued with grocery store items, a bit of reading and some TV.

(To be continued)

Next: Silver City, the copper mines of Santa Clara, Las Cruces, LaMesilla and the wonderful hot springs of truth or Consequences.


Mel said...

*laughing* winter......and poor sledding.....

Well now ain't that the truth!! I guess I must not be far enough from the Wisconsin border, huh?

It has been a longgg gray winter. And snowy--though less snow for us than a few years back. And cold. Good grief--welcome back to -22 windchill, sir. Betcha didn't miss that one lick!

I'm envious, of course--you got to see the pink pig AND have a wander about at Effalump Butt. k....might be a bit of a pronunciation problem but I attribute it to artistic license (whatever that means...).

Oh, and the trains at Hatch!! We got some lovely shots of trains and frogs there. Didn't DARE touch the chili's. Himself wimps out and Mel.....well, equally wimpy. :-/

<-- will wait on part 2!

Did I say welcome back?

Christopher said...

Fascinating, Spadoman. Thank you. Very much looking forward to the continuation. And I'm enjoying new Americanisms like 'I gassed up'.

Pax vobiscum.

This Eclectic Life said...

Oh, that sounds like a wonderful respite. I chuckled at you "poor sledding" reference, too.
I love the images you inserted in the post... the pink pig especially :=) From the sound of it, with all the chiles you consume, you must have a cast iron stomach, Joe!
Have a weekend filled with good!

katherine. said...

I wonder if I could get use to a winter of cold snow? A week or two no problem. But I don't know about a whole season.

You seem to know all the good places to eat. Pig problems and all.

If I ever need a car moved...I know who to call!

Billie Greenwood said...

This was really a joy for me to read and view since, as you know, I did some of these same travels around T or C and through Hatch earlier in the month myself. Your photos are wonderful; a great travelogue all in all! I guess once the Southwest gets into your bones, it keeps a grip on ya. I'm infected. Thanks for this post, and I'm glad you got to do this trip since WI winters are a drag.

susan said...

A wonderful travelog and I'm so glad you got a little time away from the great white to enjoy some warm weather and great sights. It's a little worrisome about the water levels, isn't it?

Spadoman said...

Thank you all for stopping by!

Mel... Yes, poor sledding season, yours is a little longer down south where you live.
Tell me more about the trains in Hatch. I saw the tacks, but didn't see any trains.
They do grow mil;d chiles you know. Try 'em, you'll like 'em.

Peace to you and all you hold dear Mel

Christopher... Funny, in the book I am currently reading, (The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey), he uses that "Americanism", gassing up. Honestly, I wrote that before reading it, it's the way some of us speak. By the way, I find reading the blogs of many across the pond fascinating for the same reasons.

Peace to you as well.

Shelly... Eating chiles isn't hard on my stomach, really. I have a harder time with cucumbers! And I can't even look at a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can without a bout of heartburn!

Peace to you my friend.

katherine... It's not being hardy that gets us through the Winter. It's that I get to go away once in a while to break up the length of it! When I do get to travel, I make it a point to look for and find good food. Looking at scenery gets me hungry.
As far as driving the car for people, well, I am a Teamster. It's in my blood.

Peace to you and all you hold dear.

BE... I do love it down there. I am envious that you spend the Winter there, then return North for Summer. We just have too tight of a bond with the Grandkids to pull that off, but I will spend more time down there, just not live there.

Peace my friend.

susan... I thought that after the past 3-4 years the water level might be rising again, but they tell me that it might take 20 years of more than average precipitation to bring the level of Elephant Butte lake up to the levels of the 1980's. Something to be aware of everywhere, not just down in New Mexico.


Thanks again. Now, check out part 2.