To my avid followers who may have been wondering where I've been since New Year's Day (yes, both of you), I have a very simple explanation. I sat in Port O'Connor for a couple of extra days, laying in the sun, studying maps, reluctant to leave a hotel room with a marlin on the wall and Buckwheat Zydeco on the radio. But leave I must and leave I did. With maps splayed across the front seat, a Mexican Coke in the cup holder and a new pair of flip flops on my feet, I hit the road. Eighteen hours of northwest highways between here and Gallup, New Mexico.
Around one o'clock, I pulled into Cripple Creek Restaurant in Del Rio, Texas, in search of armadillo eggs. I was told by the good people at Poco Loco Lodge that I had to try a few before leaving Texas. In hindsight - this is called foreshadowing - I wish to God and all things holy that I had just left Texas. To be fair, the armadillo eggs were delicious. Spicy breakfast sausage wrapped around a cream cheese filled pepper - All wrapped in bacon. A cardiologist's dream. Then there's the pepper. This is where I made the mistake that introduced me to every rest area bathroom between Del Rio and Fort Stockton. You see, armadillo eggs are made with various types of peppers and mine were made with jalapeno peppers. I believe the rest is self explanatory.
Following an eventful night at The Fairfield Inn of Fort Stockton (I'm referring to my night as 'eventful' so I don't run the risk of losing either of my two readers) and a breakfast of yogurt and water, I was back on the road. Gallup, New Mexico was eight hours away and I was praying that my investment in a 32 ounce bottle of Pepto Bismol was a wise one. But I digress.
After three and a half hours across some of the most uneventful terrain America has to offer and only 18 ounces of Pepto, I arrived at the International UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. As museums go, this one is on the thin side of artifacts. Unless you count replicas depicting the events of 1947, of which there are many. Replica spaceship, replica aliens, replica crash site and a replica horse, which I'm still trying to understand. And I should caution you, unless you have a spare hour and want to discuss why 'the incident' is real, do not engage Randy. Let's just say Randy makes me believe that people are in fact abducted and returned. I also believe they keep the good ones and Randy didn't make the cut.
After promising Randy I would write, I drove over to Big D's Downtown Dive on Main Street for a lunch of anything that didn't include the word armadillo. My stomach had settled enough to sample their famous garlic fries, paired with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and some cottage cheese. Cherie, my bubbly, slightly cock-eyed waitress, asked if I had been to the UFO Museum. I said that I had just visited and found it interesting. And then this happened. "Awesome. So maybe you met my dad Randy! He's a tour guide at the museum!" Check please. "Yes I met your dad. Wonderful man. Very knowledgeable." "He knows Huck Finn and Mickey Rooney." Check please. "That's wonderful. Well Cherie, I have to run now. I'm due back on planet earth any minute now." I walked out of Big D's feeling like I had just been cast in a Fellini movie. You just can't make this stuff up.
When I left Fort Stockton, my plan had been to make it all the way to Gallup and have a few drinks at the 49er Lounge, before calling it a night and sliding into a coma at The El Rancho Hotel and Motel. (As an aside - How are you allowed to be a hotel and a motel? I thought you had to declare yourself to be one or the other. Just seems a bit pompous.) Alas, fate intervened and I ended up spending the night at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm in Albuquerque. What type of role did fate play you ask? The role of a flat tire while exiting to fill up my tank. Not the most romantic of fates, but enough to make me want to drive a mile down Rio Grande Boulevard and book a room.
My initial reaction upon arriving at Los Poblanos was, "Huh?" A stylish inn at the end of a street a few blocks from the freeway seemed mildly incongruous. When I opened the door to my hacienda suite, my initial thought was, "I wonder if I can cancel the rest of my trip and just live here." A bouquet of fresh lavender was bedside. Hand carved wooden beams looked down on hardwood floors and hand plastered walls. Natural light was everywhere. A generous sofa and leather chairs sat across from a burning fireplace. (Here I must apologize for sounding like Martha Stewart. This review is not helping my image.) I threw my duffel in the corner, opened my book on Teddy Roosevelt by Douglas Brinkley and fell asleep in roughly three minutes.
Every once in a while something happens that you weren't expecting. Finding this inn and farm is a perfect example. I didn't know this gem existed until about three hours prior. According to their web site. "The Los Poblanos land was originally inhabited by the Anasazi (ancient pueblo Indians) in the 14th century. Many of the original settlers in this area were thought to have come from Puebla, Mexico, a citizen of which is called a “Poblano.” In 1932, Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms commissioned architect John Gaw Meem and numerous WPA artists and craftsmen to renovate the ranch house and create the Cultural Center for political and community events and recreation with gardens designed by Rose Greeley." James Moore, Former Director, The Albuquerque Museum, says Meem, "is without question the quintessential New Mexico architect of the early and mid 20th century and…La Quinta is one of his most important, if not the most important, projects of his career in this state.” And I just took a nap in one of his rooms. Like I said, every once in a while even a blind squirrel finds a nut.
Dinner just gave me another reason to abandon my tour, get a job on the organic farm and never leave. My culinary stroll began with House Cold Smoked Salmon, with blue corn breaded green chile and feta. Followed by Braised Lamb with roasted vegetables and charred potatoes. Completed the culinary journey with Homemade Peach Lavender Gelato, which I can't describe because I haven't seen heaven yet. My glass of Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select pushed me to the edge of delirium. All this as the result of a flat tire and being slowed by armadillo eggs. Maybe God is just messing with me.
It's fairly routine for me to wake up in the middle of the night and read a book, watch a movie or wander around like a zombie with really bad hair. So imagine my surprise when I woke up at 6 AM, after falling asleep at 11:00 PM. Seven hours of continuous sleep! This can't be. I checked my phone to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Opened the curtains to make sure I was still on earth. (I thought maybe this was the handiwork of Randy or his bubble-headed daughter.) It was such an odd and wonderful feeling and quite naturally gave me yet another reason to stay. Instead, I made a pot of coffee, took a 30 minute shower and strolled over to the farm store. Don't tell anyone, but I bought a few bars of lavender soap before jumping back in the Sprinter and heading west.
Gallup, New Mexico is an easy two hour drive, due west from Albuquerque on I-40. But I had no interest in I-40, because a stretch of old Route 66 ran along the same path. A thread of cement that originally made its way west from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 gave everyone with four wheels the ability to travel from the Midwest to the Pacific. It gave birth to countless businesses and a generation of roadside attractions that defined the word Americana in the 20th century. Neon sign makers thrived. Gas stations, restaurants and aspiring hoteliers sprang up all along the route. Giant paper-mâché dinosaurs, motels disguised as tee-pees and a blue whale you can walk through were must see attractions. "Honey, I'm in a whale!" Trinkets became commodities to be cherished. Route 66 was a microcosm of the American dream. Four wheels, freedom of movement and a cheap hotel. Paradise was there to be had in the form of a Chevy front seat the size of a sofa.
They bill the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico as 'The Hotel of the Movie Stars." They also say it has "The Charm of Yesterday - With the Convenience of Tomorrow." The first one I understand because the El Rancho Hotel was indeed home to movie stars in the 30's and 40's. Errol Flynn, Doris Day, James Cagney, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Betty Grable - The list goes on and on. I also get "The Charm of Yesterday", because El Rancho has that to spare. It's "The Convenience of Tomorrow" that I don't quite understand. I mean, how can we know what the conveniences of tomorrow are if they haven't arrived? (I may be over thinking this just a bit.) In any case, El Rancho exudes charm and old world class. It's what I want to be when I grow up.
The grand lobby of El Rancho can transport you back to the days of magnificent lodges built by railroad barons to attract people west. A towering beamed ceiling, held in place by large hand carved lodge poles, mounted with the antlered heads of deer from decades past. Walls filled with Native American art from the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni. Beautiful pieces that draw you in and give you a sense of their rich history. Comfortable sofas and hand woven rugs that invite you to sit and relax. Then there's Kenny, the man at the front desk, who asked me how long I would be staying. "It all depends on how good the drinks are." He almost smiled - it was more like a smirk - before handing me the key to my room. "Bogart stayed in this room", he said. "Seriously?" "Yes. As did Katherine Hepburn, hubba hubba." "Did you just say hubba hubba?" "I did. Enjoy your stay with us." Is it just me that attracts these characters or is this simply life?
The 49er Lounge is inside the El Rancho Hotel. They say John Wayne and Ronald Reagan had a few at the bar - back in the day. When Errol Flynn was filming a movie nearby, he would ride his horse into the bar to order a drink. These days they let guys like me in the place and unlike Mr. Flynn, I walked in and took a seat at the bar, surrounded by dollar bills and Christmas lights. I ordered a glass of Blanton's on the rocks and settled in for a while. It didn't take long. "Hi. What's your name cowboy?" "They call me The Bearded Man." (Not quite Mr. Tibbs.) "And why do they call you that?" "I'm thinking it's the beard." Did my parents tattoo 'talk to me' on my forehead as a child? "Where you from cowboy?" "I'm a man of the road." (I know - it's pathetic - but that's actually what I said.) It was at this point that a rather large man, wearing a purple workout suit, saunters over and gives the nameless woman next to me a rather long kiss. "This is Delray. Delray, this is The Bearded Man." "Hi Delray." "Why do they call you The Bearded Man?" "I'm thinking it's the beard Delray." Cue the theme song to The Twilight Zone. "Let's go Carol. Everyone's waiting." And off into the New Mexico night they went. Carol and Delray - Two star crossed lovers. Or a hooker and her manager. I couldn't decide.
Compared to Carol and Delray, the rest of the evening was proving to be fairly uneventful and I was just fine with that. After a second glass of Blanton's I found the hotel restaurant and ordered a Ronald Reagan burger, which came with a side jelly beans. Now that's a first. Since it was only 11:00 when I finished Ronnie and I was one shy of my four drink minimum, I walked back over to the 49er and once again found a seat at the bar. Can you guess where this is going? "Bearded Man. Can I join you?" "Sure Delray - Grab a stool." Honestly, you didn't see that coming did you? "Bearded Man, can I ask you a question?" This has always struck me as an odd question, since it is already asking a question. "Sure Delray, what's up?", I asked over the sounds of a country western tune - My baby left me with nothing but a two dollar bill and a bale of hay. "Have you ever had one of those days where nothing goes right?" "Yes, at least once a week. Why?" "I think Carol left me for another man." So much for my hooker and manager theory. "I'm sorry to hear that Delray. Can I buy you a drink?" "No, Bearded Man. But thanks. I just thought I'd ask." And with that he stands, shakes my hand and walks out of the 49er alone. I have got to get this tattoo on my forehead removed.