The Road to Alpine

Leaving Las Vegas (and please, please, don’t ever play Ms. Crow’s song of the same name while I’m in the room), heading south, we glanced backward on the weather radar and concurred that our decision to leave a day late was the wise one.  Colorado’s I-25 was snow and ice bound by 8:00 a.m., while our weather was low clouds, fog, and dry.  We rolled into Rowell at around 10:30 and opted for Whataburger over the Alien Museum.  Roswell is a curious place, bigger than I remember, with green aliens helping market most businesses along the main strip.  Lots of personal injury lawyer billboards, too.

The remainder of the day was long highways.  And wind.  As if possessed, it bucked the car, awakened a plague of dust while dust devils danced a tarantella, hoovering silt and sand skyward, choking the sun and swallowing mountains, propelling tumbleweeds, slinging the thin bloom-rods of stumpy-bodied cactus like whips, as if attempting to sweep the already desolate land to nothing but bare rock and stone. 

Dramatic, ain’t it?

I won’t lie.  Aside from the Guadalupe mountains—arrogant, treeless, muscular peaks—the drive is boring, the landscape brown, nothing but short brush and cactus, flaccid or desiccated. Two road-killed feral hogs and plenty of border patrol cars were about all the excitement we had for four hours or so, except for the goldfish shaped giant TARS blimp sitting in the middle of the desert between Valentine and Marfa.

TARS goldfish zeppelin, Border Patrol’s eyes in the skies

The last bit, driving into Alpine, was beautiful.  The wind died down and the flat landscape rose, elegant peaks hugging the now winding road.  Alpine is home to Sul Ross State University, an impressive looking academic institution marked by colonial structures and the college of choice of our daughter. She’s not arriving back from her spring break until tomorrow, so, peckish as hell and hoping to redeem last night’s food fiasco, Cindy and I hastened to Spicewood, a newer joint at which Cindy had imbibed and ingested before.  The blackberry habanera margarita and Manhattan made with Amaro Averna rather than vermouth were surprising, complex, and delicious.  A half-order of nachos left us with too many, despite the outstanding balance of cheese, freshness, spice, and perfectly thin, crispy chips.  My wedge salad was a tad lettucy, missing the heaping mess of dressing, olives, tomatoes, cheese, and cranberries I douse mine with at home, but the cornmeal fried catfish was fit for Jehovah.  Cindy enjoyed a perfectly made green chili burger.  The meat was fresh and heartily seared.  The five-layer chocolate cake and Irish coffee provided the perfect dessert. 

Tomorrow: Big Bend National Park, and maybe the Marfa lights.  For now, it’s lights out.


On The Road Again

A year ago, in March of 2020, the fear factor from Covid-19 reached critical mass.  Albany County Schools left for Spring Break and didn’t return until August, the University of Wyoming sent staff to work at home until further notice, and the trip I had planned to visit my children was put on hold.  My oldest daughter was diplomatic.  “Well, you might want to consider whether you want to make this trip, given everything that is going on.”  My oldest son was not so much. “Dad don’t come.  This is bad.”

Road Trip!

Fast forward and we’re on the road again, taking the trip that we should have taken a year ago. Armed with our first Fauci-ouchy and matching masks, we left today on our way to Texas, sneaking out of Wyoming 24 hours in advance of what has been billed as a snowstorm of epic proportion.  The weather channel has named it Winter Storm Xylia; she’s expected to plop 15 – 30 inches of wet white stuff on Laramie in our absence, and although we’re sad to miss it, the trip is important: it’s been over two years since we’ve seen two of our children, we have a serious case of the stir-crazies (adventure withdraw is a real thing), and traveling is prescription for grief (more about that in a later post). 

We picked a swell day to leave.  No precipitation other than fog droplets from the moisture building south of Denver (which will fuel Xenia’s insatiable libido), bad drivers (like in Houston, traffic laws seem unenforced through metro Denver, as if ten percent of the population seems to feel it’s OK to weave through traffic at 90 miles per hour), and the sun in our eyes once we passed Trinidad.

I-25 is a beautiful drive if you’re not in a hurry. We coasted down Raton Pass into New Mexico and realized it shares some of Wyoming’s geography: the silhouettes of Western Mountains, wide open, tree-less plains filled with antelope and cows, wind, and rural Republicans still flying trump flags.  Just north of our destination, an American flag stood straight and tall and complete in the stiff west breeze, next to a trump 2020 flag that had been ripped in half, as if to say, “Tr. . . “ (Treason?)  We are the wind, fellow human beings.

Our destination was Las Vegas.  When we arrived, we inquired as to the location of Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant, but realized we were in the ‘other’ Las Vegas—the one without good restaurants and gambling.  Our Super 8 was Covid-whipped: masks required in hallways, public areas off limits, and ‘No Soup for You!’ in the evenings.  A quick perusal of restaurant options here led us first to a place called The Skillet, which would have been more aptly named Noisy Crazy Place Where You Have to Fight For a Table, Order at a Window, and Fend Off Feral Pre-Teens While No One Waits on You, and I was not about to ruin yesterday’s acupuncture vibe and long serene drive chill.  We tried Kosina de Rafael, but they were take-out only.  The Realta was closed.  We finally settled on the Flamingo Room at Hillcrest, the name obviously coming from the significant number of plastic flamingoes perched on the sign in table, the piano, and the buffet table obviously now used as a holding station for cups and plates.  Chandeliers shared space with modern domed lights on a dropped ceiling, and Aztec kitsch played nicely against the beige tablecloths covered in thick plastic, two inoperable pump organs, and sounds of Super Hits of the 60s and 70s.  We ordered plates of Mexican food, including the unfortunately hyperbolic “World Famous Burnt Cheese Tacos,” and ate while the maître d’ read off the temperatures of every obviously cold-blooded person who walked in like FM radio station call numbers:  94.2, 96.8, 89.3.  Hearing the soothing strings in Hamilton & Joe Frank & Reynolds’ Fallin’ in Love (1975) may have aided digestion for a moment, but I nearly decided to take The Animals’ advice when “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (1965) played.    

At the hotel now, watching Food Network so we can eat well, vicariously.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure on our way to Alpine, TX. 

Peace, friends!