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.

Peace.

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!

Here, Fishie Fishie. . .

Having lived in Laramie for six weeks without putting a line in the water, we decided it was time to take the bait and do a little fishing.  My previous experience with this art was mixed.  As boys, my brother and I reeled in a dozen trout a day at Lake San Cristobal near Lake City, with nothing more than a bobber and some salmon eggs. As an adult, fishing was something that happened once and a while, for a little while, during a vacation while managing a campsite and children. I probably caught more in one day on Lake San Cristobal than I have in total since.

Never mind the past. We live 30 minutes from Curt Gowdy Park, home to two shiny blue reservoirs, so we headed to the West Laramie Fly Store to gear up.  As newby Wyomingites, we didn’t qualify for the less-expensive in-state licenses; a couple of reels (I already had some poles) and the necessary fish-attracting hardware (flies, bait, hooks, bobbers) pushed our total into the ‘small investment’ category. No matter.  The Fly Store proprietor gave us some advice on rigging the lines and told us what the fishes in Curt Gowdy liked to eat, and we were ready!

Monday was our first day out.  Full of optimism, we chose the farthest of the reservoirs, Crystal, to ply our new trade.  Like an uncooperative child, one of the reels almost immediately became a contrarian mess: six-pound test line wrapped around every part of the reel while an inconsolable ball of the stuff flapped haplessly in the breeze.  Think string theory meets chaos theory. Cutting the line and untangling the line from the reel seemed like a good idea, but in the wind proved more than our combined patience could tackle.  Fishing 1, Joneses 0.

Crystal Reservoir, Curt Gowdy State Park

Fishing at Crystal Reservoir

A little while later, the line of the second pole snapped during a cast, sending the bobber, swivel, and fly combo I had patiently rigged the night before into the water and leaving me gawking at the empty end of a translucent line.  Fishing 2, Joneses 0.

Not all was lost.  It was a gorgeous day.  We restrung the rod, and with the help of some rainbow colored Powerbait reeled in our first, and only, catch.  We grilled it in foil and ate it that evening along with some chicken, corn, and balsamic roasted Brussel sprouts.  Fishing 2, Joneses 1.

Cindy at Crystal Res

We ventured to the same spot on Tuesday morning, a bit earlier this time.  Within ten minutes I’d caught a rainbow trout with a caddisfly (I think that’s what it was) and the game was on.  But as the sun rose, so did the wind speed.  Two hours later we headed home having claimed a small victory, which we beheaded, disemboweled, and put in the freezer for another night. Joneses 1, fishing 0.

The view from Granite Reservoir

This morning we found a beautiful spot on the Park’s other reservoir, Granite.  Cindy hooked one quick, but it slipped off the hook before I could get a net on it.  After that we went biteless.  At two fish every three days, we’ll be able to pay for our investment in a couple of years, but that’s not really what it’s about.  While loading up, a wise man who’d parked near us asked what people usually ask: “How’d you do?” After I answered him, he said, matter-of-factly, “Well, we come to fish, not to catch fish.”  Yeah.  That’s it.

Joneses for the win.

 

 

 

 

Mount Rushmore by Noon

I first visited Mount Rushmore a decade or so ago, after a three-day drive from Houston. From Laramie on Monday, we left before 8:00 a.m. and were there in time for a picnic lunch under the watchful gaze of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The drive is mesmerizing. I’m still coming to terms with the spectacular Wyoming landscape: treeless rolling hills, rock formations, canyons and gullies carved by wind and water, and cows.  Lots and lots of really big cows.

Cows on the Wyoming Prairie

The Mount Rushmore Memorial sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota, an hour and a half east of the Wyoming border, among pine trees and rock spires.  Ten bucks allows you to park there for a whole year; there are no entry fees.  There’s a short loop trail from the amphitheater that gets you a bit closer and affords different angles of the presidents.  It was along this path that I observed that Lincoln looks a bit like Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) from the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, but perhaps that was because the chins of his companions in stone are clean shaven.

Mount Rushmore Memorial

After lunch, we set up our tent at Sheridan Lake, then escaped to our car to read from Rex Alan Smith’s The Carving of Mount Rushmore while being pummeled by a hailstorm.  Washington, because he was the first President, and Lincoln, because he unified a divided nation, were the first to be considered for the monument.  Jefferson was added both for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, and Roosevelt because of the Panama Canal.  The Memorial’s architect, Gutzon Borglum, abandoned his work on the Georgia Confederate Monument to work on the Mount Rushmore Memorial, “In commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States.”  Work was begun in 1927 and finished in 1941, at an overall cost of just under one million dollars.

Watching hail from the car

Warning: political commentary (skip to the next paragraph if you’re not in the mood)

I couldn’t help but be reminded of what we’ve lost, looking at these figures against the backdrop of today’s wasteland of political corruption and impotence.  Washington was elected unanimously for both of his terms, without wasteful campaigning.  Jefferson considered his presidency as public service, not self-service.  Lincoln embraced the ideals of unity and equality, rather than division, strife, and bigotry. And Roosevelt not only protected the country from unbridled capitalism, but also gave us 230 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, and national monuments.  So much has been undone in such a short time, and against the standards of the great men on this mountain, the only carving our current president warrants is on a wet turd.

End of commentary

On Tuesday, we had intended to drive north through the Black Hills and back into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower but opted instead for another visit to Mount Rushmore (this time with a leisurely and expensive walk through its vast gift shop).  From there, lunch and shopping in nearby Keystone and a visit to a couple of wineries.  Red Ass Winery featured some spectacular reds and some rhubarb wines, but Naked Winery was a bit more fun.  Rachel took us on a flight featuring Dominatrix, Penetration, and Climax, all of which we brought home.

Crazy Horse from the road

Near Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Monument. I was suckered in ten years ago but decided to keep my money this time. From the road, it looks the same as it did then: a single face on the top of a mountain.  I’d go again when it is finished, but it won’t be, at least in my lifetime.  They’ve been at it since 1948 (that’s 71 years and counting).  With assets of $77 million and annual revenues around $12 million, there’s really no rush, I suppose.  Visitors can see the imagined final product on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and tchotchke, all of which must help pay for very tiny carving utensils.

Colorful Fantasia: Denver Pride

Laramie, Wyoming is quiet.  Calm.  Cool, in both temperature and, like The Fonz, attitude.  From our street I can see the Snowy Range off to the west and the brush-covered hills that border hiking trails and Curt Gowdy State Park to the east.  In between is vast expanse of sky that hosts a diversity of clouds by day and a surprising density of stars at night. Houston’s lights, buildings, and air quality never afforded me either.

On my way to Denver a few days ago, I was reminded of another reason to have left Houston: the traffic.  Interstate 25 was a rage of congestion, construction, unchecked bad driving spawned from the anonymity of vehicles and shared communal anger.  For years I’d blamed myself for my anxiety, my high blood pressure, my imagined need to crush another driver’s skull with a crowbar, but like a bad relationship, the solution was simple.

 

Were it not for an invitation, my wife and I might not have made the trip to the Denver Pride activities,  but our close friends from Kansas were driving in and that, along with the promise of a good party, was more than enough to convince us to make the two plus hour drive into downtown.   We stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel, close to the Fifteenth-Street Mall and the Capitol grounds where thousands of the proud and colorful walked, danced, held hands, walked their dogs, or lounged in the grass.  The pride flag hung above the Capitol steps; the day was gorgeous and so were the people.  Colored hair floated through the crowd like cotton candy; furry animal costumes mingled with the topless and nearly denuded; bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and, I might add, political affiliations made their way through the packed tents of vendors, and everyone was gay. We laughed when a friend said, “Straight couples are welcome, but don’t flaunt it, you know?” I’d like to think that this gathering represents America, its true nature, embracing individual expression and imagination in a Pantheistic celebration of communal love, but I fear this country still has a long, long way to go.

On Saturday evening, between the Capitol gathering and the Sunday morning parade, we visited the Brown Palace’s cigar bar, an opulent leather-bar from well over a century ago.  Framed prominently therein was an original painting by the Italian painter Virgilio Tojetti (1851-1901) titled Colorful Fantasia, but also known as The Sultan’s Dream.  Against the backdrop of a Turkish cityscape, a dark, bearded man sits in a boat while naked, white young odalisques clamor to him like codfish to a fisherman. I couldn’t help but interpret the romanticized ‘other’ as both something barbaric and at the same time (because of its prominence in the room) admired, as if to say, “My God, look at that savage,” while secretly savoring the image as a private fantasy. Inebriant ruminations, perhaps, as I enjoyed my cigarillo.  The Manhattans were superb.

Painting

Politics Free Suzy G

Our Recalcitrant Window Driver

Suzy Garmin is our navigator. We stick her to the window, plug her in, enter the destination, and she tells us—in her non-melodic, slightly nasal fembot voice—how to get there. “In one and a half miles, take the exit, on the right, to Highway 69 south,” or “when the road ends, turn left.” She can lead us to the nearest Starbucks, or grocery, and is totally apolitical when it comes to directions. Hers are always the most efficient routes, on the fastest roads, in the quickest time, and for this we love her.

Except when we’re not in a hurry.

Heading north from Salida, Colorado, our destination was Estes Park. Suzy’s plan was to take us N. on 285 and directly into the Denver area via 470 and then through Boulder. Ugh. Just because George W. Bush destroyed the nation’s economy doesn’t mean I have to drive around Denver. I’d sooner vote for Mitt Romney than drive on crazy, crowded highways (and by the way, you other drivers out there: you’re all assholes). I had already planned my route, and it is a good one. Take 285 N to 24 W, then hook up with Colorado 91 and pick up Interstate 70 at Frisco. Once I got on 24 W, Suzy recalculated and, in a surprisingly reluctant voice, gave in to my route choice, at least until we hit 70. Suzy was sure that we wanted to drive right into Denver and pick up on the route she’d originally planned, but when I took the highway 6 exit (exit 244, on the left), she recalculated again and seemed genuinely pissed. She even tried to loop me back to 70 via highway 40, but Colorado 119 to 72 to 7 is much more scenic, far less traveled, and genuinely peaceful.

We arrived safely in Estes Park and all is well.  Suzy must have forgiven us, because she seemed pleased to tell us:  “you have arrived at your destination.”  One thing to note about this route: there are no gas stations or places to stop and leave pee (unless it is in a bush or a stream).