Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beaumont 852

We crossed the border from New Mexico into Texas and one of the first signs we saw was "Beau-mont 852".

Eight hundred fifty-two miles and we would still be in Texas. (And that didn't even count the additional 30+ miles from Beaumont to the Louisiana border.)

The photos shown here were taken over the course of two days and 501 miles to Kerrville, TX. With the wide open spaces and light traffic flow, we were left to imagine what the destinations of the ranch "roads" (above) through the hills were

or how this cat (right) feels being on a leash while at one of the few rest tops along I-10.

With little in the way of traffic to attend, we started noting road conditions and designs--one design in particular.

After stopping for gas, we encountered an unusual form of entrance to get back on I-10. The entrance was also a frontage road. That is, turning onto the lane marked "I-10 East," we were confronted with a two-lane road. With much uncertainty (even though it was the only possible route back to the interstate), we turned onto this road. In about 500 yards, a road (which we belatedly realized was the entrance ramp) veered to the left.

I missed it.

Following a brief adventure in backing up, we made the turn onto the ramp, crossing in front of traffic which we hoped would "yield" in response to the sign instructing oncoming traffic to do so.

I don't know exactly where it was that we reached the limit on the identifi-cation of exits, but when we reach our exit to Kerrville, instead of hearing the voice in the box announce: "In two miles, Exit 27 (or 75 or 159) is on the right," we heard "In two miles, the exit is on the right."

Even the voice was not going to record the exit numbers when no other state would reach these upper ranges of exits.

We took Exit 501 for Kerrville.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Imagining the Old West

Today covers our drive from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, NM.

It was an overcast day--the perfect type of weather for driving into the sun. On cloudy days, driving seems to be less of a strain.

It is about 200 miles between the two cities, and we have been planning on driving between 200-250 miles a day when traveling between extended stay parks.

Shortly after leaving Albuquer-que, we ran into a little rain. The clouds and mist created some interesting covers for the surrounding hills.

The much-needed rain did not last long, and the sun, whose absence had been most welcome, appeared. While the reflection off the highway created a striking ribbon, the artistic product of sun and wet pavement was lost on me.

I just saw glare.

Along this sparsely populated stretch of the interstate, it was possible to imagine scenes from the Old West.

We could imagine Colonel Kit Carson riding from Fort Sumner rounding up the Mescalero Apache and Navajos, interning them at the Bosque Redondo in a chapter of history the Navajo refer to as the "Long Walk".

Or Billy the Kid riding across the desert landscape on the side of the ranch-hand Regulators against the General Store Monopoly in an attempt to break their stranglehold on the local economy in the infamous Lincoln County War.

Or the famed African American Buffalo Soldiers earning distinction fighting against Geronimo and the Apaches.

But seeing the Doña Ana Mountains and Robledo Mountains north of Las Cruces brought us back to the present day.

We stopped for the night at the Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces.

Monday, November 28, 2011

“Hey, I’m, just a kid.”

“You want me to review a James Beard Award winner?”

Before leaving Albuquerque, we must have lunch at this homey Mecca of New Mexico food that is noted particularly for their wonderful red chile. Or, as said at “We worship two Marys around these parts: La Virgen de Guadalupe and Mary Gonzales. The warm, fruity red chile at Mary & Tito’s—incompar-able for 48 years in its depth of flavor and color—has even earned it a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics designation.”

“Green chile perfect in its most pure form: simply roasted and chopped. Red chile, though, takes a little more effort and the results are less predictable. Not so great red chile tastes like wet chile powder. Great red chile transports us to tastebud nirvana. The gloriously rich and velvety red chile at Mary and Tito's in Albuquerque sends us reeling” (

There is nothing fancy about Mary & Tito’s. For ambience, you need to visit Sadie’s or El Pinto. “This little beige cafe, with wrought iron on the windows and a busted sign, probably hasn't been redecorated since the Nixon administra-tion. But if you're looking for something authenti-cally Albu-querque, this is it. Since 1968, senators and judges have lunched here with (some have said) quite a bit of legislation coming to pass over plates of enchiladas. Tito has long since passed, but Mary proudly carries on their legacy”(

While Mary Gonzales still comes to work every day, the day to day management is handled by Mary and Tito’s daughter, Antoinette Knight, along with members of the next generation. We had the chance to speak with Antoinette’s son Jordan Knight, while our table was being readied and he gave us some behind the scene details about Mary and Antoinette’s trip to New York to receive their award. At the ceremony, they met such culinary notables as Bobby Flay, Alton Brown, and Mario Batali of the Food Network and Wolfgang Puck, best known for his restaurant Spago. They attended the taping of a David Letterman program, went to a Yankees game, and saw a Broadway play. Was Mary impressed? Noooooo. She wanted to get back home to her rice and beans.

While you sit in the front dining room, you realize that some customers have been coming here for years. When Mary arrived and took a seat at the counter, a procession of diners came up to say hello. As one gentleman took his seat, Jordan called over to him: “You want iced tea, Frank?”

Later, one of the servers said to this same gentleman: “Wow, you’re having lunch for lunch today.” He must be one of those who orders breakfast at any time.

While munching on a basket of tortilla chips and a dish of very spicy salsa, the three of us pondered our menu options. Finally, after much deliberation, Chuck decided to order the Tito’s Special—refried beans with green chile and a flour tortilla. To augment his meal, he added—what else—a taco.

Now I wouldn’t have found his lunch overly exciting, but I do admit that Mary & Tito’s does make some of the best refried beans around. And the taco was a definite improve-ment over the patty in a taco shell at El Charro in Tucson. And the green chile, while not what I consider the best in Albuquerque—that honor goes to Sophia’s place—still carries plenty of heat.

I had no problem making my choices—the chile relleno with green chile and the a la carte portion of carne adovada. Chile relleno is a dish by which I judge a Mexican or New Mexican restaurant. Here, the very large chile is lightly battered and the coating doesn’t taste overly of egg. Fortunately, they don’t whip the egg batter to a froth leaving a puffy coating that you have to work through before reaching the chile. And the green chile sauce complements the cheese stuffed chile. (Boy, I have used the word chile a lot in this paragraph!)

And now for the carne adovada—a dish of slow simmered pork that has been marinated and then cooked in red chile. Words escape me. So I will quote Gil Garduno (what would a blog about food be without a quote from Gil) whose poetic musing on Mary & Tito’s red chile I couldn’t hope to match: “There have been times (many, in fact) in which a magical endorphin high from Mary & Tito’s red chile made my taste buds so unbelievably, deliriously happy that I’ve sworn nothing quite as good has ever crossed my lips. Immediately after each meal at Mary & Tito’s, I want to repeat it, usually right then and there…The red chile has culled a legendary reputation among aficionados. Slathered generously on your entrees, it is a rich red color. At first impression it tastes great, but the more you eat more of it, the more the piquant heat builds up. Oh, the wonderful burn!” (

Yes, there are individual New Mexican dishes that I prefer at other Albuquerque restaurants, but the consistently good food here coupled with the warm and friendly family atmosphere make this restaurant my favorite. Thankfully, the third generation seems poised to ultimately take over so that those seeking authentic New Mexico food will always have Mary & Tito’s.

Oh, a rating. 5.0 Addies, of course.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Because of a Parking Place…

we found “one of the last of a dying breed of real, rustic New Mexico roadhouses” (Karl Moffatt at

Our plan was to stop in Jemez Springs for lunch at the Stage Stop which we featured in our blog of January 13, 2011. But we were having trouble finding a parking place. Then Chuck spies an open space across the road. Only one problem, that space belonged to a combination restaurant, saloon, and package goods store. This looks like a good place for lunch.

“Though humans have probably inhabited the Jemez Valley since 2500 B.C., recorded history of the area began when the Spaniards arrived in the area in 1540. From then on, Jemez Springs has had an exciting and storied history steeped in sheep wars; disreputable vigilantes, desperadoes and outlaws and wild gaming enterprises.

“In 1912, Moses Abousle-man, a Lebanese immigrant, built a general store that would eventually become the Los Ojos Restaurant and Bar. Los Ojos (“the springs”) retains the appearance of the old western saloon it is, both from its faded adobe facade and its interior which celebrates trophy hunting of local wildlife. A painting on the west wall depicts cowboys standing around a bar, a site duplicated on a daily basis though today’s cowboys generally have more horsepower at their disposal than their old western counterparts” (Gil Garduno at

Los Ojos attracts a diverse clientele--“Bikers, lesbians, old rustic types, scruffy young bourgeois types trying to look non bourgeois, old tourists, younger tourists—it’s fun” (Johnk at Sometimes, the guy sitting next to you at the bar may be a scientist from Los Alamos or a mover and shaker from Santa Fe. It’s that kind of place.

And we all sit and listen to classic country music – Glen Campbell and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Marty Robbins and “El Paso,” Johnny Cash and “I Walk the Line,” Patsy Cline and ‘I Fall to Pieces,” and Tammy Wynette and “Stand By Your Man.” Admit it. You can’t hear that last one without thinking about Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers, can you?

We entered through a side door which led through an anteroom with a stained glass Los Ojos sign. From there, you walk through two small dining rooms before entering the heart of the building—the saloon.

A large fireplace dominated one wall, and it and the split log wainscoting were hung with large Christmas-like lights. These are probably an everyday decoration and not just placed there for the holidays.

Wild West accoutre-ments abound. “In a high-testosterone, taxidermist’s dream sort of way, it shouts ‘fun.’ Trophy animals–bobcats, bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, deer and elk–are mounted on the walls where they share space with antique rifles. Wagon wheel lighting and vintage memorabilia abound” (Gil Garduno at

And if you recognize this dude*, you are as old as I am.

Hanging above our table was the official (or semi-official) occupancy statement. I am intrigued by the use of quotation marks here. Does this mean that they just give the proverbial wink and a nod to the bar’s capacity?

When the server brought our menus, she also presented us with a Dos Ojos postcard of the saloon area saying that anyone entering with a camera must be a tourist. When we questioned the absence of the pool table shown on the postcard, she explained that it had been shoved out of the way for the filming of a TV program. She then explained that an early Brooks & Dunn music video and a French film had used the saloon as an atmospheric background. The latest was a program about Bigfoot for Animal Planet. When Chuck asked about local Bigfoot sightings, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “Some folks have too much time on their hands.”

But Kitty Humbug, upon hearing that Hollywood had come calling, took a seat on one of the wooden barstools (carved with a chainsaw from local logs) and said: “If it worked for Lana Turner, it will work for me.” (She was supposedly discovered sitting at the soda fountain at Schwab’s Pharmacy.)

This place is about so much more than food. But we did stop to have lunch. The menu is a combination of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, “Americana” Specialties, New Mexican selections, and vegetarian options.

Chuck went for the “Americana” chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy and the day’s vegetable. His plate held a large piece of very good breaded and fried steak, and a sauté of crisp cooked vegetables that included broccoli, string beans, red bell peppers, and carrots. But why, when you go to the trouble of producing such excellent vegetables do you ruin the plate with instant mashed potatoes?

I elected the “All Combustible” meal and ordered an appetizer portion of Buffalo Wings and a bowl of Green Chile. (Listed on the menu as a cup for $4.99 and a bowl for $2.99.)

Technically, the wings weren’t true Buffalo-style. They were breaded and fried (Buffalo fries the wings naked) and weren’t tossed in a hot sauce mixture. Rather, the heat was incorporated into the batter. But I don’t like wings tossed in sauce—the skin gets flabby—so I was pleased to see them prepared this way. And they came without celery stalks and with ranch dressing instead of blue cheese. No problem.

My first reaction when seeing the Green Chile was “I ordered a bowl, not the entire soup tureen.” This was a giant bowl of soup. My second reaction was an almost immediate watering of the eyes and running of the nose. Oh my heavens! The chile contained shreds of pork, bits of tomato, and an abundance of Hatch (confirmed by our server) green chiles. How hot was this? Chuck tasted a half spoonful and immediately drank a whole glass of water. Because the heat hit in the back of the mouth, you didn’t notice it at first. But it was delicious. The more you ate the more you wanted. This was the best New Mexico green chile I have ever eaten.

Save for the instant mashed potatoes, this was surprisingly good food for the middle of nowhere. (Jemez Springs has a population around 1500.) We have added Los Ojos to our “we have to come back” list and award it 4.0 Addies.

*That's William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Search Continues

With the hope of catching some final glimpse of Fall, we headed north of Albuquerque on I-25 to Bernalillo, then west on NM 550 to San Ysidro. Then it was north on Highway 4, the Jemez Mountain Trail, to Jemez Springs.

Finding brilliant color along the route was easy. As we passed Jemez Pueblo, we came upon the Red Rocks.

Even at midday, the red color was vivid; we could only imagine how dominant the red color would be as sunset neared.

Along the highway were parking areas with picnic tables along the Jemez River. These areas would have been fine places to stop to photograph some of the foliage, but the gate to each of these areas was locked. We must have passed three or four such possible stops before finding a campground located along the river.

The sites for parking campers or RVs were empty, so we could walk through these areas to get closer to the river or get a better angle for photographs.

It was clear that we had missed the peak color period of the season, but there were many subtle colors present in the grasses and tree leaves.

Even this grove of trees with no leaves was colorful; their silver appearance contrasted nicely with the red in the hillside.
On the trees with brown leaves, the sunlight created a shiny reflection on the leaves.

Sometimes all it took was one tree with its soft yellow or gold leaves to create an eye-catching image.

The small creek added another dimension to the colors along its shore. In some instances, its reflections were the focus of a scene; other

times it moved to the background and the grasses and trees were the prominent feature of the scene.

We didn't know what the name of the plant in the foreground was, but we thought it added a textural dimension to a scene. It had the wispy quality of a dandelion going to seed, but its structure was more complex.

Finally, the stark white of the branches highlighted the role that the deep blue sky played in com-plementing the colors of the grasses, trees, and leaves.