Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Even More Dinosaurs

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I second-guessed myself more often than normal on this trip. I mean, sure, I pretty much constantly live in my head anyway, but as the person who picked out all of the stuff we were going to see and do along the way, I was feeling some pressure. If I picked a bunch of stuff that made me and no one else happy, I ruined two thirds of the trip, wasted two people’s money and vacation time, and that would probably do a sizeable blow to our friendship. I knew that The Dinosaur Musem in Blanding, UT, would be approximately the jillionth dinosaur thing we’d done on the trip, but I felt pretty passionately about it when I put it on the list, though I couldn’t remember exactly why as we rolled up to this warehouse-y building in the middle of nowhere. I tried to tell myself that if it was terrible, at least we could leave, though that probably wouldn’t make up for me telling Emily she couldn’t browse the Moab shops for earrings.

Dudes and dudettes, this museum was awesome. It was possibly the best dinosaur exhibit I’ve ever seen, and you know I’ve been to many a dinosaur museum. The admission is dirt cheap (possibly cheaper than dirt) at $3.50, and the AAA discount cut it down to three bucks even. But this inexpensive entrance was really just a bonus. The collection here was top-freaking-notch, and there’s good reason for it. The museum was founded and the exhibits were done by one Stephen Czerkas, paleontologist and preeminent paleo artist, who devoted his later years to correcting our misconceptions about dinosaurs–namely concerning their appearance. The feathered dinosaurs I saw here were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They have one of only four pre-Cambrian logs in the world. And they have a full Edmontonsaurus complete with some areas of fossilized skin! AND the world’s largest collection of dinosaur movie posters and other dinosaur movie memorabilia! The woman working there was awesome as well–within a minute of entering the building, she’d already told me a new-to-me fact about the T. Rex, and while we shopped around in the gift shop, she told us about how she used to fossil hunt in the area before it became illegal. We all loved her and wanted to take her with us, but since she had museum duties and we would be traveling home on a different route, we sadly parted ways, but not before buying a dinosaur mascot and naming her Feminist Killjoy.

sunburn and bugs day four (27 of 76)The aforementioned log, found in San Juan county.

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sunburn and bugs day four (40 of 76)Dinosaur or skeksis?

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sunburn and bugs day four (42 of 76)I so hoped they’d sell these in the gift shop.

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sunburn and bugs day four (54 of 76)Obvs my favorite poster.

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Our last stop before we hit Santa Fe was Four Corners, because even though it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it, I wanted to do it. I also wanted to do it because it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it. I mean, come on: if you’re passing on a road thisclose to Four Corners, how could you not stop?

sunburn and bugs day four (75 of 76)You should probably also stop for horse crossings.

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Four Corners is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be: an almost unreasonably hot tourist attraction with a long line of people waiting to take photographic proof that they were in four states at once, sweating and squinting, and looking miserable. But since there’s a three photo limit and a limited number of poses that could array all one’s limbs into even state distribution (at least for your average tourist, I have no doubt a contortionist could manage a few more), the line moves quickly. Also, any part of your body that comes in contact with the ground that’s not covered in a protective shoe will probably immediately regret it as it starts to cook, so that doesn’t encourage tarrying. Afterward, you’re free, freeee to browse the almost 60 kiosks spread among the four states, selling jewelry, magnets, knives, and again, pretty much what you’d expect. So browse we did, and buy we did, and I think the afternoon’s jewelry shopping possibly made up for the morning hustle. Possibly.

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sunburn and bugs day four (63 of 76)These cacti were attracting dozens of hummingbirds, zipping and divebombing and generally making people wonder what it would be like to be impaled with a teeny tiny hypodermic beak.

sunburn and bugs day four (76 of 76)Also a fair number of hummingbird size bees.

sunburn and bugs day four (64 of 76)Rachel, Feminist Killjoy, and me in four states! Ok, Feminist Killjoy is in four, anyway.

sunburn and bugs day four (65 of 76)Yo blogger’s butt’s so big! How big is it? It’s so big it can be in four states at once!

sunburn and bugs day four (67 of 76)Shipwreck rock

The ride from Four Corners to Santa Fe was dismal. The most direct route is through these tiny backroads with nothing to look at but prairie dogs. There was no place for food (it may in fact be the longest stretch of road in the United States without a Starbucks, but that’s just a wild guess), there was approximately one place to gas up, and we arrived at the hotel late, after pretty much every restaurant had closed, starving and miserable. But I had my own room while we were there (the rooms were too small for three unless someone was up for sleeping on the floor, which, surprise, was not something any of us was enthusiastic about) so I was able to eat a protein bar in bed, totally pantsless, while finally watching the previous week’s episode of Game of Thrones, so it wasn’t all bad. And the following day was the big day, the entire reason for our trip: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Now that it was so close, I could hardly wait.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Various Noteworthy Rocks

Moab turned out to be a super cute town by the light of day, full of shops and restaurants and even a rock shop that gives away a free dinosaur bone to every customer and we couldn’t do any of it. Because as I said to Emily, “WE NEED TO STOP FUCKING AROUND.” Which isn’t really fair, considering I was the one who plotted all these meandering stops that pulled us off the more direct route and caused us to roll in to every evening’s stop at 10pm, and now I was saying “NO, we don’t have time to shop” like I was a trip dictator and was bringing two hostages along with me who were responsible for paying their own way?  Yeah, that’s basically how it went down. We had time for breakfast on the beautiful hotel patio, sneakily stuff some second breakfast into our pockets, and grab coffee before we rolled out of town…

…and stopped a mere fifteen miles down the road at Hole N’ The Rock. This is something that I knew about but actually hadn’t added to my list, because I figured it was the sort of tourist trap that only I would be interested in. But I’m glad we did stop, because now I’ve toured the House on the Rock and the Hole N’ The Rock and all I need to complete the trifecta is to tour a house UNDER a rock or The Rock’s house (my email address is on my about page, Dwayne. Just saying.). sunburn and bugs day four (1 of 76)

Hole N’ The Rock is a home that was carefully dynamited out of a sandstone rock half a mile high. While we waited for our home tour to begin, we browsed through the shop, trying on hats, joking about buying one of the swords on the wall to wave out the window at cars that wouldn’t let us pass…and one of the employees overheard us. It turns out she was our tour guide and this is how I got labeled “the troublemaker” on our tour. OK, sure, sometimes I cause trouble (mostly on the internet), but this time I was just innocently grabbing two gun shaped belt buckles in order to make a really gross joke which isn’t troublemaking so much as it is cheap prop comedy.  However, for the entirety of the tour, she made sure to let me know she had eyes on me–no touching (I mean you, troublemaker), no climbing on anything (I’m looking at you, troublemaker) which incidentally made it really difficult to get into trouble.

There were no photos allowed on the tour (I mean it, troublemaker), so I will do my best to paint you a photo through the use of evocative language. It was basically a cave that someone turned into a house.

Not evocative enough? Sheesh. There were a lot of odd juxtapositions in the house in the Hole N’ The Rock. Yes, it’s essentially a cave house–with the portion of the cave that was turned into a commercial kitchen painted a thick shiny mint green to prevent sandstone from crumbling into the food, decked out with 50s era appliances. The rest of the cave walls and ceilings are natural stone, with supports left up all over to prevent the half mile of stone above them from falling down and smashing them at the molecular level, like scientists searching for the Higgs boson. Granted, I have not been in many cave homes, but I would have expected the furnishings to look a little more rustic. Instead, they had some ornate Victorian style antiques which looked very out of place in a cave. Propped up on the bed were lots and lots of creepy porcelain dolls, the kind that one could easily believe come to life when you aren’t looking and kill people, their tiny white porcelain hands rinsing perfectly clean to remove all evidence of their heinous crimes. There were also some monstrous pieces of taxidermy–a mustang and her foal forever posed in the hideous curl the amateur taxidermist found them frozen in. A decaying burro with horrendously misshapen hooves. And all around, paintings of Jesus, watching the dolls watch the tour guide watching you.

The rest of the grounds you were free to photograph to your heart’s content, save in the gift shops, because they don’t want the world at large to have photographic evidence of what they charge for a bag of Doritos, lest they plan ahead and frugally pack their own.

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sunburn and bugs day four (5 of 76)Dude, what is it with Utah and Cars?

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sunburn and bugs day four (11 of 76)I’m not certain what they do with this jail but I’m glad I didn’t sass the tour guide.

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sunburn and bugs day four (14 of 76)I thought it was funny that the sign had both our destination and a place from our home state on it.

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After we’d hassled Hole N’ The Rock’s many lizards and plumbed the depths of their gift shops, we headed to our next destination (and subsequently drove past it and had to backtrack to the (barely marked? Let’s say unmarked.) offshoot road that led to it): Newspaper Rock. Newspaper Rock is a petroglyph site with art that dates from 1500 years ago to this century. And when I say “this century” I mean up to and including the current week because people can be real pieces of shit. Here’s this thing with historical significance! It won’t be complete until I carve my name into it, being a person of significance!  The markings themselves have not been deciphered, but it was still very cool to see something that old in person.

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sunburn and bugs day four (21 of 76)This looks like the discovery of one Dr. Richard Stinkbeard. (NSFW)

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On our way back to the main road, we saw this…thing off in the distance, so Rachel and I went to check it out. It was certainly…a thing all right. Weather station? Alien detector? A new pyramid-based roadside attraction? I have no idea.

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And with that assessment, we were off to check out more of a different sort of rock, blasting rock music and eating rock candy. Rock on.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: How Can I Have Moab If I Haven’t Had Any Ab Yet?

On the morning of my departure from Salt Lake City, I took one of those showers that leaves one still feeling dirty. Not because I was taking a shower in the middle of a giant jetted tub in a carpeted room, or because of all of the french fries I’d consumed hours prior in that same tub, or even because of the drinks that got me to the point of consuming fries in a tub like a bargain Hasselhoff. No, I still felt dirty because Salt Lake City has the hardest water of anywhere I’ve ever visited, the kind of water that leaves you feeling like your skin has been airbrushed with grime, leaving nary a single nook nor cranny unscathed. I probably would have been better off just slathering on more deodorant and hanging my greasy head out of the window to be blowdried by the salty wind. Perhaps the other people who had to share an enclosed car with me and my various odors wouldn’t have been better off, but that’s a hypothetical for the next road trip that runs through Garbage Water USA.

Before we met up with Emily’s brother for breakfast, I wanted to get a couple of snaps of the stuff I’d seen the night previous in the daylight, namely the astronaut and Brother Zack the alien. Although they were just a few blocks away, it took a bit longer than I thought it would, because SLC has long blocks, which are made all the longer for the relative lack of anything worth looking at on them. Granted, I didn’t see the entire city, but what I saw felt dull, empty, and oddly sterile. Few people out and about, primarily chain establishments, empty business spaces for lease everywhere, and none of the small stuff that makes a city feel vital and thriving.

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After breakfast, we swung by the Gilgal Gardens, which are so set back from the street and unobtrusive that I never would have found them if I wasn’t specifically looking for them. The gardens’ sculptures are all intended to be physical expressions of the creator Thomas Child’s internal philosophies, primarily focusing on religious belief. If you’re interested in the intended meaning of the sculptures, you can learn more about them here. I was primarily interested in the Sphinx with the face of LDS founder Joseph Smith, because that was the weird thing that put this place on my radar to begin with. Aside from the photo opportunity, the gardens didn’t really resonate with me. It’s not impossible for me to be moved by religious artwork, there just needs to be something more to it than an obscure bible verse carved into a rock.

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After the Gilgal, we were ready for some fresh, salty air in our faces, at the Great Saltair. I definitely half-assed my research, because when we arrived, I expected to see something that looked a lot more like this instead of the discount Wal-Mart version we got. If only I had scrolled down even a little further on the Wikipedia page. Just a little, eensy bit. Regardless, this was our first time getting a real glimpse (and smell of) the Great Salt Lake. It was, uh, not good. The lake has receded quite a bit since this Saltair was built, shimmering in the distance across a vast expanse of salt-crusted sand, while the wind whips its pungent odor up into the nostrils. It’s not the fresh salt air of the ocean, it’s a malodorous crusty decaying shoreline that assaults your nose. That’s some great salt air! Still, Rachel and I decided to venture out to the water’s edge, with me boldly declaring that I was going to taste the water to find out how truly salty it was.  The entire walk to  the shore was littered with bird corpses, and I began to instantly regret my earlier announcement. Bugs swirled around us in disgusting tornadoes. Bones crunched underfoot. And still there were people out wearing swimsuits and carrying beach towels, either because they were optimists or they were bound and determined to use the things they’d lugged along with them. As we reached the shoreline, the water lapped at thousands (millions? I wasn’t going to count) of dead insects and I really hoped Rachel wouldn’t remind me that I was letting her, nay, the world down for not putting some of that salty bug water in my mouth. Thankfully, she is far more humane than I would have been if the situation was reversed (I would have at least teased her about it), and the water remained ungargled. At least by me.

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sunburn and bugs day three (28 of 67)Look at how far away the Saltair is from the shore!

Our next stop was the “Up” house in Herriman. This Disney dream house was built in a relatively normal Utahan suburb, and the new owners are kind of prickly about people taking photos of and with it, which doesn’t really make sense to me as long as people aren’t actually trespassing. If privacy was paramount to me, I don’t know that I would buy a house that was built for the express purpose of marvel and amazement in a populated area and then get angry when people marvel and are amazed. When I emailed to ask for permission to take photos of the house, they said a couple of photos were fine so long as we didn’t have any balloons or wear costumes of any kind. FINE. That’s what Photoshop is for.

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Our next architectural marvel was Krishna’s Lotus Temple in Spanish Fork, which was built as a replica of a temple in India. It was beautiful and they even let us feed their koi. I can’t speak to the quality of their $5 all you can eat vegetarian buffet as I was still full from breakfast, but had I more time, I could have definitely done some reading there in the sunshine while peacocks strutted around. Alas, we had to pack back into the car relatively quickly as we had at least three more hours to drive–and that’s without stops.

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Speaking of stops, we tried to take a short detour to see the World’s Largest Miner but after pulling off at three different (wrong) exits, finally getting off at the right one and being forced on a detour due to construction, and still not seeing it, I (as the driver and also the person most interested in seeing the world’s largest anythings) declared “Fuck it, we’re going to keep driving”.  And so we did.

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Until we saw the world’s largest watermelon. The world’s largest driveable watermelon. I don’t know how the fuck the driver sees anything from inside this seedy behemoth, the important thing(s) is (are) that: it was completely unguarded, I was able to go inside, and they wisely did not leave the keys in the vehicle so I couldn’t attempt to take it on a test drive. It’s like they knew I was coming.

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sunburn and bugs day three (49 of 67)Once we were done trespassing in Green River’s giant watermelon, we made our way to Ray’s Tavern for a quick bite, and then it was back on the road, with a minor stop-off at another Pixar-happy location, Papa Joe’s, where the cars from Cars went to retire, grow decrepit, and die. It also appears that the Scooby Doo gang met with an unfortunate end here. The real mystery is where their bodies are buried.

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At this point, we were about thirty miles from our destination. Rachel and Emily passed time by competing to see who could find the most prairie dogs, and I began to feel a little left out because as the driver, I couldn’t see any of them except the road-flattened ones which I was informed don’t count. So while they tallied up real prairie dogs, I began pointing out all of the ones they didn’t see, like a hitchhiking one on the side of the road wearing a tiny metal bikini with dreams of going to Comic Con. Apparently those don’t count, either.

We were passing Arches national park just as the sun was starting to set, and I asked the group if they wanted to swing in–knowing that we couldn’t possibly see all of it (including the most famous part of it, Delicate Arch, which I already knew was off the table as it requires a fairly strenuous hike from which the unprepared often have to be rescued) but that we could at least see some of this beautiful scenery that we may otherwise never visit. Everyone agreed, so I pulled in, racing against the sun, careening around hairpin turns while Rachel and Emily photographed out of the car windows. We made some pretty good progress before we lost the sun, stopping a few times to better take in the area. As the driver, I don’t have many photos, but what I saw was unforgettable, from the startlingly red rocks towering above us as we began our ascent into the park to the first twinkling stars peeking out over the formations.

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We stopped at balanced rock and had just enough light to eke out the short hike around it. At the back half, Emily elected to go back the (more paved) way we came, and I decided to press forward, telling Rachel which way I was going. I got back to the car and pulled on the handle, expecting that everyone had beaten me there and were anxious to get to the hotel while I fiddled with camera settings. The car was empty. I walked back to the path. Full darkness had set in and there was no cell signal. “Emily? Rachel?” I called out, getting louder with each repetition. “EMILY?! RACHEL?!?” I found Emily back on the path, using her phone’s light to look at the various insects that had wandered out in the absence of the heat of day and told her that I’d gone back to the car but Rachel wasn’t there, had she seen her? “That’s not funny,” she replied. “I’m not trying to be funny,” I hissed back. Rachel joined us almost immediately thereafter, saying she’d been calling for me and some other hiker told her which way I’d gone. It’s not that he knew my name, he just figured that the two ladies stumbling around in the dark without any equipment must have been together. At least we didn’t have to be rescued.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Medium Roar, Lightly Salted

There’s no drive as long or as tense as the one to a gas station of indeterminate distance when your gas light has just ticked on. Even though you know in your heart that you have at least a gallon left, every song on the radio might as well be the score to an action movie. The worst action movie ever, mind you, because the only action is scanning the horizon for any sign of an upcoming pump, which probably still makes it better than Fantastic Four. As you’re probably biting your nails right now from empathetic anxiety, I’ll save your manicure and let you know we made it to a station with gas to spare, which unfortunately takes this from a potentially interesting story to a boring one. So sorry for that, but not all of my stories can end with being towed illegally on the top of a flat bed truck, and if I didn’t resolve the (non) cliffhanger from the last post that’d be poor storytelling. Yes, there is a lot of poor storytelling around here, but I didn’t want to engage in poor storytelling this time. Shut up.

Our next stop was the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, because while my motto is not “If there’s a dinosaur I want to see it”, it may as well be*. The drive there was filled with a lot of conversation about the effect of the great salt lake on the surrounding environment. Does it make the rain salty? Do they have to salt the roads in winter? Do local vegetables have to be seasoned when they’re cooked or do they come pre-seasoned? Is the salt the reason the landscape and all the vegetation looks a little frosted or is that just the way it looks? Does dead stuff naturally mummify here rather than decompose? If you just went out and licked the grass, would it be salty? Can you pull over so I can get out and lick the grass?

Aside from the last question, the answers were all “I don’t know”. The answer to the last one was “No, Mellzah, and stop asking.”

Once we were at the park, I strode up to the admissions desk, whipped out my credit card, and informed them that I’d like three tickets for adults who act like children, and is there any discount for the young at heart? Again, the answer was no. I was getting shut down left and right that day. Evidently no one finds me as charming as I’d like to think.

The indoor portion of the park closes earlier than the outside, so we made our way through the inside first, starting with the animatronic dinosaurs upstairs. I feel like the quality of these sorts of dinosaurs has improved drastically, and if I saw one out of the museum context, say, if I was just walking down the street and happened to catch a glimpse of one moving in the bushes, I would absolutely poop my pants.

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Outside of the animatronics section (is it a section if there are only two of them?) is a room of fossils and minerals. My favorites were the minerals that looked like foods. The vast majority were labeled with what they actually were in addition to the item they were masquerading as, with the exception of the snickers bar, which may well mean it’s simply a petrified snickers bar, possibly due to the aforementioned salt mummification process. I do know that if they weren’t behind glass, I would have definitely tried to put one of those jelly beans in my mouth as I have a weakness for chewy candy or rocks that look like chewy candy, which is a fact to which my dentist will attest.

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Downstairs were the larger, showier fossils, as well as an area where you can see paleontologists at work. Or could, if they weren’t already done for the day. Lazy scientists.

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Before going outside to check out their large, exciting dinosaur displays, I popped into their gift shop before it closed for the day and was sorely disappointed. I never would have guessed that a park with this many large displays would have such a crappy gift shop–I’ve seen better wares on offer at gas stations. Did you know that some of those have thong underwear that folds up into a rose, for a charming gift? And that the tube they come in can be turned into a charming crack pipe?  Most of this gift shop was empty, with a few sad magnets and posters hanging around to let you know you weren’t in the wrong place. Blech.

The outdoor portion of the park was wonderful, though. Everywhere I turned, there was another huge dinosaur making a menacing pose or engaging in deathsports, and I couldn’t help but think that as a teenager, this would be the absolute coolest place to hang out after they closed for the day. And I definitely wasn’t even that kind of teenager–I opted for the annoying, goody-two-shoes end of the spectrum. In case the teens who hang out behind my house are reading this, I definitely encourage you** to drop everything and drive to Utah and hang out there.

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sunburn and bugs day two (79 of 94)The orthodontiasaurus

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sunburn and bugs day two (72 of 94)“Look at that sad, gross thing.” “It’s not very nice to talk about our ancestor that way, Emily.”

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sunburn and bugs day two (54 of 94)The spirit of the 80s is alive in this dinosaur.

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sunburn and bugs day two (77 of 94)Mandatory.

sunburn and bugs day two (64 of 94)And then there was this guy.

 

It had been threatening to rain the whole time we were at the park, and just as we were getting ready to leave, it started to sprinkle. I stopped to snap a few more pics, turned around, and saw that Rachel and Emily were already out of the gate and heading toward the car. Given my behavior of the past few hours (the loud singing and the incessant questions and the rocket dong and the gas thing which may or may not have been my fault for not speaking up when I saw a “last services for ___ miles” sign), I decided that I’d better book it to the car so as not to be left behind, shambling and crying out “Don’t leave me, I’ll be better!” in the manner of the truly unathletic and uncool. After all, I didn’t want to have to try to take shelter in the cave of a fake cave bear.

We dropped off Rachel at a friend’s house for the night and then made our way to our hotel in Salt Lake City. Finally, I’d know if the rumors were true: if this really was the greatest city in the country in which to dress immodestly and get crunk. Emily was pretty tired from the day’s drive and was definitely looking forward to having a cocktail and meeting up with her brother, who lives in the area. I was excited, too. We had been using the Hotel Tonight app each morning to prebook that night’s hotel–this made it so we didn’t have to plan where we were going to be every single night in advance and allowed for some spontaneity while making sure we didn’t end up sleeping in the car (because you know, summertime, peak travel season, etc). Another advantage to going that route was that since it’s last minute, the rates can be lower, unless there’s really low availability everywhere. For our night in Salt Lake City, we were staying at the Hotel Monaco, which is a flipping nice hotel, for a pretty damn low price.  Since Rachel was going to be with her friends and Emily was going to be with her brother, I was going soak in some hotel alone time–maybe have a bath, eat some pizza, finally watch that week’s episode of Game of Thrones, feed the loaner goldfish some pizza crust, and just generally relax.

We pulled into the hotel, gave the valet the keys, and hauled all of our stuff to the front desk to check in. Emily gave the hotel clerk her name, and he tapped and looked a bit perplexed and then said he regretted to inform us that we didn’t have a reservation and that the hotel was fully booked. Noooooooo! Emily checked the app, and sure as shit, she had accidentally booked us at a different hotel a few blocks away. So everything got hauled back out to the car, where the confused valet helped load us up and got a pretty sizeable tip for not laughing at us.

We checked in at this new hotel, and I asked the desk clerk about my options for food delivery that wouldn’t also fill me with regret, and according to the clerk, delivery regret is one of the few Salt Lake City specialties, so my hopes for the evening dropped by a few notches. Emily was distraught about this change of venue and kept apologizing to me about the turn of events, and I kept telling her it was fine (because it was fine, I’m not fancy).

Not as distraught as she was, however, when she saw the room, which I promptly dubbed “The Love Bunker” when I saw the enormous jetted hot tub in the middle of the living room. Hot tub shower combo, I should say, as there was no shower in the bathroom proper, which meant we’d have to be a lot more careful in the morning to not accidentally ogle one another’s goodies, because we haven’t reached that full nudity state of comfort with one another yet. Yet.

Also in the bathroom? A giant mirror that took up the entire wall facing the toilet that affords you the opportunity to become way more familiar with your own goodies whether you wanted to or not. Complete with a phone, in case you needed to order some delivery-based regret while on the can.

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When we saw the room and I saw Emily contemplating throwing herself over the balcony***, I knew my plans for the evening had to be set aside, and I went into Full Clown Mode. Basically, when someone is feeling badly but there’s not really anything I can do about it, I just act like a bigger and bigger jackass in the hopes of jollying them out of it. Because what’s a lack of self respect for if I can’t make it useful once in a while? I popped into the bathroom, called Emily from the vagina phone, and told her we were going out and getting her the largest drink Salt Lake City had to offer. Or rather, a number of small ones because Salt Lake City doesn’t allow large ones. And a vodka penne. And a boozy salad. I then popped into the shower while she was taking photos of the room to show her husband just how ridiculous it was, because that’s what friends do.

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oh my goodness

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On our way out of the hotel, we spotted this astronaut, who looked as if he had flung himself from our hotel room and was totally fine with that.

Because we’re gluttons for punishment, we had dinner at Bambara, one of the restaurants inside the Hotel Monaco. I breezed past the same confused valet and informed him that since I’d seen our real room, I needed a drink, and then made my way to the restaurant, where we met up with Emily’s brother. Although it wasn’t what I had planned for my evening, I ended up having a really good time. After we finished eating and boxed up our leftovers, we went next door to The Red Door to have another drink. I tried to abstain as one drink gets me plenty tipsy these days, but first I got peer pressured by Emily and her brother to just order one and let it sit there and then I got drink shamed by the bartender for not drinking it because I was “talking too much to drink” so two it was. I may not have dressed immodestly but I definitely got a little bit crunk that night.

sunburn and bugs day two (91 of 94)“What’s the deal with that monkey?” I asked. Evidently the owner of the bar has a friend who works on animatronics for Disney and asked him to make something for the bar, and one day this showed up, tiny skull staff and all.

I knew that the Mormon UFO I wanted to see was in the general area, so I asked Emily’s brother if he’d seen it. He hadn’t heard of it, so they had me ask the bartender. He hadn’t heard about it, either, and when I pulled up a picture to show that it exists, they both immediately said that the bar it was in front of was right down the street and the UFO was definitely not there or if it was, it was so tiny as to be unnoticeable.

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IT WAS NEITHER. I may talk too much and drink too little, but I was vindicated, and that’s what was important. To me, anyway.

Also important: I got to ask Emily’s brother all of the questions I’d had about the area’s general saltiness and was able to get some answers, namely that nothing but the lake is salty and that they do need to salt the roads in winter, which made me feel a little salty. I also informed Emily that I’d be eating the rest of my steak and fries in the giant tub, just because I could. She didn’t believe me.

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It was medium rare and lightly salted and just what I needed.

 

*Depending on which day you ask me, my motto is “Eh, why not?”, “Can I get extra cheese on that?”, or a string of curse words. So I don’t really have a motto exactly, I just say some predictable things.

**I do NOT assume any of the legal consequences for this or any other act you may do.

***If you’re looking at the Love Bunker and saying “that’s really not so bad,” you’re right, it was more a combination of factors that I’m not going to get into. Let’s just say the room was the icing on the cake, or the salt on the steak, as it were.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Idaho? No, You Da Ho

Anxious to hit the road again, we had just enough time to grab some hotel breakfast and coffee next door, where I learned that while Virginia may be for lovers, Boise is for gangsters.

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I should have known. Forget about the potatoes. Boise, Idaho has a longstanding reputation for being home to some of the hardest people on Earth. For instance, a quick visit to the idahogangs.com website shows that the area is routinely terrorized by members of the so-called “Insane Clown Posse,” a group which is well known for guzzling large (dare I say insane?) amounts of Faygo brand soda, smearing themselves with paint, and talking about how they’d kill people with hatchets if they weren’t so stoned they can’t get off the couch. The moose gang isn’t mentioned, but I have to assume they’re relatively new if they have to make up swag stickers to get people interested and build up their rep as true badasses and terrors in the night.

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Owing to all that coffee consumption, we stopped at nearly every rest stop along the way, and I marveled at how much the scenery had changed over the course of our trip so far–from green mountains with dazzling blue lakes to desert hills to scrubby plains with silver bushes dotting the landscape like pills on your favorite sweater. One rest stop we visited was full of nesting swallows who scolded us as we tried to get a peep of their young. When we were able to tear ourselves away from the birds and convenient restrooms, we hit the road and continued to Twin Falls, home of “Niagara Falls of the West”–though not as wide and also taller, so not really like Niagara Falls at all. I’ve never understood that naming trend. Is it for people who can’t go and see the original? Is it for people who want to take a trip but want the familiar comforts of something they’ve already seen? Is it for the namers, who have an inferiority complex about the actual goodness of the thing they’re naming? My house is at the Everglades of Washington state, only with mostly ducks and frogs and way fewer (no) alligators and 0.00001% of the size! Come meet my dog, he’s the Lassie of jack russell terriers, except if you’re on the floor weeping in pain instead of going for help he tries to cram his tongue down your throat! I’m the Jennifer Lawrence of untalented regular people!

On our way there, we passed the spot where Evel Knievel attempted his Snake River Canyon jump in 1974, which had me pondering: in a post Evel Knievel world, who is our flamboyant daredevil? Must our canyons remain unjumped? Our gorges’ airspaces undisturbed? Our predators with slightly fewer chances to grab and eat a passing man off of a motorcycle? Our leather jumpsuit and cape artisans’ workload remain empty? The answer is no: Eddie Braun is making another attempt at the Snake River Canyon this September.

A mere three miles down the road is Twin Falls, aka Shoshone Falls, aka Niagara West, aka America’s Icelandic Toilet (no doubt as the popularity of this blog surges, that last one will catch on).   Again, it’s 29 feet taller than Niagara and significantly less wide. It also can dry up over the summer, but we hit it around peak season and were suitably impressed. As is usual with the Harpies, we quickly made friends with other people in the viewing area, one of which was on another ladies’ trip to Kentucky–theirs probably involved fewer filthy jokes, but that’s just a wild guess. I tried to go a bit further down the path to see if I could find a better, quieter viewpoint, but it got extremely narrow and overgrown almost immediately with just a bare chain link fence preventing me from falling off the cliff should a snake or some other critter appear while I’m tramping down in an area with no other people, so I quickly reconsidered my plan and turned back, not wanting this excursion to turn into one of those “Mellzah stories” wherein I do something foolish and am surprised by consequences. (Somewhere out there a reader is whispering “She can learn!”)

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 After lunch and some more coffee (#jitteringdowntheroad #secretbackseatnaptime) we crossed over into Utah, and the landscape turned into some shit from the Sound of Music, which I helpfully sang from the backseat to make sure everyone else was feeling the vibe. For some reason, the music in the front kept getting cranked up, but luckily, I know a thing or two about singing from the diaphragm.

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Our destination was Promontory Summit, which is where the USA’s first transcontinental railroad met, with the hammering of a golden spike. On the way there, though, there were signs indicating there was a “rocket display” of sorts coming up. While I appreciate that they had a sign to let me know about its existence, it was somewhat superfluous as there was absolutely no way we could have accidentally driven past this rocket display without seeing it. And even though there was a sign letting us know the rocket display was there, and there were informational signs in front of each piece, it still felt like we were walking around somewhere we probably shouldn’t be. Emily wouldn’t let me climb aboard one to do my best impression of Major Kong, so you have her to blame for that. And also all of those “don’t climb on the rockets” signs. Killjoys.

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One thing is for certain: they definitely didn’t dumb their signs down for your average rocket-viewer. Some sample text: “The integral booster chamber then becomes the ramburner for the ducted rocket, and the end-burning, fuel-rich grain completes combustion in the ramburner.” Hmmm. You don’t say.

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As employees started to leave the building, we stopped snapping photos of me posing with a rocket as if it were a giant dong which is a wholly unique thing that I’m sure no one has ever done before but I still wasn’t keen on the idea of having rocket scientists see me do it for some reason. Maybe because then they’d be less inclined to believe that I understood their signage and also because we were now in Modest Utah and I wasn’t certain if that was the sort of thing you could be arrested for, like wearing leggings that show your butt and drinking boozy coffee.

We started running low on gas as we approached Promontory Summit, which is always pretty exciting–would we make it to a gas station in time or would we be making use of the car’s exciting roadside assistance button and get to explain to a dispatcher that we were too busy making dick jokes to notice the gas gauge? But since there were no stations between us and the summit, we pushed on to the summit first.

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Would you believe that I dinked up my camera settings and all the photos I took inside of the building are completely black, including the golden spike? Believe it.  They don’t even have the real golden spike there, it’s just a replica–the real one is at Stanford University. The golden spike wasn’t the last spike driven, regardless–it was wholly for ceremony and immediately pulled up, along with the final tie, to thwart treasure hunters and souvenir seekers, who would have torn it apart within seconds of being laid. It was replaced with a normal tie and a regular iron spike. I don’t know when that tie was replaced with the varnished tie they have in place now. The tag on it says 1869 but frankly, I think that’s a load of hot steamy railroad smoke. Even so, it was cool to be standing at the spot that changed the way America traveled while in the middle of an excursion across a sizeable swath of it.

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sunburn and bugs day two (20 of 94)No, car, you’re doing it wrong.

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Will our intrepid explorers make it to a gas station? Or am I blogging this from a Utahan jail after being mistaken for a prostitute? FIND OUT NEXT TIME on Sunburn and Bugs: No Really None Of Us Are Hos!

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: IT BEGINS

It all started as an offhand remark in a facebook post. “Perhaps of interest?” attached to a link about the Meow Wolf art collective’s newest project, The House of Eternal Return.  “I totally want to go!” I replied. Another friend chimed in that she, too, would like to go, and we started tentatively, jokingly, talking about taking a group road trip.

Only I wasn’t joking.

A few weeks later I sent a text message, saying I was serious about taking this trip and asking when we could embark, and then we began planning in earnest. Because you see, taking a road trip with three adult women is nothing like the easy-breezy depictions of road trips you see in movies about teenagers setting across America to discover themselves and their burgeoning sexuality. It’s not just a matter of deciding to go, hopping in the car, and going, perhaps flipping off your parents as a trail of dust kicks up in the wake of your passage. For instance,  who would have thought that among three people, we would have three different preferences for the types of establishments we’d sleep in each night, running the gamut from camping to your finer hotels? To avoid potential conflict on the road, we had to discuss it all in advance. This meant figuring out work and school schedules, finding a range of dates when we were all available*, hammering out a budget, making sure our insurance covered all of the stuff we assumed it did, actually deciding whose car we were taking, packing and repacking and repacking again, looking at potential routes and things to do along the way, and then just flipping someone off randomly as we peeled out of the neighborhood because we ran out of time to properly research who most deserved a righteous flipping-off.

We decided on an eight day road trip from Seattle to Santa Fe and back with the option for a ninth day if one of the long drive days we had planned on the way back proved to be unbearable and we needed to take a break from the road. Collectively, we determined the most awkward and unwieldy name for the trip would be: Sunburn and Bugs 2016: The Harpies Take Santa Fe (#harpiestakesantafe #feminism) . The  brand new car with all the bells and whistles remained unnamed for the time being. Even with all the planning, up until the day we left, I still wasn’t 100 percent convinced we were actually going. I kept waiting for someone to call the whole thing off, saying it was a joke that got out of hand, and I got the sense that everyone else felt similarly and we were all waiting for someone else to call off the dare, and when no one did, we were bound and determined to go through with it. The darker doubt lingering at the back of everyone’s brain remained: could a powerlifting animal rights activist, a driven psychology student, and a loudmouthed fart machine** spend eight days and nights together in close quarters and remain friends? Or at least not intentionally drive off a cliff to end all of the farting and inappropriate jokes?

We set off around noon on a Sunday with high spirits and music blasting. We made it three miles before we stopped for coffee.

Properly caffeinated, we started putting some solid mileage between  ourselves and home, tentatively starting to play my two favorite road trip games:  (Anal) RV names and Name That Landmark***.  It always feels a little strange playing road trip games when you’re still in spitting distance of home, but the sooner you get started, the more enthusiastically everyone plays eventually.

I ended up being behind the wheel as we approached the town of Granger, and since I’d been there before, I knew of the delights that lay within, so I suggested we take a short detour. I also knew that it would likely be our only stop of interest between home and Boise since we’d gotten a late start, and I was anxious to get off on the right foot while we were still in “let’s call the whole thing off and turn around” distance.

My plan worked.

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We stayed in high spirits the rest of the way to Boise, stopping at a scenic overlook in, uh Somewhere****, Oregon, though road fatigue began to hit around the time we hit the Idaho border and we suddenly started clucking along to the songs on Road Trip Radio like chickens.

We may in fact have been a bit overtired on the road to Bawk-sie.

A video posted by @mellzah on

To this day, I cannot hear Collective Soul’s “Shine” without clucking to it. I live in fear of the day that it plays on the overhead speakers at the grocery store.

 

 

*This is much harder than you’d think, considering none of us have children and two of us don’t have jobs. In any given period of time, at least one of us would have one or more other obligation that would preclude galavanting about the country like howling wine-chugging banshees, and we basically had to sacrifice a goat to the moon gods to temporally align our schedules to make this trip happen. I also had to postpone a dental appointment for a crown and promptly chipped that same tooth, because evidently the goat wasn’t all the moon gods wanted in repayment.

**Guess which one I am.  

***Essentially, if someone asks about a landmark and you don’t know what it is, you get to rename it whatever you’d like. The faster and more authoritatively you Name That Landmark, the more likely it is that someone in the car will believe you. Alternately, if you think of something that tickles your funny bone, it will make that landmark more memorable and you’ll have a better idea of where you are the next time you see, say, Bitch Tit Mountain rising over the horizon.

****I knew not writing ACTUAL place names down would come back to bite me.

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The Murals of North Park, San Diego

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Near my dad’s place in North Park, they had been having a lot of issues with tagging on buildings, so they decided to implement a program that’s been successful in other cities: murals. It’s intended to channel artistic impulses in positive ways, increase pride and ownership in the neighborhood, and decrease the sort of vandalism that makes an area appear run down and tends to encourage other crimes. So far, it’s been successful, and once a mural has been implemented, it’s rarely tagged over. And if it is, there’s a task force to remove it as soon as possible–there was one right next to my dad’s place that had been tagged overnight, and the next day, it was like it was never there. Plus, so much cool art for everyone to enjoy! Now if only I could get someone to remove the tags on my street…

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Ironside Oyster in San Diego, CA

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When I go somewhere I’ve been before, I try to make certain I try new restaurants in addition to my old favorites, so I don’t spend the whole trip chasing nostalgic tastes. One I was really anxious to try was Ironside Fish & Oyster: with Michelin-starred chef Jason McLeod in the kitchen, an innovative cocktail menu, and all of their bread baked in-house, plus, you know, a wall of freaking piranha skulls, I had an inkling that it would be right up my alley. Oh, and it was.

I had my very first oyster here–I figured if I was in a place with “oyster” in the name, it would be remiss to continue to eschew them. It’s a little ridiculous that I flew to San Diego from Seattle to eat an oyster that was from Washington state, but I guess sometimes you have to step outside your bubble to see the wonder that’s in your own backyard. Or something. I’d been put off by the idea of oysters in the past as so many people have described them as “snotty” which doesn’t sound particularly appetizing. For the record, I would not give them that description. Briny, chewy, with a bright tang from the lemon, they were refreshing and surprisingly delicious (surprising due to the aforementioned expectation of snot).

For the main course, Jason and I decided to split the lobster roll as I’d seen raves about that baby online, in addition to an order of fish & chips and a side of chowder fries. It was kind of a miracle that I didn’t leave Ironside Fish & Oyster feeling incredibly ill due to the richness of everything we ordered. The lobster roll was SO GOOD, stuffed with a pound of lobster and tossed in a browned butter mayo, but a couple of bites were absolutely sufficient. Same deal with the chowder fries–life changing but insanely decadent, with a heaping portion of bacon-y clam chowder gravy ladled on top of their crisp housemade fries. I think I took one bite of the fish from the fish&chips and it was excellent, and a bite of my dad’s seafood paella which was also incredible and then I was DONE. I’d absolutely go again, and as long as I try something new, it’ll be within my self-imposed rules. Plus, I really need to figure out how to smuggle that tentacle lamp off the wall and home to my pirate bathroom.

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Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave in La Jolla, CA

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If you want to explore the many sea caves of San Diego, you’ll need to rent a kayak or other equipment to see them, with one exception. I elected to take this lazy route to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, with stairs from a storefront leading down into the cave itself. If you buy some jewelry from the store, the fee to enter the cave is waived. As an intrepid pursuer of bargains, I carefully perused the cases first,  because why pay five dollars to go into a cave when I could pay fifty dollars instead, go into that same cave, and come out with some jewelry I probably won’t wear, right? Right. At least I tried to spend more money, but ultimately didn’t find anything that appealed to me. I think the guy who worked behind the counter was also disappointed that I didn’t find anything, as he clearly needed the practice working on his sleight of hand–it wasn’t hard to notice that a cash payment got stuffed into his pocket rather than the register.

From the retail level, there are 145 steps down into the cave, and while I might have personally reconsidered calling this way into a sea cave “the lazy route” on the way back up, I should really be glad there are stairs at all–the original visitors to the cave had to ascend and descend via rope. My total lack of upper body strength combined with my characteristic overconfidence about my abilities would have allowed me to get down there but never be able to reascend, and it’s almost certain that for as long as my total decomposition lasted, the cave would get a new moniker: Bloated Stinky Corpse Cave.

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Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave got its name from L. Frank Baum (author best known for The Wizard of Oz), as he noted that the cave opening appears to be a silhouette of a person, specifically that of the Force Wheat cereal mascot, Sunny Jim. I probably would have gone with Weird Elf Head Cave myself, but you’ll note that they didn’t give me the naming rights. Something about my writing being utterly insignificant, any a-hole can get a copy of wordpress, blah blah blah, I wasn’t really paying attention.

The rocks in the cave are richly colored from their extended mineral bath–greens and reds and purples that need to be seen to be believed. Tiny crabs clung to their surface as larger waves lashed and foamed around them. It’d be even more beautiful if, as usual, some dicks didn’t take it upon themselves to carve their names all over everything. Special note to these guys: no one looks at your name and things “Wow, what a cool person, I wonder what they are up to right now, something totally cool I bet” they are thinking “WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE I HOPE THEY DROWNED.” Just so you know.

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Back on the surface, I was a few steps away from this cliff area. A sign clearly warned people off, but that didn’t seem to deter anyone, which makes sense. After all, it’s the edges that are unstable, right? So as long as you stay near the middle, you’ll be fine?

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Oh.

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From this vantage point, I could sea (and smell) that the sea lions were out in force, so I walked a bit down the road to the La Jolla cove to see if I could get a better peek.  In fact, not only could I see the sea lions better (some with pups!), but I also got to see a number of nesting brandt’s cormorants from above, which was pretty neat. Now, I’d heard the This American Life show about the Children’s Cove beach in La Jolla, and how a virtual war had been waged between the people who frequented that beach and animal rights activists, who wanted all of the people to stay away from the seals there and were using bullhorns to scream at people for “disturbing the animals”.  At the time, I have to say that I sided with the people who wanted to go to the beach–after all, I have fond memories of picnicking at that very beach with my grandparents while the seals flopped around nearby. We didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us; they napped while I picked through the sand for sea glass.

After visiting the La Jolla cove, I have to change my stance on this one. I couldn’t believe the complete disregard for the animals here, or for their own safety. People were giving the sea lions and their pups no space, crowding around them, pretending to ride them, plopping their tiny toddlers right down next to them, and even when one would lunge at someone for getting too close, that person would back away momentarily and close right back in from another angle. It was sickening. You’d think one child being bitten on the face at that very cove would be enough to get people to give the animals some space, but no, it’s way more important to get a few likes on Instagram. Pass the bullhorn.

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The Crack Shack San Diego

 

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crack shack (5 of 6)I have never seen a bit of wordplay I enjoyed more than this barnyard joke.

crack shack (4 of 6)

A while back on Facebook, I saw my dad check into someplace called “The Crack Shack”. At first I was glad that it wasn’t, you know, an actual shack for crack because no one wants to sit down and have the talk with their dad about substance abuse, but upon second glance, I knew I’d have to visit for myself, because their chicken sandwiches looked like something I’d potentially stab a guy to try. Thankfully, their sandwiches were plentiful on the date that I visited and I didn’t need to find out exactly how deep my anger and gluttony issues run. I bought two sandwiches to try: the Señor Croque (crispy chicken, fried egg, cheddar, miso-maple butter on brioche) and the Coop Deville (crispy chicken, pickled fresno chilies, lime mayo, napa cabbage on brioche) and an array of their house made dipping sauces for little bits of chicken picked off of the sandwiches so as to better get the whole flavor picture. The Señor Croque was delicious (ALL THE UMAMI) but far too rich, the kind of sandwich you have to stop eating after a bite or two lest you feel ill for the rest of the day, the kind of sandwich that would be far better served as a slider. The Coop Deville, on the other hand, was sandwich perfection. A good sandwich has an interplay of flavors and textures, and this one had hot crunchy chicken (with a crackly fried crust that wasn’t grease-saturated), spicy-sweet slaw, the tang of the lime in the mayo, all rounded out with buttery soft brioche.

transcendent

All that, and a “cluck off, I’m hangry” t-shirt. Eggsellent. Now if only they’d start dealing in my neighborhood.

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