Category Attractions

Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Chocolate Fall

Not to be confused, of course, with the “World’s Largest Continuous Chocolate Fountain“. I can play this game, too: I’ve got the world’s most widely read mega niche blog written by someone in my neighborhood. Impressive, no?

This neon sign is like one of those magic eye paintings, if you blur your vision just so, the waterfall turns into something much dirtier. As I entered the place, I realized that the chocolate fountain sign could just be a trap set by a clever polar bear to lure in easily-mauled tourists. 

Or, you know, they could have an actual chocolate fountain. It still doesn’t seem nearly as large as the Guinness-certified world’s tallest chocolate fountain, but maybe this one has a larger volume or it’s distinguished in some other small way or maybe it’s a way for a candy store to lure in tourists and their easily-mauled wallets. I don’t know, because if there’s one thing that’s consistent about all of these fountains, it’s that they never let me in there with both hands to take measurements and do chocolate science.

While I was there, I picked up a number of chocolates with jelly centers made from various Alaskan wild berries–salmonberry, fireweed, mossberries, etc, as well as some birch syrup. That’s right, maple isn’t the only sweet tree gunk game in town. The reason you may not have heard of birch syrup is that it takes many, many more liters of sap to make birch syrup than it does maple, so it’s considerably more rare and correspondingly expensive. The flavor is also strikingly different from maple syrup, with a dark (almost burnt) caramel taste, but slightly more complex and woodsy. It’s a deeply interesting flavor, and I’ve been having lots of fun incorporating it into various dishes–for example, for Halloween this year, I used birch syrup as a flavoring agent in a cheesecake. My original idea was to use it in the crust, but because birch syrup is primarily composed of fructose, whereas the most prevalent sugar in maple syrup is sucrose,  I was concerned it would encourage the crust to hold too much moisture and come off as soggy. Although it was more subtle in the cheesecake than I would have ultimately preferred, I was encouraged by the results, and I have enough left over to continue some new lines of experimenation. It’s also fantastic on coconut pancakes.

The store also had this sort of funny, sort of creepy painting of bears dancing, except for the one on the right, who looks like he’s emulating Louis C.K. 

Then there’s this deserted bus across the street that screams “danger” to any person with sense, the sort of bus you’d journey off in toward your own murder or a horrible picnic with the aforementioned creepy bears. No, thank you!

 

Spotted on Juneau St in Anchorage, AK

Scenes From the Vancouver Aquarium

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van-city-22-of-41There is nothing I don’t love about this shark’s huge mouth.

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If I had “fuck it” money, I would definitely use some of it to install a huge jellyfish aquarium in my fortress of solitude. Like, an entire wall of jellyfish that I could read alongside, watching them swish and float as I pause and contemplate a phrasing or passage. Obviously, my fuck it money fund would also have to include the care of an aquarist because I didn’t get rich spending all my time cleaning tanks (presumably).  Until then, I’ll just get my relax on by visiting aquariums wearing noise canceling headphones and pumping up my seratonin by watching this smooshy faced baby:

 

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The Richmond Night Market

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It is full on RIDICULOUS how long I have been sitting on this post about the Richmond Night Market. Ridiculous for a number of reasons, considering I’ve gone whole months without posting, but mainly, it’s ridiculous because I think this place is awesome and I’m excited to share it with you.

Night markets are the shiiiiiiiit. They’re mostly outdoor shopping bazaars where you wander around stuffing your face with delicious snacks. When I lived in Taiwan, I would go to night markets pretty frequently–lots of them open nightly in permanent areas in Taipei. They haven’t super caught on outside Asia (Seattle’s night market is one night a year) but Richmond, B.C.’s night market* is a delightful exception. It’s still temporary–only running May-October, because no one wants snacks badly enough to slog through slush at night to get ’em–but it is magnificent. One hundred food vendors. Three hundred or so other booths. Music. Dancing. And something I was particularly eager to experience, the Throne of Rotato.

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That’s right. The Throne of Rotato. Rotatoes are spiralized, deep fried potatoes sprinkled with flavorings and served on a stick. In order to assume my rightful place, seated on the Throne of Rotato, I needed to buy a rotato. Or two, since Jason wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity, either. It’s delicious (being a deep fried sour cream and chive flavored potato on a stick, after all, of course it’s delicious) but if for some reason someone didn’t feel like eating an entire potato prior to all of the other food they were likely to partake of that evening, they had some suggestions for how you could otherwise use your spiralized potato:

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I’m pretty sure anyone with their head screwed on right would say “YES!!” to a rotato proposal. I would, and I’m already married, but the excitement of the rotato might make me forget.

So once rotatoes were purchased, I received a VIP pass for two to the throne of rotato.

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And it was glorious. Side note: Rotatoes, however delicious, are really salty so I would advise you to do as I didn’t and don’t spend your last Canadian currency on the rotato, forcing you to go on a desperate hunt for an ATM so you can buy a beverage.

We spent a long time wandering the food booths. I was chasing nostalgic tastes and was rewarded handsomely with red bean pancakes, tanghulu, and dragon beard candy. I wanted so much more but my stomach was too full of potato to make the attempt. What’s extra incomprehensible is that I haven’t been back since. Their 2017 season has begun and I will remedy that problem soon.

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*There are some street market experiences that you won’t find here, like for instance, the Snake Alley (Huaxi) market in Taipei is on the site of a former legal red light district, and the alley is filled with vendors selling foods with purported aphrodisiacal qualities, such as deer penis wine and snake blood, squeezed out of a snake before your very eyes. There are also a number of vendors selling novelty sex goods. I only went to this one once, and actually, it was one of my Rotary club’s members who took me. I’ve talked about her before, the Taiwanese Martha Stewart. Somewhere, there’s an awkward photo of us together in front of an inflatable penis.

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This Didn’t Deserve Its Own Post: New Mexico Edition

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about New Mexico.

For the bulk of my time in Albuquerque, I stayed at the Hotel Parq Central. I thoroughly enjoyed my drink on their rooftop bar until the bro-iest group of bro-y bro-inghams and their equally bro-ly ladybros sat behind me and began regaling each other, nay, the world with their tales of bro-dom. Would not recommend getting a room directly underneath said rooftop bar, would recommend their complimentary breakfast pastries.

While in Albuquerque, we paid a visit to the historic Microsoft headquarters. The current Microsoft headquarters has far fewer bars on the windows, but just as many “no parking” signs.

I would swear to you that the bulk of all billboards in Albuquerque were for personal injury lawyers with smug angry faces, so it really makes sense that Saul Goodman would set up shop there. I even saw a billboard for a personal injury attorney that had a big foam fist coming out of it, like if you weren’t already in pain, this lawyer was going to rough you up so you’d have a reason to use his services. Or rough up the people who hurt you. Or he just liked the look of a big foam hand, I’m not a billboard scientist.  My favorite one, however, was “Hurt? Call BERT.” Over the course of the trip, I developed a backstory for Bert and his lifelong search to find a partner in life and love named Ginger, all to drive home his ultimate slogan: “Hurt or Injured? Call BERT and GINGER!” Best of luck in that one, Bert, I’ll check on your progress the next time I roll through town.

This “spaceship house” was designed by architect Bart Prince and constructed in 1984, and it is my understanding that it is his personal residence. Legend also tells that William Shatner once knocked on the door to request a tour of the home, spaceship captain to spaceship captain. Someone was outside bringing in groceries while I snapped a few photos (potentially Mr. Prince himself?) but I was not offered the Shatner Treatment™, which makes perfect sense because I wouldn’t offer to give some rando loitering outside my house the grand tour, either.

I love books, I love puns, I love this place. At least from the outside, I wasn’t able to squeeze in any libations at the library.

The murals of Albuquerque:

During my brief stop in Alamogordo, I stopped at the New Mexico Museum of Space History to pay my respects at the grave of Ham, the world’s first astrochimp. Hail to the chimp! I also have to tip my hat to Niantic, who have wisely populated the area around the New Mexico Museum of Space History with mankey pokemon. I caught one and named him Ham and now he lives in my pocket.

We also made another quick stop of note in Alamogordo: the alleged burial site of the game that almost killed home video gaming, E.T. If you’re not familiar with the tale, allow me to fill you in as this is one of the few things I studied during my tumultuous college years.

In the 70s, Atari ruled all things in the realm of home video gaming, bringing the arcade experience to home televisions sans the need for infinity quarters. However, their success was largely because they were the first company to do so, and their business sense, uh, left some things to be desired, like manufacturing millions more game cartridges of a single title than they’d sold consoles. E.T. has the honor of being the first game made that was based on a film, and they paid out the nose for the license, slapped a game together, and manufactured millions of cartridges. What resulted is considered one of the worst games of all time, pointless and rage inducing. Though it sold fairly well during the holiday season, it didn’t come anywhere near the numbers Atari was anticipating and millions of cartridges went unsold. This shook investors’ faith in Atari, effectively killed the 2600 as a console, and played a not-insignificant role in the video game crash of 1983. Atari drove tractor trailers of unsold E.T. cartridges to Alamogordo, where they were buried in a landfill and allegedly paved over to prevent people from digging them up and selling them (because, you know, why buy the worst game of all time from the manufacturer when you could buy a dirtier, slightly smooshed version from a stranger in a parking lot whose ad you saw in the newspaper?).

If E.T. had killed home video gaming, it’s very likely Jason and I would have never met, so goodbye and good riddance you creepy little peanut butter candy huffing bastard.

We passed by Fox Cave too early in the day for them to be open, sadly, but it looks like it’d be right up my alley, so I’ll almost assuredly be back. Hopefully before I become a ramblin’ old person, but I’ll take it when I can get it.

Sign reads: “Many illegal activities in progress, enter at your own risk”

 

Somewhere between Hatch and Albuquerque, I spotted this hill and decided it looked like Jabba the Hutt. So if it isn’t named Jabba the Hill officially, it definitely is named that now unoffically.

 

Jason drove by a water tank in Los Lunas far too quickly for me to get a photo, but the morbidly obese tiger depicted on the side has ever lingered in my mind. Thankfully, google maps has me covered. I had hoped there were two tiny dangling paws on the backside as well, but with a little more google maps research, I determined this tiger has two heads.

And that’s it for this New Mexico trip! The stuff that isn’t here really didn’t deserve its own post.

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Hatch, NM: Home to Giants and Green Chiles and Giant Green Chiles

Hatch, New Mexico is the chile capitol of the world, and I dare you to tell me otherwise. The streets are lined with vendors eager to sell you the chiles with which their town’s name has become synonymous, be they in dried bundles or served in a meal. And nowhere (and I mean nowhere) has green chiles chopped up in more kinds of food than Sparky’s.

There was a line out the door when I arrived, which gave me more time to soak in the atmosphere, but within minutes, one of the owners, Teako, was out to greet the waiting crowds and serve us samples of his barbeque to get our bellies rumbling. And rumble they did. We had worked up a hell of an appetite trekking around White Sands National Monument, and we were ready to throw down whatever food landed within arm’s reach.

When we got inside, we ordered their famous Hatch green chile cheeseburger, a plate of all of their various types of barbeque, sides of pineapple coleslaw and corn with green chiles and onion, and not one but two shakes featuring green chiles: mango and apple pie. Green chile everything. Green chile up to our eyeballs.

AND I LOVED IT. Every bite punched me in the mouth with utter deliciousness, owing to the inclusion of the hatch green chiles, which are packed with flavor rather than being punishingly hot. The burger was juicy fall-apart perfection, the barbeque was tender and flavorful, both sides sung, and the incorporation of green chile spice into the sweet fattiness of a mango or apple pie shake is genius. And they weren’t stingy on the fruit in the shakes, either–I fished out entire wedges of soft cinnamon apples and huge chunks of mango, making it definitely a spoon-y dessert rather than a thin shake drunk with a straw. My only criticism is that I wish the shakes were sold in smaller sizes because as delicious as they are, it just ends up being a lot of richness to stomach and it felt like we barely put a dent into either of them before throwing them away, which is more wasteful than I like to be.

That’s right. My one complaint is about getting too much shake. I’ve become everything I always hated.

 

But it’s not just Sparky’s that has a flair for fiberglass–the RV place down the street has a restored Muffler Man holding a teeny tiny RV, and even the drive through wasn’t complete without a roaring T-Rex up top. Hatch, I am charmed. Should I find myself in that neck of the woods again, I will definitely be back. Get my armada of mini shakes ready.

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Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Chili Pepper

 

This 47 foot beast of a chile is planted squarely in front of the Big Chile Inn in Las Cruces. As recently as 2015, there was a wall around the chile and a donation required to get up close, but the chile has since been freed to all comers (#freethechile). Which is just as well, because frankly, a chile just doesn’t seem as grand if it can be contained by mere walls. Weighing in at 5,000 pounds, this chile contains enough concrete capsaicin to take down a t-rex on taco tuesday. And yes, I do want you to say the last part of that sentence three times fast.

 

 

 

Spotted on Picacho Ave in Las Cruces, New Mexico

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White Sands National Monument

Sorry, Anakin, take a seat and buckle your whiny ass up, because we’re headed to the Land of Sand: White Sands National Monument. Composed of gypsum from under the Permian sea, the sand is soft, cool, and almost impossibly white, glittering in vast dunes under a deep blue sky. It is, in fact, the largest gypsum dunefield in the world, home to more than 800 animal species, some of which are endemic to White Sands. And it was in this ecological marvel that we were going to go dune sledding. Now, before you get your engine all revved up about my clear lack of respect for these natural areas, I would like to clarify that this is national monument sanctioned dune sledding as in, they sell the sleds on site. Which is good, because there was no way a sled was going to fit in the overhead compartment and I don’t know where one might find winter sporting equipment for sale in the middle of the desert at the end of April. Maybe lots of places, I didn’t check.

The transition from the surrounding area to the dunes occurs rapidly–first I saw a line of jagged white at the horizon, and then suddenly my whole world was sand, sand covering the hills, the road itself. Inside the dune areas, the roadway is grooved, presumably for traction. The rental car did not like this one bit, and it jittered and shook like the bridge of the starship enterprise on top of a vibrating bed. “This is what I get for not buying rental car insurance,” I groused. Thankfully, violent shaking was as bad as things got, and we were soon able to find a parking spot in a location I was pretty sure wouldn’t get buried in a sand drift by the time we were ready to leave.

After parking and waxing the bottom of the sled, we trekked out into the dunes, looking for just the right one. Eventually we found a dune that was suitably steep and it was sledding time. Jason has discovered a new interest in video recording on his phone, particularly using the slow motion effect. Unfortunately, when those videos are removed from the phone, instead of a small portion of the video being in slow motion, the entire thing is slow motion, so I am now in possession of a video in which I make deeply disturbing sounds as I struggle to launch a sled down a sand dune and laugh like Jabba the Hutt at the bottom. And because this is really one of those things where one should show and not tell, that video is included in this post. You’re welcome.

The thing about dune sledding is that for each five seconds of sledding joy, there’s a much longer slog back up. At first, I circled out to a lower incline ascent so I could walk up but by the second slide, we were both brute forcing our way back up the dune, feet scrabbling in the sand, using the saucer to dig in and pull ourselves upward, in a balmy 81 degrees. And we each did it something like six times, at which point, I was well and truly tired and ready to head back to the car. On the way, I spotted some plants I wanted to photograph, and a bleached earless lizard (one of the species that has adapted to the white landscape) and I happily snapped photos for a bit. When I stood up, my vision went black. Even though I’d worn a hat and sunscreen and had been drinking water, clearly I had still overexerted myself a bit. I felt baaaaaaaad for at least an hour afterward, so I probably should have stopped sledding just a bit sooner. Or drunk even more water. Or both.

Jason had maybe a little sand in his shoes. And also a hole.

Oh yeah, and while I was gone, I’m pretty sure a mummy climbed into my trunk.

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An afternoon in Roswell

It’s 1993. A heady time for an almost eleven year old Mellzah, filled with beanie babies and skorts. If the previous descriptors of the year didn’t give it away, I was a particularly naive ten year old, not yet tuned into the more exciting world of grunge and Beverly Hills, 90210 like my peers. 1993 also marked the release of Fire in the Sky and its accompanying press barrage, and at some point while watching afternoon television, I learned that this movie was based on a true story of alien abduction and experimentation, including something called an ‘ocular probe’. 

1993 was also the heyday of Unsolved Mysteries* and the Weekly World News, both of which had a not-insignificant alien focus, and additionally, I had gotten my hands on the first book in the “Mysteries of Mind Space & Time: The Unexplained” series** which, being alphabetical, covered alien contacts. All of these converged into what was, for me, a minor alien obsession. Not the usual “wow, space aliens are so cool, I wish they’d take me on their ship to explore the universe” kid alien obsession, but a “I have just learned space aliens are real (because how could a movie say it was based on a true story if it wasn’t true?) and they are definitely out to hurt people and I need to learn everything about them so I can protect myself” kind of obsession. The same kind of obsession that led me to ask for an emergency window ladder for Christmas, not because I wanted to use it for preteen shenanigans (which is what I have to assume my parents thought, because Santa definitely did not come through) but because I was genuinely terrified that a fire would block the only set of stairs in the house in the middle of the night and my whole family would perish in flames due the the lack of emergency ladders***. But there’s no emergency ladder for aliens, so I would just lie awake in terror, every flashing light from the road an indicator of imminent ocular probage.

So it’s safe to say that I am more than a little familiar with the UFO crash and subsequent coverup in Roswell, New Mexico. In the intervening years, I’ve grown a lot more skeptical, the sense of utter devastation and betrayal being too real the day that I learned that anyone can claim anything is true and thus any media about it can also claim to be “based on a true story”. Now when I lie awake at night, any flashing lights from the road mean those little bastards are out behind my house again, maybe starting fires, and why haven’t I bought an emergency ladder yet, goddamnit!? Ahem. But even though I don’t believe-believe in aliens anymore (like ghosts and demons and footgrabbing monsters under the bed, they grow more plausible in the darkest hours when I don’t have more realistic, important shit to worry about (I basically haven’t had a single demon worry since early November or so, and I will know shit is back to normal when my mind turns back to demons hovering over me in the dark or potential ghosts in my shoes)), there was no way I was going to plan a road trip through New Mexico that didn’t involve a stop in Roswell.

Roswell. The town that turned a probable weather balloon crash into into an alien identity that would remain strong seventy years later, though not strong enough to open a UFO themed hotel, much to my chagrin. But lack of star-patterned sheets aside, I was beyond pumped to spend some time in Roswell. Alienville, USA. The Little Town That Could…n’t Identify A Once-Flying Object. Or as the French call it, Alie,NM. A place housing not one, but multiple discrete alien-themed attractions. I couldn’t wait to dive in. 

The International UFO Museum and Research Center

My first stop was at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. This visit got off to a bit of a rocky start–there was an error at the credit card machine which is always awkward because you have to tread that line between assuring the cashier that no, this is not an awkward situation at all, you are assuredly not spending your last dollars of credit to purchase entry to a UFO research center, and thinking “oh shit, was my card stolen and canceled or am I somehow spending my last dollars of credit to purchase entry to a UFO research center?” and the cashier, for her part, made noticeable strides to make the entire transaction more awkward to the point where I just kind of wanted to slink out the exit even though I’d just paid to get in.

To be perfectly honest, even without the card snafu I didn’t really dig this place. The whole front area is walls filled with page after page of solid print material: it’s like trying to read a novel when at any moment someone could step in front of the next few pages, and it’s also in the loudest, most heavily trafficked area in the museum as it is right at the entrance. In other words, it’s a kind of frustrating and irritating reading environment and as a consequence my eyes began to skim over the text more and more and I walked away with only the barest impression of the facts. “Facts”. When I got a bit further in, my brain started registering some bold claims such as “Encoded in each of these [crop circle] designs are systems of knowledge referencing no less than the angles and alignments of the Gizeh(sic) Pyramids, the earth’s processional rate, its equatorial circumference, and the geometry that facilitates the imprinting of the soul into the human body.” I’m sorry, I’m gonna need to see some sources on that. Especially that last one.  And no, I don’t accept the Weekly World News.

 

Alien Zone

Alien Zone was the other solely alien-based business I visited in Roswell, and based on some of the interior signage I have to assume they are in fierce competition with the International UFO Museum as they do not allow anyone to wear International UFO Museum entry stickers into their displays. But believe me, it’s worth losing readmission to the UFO Museum to play in the Alien Zone. Why? Because Alien Zone is full of alien dioramas into which you can insert yourself. And insert myself I did, vigorously, with aplomb. The only place I didn’t cram myself was the playground area because it turned out that was for children only.

Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me.

 

Oh no, there’s been a horrible accident!

He’s okay, folks!

 

 

Roswell At Large

After Alien Zone, I checked into my hotel and took a quick swim in the outdoor pool in the afternoon sun. Refreshed, I decided to walk back down the main drag and see how many aliens I could spot.What I learned on my way is that the fastest way to spot a tourist in Roswell is if they are on foot. Roswell is not a walking town. Not due to lack of sidewalks–sidewalks were plentiful and in good repair. Not because it has hills that make your thighs scream and require a sherpa to navigate, no–it’s flat as a board. People just don’t walk in Roswell. It’s a car town. Every few minutes there’s the sound of furiously revving engines and squealing tires as yet another vehicle races away from an intersection. Huge groups of motorcycles swarm through. The air smells like hot exhaust and burning rubber.

When I said that Roswell embraced aliens as their town identity, I mean they really embraced it. Almost everywhere on the main street either had alien in the name or some type of thematically appropriate alien displayed prominently on the building or in the window. Their baseball team is the Invaders. Their credit union’s logo prominently features a UFO and tractor beam. Their streetlamps have alien eyes. There are tiny green paint footprints leading to a business. A UFO presumably brings abducted books back to book reseller Books Again. There are murals and murals and murals. Even chain restaurants play along, an Arby’s sign advertising that aliens are welcome (though I don’t know why we’d immediately want to sour our relationship with said aliens with one of Arby’s patented Gross Beef Sandwiches™) and McDonald’s going full UFO outside and in, a McNugget astronaut bobbing near the ceiling near his friend and murderer/wholesaler of his corpse, Astronaut Ronald.

We ended up eating dinner in that UFO McDonald’s, not because either of us particularly wanted McDonald’s but we were also reaching our exhaustion tipping point, considering all we’d crammed in our day, and neither of us really had the energy to try to find a decent restaurant. We just wanted to shove some food at the general food hole and sleep the sleep of the dead. Hopefully, aliens wouldn’t strike in the same place twice.

    

 

*To this day, the theme music makes me uncomfortable and a little afraid.

**The back of this very first volume, which I do still possess, posits that too much skepticism is a form of obsessive mental disorder that stops the sufferer from seeing the world as it really is, which is funny to me on so many levels. Obviously, the first one is that they’ve clearly done a “you smelled it/you dealt it, I’m rubber/you’re glue” thing to the skeptics who have made that exact claim about conspiracy theorists, AND maybe they get people to continue paying for the remaining 25 volumes in the series even if they read the first one and said “eh, I don’t know, this seems kind of vague and bullshitty” because they’d hate for the book people to think they’re not being open-minded enough. I’m dead, I love it.

***I’m not saying my biggest fear at the time was that my little lungs might not have had the power to squeeze out a “Damn you, Santa! Why couldn’t you branch out into emergency supplies?” at the very end, as the thick smoke filled my powder blue room, but I’m not NOT saying it.

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Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Pistachio

Some days you feel like a nut, some days you just stand next to the world’s largest nut. In Alamogordo, that nut is 30 feet tall and would likely even satisfy the Hulk’s salty snack cravings when he’s at his hangriest*.  This roadside monument stands outside Pistachio Tree Ranch, and was dedicated to the memory of its founder, Thomas McGinn. Inside, they have a full tasting bar of all of their different flavored nuts and brittles of which I availed myself of more than a few (and bought more than a few, too, their atomic hot chili pistachio brittle is amaaaaazing) and some wine tasting as well (including pistachio wine) of which I did not partake seeing as how it was something like 10am when I visited and just a little early in the day to be getting my drink on, pistachio based or otherwise.

This giant nut effigy is also where we came to a tentative decision about our post-retirement lives. Sure, it’s still early to be thinking about that, but as anyone who knows me knows, I live nowhere if not in my own head, and I’ve been doing some thinking about my life and its direction. I still don’t know what I want to do in the intervening years, but while we relaxed in the shade of the giant pistachio, an RV pulled up, and a retired couple emerged, holding their dog. Jason nudged me and asked, “Is that us?” I agreed that it was. The two of us, rambling around in an RV, going wherever we want? Sounds good to me.

 

Spotted on US-54 in Alamogordo, NM

 

*I did a quick rough calculation and determined if a regular pistachio is approximately half an inch long and 4 calories, that this giant pistachio is still not made of materials that are recommended for human consumption.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park

When I plan a trip, I definitely push my limits in order to see and do as much as possible. It’s about finding a balance. Ambitious but achievable. Aggressive but not arduous. I’m not going to skip sleeping entirely, but I will forgo a few hours’ sleep if it means I have the leeway to add something awesome to the docket. Which is how I found myself at four in the morning in freezing cold pitch darkness outside a gas station in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico, fumbling around,  trying to figure out how to open the gas tank door on the rental car. There was no release lever on the driver’s side floor. Nothing under or on the dashboard. Not in the glove compartment nor in the center arm console. No mention was made in the owner’s manual. And THAT would be because a fuel door button doesn’t exist on that car, the fuel door just needs to be pressed inward to click open*. Soooo I suppose this means that I’m coming to an age where I start to complain about all this newfangled technology and reminisce about the good old days of foot-powered cars. What I’m saying is, I am deeply interested in buying an Amazon Echo Silver.

We covered a lot of ground before dawn, the sun rising fortuitiously to Westworld’s rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” over what appeared to be a shootout between plywood giants.

Most of the rest of the drive was uneventful: a flat lot of nothing to look at except for a few cows, some ramshackle buildings, oil pumps, an entire town that smelled like a fart that had been bottled up by a lactose intolerant milkshake guzzling giant for a generation, and some kind of oil or gas tower thing that appeared to have a continuous purposeful fireball shooting out of the top. You can buy about a million cliched items boasting that travel is about the journey, but I’d argue in many cases, the destination is far more compelling. You don’t take a ten hour flight and turn around to come home, boasting about what an amazing journey you took that involved one cup of tea, three trips into a bathroom the size of kindergarten cubby, a battle over the shared armrest, and mild turbulence. You aren’t like, “Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you the riveting tale of the entire town that smelled like a fart and why it made my entire trip worthwhile” unless you are me. No. You set out to do something, whether that’s see something or eat something or lay in a prone position in a location that has better weather than home. This day, I set out not to look at an unchanging landscape for hours on end but to see Carlsbad Caverns.

 Carlsbad Caverns became a national monument in 1923 and was upgraded to full national park status in 1930. This gigantic limestone marvel was described by Will Rogers as “the Grand Canyon with a roof over it”, and I’m hard pressed to find a better way to explain its vastness. Whether one hikes from the natural entrance or takes the elevator shortcut (I’m not deriding the latter, as an experienced indoorswoman I also elected to take the elevator), once you reach the Hall of the Giants, you’re nearly a thousand feet underground surrounded on all sides by speleothems of all shapes and sizes. It’s so large, when a noisy group would push past me gaping in awe, I would not be able to hear them any longer after a minute or so even though we were in the same cave chamber. Looking around is disorienting, with all the formations on every side I felt as though I’d stepped into one of those children’s rock crystal growing kits.

It is an astounding place, to be so deep under the surface of the earth, to be surrounded by these formations, to hear nothing but the occasional clink of rings and wristwatches against the guardrails and steady drips of water from overheard.  I took so many photos and even a few videos but the truth of the matter is that I have yet to see a photo by any photographer that could convey the vastness of the caverns and the true beauty of the speleothems. It truly must be seen to be believed.

Here’s a ton of photos anyway.

Nope. Nope nope nope.

You know why I took this photo. You know.

After our walk around the caverns, we were both ravenous, having been up since the wee hours without eating save for some guacachips procured at the aforementioned gas station. We decided to check out the on site restaurant and Jason proclaimed that if there was a cave burger, he was going to eat it. Not only did they have a burger, it was literally called a cave burger, and with the gauntlet thus thrown and the challenge answered, his food decision was made. I selected a “1923 panini” (which, if you were paying attention, is the year Carlsbad was made a national monument) and was also drawn to a drink bottle named, simply, “Cherry beverage” with an orchard listed on the side. I took a bite of my panini and pronounced it “not bad”, and Jason offered me a bite of his cave burger.

…It literally tasted exactly like the school cafeteria burgers of my youth. Exactly. That precooked patty pulled out of a warming bin that tasted like it had been boiled brought back a rush of emotions, none of them good**. I gave him half my sandwich because I couldn’t in good conscience let him go back to that mediocre burger when there were still potentially hours between us and our next meal. He ate the sandwich half and finished the burger anyway: THAT is how hungry we were.

And the cherry beverage? I should’ve looked at the nutritional label instead of being swayed by an orchard’s name on the side, because nary a cherry ever touched it save for the ones printed on the label. It tasted like corn syrup cough syrup, and that’s being generous. That, we did not finish. So even if all of our national parks get stripped of their funding and they need to rely on tourism to survive, I doubt the new motto for Carlsbad Caverns is going to be “Come for the caverns, stay for the food!”. But seriously, come for the caverns, though.

 

*This may in fact mark the first time in the history of the world that a correct answer was found on yahoo answers, and now that I’ve called them out on some accidental correctness, they’ll probably delete it and replace it with an answer about how you can’t get pregnant if it’s a full moon and you rub your genitals with a mr clean magic eraser

**I ate a fuckton of those burgers during junior high/high school though, because I had bad taste and my gut wasn’t going to fill out my JNCOs all on its own.

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