Category Travel

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

Next stop, Alaska!

I had been itching to visit Alaska for years. In high school, we read James A. Michener’s Alaska, learning about the northernmost frontier state’s wild history: adventure, betrayal, giant bears, it had everything. I could hardly be described as an outdoorswoman (frankly, it would be a stretch to call me an “outofbedwoman”) but I still wanted to see the state’s rugged beauty for myself. So when a flight deal for a weekend getaway too good to miss appeared in my inbox, I smashed the buy button without any hesitation whatsoever–I still would like to road trip up through Canada into Alaska someday, but in the meanwhile, this was an opportunity for a small taste of what this giant state has to offer.

As it was such a short trip, I was leery of booking too many things to do–not because tour activities are shockingly expensive and I’m cheap (though they are and I am, I was excited about the idea of riding a dog sled on a glacier until I saw it cost five times what my round trip flight cost and then I fairly well gagged) but because spending my trip going from scheduled activity to scheduled activity didn’t seem in the spirit of Alaskan adventure. So bright and early in the morning, I flung open my blackout curtains and stepped outside to see what Alaska had to show me.

First, I saw some pretty explicit instructions about where my urine was unwanted, which, frankly, raises far too many unanswerable questions for me. Was it happening so often that they needed an edict? If so, why and what is the lure to that specific spot? Is there some sort of Tinkle Bandit on the loose in Anchorage? Or was it just preventative in case someone started whizzing willy-nilly all over various walls and structures and the building owners are only particular about that one area? Who will penetrate these ammonia mysteries for me? Is this yellow journalism?

Jason and I wandered the streets, browsing shops, buying fine art, though in general, neither of us had much use for bone knives, animal pelts, or silver coins struck with the face of Sarah Palin. I might have made an exception on that last if there was a little speech bubble coming out of her mouth that said “I can see Russia from my house!” but sadly, they were not catering to people like me, which is actually good, because if they did they’d probably go out of business. 

Of course I rubbed the bear’s tummy, who am I to turn down some good luck or free germs?

l-r: Raven Stealing the Moon and Stars, (smug) Eagle and Giant Clam

After I’d had enough shopping, we found ourselves outside of Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals and decided to rent a couple of cruisers and hit the trail. They had a surprising variety of bikes, and part of me really, really wanted to try out one of the electric bikes, but for some reason, I’m reticent to let people know in person just how very little muscle tone I have, whereas I’m just fine blasting that information all over the internet. What I’m saying is, Hannibal Lecter might be annoyed at carving off my fat cap, but he’d be thrilled by my overall tenderness. You could cut me with a spoon. Not a grapefruit spoon, a wooden one. Anyway, I wasn’t about to admit that to Pablo or his representative. Only you, my pets. Only you.

The Tony Knowles coastal trail runs along the Cook inlet for eleven miles, and is supposedly an excellent place to see wildlife, including moose and bear. The person who rented us the bikes quickly explained what to do if we saw either, but I’m actually glad we didn’t end up startling any wildlife, as I’m certain any knowledge of what to do when I encountered a bear would fly out of my head the second I was actually encountering a bear. What I did encounter were a number of other people scattered along the trail, and almost every single one of them smiled and said hello. As a Seattleite (or as close as I’m ever going to get), this was shocking to me. People do not greet one another here. Neighbors walking past one another on their way to/from the mailbox will suddenly both find some interesting point in the distance to stare at fixedly, or will hurriedly pull out their phones and pretend they have urgent text message business to attend to only to quickly slip it back in their pocket when the danger period of potential human interaction has passed. Smiling? Saying hello? Eye contact? Where am I, 1986?

I saw a seagull strutting out there like he knew he was a very important bird, indeed, and it filled me with an inexplicable joy.

This is the first magpie I’ve ever seen, and I was probably more thrilled than any non-elderly person should be, but I couldn’t help myself. It was just gorgeous, its feathers flashing iridescent and blue, its  squeaky little noises. It’s backit here, so you’ll have to take my word for it. When I first looked them up and read they were also in Washington/Oregon/California, I was surprised I hadn’t seen one before, and then I looked at their range map and realized they only live in a whole swath of the States I haven’t spent much time in.

Do you think the moose take the suggestion to slow down? I’m not very familiar with their general lawabidingness so as to hazard a guess, and the people at the bike shop didn’t really address that point.

Other than the pretty gnarly-on-a-bike-especially-if-you’re-not-fully-comfortable-on-a-bike hill between Pablo’s Bikes and Elderberry Park, the coastal trail was fairly easy even for someone as non-exercisey as myself. No, I didn’t bike the whole thing, but I was out there for a few hours and had an excellent time, aided by the aforementioned lack of bears. On our way back to the hotel, we grabbed lunch and swung into the Qiviut Shop, where they sell musk ox yarn goods, which is claimed to be warmer than wool and softer than cashmere. I touched their little sample and it was wonderfully soft, but I didn’t inquire as to their cost as they were far too fine for someone like me who tends to take her scarf off, ball it up, and throw it up onto a closet shelf, potentially to never be seen again.

Man, this guy’s work is everywhere. I wonder if a coastal city doesn’t feel it’s “made it” until they have a Wyland?

There’s just something about this Mr. Prime Beef van that’s deeply unsettling. It’s not just the bloody, meaty skull, it’s the way the i gives said bloody, meaty skull an eyeball that stares at you in agony. Something like that.

Early summer blossoms? Goddamn have I been sitting on this post for a long time! Here’s a current photo of Alaska for comparison:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think I’ll save my Canada-Alaska road trip for the summer, my years in Washington have made me too weak for most kinds of snow-based adventure, much less an Alaskan snow-based adventure.

 

 

Spotted on the Roadside: The Gastown Steam Clock in Vancouver, BC

Lose track of your steampunk friends somewhere in Vancouver? You’ll probably find them in Gastown, pointing their goggles at the steam clock and talking about zeppelins. This popular tourist landmark was built to cover a steam vent so no one could sleep on it–not all cities have the giant brass balls it must take to turn their anti homeless measures into destinations for tourism. I don’t expect to see flyers directing me to the best spiked sidewalks in London, for instance.  You’ll note they didn’t put their less-savory reasoning for installing the clock on the plaque, and it may disappoint your steampunk friends to find out that the clock was built and installed in 1977 so it’s not exactly ‘victorian’. Buuut there’s a steam-y bar down the street where they can drown their sorrows in some brews and, uh, talk about zeppelins–just, for the love of god, don’t order anything mid-rare.

 

Spotted on Water St in Vancouver, BC

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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Spotted on the Roadside: With the what, now?

What’s the deal with these Easter Island heads? Nobody’s talking about them, save for this old Roadside America post from when they were still made out of wood. The hotel’s website doesn’t mention them, no Lincoln City beat reporter published a piece about their subsequent refurbishment and their meaning to the town. Nada. So here’s some heads. One of ’em is eating me.

 

Spotted on highway 101 in Lincoln City, OR

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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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