We had our feet up, on the George RR Martin train yesterday, watching the Santa Fe scrub chug by and sipping beverages. The guitarist was covering train songs, and we got out a crossword which had a themed answer (Hint: Starts at Grant ____ in the northeast, ends at Santa Monica ____ in the Southwest, John Steinbeck called it the Mother ____). I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the answer was WHERE WE ARE.
Through Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino….
Of the many versions, I do like the Manhattan Transfer cover of “Route 66,” as well as John Mayer’s leisurely version from the soundtrack to Cars. We’ve been zipping along what Steinbeck called the Mother Road for a week, and aside from soaking up all the writing advice, we’ve had time to tour, eat, admire the clouds, eat, learn a little history, and eat some more. If you’re bombing through on the Interstate, you might only see asphalt and Applebee’s, but if you meander through the towns, you can hardly help but stumble over one kernel of beauty after another and if you eat a bad meal, you’re not really trying.
Fred Harvey Pie and Disturbing Spoons
There is that Winslow stop, which the Eagles and our guitarist sang about, the girl on the corner. My cousin Susan, the astronomer, lives in Flagstaff but happily agreed to meet us in Winslow because of La Posada. The Turquoise Room at this antique hotel serves the fine food that you only allow yourself to indulge in when family comes to town.
La Posada is like Del Coranado in San Diego, like La Fonda in Santa Fe. A fancy old hotel with history, fascinating, worth just walking around. Pricey, though I suspect the hot water is a little iffy. The Winslow landmark had a gallery within exhibiting Mary Colter paintings. My cousin cheerfully suggested I would like them, though she refrained, saying she found them bizarre, even disturbing. She was right; Tim Burton style. Death spoons, human piñatas, a banquet of the damned, etc. But I managed, even giggled a little.
Meanwhile, the Turqoise Room served us a near-Michelin star dinner with salmon flown in from Chile, slow-smoked carnitas, and Fred Harvey pie. The pie had intricate flavors, but the piece was small, which was fine because carnitas and hummus appetizers had implied dessert was unnecessary. (Au contraire, my traveling companion said. Dessert is never unnecessary.)
Harvey, like P.T. Barnum, was a marketing genius: an early user of postcards, chain restaurants, and “authentic” native experiences with hired non-native actors. He was in the Southwest, yes the Harvey Girls movie is about one of his restaurants, hence the Oscar-winning song “The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.” These days, Harvey’s stuff is antique and pricey, complete with paintings of disturbing spoons.
Pueblo Culture: Use What You’ve Got
If uber-fancy food isn’t your jam, then Albuquerque might have plenty of southwestern cuisine worth sampling, nevertheless. Trust the fine people at the Indian Pueblo Center in Albuquerque to come up with Kool-Aid fried pickles. They were very thinly sliced, and we debated whether they were cherry or raspberry Kool Aid. Whichever Red flavor, they were a unique experience of salty and sour. We went back a second day.
The Center’s kitchen also had a phenomenal menu with plenty of blue corn and fry bread punctuating the brisket and enchiladas. The museum and broader Pueblo cultural experience also had its share of handmade necklaces and explanatory exhibits. When I saw the depiction of a Sun Dagger, I remembered cousin Susan had gone to see one on a solstice, which involved a very early alarm followed a transformative mystical sighting.
That’s the thing about so many natives, whether Pueblos or the ancestors of Newgrange or the pre-Etruscans. They used the land and surroundings in ways that we’ve lost. The foodstuffs of corn, beans, squash, and green chiles grew prominently and were cultivated carefully. Find a stone that helps you mark the days and hours and use a labyrinth to create your calendar. Petroglyphs, which are plentiful, remind us that art and celebration predate the caravelle, the Silk Road, and the pope.
The Museum That Has More Than Life-Sized Dinosaur Statues
The other great museum in Albuquerque that we traversed was the New Mexico Museum if Natural History. Being the dinosaur enthusiast that I am, this was my sixth visit to the Museum of Natural History. They do have a really nice walkway through time, starting from the primordial soup, going through the lizard-hipped and bird-hipped Triassic and Jurassic and ending with space exploration. They’ve removed the slightly-racist dioramas from the 1970s and replaced them with a 10-foot tall animated Bisti beast (Bistahievorsor sealeyi) which roars at six-year-olds.
But lookie! A chocolate exhibit. Since I was with a person whose brand includes the word chocolate, this was a MUST!
We were fortunate enough to visit a cocoa farm in Hawaii, so we’d seen the pods growing in the trees, and the innards that look like squash. But the seeds dry and grind, through several steps, into those nibs and cocoa powder. The Mayans considered it a drink good enough for royalty, in particular, Lord Snake Jaguar, whose name is inscribed the cup.
Some time later, there were chocolate bars, tempering, British chocolate houses that planned to overthrow Charles II, Hershey, Ovaltine, and mocha Frappuccino. Thanks Lord Jaguar!
Ranch of the Swallows, Las Golondrinas
There’s tons of stuff to do and Santa Fe but we had done a lot of it already. Walked Canyon Road to see the art and statuary, done O’Keeffe museum, Cafe Pasquale (smoked trout hash), and shopped the plaza. If you are in Santa Fe, do all those things. Also Harry’s Roadhouse. But this time, we discovered Cowgirls BBQ, which had Frito pie, Chile rellenos, and some of the best flan ever encountered.
Since we had already done almost everything, and we were down to number 23 on the top 25 things to do, we went out to Las Golondrinas. It’s a bit south of the city, one of those open air, costumed docent, natural recreated museums. Fascinating. Dusty. Pleasant in the morning, gaining on humid by noon.
One of my traveling companions, a historian slash librarian, did point out that it was a story of the Spanish settlers cough *usurpers* rather than the natives. Maybe the Moors brought the ovens and maybe the Pueblos already used them. Still, the sheep wool showed me what fluffy really meant. And who doesn’t like a general store? The exotic oranges were probably from Mexico.
The young fella did point out that the Spanish-speaking locals collected tin left over from the army and from shipping windows. So they had some of that “reuse rather than ship” idea working for them to make light fixtures, light tools, and jewelry.
The ranch doesn’t serve food–bring water! But we had a great healthier non fry bread lunch at the Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen. Award winning soup, judging by the corn and poblano blend. I had a banh mi, so someone back there knows how to cook Asian style.
After all that walking, a train ride was just what we needed. The creator of Game of Thrones bought some antique art deco cars, so this was the George RR Martin experience. Our ride was scenic, but not dramatically so. There was a bar, cheerful docents, and the music was pleasant. Last Train to ———-. Midnight Train to ——-. —— to Ride. We sang along to the chorus of “Take It Easy” and finished the crossword puzzle in pen. Our musician friend cheered.