Las Cruces - And Beyond Part I and II - PICS

Double Chili Cheeseburger
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2007/06/24 23:32:03 (permalink)

Las Cruces - And Beyond Part I and II - PICS

First off, my apologies to Rouxdog and Tamandmik for not contacting you before coming over. As you’ll read, it was somewhat spontaneous.

Part I - Friday Afternoon to Saturday Lunch time

I headed down to Tucson on business Friday, stopping at Gus Balon’s for a little late breakfast.

Gus Balon’s is reviewed by the Stern’s here:

I personally found the food good, but not spectacular. The Sweet Rolls were a treat however, served warm with plenty of butter to slather on as you go. The potatoes were above average, and the Homemade Rye Toast with butter was also better than most, I enjoyed by itself as well as by dunking it into my coffee.

I guess I am a sausage patty snob, but I want my patties hand-formed and thick. If it’s either pressed or (gasp!) frozen patties, I take points off. They tasted OK, as did the eggs, but nothing to write home about.

The service was great and the place had a nice character, and I will go back again, if only to try out the Breakfast Burger mentioned in the Michael Stern Review.

After I was done with work, I popped over to the PIMA Air and Space Museum to have a look around.

Cajunking is a life member of the 390th Bombardment Group, and there is a special Memorial Museum located on the PIMA grounds. It details the fascinating and sobering history of this group that was based in England, running 100’s of missions into German controlled Europe during WWII.

It’s always amazing to me that there are soooo many different types of planes and, with a quick drive by “The Boneyard” that there are so many just in military service.

Since it was Friday, I had planned on continuing on down I-10 to Wilcox to visit my Mother for the weekend. But as I was heading down that way I got to thinking about New Mexico...I got to the Dragoon Road exit where I should be exiting to go to Mom's house…when my Wanderlust took over and I continued on towards the state border.

So now I was on an official road trip! I really don’t mind driving; in fact I really enjoy it, especially if I am by myself. I like looking around and stopping off on a whim, seeing and doing things I normally wouldn’t do with someone along. The trip from Tucson to Las Cruces was only 3 ½ hours, and would put me in there around 5-6 o’clock.

I saw (and smelled) this truck along the way and had to laugh, sweet onions from California heading to Florida (Florida Trucking Company and trailer)…no doubt some of these onions will end up on in one of John A’s cooking pics!

Crossing over the Continental Divide and then the Rio Grande, I arrived in Las Cruces and started hunting for a hotel. The setting was beautiful, with the Organ Mountains catching the late afternoon sun, absolutely stunning.

After a couple hotel rejections, (apparently there was a big softball championship in Las Cruces this weekend) I found lodging at the Hotel Encanto (formerly the Hilton) for a surprisingly low price.

The accommodations were great; I would recommend this hotel to anyone traveling to Las Cruces. The room was twice the size of a “normal” room, the bathroom was spotless, and the pillow-top bed and five fluffy pillows let me sleep like a baby that night.

After finding the hotel room, I was starving and thirsty. Right across the street from the hotel was my answer. Now I know there are wonderful places like Nellie’s to eat in Las Cruces, and I intend on eating at many of them eventually. But I was happy to have Farley’s within 1 minute walking distance and I needed a beer.

Farley’s was loud and boisterous, obviously a popular place in LC. (Original restaurant in Roswell) I found my way to the bar and sat down. I have to say, the bartenders did not have a real sense of urgency about them. I finally got a beer after enlisting the help of Conrad, a nice gentleman who was seated next to me.

Conrad was a regular, usually there on Friday nights. We got to talking when another man came up and tried to get a drink. His name was Joey, and after getting him a beer the three of us started swapping life stories.

Conrad was in the Vietnam war, working on a Sonar ship in the Pacific. He lived in San Francisco for many years, then moved to Las Cruces and started an Executive car company. Joey was also in the service, Army and actually was in the same field as me, he was a 54B and I was a 55G. He currently has a Health and Nutrition Consultancy which sounds like it is going quite well.

I mentioned I was hungry and Joey suggested I get the Smothered Flautas, and I must say it was excellent. It was five or six green chile-pork flautas covered in green chile sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and black olives. Over the top good! No picture, but just imagine a pile of lettuce and tomatoes with black olives, cause that’s all you’d see.

I spent the next couple hours having some laughs with my new group of friends and then called it a night.

I got up about 4:30 and made some coffee, got ready and headed out a little after 5 AM Saturday morning. I decided that I would go over to the White Sands National Monument first thing to catch it in early morning light.

The drive up over St. Augustine Pass and down the back side of the Organ Mountains was perfect. The weather was cool, and the smell of Creosote Bushes wafted through the air. I drove with my windows down, enjoying the 74 degree air.

I got to the entrance to the Monument, only to learn that they didn’t open till 7 AM. Oh well, gives me time to run into Alamogordo and rustle up some breakfast. The first place that caught my eye as I entered the town was the Waffle and Pancake Shoppe. I always look for the breakfast places with lots of pickup trucks in front of them, usually a good sign of good home cooking. I pressed on, however and drove the main strip of the town, not seeing anything of interest.

If it would have been later in the day, this place looked promising. Anyone vouch for this place? Signs say breakfast, but nobody home....

I ended up driving back a couple streets and then back the way I came. Just when I was ready to head back to the Waffle place, I saw Daylight Donuts. Now the donut thing was already good, but throw in Breakfast Burritos as well and it’s all good!

I ended up getting a Beef Green Chili Burrito, a CinniMini and a cup of coffee to go, thinking I would eat it at White Sands while checking the place out.

SO, off I went and got to the Monument just a little after 7 AM. I drove in and stopped at one of the interpretive walks, took my breakfast goodies and sat on a bench, looked for wildlife while stuffing my face.

The Cinnimini was very good, the lady running the place says that they make them fresh there every day, and it sure tasted like it. Unfortunately the burrito was not as outstanding. Although decent, I would order something else next time.

Just as I was finishing up, a guy whom I didn’t even notice comes up behind me and says, “Ya seen any Kit Foxes?” This started a conversation that lasted quite a while, finding out that Dale was there to check the place out for his wife as she didn’t want to travel all that way if it wasn’t worth seeing. He was working on a pumping station for a pipeline up north of here and just drove down for the day.

We talked a bit more then I headed back to the Alkali Flat Trail, figuring I would hike back in the dunes a bit to get another perspective. The distance is not posted so I figured it can’t be too far, but after about a half an hour, things not looking like they were getting any closer and visions of Clint Eastwood walking through the desert in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly going through my head sent me following my tracks back to the car.

Now normally I don’t mind a good hike, but I hadn’t taken any water with me and I was all alone, if something happened to me or a wind storm kicked up, it would be a long time before someone found me.

I thought this picnic area looked...bizarre?

I got back to the car and headed out of the monument, with the museum at the White Sands Missile Range next on my list.

Driving up to the gate, I had to surrender my Driver’s License, insurance card and registration, then get out of the car and open all doors and the hood for inspection. I guess I passed because they let me in, with the warning to keep the Organ Mountains in background of all pictures.

Looking around the outside exhibit brought back some memories. I babysat several types of warheads over in Europe that were specifically designed to be used with many of these delivery systems towards the end of the Cold War.

I headed back into Las Cruces and went to my hotel room for a quick shower and check out. I took off for Hatch, NM...of course the home of the famous Hatch Chile.

Hatch lies along the Rio Grande in a fertile valley full of Chile farms and dairy farms, as well as other crops such as Onions and Corn. The town itself is not impressive, but I was able to find a couple very satisfying meals in my short visit there.

The first place I went was the Valley Café. As I entered, the place was nearly full, with only one table left…just waiting for me! I sat down and after a longer than usual wait the young lady working there took my order.

They had Tacos al Pastor on the daily menu, and I knew I couldn’t pass that up. I talked with two ladies at the next table (the only ones speaking English in the place, good sign). They had also ordered the Tacos al Pastor and commented that this was the best place in town for this dish. (Locals) They had over heard that I asked the waitress if they had Green Chile Stew (they didn’t!) and recommended that I go over to B & E Burritos. Of course they knew the ladies that run that place and also recommended the Burritos (makes sense).

I was looking around the restaurant and noticed an unusual picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall. It was a real period piece with the caption reading:

The President and Mrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Back then women didn't have names after they were married.)

I thought it odd that it would be hanging in this little restaurant, there were no other types of these pictures anywhere in the place. It just seemed so random and out of place. I’d love to hear the story behind it one day.

Anyway, the food came to the ladies and I was really getting hungry listening to their mmmmms and yummmms, finally mine came, and it was all that I hoped for and more!

I requested some salsa and I received a very nice green chile salsa that was delish!

I wolfed these 3 boys down in no time; paid my $6 (inc. soda) thanked the ladies for the restaurant tip and headed over to B & E.

The place doesn’t look like much and I remember driving by it as I came in town, wondering if I should chance it. This time around though, I knew what I was getting and went in. It was nice to just walk up and order at the counter, and I was dealing directly with the owner. I ordered the Green Chile Stew and a Red Chile Burrito + soda pop; the total came out to about 9 dollars.

This place was a lot quicker than the Valley Café and the owner lady was very accommodating and friendly. I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to her though, she was getting a steady stream of business both inside and at the walk up window.

Needless to say, the food was outstanding. The stew was fiery, just how I like it, and the burrito had that wonderful red chile flavor I am just crazy about. The red was supposed to be milder, but I didn’t see any difference. Both places were two thumbs up, way up! Just wish I would’ve had room for more.

End of Part I

Part II - Saturday afternoon to Sunday Evening

After an incredible lunch and, not seeing any hammocks under a shade tree to take a siesta, I decided to head north out of Hatch on HWY 185 and drive along the Rio Grande.

The first thing I noticed of course were the miles and miles of Chile Fields. Interestingly, I also saw an equal amount of corn and onions being grown.

There were some interesting and oddball things to see along the way, not the least of which was this guy, who just after I snapped this picture, started chewing on my side mirror…time to go before he spits on me!

I continued driving north till I reached Hwy 152 towards Silver City, highly recommended by Tamanarik as a beautiful drive. He was absolutely right. Just after leaving Hillsboro, itself an interesting little town, the road started climbing up into the mountains. Before I knew it I was in amongst beautiful Ponderosa Pine trees, jagged cliffs and fresh, pine scented breezes.

I descended a bit, then ran into the junction of Hwy 35, that turns north through the town of Mimbres (fighting the beginnings of a forest fire) to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The sign said 2 hours, but in reality it took just over an hour, and I was not driving over the seed limit along the way. This drive also took me amongst some awesome rock formations and open areas and beautiful Lake Roberts, just all very scenic.

Once arriving at the visitors center, a nice walk across the Gila River and a short hike up a trail through a nice riparian area brought me to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The round trip hike was only about a mile, however it was steep in some places.

The ruins were fascinating, and well preserved. The trail did weave between the rooms and it gave me a good appreciation for how these Indians must have lived hundreds of years ago. In fact, there is evidence that this area was inhabited as far back as 100 A.D.

Back in the car, I headed down to Silver City, the drive itself an adventure. The road heading down through the Ponderosa Pine the last few miles had no center line, it was more of a paved driveway and just about as wide.

Arriving in Silver City, I first smelled, then saw this little place. I was real hungry by this time, so I thought I’d stop off and see what Terry had to offer.

Terry was indeed working in the trailer, with his smokers out back. I asked him what he had, he said Brisket and Ribs. I ordered some Brisket, no bun, no sauce. Since I ordered it no sauce, he had to go back out to the smoker and pull out a fresh Brisket. I asked him what he had smoked it with, he said Oak for about 10 hours.

He gave me a healthy portion for 6 bucks, more than I was going to be able to eat, but I picked away at it while I had a drive around Silver City. It was warm, juicy and extraordinarily good! Be sure to stop by there if you are ever in Silver City, it’s up on the north side not far from this aptly named motel, where I eventually stayed.

After a look around this attractive town, I needed some liquid refreshment and this place looks like it fit the bill.

I went in and tried a glass of their IPA, mmmm just right. The bartender was Wayne, who had moved to Silver City a couple years ago from Prescott, Arizona. He likes Silver City because he loves the outdoors and the Real Estate prices are not out of control there...yet. I can see this town becoming very popular.

The hippies and the artisans have already moved in en masse, but it is not over done like it is in Sedona, for example. I asked him for a Mexican food recommendation, he made two. The one across the street, La Cocina, which I chose, or the “fancier” one down the street called Jalisco’s Cafe.

La Cocina was an interesting little place, with a walk in counter at the front, and around the side the entrance to a dining room.

I ordered the #3 Green Chile Combination, which consisted of Green Chile Stew, a Cheese Enchilada and a Chile Relleno with red or green sauce, I chose red.

Overall the meal was very good. I thought the red sauce could have had a bit more flavor to it, and the Enchilada was a bit smaller than I had hoped. What really stood out was the Green Chile Stew! Nice and spicy with chunks of pork, potato and green chiles. Very well done.

The waitress said her favorite was the Green Chile Cheeseburger, and I have found that Mexican restaurants usually do a good burger, so I might try that next time, among other things.

Leaving there, I had promised Wayne I’d come back over for another IPA, so back I went. The place was getting busier, and about halfway through my beer 3 college students came in and took up the remaining seats at the bar. The two girls ordered Peach Beer….yes, peach beer.

Wayne explained that it was a peach extract that they add to the Wheat Beer….whatever. I gave the girls a hard time about it, and ended up convincing them to try the IPA. That’s all they drank for the rest of the night as we moved the party out onto the patio and enjoyed the beautiful night air.

At the end of the night, I decided to walk back to “The Drifter” since it was only 10 minutes by foot, and I was feeling the effect of those IPA’s. Good thing I did, Silver City’s Finest were sitting just down the road….

The next morning I got up and decided to give the Drifter Restaurant a try for breakfast. The owner of the Silver City Brewing Company recommended it, and the wonderful lady who owned the motel said it was the best in the Southwest.

I wouldn’t go that far, but it was a very good plate, and the service was friendly and attentive. I needed plenty of coffee this morning, and luckily this was one of those places that just leaves the whole pot at the table.

I ordered the Ham, Cheese and Green Chile Omelet with Hash Browns and Dollar Pancakes.

The Omelet was done very well with nice chunks of smoked ham, sharp cheddar, and some mighty fine roasted green chilies. The pancakes were fluffy and soft, served with real butter and Warm syrup.

After breakfast I walked back down to my truck, then took another drive around town. Obviously the residents of Silver City are not early risers, this dog seems to be quite content just where he is.

Running parallel to the downtown area is “The Big Ditch Park”, which is a cool, shady oasis through the center of town. It is kept up very well and makes a very nice addition to this picturesque little town.

I reluctantly headed out of town and up HWY 180 with the intention of hitting HWY 78 back into Arizona. The drive along 180 was out of an old western movie. Ranching has obviously been big here since the old days, with the Gila River providing and endless source of water and the rolling hills plenty of grass.

It was still early and it was a pleasure to drive with the windows down, the morning air rushing through. As I turned on to HWY 78 I came upon a little town of Mule Creek.

This little town marked an interesting contrast in landscape. As I headed out of Mule Creek, I started climbing in elevation again and within a minute or two I was back in Tall Pines!

As I got to the top of the pass I crossed into Arizona and started a beautiful decent down the mountain to meet up with HWY 191.

I watched as the temperature climbed from 84 degrees to over 100 by the time I reached Safford. Just as I entered town I saw this little place and figured, why not?

The place was very busy for 10:30 on a Sunday morning, so they must be doing something right. I ordered a Pork Carnitas Taco and an Orange Whip from the drive through, then pulled off next to a cotton field for my mid morning snack.

WOW! That was one excellent taco. The Pork Carnitas was nice and moist, topped with great guacamole and some pico de gallo and all resting inside a lovely corn tortilla. Put this place on your list of places to try.

I headed out on HWY 70 towards the San Carlos Indian Reservation. The Gila River runs along here as well, making it fertile ground for endless cotton fields both in the Safford area and on the Reservation.

I arrived in Globe and picked up US 60, the last major leg of my trip back into the Phoenix area. I always enjoy the drive from Globe into Superior, just west of Mesa. Just when you think you are back in the desert, you careen down the highway, weaving through massive rock formations and then dive headlong into a tunnel.

Coming out the other side delivers you to the desert floor, with stately saguaros waving and welcoming you back.

As I was driving through Mesa, I had to make one more road food stop at Food City (A Mexican Grocery Store) Sundays they grill whole chickens and that sounded really good. For an extra buck they throw in salsa and fresh tortillas.

Smelling that chicken driving home was pure torture. Seeing Red Mountain, I knew I was only 5 minutes away from home and some Grilled Chicken Tacos.

Got home, unloaded what I could carry in two arms, petted some very excited dogs and proceeded to make myself an afternoon meal.

Of course I treated the boys to some of the delicious meat as well. It was good to be home, but I sure enjoyed my first of many road trips to the beautiful state of New Mexico.


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