Friday, January 18, 2019

Mexico Travel Map

I have visited 9 of the 31 Mexican states as well as the capital, Mexico City.
My first visit to Mexico was as a young boy, age 5 or 6. We visited Southern California and included a stop in Tijuana (Baja California) where I recall wanting to buy a ceramic gorilla piggy bank. I didn't have enough money and when I told the man how much I had, he said he would take that for it. I replied, "I don't want to cheat you" and left it at that. I obviously had a lot to learn. I recall my older brother, David, buying a statue of Venus De Milo.

Years later when we moved to San Diego where I went to law school, we made quite a few trips down to Ensenada where we would go to the fish market and buy shrimp and crab. We also found a wonderful restaurant, El Rey Sol, which we ate at quite a few times. 

When we moved to Redlands we discovered Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona which I have visited quite a few times over the years. On many of those visits we have crossed the border and driven through Sonoyta (Sonora) and down to Puerto Penasco on the Gulf of California where we have had some wonderful seafood meals. On one trip, when the kids were young, we went back to California on Hwy 2 through the extreme desert of northern Sonora, and exited Mexico through Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, to Calexico and up through the Imperial Valley. On two trips, one with Judy and one alone, I drove through El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve. 

In July 1989 we visited Southern Arizona and crossed over into Mexico at Agua Prieta (Sonora) through Douglas and Nogales through Nogales. 

Years later, with business colleagues, both financial advisors, I drove through Nuevo Casas Grandes and Colonia Juarez to Mata Ortiz (Chihuaha), to see the beautiful clay pots made by the artists of Mata Ortiz. We entered Mexico through Agua Prieta and followed Hwy 2 below New Mexico and then down Hwy 10. 

In March 2018 I had my first real trip into the heart of Mexico (Judy lived in Mexico while a college student and did quite a bit of traveling while there). We flew into the Federal District of Mexico City, the capital (the Washington D.C.) of Mexico, and did quite a few activities there, including the National Palace, Chapultepec Park, Coyoacan, Xochimilco and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We went into the State of Mexico, the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan being my favorite spot there. We also visited Tlalmanalco and Amecameca as part of our visit up to the Saddle of Cortez between the volcanoes Popo and Izta. We took a day trip into Cuernavaca, the capital of the State of Morelos, then continued on to the white city of Taxco in the State of Guerrero. Another day we visited the State of Puebla and visited Huejotzingo, Cholula and the capital of Puebla. We also took a side trip, a flight from Mexico City to Villahermosa, the capital of the State of Tabasco, to visit some friends that are living there. Aside from time in Villahermosa, we drove to the Mayan ruins in Comalcalco, and traveled in to the State of Chiapas to visit the Mayan ruins and city of Palenque. It was on this trip that I really fell in love with Mexico and made a goal to visit each of the Mexican states. 

In a trip to Western Texas in December 2018, we went into Big Bend National Park and planned to cross over the Rio Grande River there to visit Boquillas, in the State of Coahuila. The U.S. government shutdown prevented that visit. I was right at the edge of the Rio Grande, in Boquillas Canyon, a stone's throw from Coahuila, and met a Mexican man from Boquillas who'd crossed the Rio Grande on his horse to sell trinkets. A considered offering him some money to take me over to the other side of the Rio Grande and back, but decided I didn't want to chance getting on the wrong side of the U.S. Border Patrol if they happened to be watching. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Food in El Paso, Texas

My prior post was on food near Big Bend National Park. It was not impressive. The food in El Paso was much, much better.

Tabla:
Tabla is the one restaurant I made reservations for ahead of our trip, for the day of our arrival. Tabla focuses on tapas (small plates) and has plenty of vegetarian options, which we were trying to focus on. Tabla has a 4.5 rating on Yelp with 385 reviews and is the number 10 (out of 1,414) restaurant in El Paso on Trip Advisor with a 4.5 rating.  Our reservation was not necessary, but it was one of the best meals of our trip. 
It is in the historic section of El Paso.
Grilled pulpo (octopus) with an olive tapenade (see to the left). The octopus was in very small pieces, but had a nice smoky flavor and was not too chewy. 
Brussels sprouts with sweet and spicy sauce, cilantro and spiced nuts. I don't like cilantro, but did not notice it. The brussels were small, which I like, and a bit firm. Most people like them that way, but I prefer them mushy. However, I still enjoyed them. Lots of restaurants are doing brussels now and I've had quite a few that were better.  
Papas bravas (spicy potatoes) with herbs and aioli. The potato wedges were highly spiced and I preferred them without the aioli (which was strong and covered up the potato taste).  
Roasted cauliflower with cherry tomatoes, garlic butter and herbs. I have grown to love cauliflower, especially when it is well cooked like this was. One of my favorite dishes. 
Mushroom tart with ragu, sherry and cheese. The greens and tomato on top were good. It was okay, but not one of the better dishes. 
Baked goat cheese (in the bowl) with honey, sweet onion jam and grilled bread. We ordered extra bread. The sweet onion jam was too sweet and over-powering. The goat cheese did not have a strong goat taste. One of my least favorite dishes. 
Cold plate called "Simple" with avocado, cherry tomato, cucumber, Parmesan, and herbed vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was very nice. The red items I believe were the tomatoes and were crunchy. I didn't particularly like them, but the rest of it was good.  
Chickpea fries with chipotle curry ketchup and Moroccan spices. The ketchup was too overpowering and I liked them better plain. They are made out of chick pea dough which is cut into the shape of fries and then fried. 
Although I was critical of many of the dishes, I enjoyed it immensely overall. It was creative and had some nice combinations. There were other tapas we would have loved to try, such as pork belly wraps, smoked duck, roasted quail, bruschetta with smoked salmon, short rib, gnocchi with green chile and chorizo, mussels, smoked baby backs and arrachera (flank steak with chimichurri). I love small plates that allow varied food tasting opportunities.  

Kiki's Mexican Restaurant:
Kiki's gets four stars on Yelp with 353 reviews and is rated the #3 restaurant in El Paso by Trip Advisor with a rating of 4.5 and 329 reviews. Their beef machaca was featured on the Food Network as Aaron Sanchez's "Best Thing I Ever Ate."
What pulled me in was the restaurant menu on Trip Advisor (scroll down to the bottom). For machaca, it states, "Take your choice of brisket, chicken or crab, grilled with tomatoes, onions and green chilies, a little egg, then covered with our totally addictive green sauce and cheese..." For green crab enchiladas, it states, "If we ever run out of the green crab, we could have a riot on our hands...Relax, we won't run out. When you need those tender, juicy chunks of crab wrapped in corn tortillas and drowned in that dangerous green sauce of ours and cheese,...We'll have them, we promise." That description of "juicy chunks of crab...drowned in...dangerous green sauce" propelled me to this restaurant.

We got there early, about 5:00 p.m., and I'm glad we did. It got crowded. We got an order of guacamole and it was very good. We had great guacamole in several places on this trip.
I wavered between the machaca and the enchiladas and ultimately decided on the machaca because that was what was featured on the Food Channel, although I picked crab over beef. The menu noted the crab was partially snow crab and fake crab. I think it was mostly fake crab, but that's okay, because it tasted great. The machaca sauce was inundated with green chilies, I think they were probably Anaheims, and lots of cheese. There was lots of it and it was GOOD. If I lived closer, I would eat this regularly. This was my single favorite dish of the trip.

A close-up of the chilies in the sauce.
For dessert, we tried flan. It was good as far as flan goes, but I'm not a flan fan. The cheese cake with strawberries was much better. Thick, rich and sweet.

I would like to go back to Kiki's and try some other items, but I would probably just get the machaca again. It's tough to venture when you know you can order gold.  

Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada #2:
After doing the El Paso Mission Trail amidst a very heavy Mexican influence, I wanted to try a Mexican meal before we went to the airport to go home. I asked Judy to Yelp Mexican restaurants nearby with 5 stars and more than a few ratings. She found one, Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada #2 with ten people giving it 5 stars. It was in a strip mall in Socorro, south east of El Paso. The waitress was very friendly and helpful. 
Sam got a chile relleno burito and caldo camaron chico, soup with shrimp, and some grilled bread. He gave me a piece of bread to dip in the shrimp and it was delicious. The soup was very flavorful and the bread was great at sopping it up. He said the burrito was great too. 
I got a cheese quesadilla, quesadilla sencilla (simple), because it was its namesake. I never get quesadillas and there was nothing about this one that would get me to change my ways, but it had quite a bit of cheese in it, more so than I've seen with other quesadillas I've watched other people eat. 
Quesadilla
I got what I was told was their best seller, the desayuno (breakfast) villa ahumada. It was chile verde (pork) with refried beans, an over-medium egg and tortilla. The refried beans and tortillas were freshly made and good, which I slathered with copious amounts of salsa. Compare these beans with the beans we had in Marathon, Texas in my last post. 
Judy got chilaquiles c/huevo which came with red chilaquiles, quite different than the green chilaquiles we got in Mexico City, not as liquid, crunchy or spicy. It also came with two eggs and refried beans. She enjoyed it. 
They had a thick green salsa with lots of heat, similar to other salsas we'd had in western Texas. The waitress told us it was all jalapenos. I ordered more after going through the bowl we had. Here is a recipe that must be similar (that also has tomatoes in it). I've never had salsa like it anywhere else. 
They had a red salsa which was spicy and much thinner, and a whitish/green salsa which was also quite thin. I preferred the red, but neither was as good as the green which I loaded up on. The food was good and fresh, but it was the salsas that made it. It was a wonderful authentic Mexican meal. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Food Near Big Bend NP in Texas: Marfa, Marathon and Terlingua

We recently had a number of meals in the vicinity of Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas - places in Terlingua, Marfa and Marathon. I have to say I was surprised at the poor quality of the food and Marfa and Marathon. Those meals reflected a lack of fresh vegetables and fruit and a reliance on pre-made items. The food was better in Terlingua, perhaps because of the larger reliance on tourism there.

Marfa Burritos - Marfa
Marfa Burritos gets four stars on Yelp with 103 reviews. It gets a rating of 4.5 on Trip Advisor with 111 reviews and is rated no. 4 of 21 restaurants in Marfa. It is featured in an article on Saveur.com, dated May 16, 2017, titled "The Burrito Queen of Texas Deserves a Stop on Your Next Road Trip." From that article, "Ramona Tejada has turned her home into one of the best burrito spots we've ever visited. Everything...is handmade. From the salsas to the tortillas, you can watch everything happen right in front of you...You can peer over the counter to watch as Ramona hand-rolls the tortillas into perfect circles, grills them to a perfectly crispy brown, then slathers them in beans and other fillings." 

I was pretty excited to try this place. Hand made signs are in front of the house on a wood fence and a line was out the door. You order at a window with a view into the kitchen. Next to the window is a hand made neon-pink cardboard sign with seven burritos listed: (i) egg + chorizo; (ii) egg + potato; (iii) egg + cheese; (iv) primo = beans + potatoes + onions + tomatoes + salsa + cheese; (v) bean + cheese; (vi) asado; and (vii) carne. After you order, three people, including Ramona Tejada, make the burritos while you wait. When completed, they bring the burritos to you, you pay in cash, and the next person in line steps to the window. 

Ordering at the window. Menu on the right. 
Ramona Tejada in the kitchen.
Home-made green salsa is in a large bowl near the window and there is a water cooler and free help-yourself coffee. There are a couple of tables in the room where you order, several tables in an adjoining room, and tables outside, both front and back. 

Celebrity photos are on the wall - two of Anthony Bordain with Ramona, Kevin Bacon, Matthew McConaughey and others I didn't recognize. 
Anthony Bourdain with Ramona Tejada.
The tortillas are huge, but the filling inside them is meager. I ordered the egg + cheese and it was almost all tortilla. The egg and cheese were bland, so I loaded up with the green salsa which is very hot. I ended up ripping off big strips of tortilla to reduce the ratio of tortilla to filling and finally just ripped off a piece of tortilla and aggregated all the filling into one spot and ate it that way. I probably tossed half the tortilla. Judy and Sam each got the primo and had the same complaint. Sam mentioned that the beauty of a burrito is you stuff it full of good things. These burritos are not stuffed - they are mostly flat and the majority of the volume is tortilla. If you want to eat large flour tortillas and not much else, this is the place. 
The burrito with the end bit off.
The filling aggregated into a piece of the tortilla, slathered with green salsa. 
Texas Monthly has an article titled "Marfa Burrito," dated April 16, 2018. Their article spoke the reality we found. They mentioned the celebrities on the wall, the place being mobbed, and their potato + egg + cheese burritos which they ordered. Their conclusion: "Though hungry we couldn't finish the giant roll, and didn't really want to: the potatoes were underdone, the cheese not melted at all, and the whole thing lacking in seasoning. Too bad the place does not live up to the hype." Amen. 

Jett's Grill in the Hotel Paisano - Marfa:
The Hotel Paisano is where James Dean and Liz Taylor stayed when they were filming the movie "Giant" in 1956. Dean was nominated for an Academy Award for the film and was killed in a car accident before the film was released. We stopped here for breakfast and found it was buffet only, and the only items were different types of burritos. Given our burritos only Marfa Burritos visit, it felt like we were entering the Twilight Zone. On the positive side, the burritos were already made and sitting in the metal open-up buffet cannisters. They were about a third of the size of the Marfa Burritos, but had about the same amount of filling. The eggs in my burrito were moister and tastier and it had a long green chile which had some spice. However, using Sam's criteria, these burritos were not stuffed, by any standard (except perhaps the Marfa Burritos standard). I liked the tortilla more - it was more moist. Jett's Grill had a smooth red and a smooth green salsa which were pretty good, but they were running out. I asked for more, but by the time it was replenished I was finished. The setting was much nicer and the lack of a wait was nice, but the lack of choice and poor service detracted. Not a great burrito, but twice as good as the other burrito I had in Marfa. 

Oasis Cafe - Marathon:
Oasis Cafe gets 4.5 stars on Yelp out of 27 reviews and a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor, making it the number 3 restaurant in Marathon out of 8. This particular comment on Trip Advisor, from November 2018, was the reason I decided to stop here: "We stopped at this place on our drive out to Big Bend. Had huevos rancheros and they were delicious! They were so delicious we made it a point to stop there again on the trip back thru. Ordered the same thing - they were that good!! My husband & I both agreed they were the best we’ve ever had. Living in South Texas that’s a big statement to make since we’ve eaten huevos rancheros many, many times at many different places." Huevos rancheros is fried eggs served on fried or charred tortillas topped with a salsa fresca of tomatoes, chili peppers, onion and cilantro. Refried beans, Mexican style rice and avocado slices or guacamole are common accompaniments. 
Oasis drips attitude. A representative sign on the wall behind the cash register reads something to the effect of, "Everyone is entitled to a bad day - well today is mine." They were busy, which I understand, but the waitress was loud and freely expressed her annoyances about people coming up to the cash register to try to get service when they weren't being waited on. While ordering huevos rancheros I requested a side of salsa, and she looked at me and said, why are you ordering something it already comes with? My son suggested I order a side of pica de gallo instead and she abruptly left us during this exchange to wait on some people at the cash register and clear a couple of tables. She did not return for five minutes. So I ordered a side of pico de gallo for $1.75. 

The huevos rancheros came with canned refried beans, a warmed up pre-packaged disk of "hash browns," a couple of eggs on a corn tortilla covered with a meager portion of pretty thin salsa and a side flour tortilla. Oh, and my $1.75 pica de gallo which was a small plastic container filled half-full with a few chunks of onion, carrot and jalapeno. The added pica de gallo made a huge difference, but it needed about three times that amount and did not want to spend another $3.50 or $5.25 to get it. I don't know what kind of huevos rancheros the South Texas couple quoted above has been eating, but this is probably the worst huevos rancheros I've ever had.
My $1.75 pica da gallo is top right. 
High Sierra Bar & Grill - Terlingua:
Our food took a jump in quality closer to Big Bend NP in Terlingua. At High Sierra Bar & Grill we got some very good guacamole with chunks of tomato, onion and green pepper in it which was also seasoned nicely. When the guacamole was gone and we still had chips, we ordered some queso, a liquidy white cheese to finish them off with. The guacamole was much better than the queso. Both Sam and I got a plate with two poblano rellenos, full of white cheese. The coating is more spare than what we typically get in Southern California, but it was good. The green salsa had a nice kick to it and I asked for more without additional charge. The beans even had some cheese on them. Judy got a plate with a poblano relleno and two tacos which she enjoyed. The food here eclipsed the three restaurants above by a mile. 
Poblano relleno and beans.
Poblano relleno, tacos and beans. 
Chili Pepper Cafe - Terlingua:
My favorite of all the restaurants near Big Bend NP was the Chili Pepper Cafe. The proprietor of a local shop suggested it to us. She said, "If they don't have it on the menu, just ask them for it. They'll try to accommodate you." That sealed it for me. I love restaurants that will make an effort to fulfill a wish. We got guacamole as an appetizer and it was even a little bit better than the guac at the High Sierra. We got a large and I liked the seasoning a little more. Some of the best guacamole we've eaten. When we ate the guac, we requested queso for the balance of the chips. Their queso was not as good as High Sierra, less spicy. They had fajitas on the menu, but only with meat, chicken or beef. I asked if they would do vegetable fajitas. She said they would try. The order came back with a plate full of hot cauliflower, broccoli, onions, carrots and squash. I also asked for three different types of salsa and then extra of the green salsa I liked best, all provided without additional charge. I liked the service so much that I provided better than a 30% tip, a thing I have done on only a few occasions. 

We planned to go to Big Bend very close to the time we left and the hotels near the park were all full. Not even taking into consideration the driving distance, the food alone is a reason to try to get nearer the park. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Golden Eagle

Driving through western Texas, between Marfa and Van Horn, I spotted a golden eagle perched on a telephone pole. It appeared to be a juvenile. As I got out of the car to take a photo, it flew and I only got a few poor flying photos. 
We saw it, or a different one, a little further down the road on another telephone pole. It flew before I could even get out of the car. 
I have no photos of golden eagles and include these and hope for better photos and a more complete post in the future. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Mexican Jay

The Mexican jay used to be known as the gray-breasted jay. It has a blue head, blue-gray mantle (between the neck and the rump), blue wings and tail, a pale gray breast and underparts and a black bill and legs. It differs from the western scrub jay by its plain (unstreaked) breast and throat and its mantle contrasting less with its head and wings. 
This photo gives a good look at the mantle (the back, or area between the neck and rump) which is blue-gray, compared to the blue of the head and wings. 
This photo gives a good look at the pale gray underparts and breast. 
A more frontal look at the breast. 
There are five subspecies and three major groupings. The western group is found in the Sierra Madre Occidental, a mountain system that runs along the east side of the Gulf of California. This group is also found up through central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The eastern group is found in the Sierra Madre Oriental, a mountain range that runs along the Gulf of Mexico and slants upward as far as the Big Bend of Texas, where it is found in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. The Central Plateau group, also known as the Mexican Altiplano, is found in the plateau that occupies much of central and northern Mexico between the eastern group and western group. The differences between the groups relate to things like the color of their eggs and bills in juvenile birds. 
A map from Wikipedia showing the Sierra Madre Occidental, Sierra Madre Oriental and Central Plateau (Altiplano). 
These Mexican jays are part of the eastern group which we saw in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas. There are several different jays although we saw them all in the same place. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Western Texas

Our son, Sam, was going to be home for Christmas, so I suggested we fly to El Paso after Christmas and then drive to and spend time in Carlsbad Caverns NP (New Mexico), Guadalupe NP (Texas) and Big Bend NP (Texas). He thought it sounded fun, so I made reservations on Southwest Airlines for Sam, Judy and I, from Ontario to El Paso and back. As we started to talk details, it sounded like too much driving to Sam, so I cut out Big Bend and planned to spend the extra time in El Paso. From there, little went as planned, more so than any other trip we've ever taken.

We made beginning and ending hotel reservations in El Paso and in between in Carlsbad, NM. All hotel reservations were made through hotels.com and were refundable, except the last night in El Paso. When we flew in on Thursday we were going to drive north to visit White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and then the roadrunner sculpture outside of Las Cruces on the way back to El Paso. We would stay the night in El Paso, spend Friday in El Paso, then drive that evening to our hotel in Carlsbad, NM. Saturday we would visit Carlsbad Caverns, where I made reservations for the King's Palace tour, then stay in Carlsbad again that night. Sunday we would spend the day hiking in Guadalupe NP, then drive to El Paso Sunday night, where we would stay, and fly out Monday early afternoon. 

As we got closer to leaving, the weather took a turn for the worse. It was going to be in the high 30s at Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe and in the high 40s in Big Bend. That was just too cold, so we cancelled plans for Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe NP and decided to visit Big Bend instead. No hotel reservations were available in Big Bend or nearby towns, so we had to make reservations in Alpine, TX, about 80 miles away. With that long drive each day, from Alpine to Big Bend and back, leaving from El Paso on Friday morning would add 3 1/2 hours of driving on Friday, which was too much. So I decided we needed to drive to El Paso Thursday evening instead. By that time, our refundable reservation Thursday evening in El Paso had become non-refundable. Fortunately, we'd used a free night on hotels.com and were only out of pocket about $36 for that lost night. 

Then the government budget shutdown occurred and we learned that Carlsbad Cavern cave tours would not be available, so we were happy we'd switched to Big Bend, which was still open to the public. However, we learned that White Sands NM was completely closed, so we had to plan activities in El Paso on Thursday to replace it. 

Ontario to Alpine:
Thursday morning, December 27, our Southwest Airlines flight was to leave Ontario at 5:15 a.m., arrive in Phoenix at 7:25 a.m. for a 1 hour, 20 minute layover, then leave Phoenix at 8:45 a.m. for El Paso for a 9:55 a.m. arrival. We were driving from our home in Redlands to Ontario about 3:15 a.m. when Judy discovered an email from Southwest Airlines that had arrived about 10:30 p.m. indicating that the flight from Phoenix to El Paso had been cancelled. Judy tried to go on-line with her i-phone and call Southwest from the car and could not get through. We got in line at Ontario Airport with a bunch of other people whose flights had also been cancelled and did not get to talk to the help desk until about 4:30 a.m. The best we could come up with was to fly to Phoenix and spend the day there, then take an 11:00 p.m. flight to El Paso that would get us there after midnight. We still had the hotel in El Paso that night I'd not been able to cancel, so we would just take it and then lose our night in Alpine which was now non-refundable and we would face the long-long drive on Friday I'd tried to avoid. 

However, while we waited at Ontario for our flight, Judy went on-line and was able to reserve an SUV with Avis in Phoenix for pickup when we arrived which we could drop-off in El Paso. It was $151, more than our scheduled rental with Alamo for the whole time in Texas, but at least it got us to El Paso sooner. The drive from Phoenix to El Paso was about 6 hours, 15 minutes. So we figured we could drive to El Paso, turn in our car, pick up the car we'd already reserved, late, eat dinner, then drive to Alpine, arriving before our plane otherwise would have landed in El Paso. 

We picked up our SUV in Phoenix and drove to Tucson where we stopped at Five Points Market and Restaurant for breakfast. We had a nice healthy breakfast (I had vegan chipotle sausage, two eggs, poblano peppers and winter squash). However, it took us about 1 1/2 hours which set us back time-wise. Judy was able to arrange with Alamo, by telephone, for pickup of our El Paso rental later in the day. Outside of Las Cruces, the freeway took us by the roadrunner sculpture Judy wanted to see. 
Roadrunner sculpture outside Las Cruces, NM.
It is made out of discarded junk, like tires, computer parts, etc. 
We also got a great view of the Organ Mountains outside of Las Cruces, with a new dusting of snow. 
Then we drove to the airport in El Paso where we turned in our SUV to Avis and picked up a Nissan Altima from Alamo. We were able to make the 5:30 p.m. reservation I'd made at Tabla, in the historic section of El Paso, with ten minutes to spare. Tabla serves tapas and was one of the best meals of our trip. Leaving El Paso about 6:30 p.m., we drove the 3 1/2 hours to Alpine, arriving around 10:00 p.m. So much for trying to keep the driving down. We drove about 10 hours and over 650 miles. We stayed at America's Best Value Inn in Alpine our three nights in Alpine.
     Food in El Paso, Texas  (Bob)

Big Bend Ranch State Park: 
Friday, December 28, we back-tracked (west) 25 miles from Alpine to Marfa and ate at Marfa Burrito. It is in a small building with lots of cars parked outside and a line of customers out the door. You order, wait for your food, pay, then next customer. Photos of celebrities with the owner adorn the wall, including two with Anthony Bourdain. All they sell is burritos. We watched them roll the dough out into a huge tortilla, then fry it. I got egg and cheese. Judy and Sam get beans, tomatoes, cheese, etc. Much to my surprise, the burritos were horrible - all tortilla and very little filler. I don't know what keeps people piling in there - we certainly did not discover the answer. From Marfa we traveled south 61 miles on Hwy 67 to Presidio, right on the Mexico border. There was little civilization along the way. In Presidio we took Hwy 170 southeast for 50 miles along the border to Lajitas, through Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road is known as El Camino Del Rio (the "River Road") because it follows the Rio Grande. The speed limit was about 35 miles per hour and the road curved and twisted and went up and down continually. I read that this is the seventh most scenic driving route in the U.S. We caught glimpses of the Rio Grande River occasionally (which is the U.S./Mexico border) and stopped several times for photos. 
From the top of a hill. A small sliver of blue (the Rio Grande River) is barely visible in the center of the picture.
In particular, we stopped at the Hoodoos which is a short trail down to the Rio Grande where there is a bend with several rock "hoodoos" similar to those in Goblin Valley or Bryce Canyon, although not as spectacular. But at least we got next to the Rio Grande. 
View from the top of the hill at Hoodoos.
We continued on and stopped at Closed Canyon and hiked in about half a mile. It is a slot canyon with canyon walls that go up several hundred feet. We continued until standing water provided an obstacle we did not want to conquer and turned around and went back. 
Closed Canyon
From Lajitas we continued on Hwy 170 about 13 miles to Terlingua, an old ghost town, although it looked more town than ghost, and ate a late lunch at High Sierra Bar & Grill. I got two poblano pepper rellenos with beans and rice and we shared some guacamole. The poblanos were pretty good.
     Food Near Big Bend NP in Texas: Marfa, Marathon and Terlingua  (Bob)

Big Bend National Park:
From Terlingua we connected to Hwy 118 and then traveled 20 miles into Big Bend National Park to Santa Elena Canyon. The road was shut down two miles before the hiking trail into Santa Elena Canyon, because of the government shutdown, but we pulled into a river access that allowed us to visit the Rio Grande again, this time next to canyon walls that went upwards of 1,000 feet. 
Santa Elena Canyon near sunset. 
It was late in the afternoon and most of the people were gone. Judy and Sam skipped rocks on the Rio Grande and we admired a flock of white, black and black and white sheep on the Mexico side of the river. 
Black sheep, white sheep, and various mixtures of black and white. 
I wanted to be in the park in the dark to see the Milky Way as Big Bend is supposed to be the darkest place in the continental U.S. We sat in the car as it got dark and listened to "Educated" by Tara Westover. As we drove out of the park we stopped several times to admire the spectacular night sky and also saw a bobcat cross the road. We took Hwy 118 back to Alpine which was about 80 miles. As we neared Alpine the windshield started to fog up and ice. I noted that the temperature was 24 degrees. We stoked up the defrost and slowed down for safety on what must have been icy roads with the moisture. We got back to the hotel around 9:00 p.m. 

Saturday, December 29, it was freezing outside. It was about 26 degrees and our car windows were covered with hard ice. I turned on the car to get it warm and get the defrost working and found some hard plastic cups to use as scrapers. We went east 31 miles from Alpine to Marathon for breakfast at the Oasis Cafe. I'd read one on-line comment that they had the best huevos ranchero that this person had ever had. After trying the huevos ranchero myself, I have to pity the poor man's prior experiences. From Marathon we traveled south on Hwy 385 to the eastern portion of Big Bend. Once we hit the park, I believe it was about 20 miles to Boquillas Canyon where we stopped and Sam and I hiked in about 3/4 of a mile. The Rio Grande was a beautiful green and the trail went a ways up the canyon with high canyon walls. 
The Rio Grande curves around just before entering Boquillas Canyon. 
High canyon walls.
Looking back out the canyon.
I walked off trail part of the way back and stumbled across a Mexican man who had crossed the Rio Grande illegally on his horse to lay out and sell trinkets. He spoke very good English. He told me that the government shutdown is hurting them financially because the Boquillas Crossing is closed. I told him I would give him some money if I could take a picture of him on his horse. I gave him $10.00. He asked me where I was from. When I replied, "California," he asked, "How's the wall?" I laughed. 
Mexican man from Boquillas. 
We drove to Rio Grande Village. The campground was shutdown, but the store was open. We drove back out to Panther Junction and then uphill into the Chisos Basin. We drove into some heavy fog and snow and ice was covering the trees and cactus spines. It was absolutely beautiful. 
Fog and snow.

Once into the basin we stopped at the store and took a small trail. Then headed out the same way we came in. At Panther Junction we headed west for Hwy 118 to Alpine. We ate at the Chili Pepper on the outskirts of Terlingua. We got some wonderful guacamole and they improvised some veggie fajitas for me. We got back to Alpine a little earlier and spent some time reading in our hotel.
     Mexican Jay  (Bob)

Marfa:
Sunday, December 30, we drove 26 miles west to Marfa and ate at Jett's Grill in the Hotel Paisano. This is the hotel where James Dean and Elizabeth Tarylor stayed when they were filing "Giant" in 1956. It was a mediocre buffet that only consisted of different kinds of burritos (shades of Marfa Burrito). These burritos were better, but the service was poor and we couldn't get additional salsa in a timely manner. We took a quick look at the Presidio County Courthouse and then drove to the Chinati Foundation, established by Donald Judd, a world famous minimalist artist. We spent a few minutes walking a portion of the one kilometer walk where Judd has 15 works in concrete (all concrete squares). Then we had an 11:00 a.m. tour at "The Block" which was Judd's home and studio, so called because it is one walled-in city block. We saw Judd's kitchen, tables, swimming pool, libraries, etc. Our guide did not explain what made Judd famous. From my very untrained and un-artistic eye, it was pretty ordinary. The tour which was supposed to be 1 3/4 hours was thankfully done in 1 hour.

El Paso:
We continued on to El Paso and headed to the El Paso Zoo. It is a small zoo but has some great exhibits, including Mexican wolves, painted dogs, Amir leopards and a Malaysian tiger, all quite rare. 
Painted dog in the El Paso Zoo.
Then we drove to St. Patrick Cathedral and got inside and walked around. Finally, we ate dinner at the fabulous Kiki's Restaurant and Bar where I had the crab machaca which was delicious. The machaca was a mixture of snow crab and fish covered in tomatoes, onions, green chillies, egg and then covered in green sauce and cheese, along with rice and beans. I wish it was closer. I could eat that once a week. We stayed at TownePlace Suites El Paso Airport that night.
     Golden Eagle  (Bob)

Monday, December 31, we followed the El Paso Mission Trail, starting at Ysleta Mission, which was closed. We continued on to the Socorro Mission, which was open, also looking at a mini Golgotha and graveyard on-site. Finally, we got to San Elizario Presidio Chapel which I think was closed, but we found an unlocked side door and went in. On the way to the airport Judy Yelped a restaurant, Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada, which only had about 10 reviews, but was all five stars. We drove a little out of the way to get to it and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast. I had pork chile verde, refried beans and two eggs on a tortilla, as well as a cheese quesadilla. 

El Paso to Ontario:
Our Southwestern flight was delayed by about an hour, leaving about 2:00 p.m. We had a two hour layover in Phoenix, then caught a 5:05 p.m. flight to Ontario, which was also delayed about 60 minutes.