03 August 2015

Carlsbad Boy

The next leg of our cross-country odyssey took us into the most desolate stretch of the journey: West Texas, 108º. Cormac McCarthy country. Plus, it was the beginning of Jade Helm 15. (And for all anyone knows, I could've been part of the invasion: undercover, indistinguishable from the local population.)

The drive took us from San Antonio, TX, to Carlsbad, NM, some 450.9 miles. It was the least trafficked segment of the trip. Speed limits on I-10 were 80 mph much of the way. U.S. 285 from the Texas border to Carlsbad was the worst section of road we saw on the entire trip. Plus, we caught it at "rush hour", and all the roughnecks from the oil wells were heading into Carlsbad in their pick-up trucks—in a hurry.

Here's what you need to know:

  • There are thousands of wind turbines in West Texas. Wind farms galore. I did not know this beforehand, but as we drove on I kept seeing more and more atop mesas and ridges and down in wind-tunnel canyons and valleys. I saw more wind turbines here than in my entire trip through Europe in 2011. But, in a unique Texas twist on the matter, often the alternative sustainable energy windmills were generating power to operate those grasshopper-looking oil well pumps. Go figure.
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is one place you should visit if you're ever in the area. Think of the most incredible Gothic Cathedral you've ever seen, its remarkable architectural structures and spaces; then, imagine that the designers and builders were merely two-year-olds playing clumsily with wooden blocks; and you'll get a sense of the magnificence of this vast space. To get in, you take an elevator down some 1000 feet, or if, unlike us, you have time, you walk about a mile down a steep entry. The "big room" is the largest underground cavern in the U.S. No pictures can convey how awesome this place is, despite the well-paved path and dramatic lighting. It's a geologist's or speleologist's wet dream. And, apparently, the radioactive materials buried around there are not a threat. How comforting.
Now pics (click pic to embiggen [a frickin' awesome] slide show):

Jade Helm 15 disguise?
"I wanna' go fast!"
Texas anomalies
Are those 'black helicopters' above that underground bunker?
Drive up to Carlsbad Caverns
No words...

Wait! Is that Batman?
40-50' Pillars

Yes, it does

30 July 2015

Forget the Alamo

The next leg of our odyssey took us from New Orleans to San Antonio, some 543.1 miles, a long-enough day, needless to say, without having to repair a cracked windshield and endure a three-hour traffic jam in Houston.

As a child, I lived for three years in a small town near Beaumont, TX, some 45 minutes off I-10. We had thought of making a quick pass through town, possibly for lunch, but after a rock flew up and cracked the windshield on one of our cars we had to stop in rural Louisiana bayou country (think first season "True Detectives") to get some resin to prevent the crack from spreading until we could get to San Antonio and get the entire glass replaced, we had to ditch that plan. Doesn't matter. How lucky were we that there were not one, not two, but three(!) windshield repair places at the very next exit? Or, how creepy was it that there were not one, not two, but three(!) windshield repair places at the very next exit? Out in the middle of nowhere. Miles and miles of bayou between exits. Gives one pause. Good-bye Louisiana.

First thing you need to know: Texas is enormous. If you flipped the state (on a map) to the right, it would reach the Atlantic Ocean. If you flipped it to the left, it would touch the Pacific. Gigantic. You can't really drive across it in a single day. Thus, San Antonio which sits right in the middle of the state is a good stopping place.

A friend of mine from grad school lives there, works at Trinity University. Unfortunately, he was out of town the night we were scheduled to be there, but he recommended a primo Tex-Mex restaurant near our hotel on the River Walk: Mi Tierra. It's open 24 hours a day, he told me. Good thing, too! San Antonio is the home of U.S. Tex-Mex, and Mi Tierra is one of its long-time practitioners: the epicenter of this unique American fusion cuisine. We got there about 10:30 at night. The place was hopping on a Monday night. Strolling musicians. Maybe the best Tex-Mex I've ever eaten. In a fabulously festive ambience. With cold, cold beer on tap. You've been told.

Next morning we ate breakfast and strolled along the River Walk. It used to be a smelly old canal. The city revitalized it and made it a little oasis in the middle of the state. Every municipality seeking to attract tourism ought to study what they've done here. If you follow me on Twitter, you will recognize my #HowIsThisTexas astonishment hashtag. We stopped by the Alamo on the way out of town, literally ten minutes to take a picture from the outside. It's not much, really. You've been told.

Stopping for resin in 'True Detective' Season 1 territory
Yes, 857 miles across Texas to El Paso in the West
Navigating around Houston at bloody rush hour, I-10 closed
San Antonio, TX, Municipal Architecture
Si, si! Mi Tierra. Muy bueno! 
Num! Num! Enchilada, Tamale, Taco, Guacamole, Queso, Rice & Beans + Beer
The River Walk in San Antonio
Every bridge has a different design
Lovely, cool, breezy
A veritable oasis
Seriously, unless you're a Republic of Texas fanatic, Forget the Alamo

26 July 2015

The Smell of Decadence

The one thing you can't avoid in the Quarters in New Orleans is the smell. It is the smell of four centuries of stale tobacco, beer, wine, & spirits, plus pot, piss, puke, & perspiration. The heat bakes the smell into the pavement and brick and mortar, and it rots in the humidity. Wisdoc asked me what I thought it smelled like. "It smells like decadence," I said, before breaking it down into its constituent elements. The smell stays with you for days after you leave, lingering on your clothes, in your hair, in your car.

Notwithstanding, New Orleans is a grand old American city, and its French Quarter is one of the most picturesque and interesting places I've ever visited. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a great restaurant, each with its own take on the region's unique cuisine. Remarkable colonial and antebellum architecture, often looking rundown on the outside but elegant on the inside. Courtyards full of gorgeous tilework and wrought-iron balustrades and semi-tropical plants. It almost feels like a different country. This was my fourth time there.

(As always, click pics to embiggen a slideshow.)
An Omen? An interloper who wanted to come with
Former slave quarters where we stayed 2 nights
Shrimp Creole at Galatoire's: The Best Anywhere!
Yes, Please
Typical Quarters House
Typical Quarters Structure
Spare Not the Wrought Iron
Apparently a Selling Point in the Big Easy
Around Jackson Square
Four Styles of Architecture
Trouble Makers 
French Market Goods
Maybe the Most Picturesque Square in America—Reputedly the inspiration for the Disney Castle
More Typical Local Architecture
Are Your Oysters This Large?
Since New Orleans is below Sea Level, burials are above ground
More Architecture
Sunset on the Mississippi
Night Scene
Mummer and Street Musician
More Oysters & Beer, Please
Bourbon Street at Night
Spooky Jesus Shadow off Bourbon Street