The Panhandle of Texas – from Glitz to Glamour

The Panhandle of Texas is an interesting dichotomy, you can find both cheap glitz and glamour, although the glitz is the easiet to find.  Dinner at The Big Texan is about as touristy as it gets, it reminds me of any of the surviving Route 66 travel stops, or the worst of Knott’s Berry Farm or Las Vegas in its’ darker days.  Everything at the Big Texan is designed for profit and ease.  The place is Hollywood cowboy décor from the costumes of the servers to the animal heads on the wall.  It is known for its 72 ounce steak challenge,  A one-hour challenge to eat 4 ½ lbs of beef and all the fixins’.  The record holder did it in less than 9 minutes back in 2008.  There is a table set up at the front for six people with a timer for each for anyone who wants to compete for the title.  If you manage it, the meal is free, if you falter, the price is $1 an ounce.  None of our group wanted to take the

The Big Texan

challenge.  The place is full of people passing by, I don’t think any locals frequent the place, as truly, the food isn’t that good, but man, have they made a name for themselves, the place was packed.  It was a fun stop, just to watch all the people and be able to say that we’ve been.  Next time, if there is a next time, it will be for one of us to take the challenge.

Another classic Amarillo glitz stop is the Cadillac Ranch, this isn’t like the Mustang Ranch in Nevada, not a bordello here, but rather a place where Cadillacs (that’s right, the car) are planted in the ground.  You can see it from the freeway, just to the south of I-40 on the West side of Amarillo.  The story goes, Stanley Marsh, owner of the land and patron of Art Farm allowed the Cadillacs to be planted as part of a public art installation project.  The cars are oft painted and graffitied, and this is encouraged,  Maybe one day, we’ll take some spray paint with us on the trip.

The glamour in the area is a little harder to find, it happens in a one-horse town, on the south-west corner of the blinking light, west of Amarillo called Vega, population 881.  Our first stop there was entirely by accident, this time, we made the choice.  There is a little restaurant there called the Boothill Saloon that is worth the stop every time.  The Boothill is a new place, although it’s built to resemble an old time saloon with swinging doors and a tin ceiling, a gorgeous long bar in front and classic red swag throughout the rest of the restaurant.  You can see it in any colorized Hollywood western movie.  This one has something spcial though, along the wall to the restroom, you’ll find a front cover from Bon Appetit that shows the ribs that helped make Rori Schpesi a Food Network Star.  The food

Great food at the Boothill Saloon

is incredible, the place is well-lit and shiny clean.  Since it was lunch, we all just opted for the Boothill Burger, the first on the menu prepared with much care from the chef inspired kitchen.  The Boothill is a gem among imposters, hidden away to be treasured by those who travel off the beaten path.

One of the best parts of our daily travel is the food we get to eat, the restaurants we stop at and the meals we share with others.  We’ve got favorites all over, and I would bet we will stop at all of them over the next 350 days – where would you recommend we stop?

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The Red Rocks of Arizona

Arizona has some wonderful treasures, I could spend weeks here and not see it all.  The old mining town of Jerome and the red rocks of Sedona were our destination yesterday.  Over Highway 89 through Prescott to Highway 89A took us through the narrow streets of Jerome, built on a hillside above the United Verde mine in the late 1800’s.  At one time 25,000 people resided there, now it boasts just 100 permanent residents.

The Arizona State Parks department owns the Douglas mansion, a very utilitarian structure with large rooms and a lot of square footage, but none of the embellishments you expect to see in a mansion.  There are no balustrades, no wainscoting, just solid adobe walls and lots of fireplaces, even the bathrooms are austere.  The history of the family and the mines is well displayed and helps you to appreciate how hard the living was for the miners of the area.  One of the things we’ve noticed is that when it comes to mining, the only money to be made is for the investors.  The miners worked very hard for very little, even though the United Verde and the Little Daisy mine brought more than $725 Million dollars to the investors over the years.

Continuing the route north on Highway 89A will take you through a number of historic towns settled in the 1800’s, including Clarkdale and Cottonwood, but it also leads to the Red Rock area.  The Lower Red Rock Road takes you to the front gates of the Red Rock State Park, also run by the Arizona Parks department.  It is a quiet, 286 acre ranch with numerous intersecting trails, a river and the House of the Apache Fires.  Built with all natural, local materials, the house sits like a sentinel on the hill overlooking the stream below.  Over the years, the land and home have been through many owners, finally settling with Arizona Parks.  The trails are easy and plentiful and the views are amazing.

Sedona is within miles of the Red Rock State Park, a sprawling town known for its art galleries and energy.  Years ago, Sedona became known as a place where there was a “vortex” of energy, so is inhabited by many that believe in the power of the earth to heal, etc.  It has an interesting population.  A beautiful city to be sure, we stopped for lunch at Oak Creek Brewery, and while the local beer was interesting, the food was far better.

 

The Ultimate Car Show: Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction

The Ultimate Car Show.  1700 Collector Cars all under one Roof.  The Largest Event Production in Scottsdale.  I can think of tons of monikers to describe the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction being held in Scottsdale this week.  You don’t even have to be a car “guy” to appreciate what a tremendous event this is.

We went on Tuesday to get just a flavor of what the event is about.  They funnel you through the vendor tent, about three football fields long, first.  There were vendors of all kinds, from cabinet makers to oil makers; hunting preserves to artists, GMC and Ford, everyone vying for the last dollar in your pocket – assuming you were there to buy cars first.

But most people aren’t, most are there just to take a look at the cars, to be in the same space as a $437,000 Lamborghini; to see the hearse that carried John F. Kennedy; to view any of half a dozen VW bugs, or four Prowlers, or six Broncos, or, or, or.  Anything you can imagine was there – tractors and 4×4’s, motorcycles and wagons, fire trucks and oil trucks; surfboards and signs, all there for the bidding.

The ratio of men to women is probably 40 to 1; the ratio of bidders to sightseers, closer to 200 to 1.  You see, you don’t have to be qualified to just go watch.  To bid, you have to be qualified with a minimum $30K bank letter of credit if you live in the U.S.; if you travel from a foreign land, even as near as Canada, that number jumps to $90K.  But the drooling is free, well, not free, but reasonable.

We loved looking at the acres and acres of cars, there were six huge tents and another several smaller ones with cars lined up side by side.  Bonderant and Ford brought a “driving experience” to the show and the food vendors were prevalent inside and out.  We walked for the first five hours we were there, just looking at all that was available.

The car auction started around 2:00 on Tuesday, with the first sixty or so cars going up on the block before “prime-time.”  At prime-time the prices started jumping by tens of thousands of dollars, SPEED TV was there to broadcast it live to the world. The pressure on the bidders was severe with the camera right in their faces.  We’ve watched the auction on TV before, what we didn’t realize was the magnitude of the facility.  The show doesn’t do it justice.  I bet there was seating for well over 1000 bidders right on the showroom floor.

The auction continues all week, the truly classic, the novel, the interesting, the highest priced will hit the auction block over the weekend.  Early in the week, it almost seemed affordable.  Maybe next year we will come back as buyers now that we know what to expect.  But in the meantime, my hats off to Barrett-Jackson for an incredible production, they got all of it right, from the people-moving to the show, we were truly impressed.

Mexican Hat Dance

The Saguaro is the king of cactuses, the tallest of all, they can grow over 50 feet tall and live over 150 years.  Saguaro are home to birds and scorpions, they have a symbiotic relationship with mesquite and palo verde trees.  They are the cactus that calls to mind sombreros and tequila and the struggles of the Sonoran Desert.

The Saguaro, pronounced Sa-warro, (ignore the g) National Park is made up of two large segments of land, one east and one west of Tucson, over 91,000 acres.  We visited the east segment, known as the Rincon Mountain District, during our recent trip toTucson.  There is a short eight mile section accessible by car and then acres and acres available to hike or ride horseback in to.  It’s really not much different than most National Parks that way.  Lots of wilderness, the difference here is that, because it is desert, you can witness most of it from a hilltop.

Saguaro National Park is mis-named in my book, it should simply be Cactus Park, and while it boasts lots of Saguaro, it also has a ton of other cactus.  There are Ocotillo and Chollo and Prickly Pear in abundance.  Add to that big barrel cactus and mesquite and palo verde with their long spikes and you have lots of inhospitable plants.  As we strolled the various trails, we heard the coyotes barking, as well, so not only inhospitable plants, but animals as well.  Fortunately, it was chilly enough that the rattlers didn’t come out to play.

Every one of our National Parks is a treasure, I’m looking forward to a return visit to Joshua Tree next, another of our desert parks, but this one in the Mojave.

 

Interstate 19 – Southern Arizona

Today was an epic day, what started as a little side sojourn to check out some things we saw in an advertisement last month, became exactly what the ad promised.  We are hanging out in Tucson preparing for a Dirt Riot race next weekend and took today to get re-acquainted with the area.  Our drive took us down Interstate 19, the only Interstate we’ve found in the US that is in kilometers instead of miles.

Tubac is a little community south of Tucson that houses the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.  It dates back to 1657, as the first buildings built in Arizona.  Originally intended as a Fort, it is now a volunteer staffed state park.  The community came together to save it when the State removed all funding.  There is a well detailed museum, the Captain’s House, an 1885 schoolhouse,St. Ann’s Church and an archeological dig performed by the University of Arizona in 1974.  The dig shows the different levels that have been built, starting with the adobe walls from time long forgotten.  This Presidio was begun long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

While the Presidio might be why you first head to Tubac, it shouldn’t be the only reason.  The community itself is a thriving arts community that holds treasures for all.  Our first stop was Tumacookery, a great little kitchen store.  We searched every nook and cranny for storage solutions for my tiny kitchen.  Randy and his staff were very helpful in making suggestions, we left with a cool new knife block, some hooks to hang our pots and pans and a suggestion for lunch.

Lunch took us around the corner to Elvira’s.  Owned by Rubin Monroy, Jr., Elvira’s was established in 1927 in Nogales by his family and named for his grandmother.  The restaurant in Nogales closed a few years ago when the violence in Mexico flared and tourism among the border towns dropped significantly.  Elvira’s re-opened in Tubac two years ago with an incredible menu.  There are five different mole sauces; various seafoods and steaks.  I had the “Frida Kahlo” – a Chile Poblano filled with squash blossoms, roasted corn, quesa Chihuahua covered with a bean chipotle sauce.  It was as delicious as it was beautiful.  Big had the Rib Eye Tamirinda, cooked perfectly and covered with a tamarind-morita sauce, it was both spicy and sweet.

Elvira’s is known too for their Hola! Tequila Shot, a 50 cent shot of tequila to get the party started, but my first impression was the décor.

Lights and glass were so abundant, I didn’t even notice the black painted walls until after we had been seated.  They surrounded the black with deep red curtains and deep blue accents and the effect was beautiful.  Elvira’s is a MUST visit for any perfect Saturday.

Our last stop for the afternoon was the Tumacacori Mission, a National Historical Park just south of Tubac,  The mission was founded in 1691 by the Jesuit priests, although the current buildings on the property were begun around 1800.  The church in the setting sun was beautiful.

Other stops along the 19 include the Titan Missile Museum at exit 69 and the San Xavier Mission at Exit 92.  More than enough to fill your day spent south of Tucson.

Baja 1000 Day Six – Race Day

Race Day starts early for the Baja 1000 in Ensenada, we are on the balcony of the Hotel  Mission Santa Isabel as the first bike runs down the wash to start the race at 6:30 a.m, just a block from the hotel, we can see it loud and clear.  Big goes for coffee while I jump in the shower, we are headed out to Ojos Negro to watch the race go by. 

We fill the Grand Cherokee at the Pemex station and pick up Birria (goat) tacos on the street just before the junk yard and the mountain road leading out of town.  Ojos Negros is only about 30 kilometers out from Ensenada, we are expecting the Trophy Trucks to begin at 11:17.30, exactly four hours after the last bike/ATV leaves the start.

Ojos Negro is a large crossroads, the locals have set up a taco stand, a churro stand and port-a-potties.  There are people lining the race course on both sides and lots of pit crews like us.  We are listening to Weatherman on the Race Radio so we can hear the race, Weatherman will be our only constant companion for the next 24 hours.  The race begins again at 11:17.30 and is stopped six minutes later.  A semi truck has jackknifed at race mile 5 and is blocking the race course completely.  Everything comes to a stand still until the course can be cleared.

At 12:30 the race is able to begin again, the Trophy Trucks are first, these are $100,000+ vehicles with the most professional teams and pit crews.  Our friends from the #8 Norman team have been in country for three weeks pre-running the track.  Over 3000 miles of pre-running to compete in a 700 mile race.  The Class 1 cars are next, our team, the Class 4 #401 leaves the start at 1:40 p.m. on Friday, November 18, 2011. 

We are at RM (race mile) 40 when the Trophy Trucks come through beginning at 1:16 p.m., Jesse James in the #54 is still first, Pistol Pete has moved up to 11th from his start at #16; Roger Norman has moved to 15th from 21st.  The crowd cheers as we watch the #49 of Troy Herbst roll over on its side right after the intersection, he skids through a mud puddle too hot and powers in to correct it, it was just enough to roll him over.  The crowd scatters as they see him coming their way, then everyone jumps up and runs over to help roll him back.  The crowd cheers again when he is able to re-start. 

The #401 comes through at 2:50.30 p.m. with its’ competitors 52 seconds and almost 6 minutes behind them.  We pack our things and take off to shadow the car to the next stretch that runs past the highway. 

Our next stop is RM 67, the #439 is 40 seconds ahead of the #401, we radio our driver to let him know, Mike doesn’t believe us, he has missed the pass in the dust.  Our photographer, Josh, and Ben as Chase 6, are just up the road, they radio that the #439 is now 90 seconds ahead.  Mike believes us now. 

The next place we will see the car is at the Borrega Pits, this is the biggest pit area for our team, almost all of our pit crew will be here at some time or another throughout the night.  This is the location of our driver changes, because the race course comes by here twice, first at RM 198.74, the second time at RM 449.80.  I’ve got the laptop set up with the aircard in so we can follow the car on the IRC website www.racetheworld.com.  All cars are equipped with an IRC tracking unit, it’s like watching the race live, the only hitch is that the race course itself won’t load with the aircard.  I’m thrilled that we have cell service, but Telcel is not quite up to the task of downloading the course.  What I can get is the positions of the race cars, ours and all of our competitors and with the help of the GPS (which does have the race course loaded) I can scroll their latitude and longitude to see what race mile we are all at. 

Some time around 7:00 p.m. we notice the car is not moving, #439 is in front of us, #402 behind. We then hear from Chase 2, they are in communication with the race car and the car is stuck in the silt. Berne, Amber, and John head out to pull them out of the silt, it takes some time, but Chase 2 does an awesome job, after getting the #401 moving, they spend some time helping others out of the silt before they come back to the Borrega Pits. 

The car leaves the pit at 21:52.48 after making the driver change, Mike Shaffer and Daniel Rosenberry get out, Shawn Twitchell and his son, Ian get in.  #402 goes by us 18 minutes later.  #439 is stopped about 10 miles away, they haven’t moved in over an hour.

Almost immediately, Race calls back with a problem, the lights are flickering and the GPS unit on the co-dawg side is flashing in and out.  Our radios can hear them well, but the Race radio in the car is struggling transmitting our responses.  After discussion in the pits, the conclusion is that the Master Switch has been kicked when the driver change occurred.  So Hugo gets back on the radio to tell them what to do.  “Turn Car Off, Flip  Switch, Turn Car On”  “Turn Car Off, Flip Switch, Turn Car On”  over and over, looking for a copy from Race.  Finally, we get a call from Race, they are stuck in the silt, Chase 6 and 7, Ben, Josh and Hugo head off to help.  This gave Race the opportunity to “Turn Car Off, Flip Switch, Turn Car On” and the Master Switch problem was solved. Half an hour later, about midnight, the car is on course and everyone has returned to the pits.

The night wears on, quietly, race vehicles of all kinds continue to race by our pit, weatherman stays on the radio, everyone wanders off to nap, there is nothing we can do until Race #401 came back through the pit at RM 449.80.  Throughout the night, I watch the IRC tracking, updating the crew with the Spot Tracker messages at least every hour with RM and time, occasionally giving the position of our competitors.  #402 passed us as we sat in the silt the second time.

About day break, the alternator goes out on the #401, just after Zoo Road outside San Felipe, near RM 415, Chase 5, Jeremy, Brian, Doug, and Bob, have been shadowing the car since their pit at Matomie Wash, so they arrived first, they have the alternator out and are rebuilding it when Chase 7 arrives with a new alternator and are able to slide it in and get the car rolling again. 

At the pit at RM 450, we change a tire, change drivers and splash fuel.  Driver Daniel Aeberli and co-driver Berne Strom take over for the last 250 miles.  Car #402 is ahead of us by 40 miles at this point.  The pit breaks up and head up the road to catch the car at Valley T, when the race car passes Chase 3, Adam and John at RM540, Daniel has already made up 25 miles on #402.  The car runs well as we all chase to the Finish Line.

When we get back to the hotel, the car is still at RM 600, we know we have about two hours, so we continue to watch and update the chase teams.  By RM 660, all the chase teams have converged at the Finish Line, we don’t know where the #401 is in relation to the #402, but we know at one point they have gotton within two miles.  At 2:11 p.m., the Sugar Racing team of #402 crosses the finish line in Ensenada, at 2:20 p.m. the Torchmate/Shaffer Off-Road #401 comes in to the cheers of all of their Chase teams.  25 hours and 40 minutes after the start, the Class 4 team finishes the SCORE Baja 1000.  A huge accomplishment. 

The first trophy truck has finished over 12 hours before, the last 1600 car finishes 12 hours later.  A huge effort by all involved, I was proud to play a minor role in the running of a great race.

Baja 1000 Day Five – Anatomy of a Race Team

One Car, Twenty-two team members, 692.82 miles, some time less than 24 hours, hopefully.  Twenty males, two females, every profession you can imagine.  We have attorneys, accountants, engineers, fabricators, race promoters, software engineers, company owners, mechanics, oil men – the only thing this group has in common is a passion for off-road racing. 

Some are old friends, some are just meeting for the first time.  A call for volunteers on Pirate4x4 brought some forward over the last few years, others have been part of the race effort for a long time, again, the passion is the same.

I asked a few of the team where their passion for offroad racing came, each had a different story, some had begun with other types of racing, from RC to drags, from boats to motorcycles.  Everyone had a story, but there was a common thread, many of them blame a couple of movies for the first hook, Dust to Glory and On Any Sunday, Bruce Brown produced one, his son, Dana did the other.  Two men of extraordinary passion.

To me, it is amazing how many people it takes to put forth a race effort for the SCORE Baja 1000, also known as La Carrerra Mil, and it’s not just this team.  It’s every team here, from the Honda 1X to Class 11, full body stock Volkswagon Bugs, and don’t forget the Trophy Trucks and Class 1 cars..  There are people all over Baja, and I do mean Everywhere; on every corner, in every field, miles from anywhere, if there is a view of the race course and a semi-passable road, they are there.  The pit crews are mixed in with all the spectators, all over the northern half of the country.   

Some times the Baja 1000 runs as a point to point, last year it was Ensenada to La Paz; this year it’s a loop.  The 45th anniversary of the race is next year, it will again be a point to point. 

The race this year began in Ensenada, ran down through Ojos Negro, over the summit to the east of Valley T, through Borrego towards San Felipe and the whoops out past Puertocitas, back around through Borrego and then to the Pacific side through San Vicente and Santo Tomas.  The first bikes went through checkpoint 6 after 14 hours, the trophy trucks on their tails, fortunately they started 5 hours later than the bikes. 

The passion displayed by all committed to the race effort is huge, it’s thrilling to see so many people dedicated to a cause.  I’m proud to be a member of the Chase crew for Team #401.  Even when it lasts all night long, to see the posts about the team and the effort through the night, check out www.facebook/TajMahauler and like the page while you’re there.