- Where We Started: Eagar, Ariz.
- Where We Ended: Santa Fe, N.M.
- Miles Driven: 296 (8,343 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 15 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
One of the surprises of the FHMA tour so far has been the near non-existent role played by weather. On our 2003 trip, it rained for much of the first three weeks, dampening our enthusiasm and frequently altering our plans. Because this trip was starting in early March, we were anticipating a fair amount og weather-related disruption. But other than having to drive through torrential downpours in Pensacola, Fla., and Galveston, Tex., the weather had been pretty invisible. That changed on Saturday, as we encountered rain, snow, sleet and even hail between Eagar, Ariz. and Santa Fe, N.M.
Joan was quite surprised when she opened our hotel door to walk the dogs Saturday morning and saw snow falling. We'd seen some leftover snow from previous storms when we were on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway on Friday, but this was the first live snow we'd seen.
The snow wasn't nearly hard enough to create any travel woes for us -- and, in fact, had stopped by the time we eagerly left Eagar. But the friends in Santa Fe we were going to see -- Caroline Little and Dan Burton -- informed us the weather there was pretty bad as well. But we weren't going to let the mere threat of snow stop us -- I mean, we're not the Loudoun County school system, for god sakes -- so off we went.
The first two hours of the ride were typical of drives in the West: everywhere you looked, you saw something you'd never see on the East Coast. Yet the roads themselves aren't considered scenic by Western standards. So we passed snow-covered mountains, ancient ruins and all sorts of topographical wonders before finally reaching an area even Westerners considered cool enough to turn into a national park site: El Malpais National Monument, south of Grants, N.M. "El Malpais" is Spanish for "badlands," and this site did bring back memories of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, though on a much smaller scale. El Malpais is a volcanic area that features four distinct lava streams, the youngest being about 3,000 years old. We took the dogs for a short walk to the lava field. Fred's walked on lava before, at the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Arco, Idaho, but Hank was a lava virgin. No more.
Farther down scenic New Mexico 117, we stopped at the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, right at the northern edge of El Malpais. The views from here were amazing, and you could walk out onto the rocks and right up to a steep drop-off. No guard rails here.
After El Malpais, we finally picked up Interstate 40 and headed toward Santa Fe. As we approached, you could see the weather fronts that awaited us. And, sure enough, heavy rain was soon pelting the car. By the time we reached the Old Pecos Trail in Santa Fe, it was snowing, and the temperature had dropped to its lowest point of the trip: 31 degrees. We finally arrived at Caroline and Dan's, and as we were sitting in their living room, snow turned to sleet and then to hail. So we all decided to stay put in the nice warm house with a fire burning in the fireplace.
After a late dinner in downtown Santa Fe with Caroline and Dan, we battled a driving hailstorm on the way back to the hotel. Neither of us had cameras with us to capture the really heavy part of the storm, but Joan grabbed her camera and ran outside when we got back to the hotel.
- When Joan took the photo of the deer in the field on Friday, we spent a little time in the car afterward trying to determine what kind of animal we had just seen. Once we got to the hotel and looked at the pictures, it was obvious they were deer of some kind. Joan wondered aloud why we did not identify them as deer right off the bat. I told her it was because none of them had antlers, and Joan reminded me that only male deer have antlers. I told her I knew that, but was thrown off by the fact that none of the dozen or so deer had antlers. I guess we had just stumbled upon the deer version of "The View."
- Fred made his first break for freedom on Saturday morning at our hotel in Eagar. I went out to the car to start packing, and left the hotel room door ajar, but not enough for a dog to get out -- or so I thought. I returned to the room, and Joan -- in the midst of getting dressed, and thus incapable of commencing a search -- declared "beagle overboard." Turns out Fred had nosed the door open, and run up the outside stairs to check out the second floor of the Best Western. Thankfully, he came bounding back down the stairs when we called him.
- As we were leaving the Best Western, some of the housekeeping staff came over to play with the dogs. They were quite enamored with both Fred and Hank, and played with them for a few minutes. As they were preparing to go back to work, one made a comment about something relating to Fred. One staffer asked another which dog she was talking about, and she pointed at Fred and said, "The chunky one." Now, I think I'm the only chunky one on this trip -- and that's being generous -- but apparently the peanut gallery thinks Fred is a porker. We offered Fred the opportunity to go back into the room and leave a "gift" for the housekeeping staff that had just insulted him, but being the classy beagle he is, he declined.
- Actually, if Fred was looking for some way to get back at the housekeeper at the Best Western, he could have just breathed in her face. Fred's breath has gotten increasingly awful as the trip has progressed, with all attempts to stem the tide failing miserably. Don't get me wrong, Hank's breath doesn't exactly bring forth thoughts of daisies, but it's tolerable. Fred could stop a train with his breath. We bought some Yip Yaps -- doggie breath mints -- and tried those, but quickly found out that dropping a breath freshener in Fred's mouth is like dropping an ice cube into a raging inferno. Then again, what do you expect from "breath mints" where the major ingredient is chicken livers? Anyone have any suggestions on what to do here? In addition to the breath mints, we've also been brushing his teeth, all to no avail.
- We've now gone four days without any issues with the trunk or doors on the car not closing. If you recall, an apparent electrical problem was preventing us from closing our trunk and doors at random moments. A passerby helped us figure out how to re-close our doors, and we managed to fix the trunk by fiddling with the remote. But we don't know why and when this phenomenon will occur again. Joan brought the car to Chapman Acura of Tucson on Thursday morning, and was told they couldn't help unless we could replicate the problem. And as you all know, one of the subsets of Murphy's Law is that you can never replicate a sporadic car problem in front of the mechanic. So, on we go, crossing our fingers, since there are not a lot of Acura dealers between here and Las Vegas, our next big city.
- Outside of this electrical issue, the car has performed like a champ, as Acuras always do. One of the things about the car that I love is how smooth the ride is. But that comes with a downside: you often realize you're going a lot faster than you thought. That happened on I-40 on Saturday. In Cubero, N.M., I was drafting behind a car going pretty fast. Finally, I looked down at saw that I was going 96mph, and the guy in front was still pulling away from me. Now, there are two types of people in the world: those who would immediately slow down, and those who would decide that if you're already that close to 100mph, you might as well hit it. I'll leave it to you to guess which type I am.
- Yup, you're right. I hit 105mph before deciding to return to sanity. Mom Note: This was a part of the day where there was no rain, snow, sleet, hail or precipitation of any kind. Yes, I realize that won't make you feel any better.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Holiday," by Green Day. Off "American Idiot," this is a typical strong Green Day effort, though not one of my favorites off the album. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is a classic, though. While their music and lyrics are a little more complex than The Ramones, I like both bands for the same reasons. The kinetic energy, the straight-ahead three-chord approach and a sense of humor. Obviously. the concept album "American Idiot" was a bit of a departure for Green Day, and more ambitious than anything The Ramones tried -- unless you count The Ramones' one protest song, "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)." But I still put those two bands in the same class. With The Ramones -- and, sadly, most of their founding members -- dead and buried, I'm glad that Green Day is around to keep the punk spirit alive. My favorite Green Day album is still "Nimrod," with "American Idiot" a strong second.
- Most-Played Albums: We did some shuffle play, but spent a lot of time listening to Tom Petty, most notably "Damn the Torpedoes," "Hard Promises" and "Long After Dark," which I like better than most critics. My favorite Petty songs: "Free Fallin'," "Into the Great Wide Open," "The Waiting," and "Even the Losers." My favorite deeper Petty tracks: "Straight Into Darkness," "Letting You Go," "For All the Wrong Reasons," and his cover of Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air."
- I wrote about what I thought were the best debut albums on Saturday. In addition to the ones I suggested -- "The Cars," "Led Zeppelin I," "Pronounced Leh-Ned Skin-Nerd," "Boston," "The Ramones" and "Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers," others added the following: "Murmur," by R.E.M., "My Aim Is True," by Elvis Costello, " "Van Halen," "Outlandos d'Amour," by The Police, "Boy," by U2. Good choices all, but it leaves me wondering: Doesn't the Springsteen posse want to stand up for "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J."?
- Lunch: El Pinto, Albuquerque, N.M.: This place was effusively recommended to Joan by a Gap salesperson in Scottsdale, so we stopped for a late lunch at this Mexican place. Expecting another hole in the wall, we were stunned how big this place -- and its parking lot -- were. Now, I am always suspicious of restaurants that hold only slightly less people than Dodger Stadium, but this worked out fine. I had a chicken burrito that was terrific, and the sopaipilla was also strong. Joan's taco salad was very good. I loved the salsa for the chips, but it was too hot for Joan. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). No point trying to justify any other rating. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). By the way, we're oddly disappointed that most of the restaurants we go to are turning out well. As a writer who's always looking for opportunities for humor, it's much easier to write about bad places than good ones. But we keep hitting home runs, or at least triples.
- Dinner: The Plaza Cafe, Santa Fe, N.M.: We were going to go to another place right on the Santa Fe Plaza with our friends Caroline and Dan, but they quickly noted that the restaurant was almost empty. And since the place was on the main square of the city and it was a Saturday night, this was probably a bad sign. So we fled and went to The Plaza Cafe, Santa Fe's oldest restaurant, which has been in operation since 1918. it's not a fancy-looking place, in fact, it's looks a little beaten up. But I learned a long time ago that picking a restaurant for its decor is like picking a new car for its cup holders. In fact, I've found the more "lived in" a restaurant looks, the better it usually is. The Plaza Cafe did nothing to dispel that theory. The menu features an odd mix of Mexican and Greek food, and after almost opting for the gyro, I went for the chicken fajitas, which were excellent. Joan had a Greek salad (with dressing on the side, of course) and pronounced herself quite happy. But the coup de grace was the amazing coconut cream pie. I generally don't eat dessert -- which I'm sure will have some of you wondering how much I'd weigh if I did -- but I am a sucker for coconut cream pie. And this rivaled my all-time favorite coconut cream pie, served at the Capital Grille. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). Fajitas and coconut cream pie. Nuff said. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Comfort Inn Santa Fe, Santa Fe, N.M.: We got a free stay, thanks to a Choice Hotels stay-three-nights-get-one-for-free promotion. We generally like Comfort Inns, and they were a staple of the 2003 trip, but we've found most don't take dogs anymore. But this one does, and overall, it was a solid effort typical of Comfort Inns. The room is big, clean and has a comfortable desk chair. Only two dings: 1) Because of the way the hotel configured its outlets, Joan can't use her own blow dryer to blow dry her hair, so she looks a bit like Janis Joplin after a bender this morning, and 2) The toilet flushes so loud it can likely be picked up by seismologists in Los Angeles. Hotel rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Santa Fe, Taos and into southwest Colorado.
- Tomorrow: Mesa Verde, Four Corners, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Grand Canyon and on to Vegas, baby.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS