As we continued our way south from Colorado, complete with new tie rods, Fiona and I were looking forward to some time in New Mexico. This beautiful state was home 20 years ago and we were ready to see it all again. After four weeks driving through the state, we pushed on to Arizona, California and to the Mexican border!
This post will deal with, mercifully, only a few points along that action-packed final route of our epic journey across the country. During our cross-country drive we sought out some unique flavors along the way; the U.S.A is full of regional specialties, and we were determined to fill up on them. New Mexico is no exception in this case, and I am happy to feature New Mexican cuisine in this post.
Anyone really familiar with New Mexico will likely have the state’s most famous crop come to mind: Red and green chile. New Mexico is quite famous for their red and green peppers; they even feature in the official state question: “Red or green?” You are asked this question with each dish you order in New Mexico. In fact this is the only state to have an official question, so choosing red or green is a serious deal.
Keep in mind, however, there are actually 4 answers to this stately question, so you will never give an incorrect response…ever. Of course, you can reply to the question by saying “red” or “green”, but should you get flustered in the “heat” of the moment, simply reply with the third response: “Christmas”. This simply means a combination of red and green chile, which is always a safe bet. Saying “neither” is the fourth answer, which simply means you are aware of the fact you have a rather bland palate and have just denied yourself one of the greatest things you will ever eat.
We are proud to say we busted our daily budget in New Mexico by answering the official state question as many times as we could, often times returning to the same restaurant with a different response. Red and green chile is something that simply must be tasted in New Mexico. New Mexican cuisine must certainly be some of the most amazing food this country has to offer; it is rich and somehow has the ability of creating chile addicts, adding weight to my claim.
Any true epic journey involves personal trials, and tribulations, and the same must be said about the Volkswagen van that has carried us this far! Little Elvis II developed an electrical problem in the most inconvenient of places: a 2 hour drive to the nearest town.
Fiona and I were enjoying the hikes of Chaco Canyon, along with a handful of nights camping under the stars, when the van decided to no longer allow me to unlock the driver-side door. After blowing several fuses for the power-lock system I discovered most of the electrical wires burnt up and sparking, waiting to ignite something. I needed to act quick
We limped into Albuquerque to shop around for a mechanic. An appointment was days away and only a few hundred bucks within reach. Feeling powerless (pun or no pun intended, you decide), I decided to fix those wires myself and learn a bit about the electrical system of the van in the process.
With help, patience and a very sweet dose of confidence from Fiona, I spliced together the correct wires and regained full use of all the electrical functions! All I needed was 16 and 18 gauge wire, electrical tape and some spare fuses, along with a safe place to take the door apart. Wal-Mart provided all these things, and it was in her parking lot I fixed the malfunction. Making that repair ourselves was a huge boost for our trip and it only set us back about $15!
No longer feeling as if the van was about to burst into flames, we decided to answer the red/green question a few more times for good measure and see some of the best things New Mexico has to offer, including some steamy natural hot springs and the peculiar White Sands National Monument.
I was a bit underwhelmed by White Sands National Monument. The name really says it all folks; just a large patch of cool white sand about 15 or 20 miles outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was stunningly beautiful for a few minutes. Learning it was the largest concentration of gypsum in the world did not change my impression. It did impress me to learn they plow the loop “road” throughout the park each day, as the sands blow and drift constantly. You could certainly be forgiven for thinking all that white sand was indeed snow. That resemblance was a painful reminder of winter in Maine.
Fiona and I visited our 9th hot spring outside wonderful Silver City, New Mexico. We almost visited our 10th hot spring but instead opted to leave New Mexico once and for all; Mexico was calling.
Fiona was excited to make it back to Tucson, Arizona to re-visit a truck stop we visited in 2013. Back then our hitch-helpers, a wonderful family on their way to California, happened to drive us to one of the last independently owned truck stops in the country: The Triple T. We had a great meal at Omar’s Hi-way Chef and treated ourselves to a hotel room!
Everything about The Triple T in 2013 was just right, and Fiona was really looking forward to another visit. We ate at that same great restaurant and even treated ourselves again to a room. This place is making one last swipe at the changing times while hobbling along on it’s last leg. A nation-wide competitor has moved in next door, forcing the Triple T to fade as a quaint notion.
Omar’s Hi-way Chef is no longer open for 24 hours like it was in 2013. Our waitress said Arizona’s new minimum-wage law was to blame. That may be one part of the problem along with dwindling customers and/or owners who may see this as a way out. News was just as grim at the main counter within the truck stop. We asked about the gas station/convenience store that was on the property in 2013 that now sits dusty and forlorn. The attendant said the owner of The Triple T needed new underground gas tanks but “It was too expensive”. The writing is on the wall. Get to The Triple T now, for we feel like it may be gone soon. This is a vanishing taste of Americana and a reminder of the spell the open-road has upon us.
I must say I can see where the nation-wide chains have the edge. People feel comfortable with a certain type of uniformity. They feel good knowing the next truck stop will look, feel and act like the last one; throw in a “rewards” program where one can earn “loyalty” points worth a free 20 ounce beverage and you’ve got ’em hooked. There is a whole generation of customers disappearing who appreciate old-fashioned service, constantly being replaced by a new generation who are accustomed to nothing more than getting in and out as quick as possible with their free bag of “duh-ritos”.
Passing through Tucson anytime soon? Stop in and let Omar cook you a meal. Tell everyone at The Triple T we need them.
Sadly we did not see more of southern Arizona – Mexico really was calling out to us. We spent our final night in the U.S. in El Centro, California. We grabbed supplies in El Centro then filled out papers to enter Mexico at Mexicali the next morning.
I had to pause for a moment along the border road in Mexicali, Mexico to snap the following photo:
This was a huge accomplishment, for us and for the van! It DID make to Mexico after all!
Stick around for my future post. I type these words from deep inside Mexico, where the van has had a very tough time since entering. Very tough indeed. In an up and coming post I will explain how, in a sense, those trials and tribulations have only begun and just how interesting it can be getting 4 repairs done in 48 hours while in Mexico with barely enough grasp of the Spanish language to describe exactly what the problem is. Yes, this old Volkswagen van made it to Mexico. Will this old Volkswagen van make it out of Mexico?