Tourist Trap

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I have driven past this crazy roadside stop about a million times without stopping and decided it was high time to check it out. When you pull in the driveway it rings a bell and the proprietor followed me in to open up the shop and bathroom. She warned me about the mannequin in the bathroom, which is probably a good thing because yes, it probably would have spooked me. Actually it did anyway — I asked her if she was familiar with the movie “Tourist Trap,” which she was.

That 1979 movie featured Chuck Connors as a nut who has this tourist stop full of mannequins that have a nasty habit of moving by themselves and a car load of teenagers start ending up dead. It sounds silly, but it has some really creepy moments. And as I started thinking about the fact this lady knew the film and some of the decor was reminiscent of it, I started hoping she wasn’t a serial killer.

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Anyway, I shot these on the monochrome setting so I could see the results in black and white, and using a red “filter.” The red filter darkens the sky and increases contrast, but also increases noise, so even though it’s ISO 200, noise reduction in Photoshop was generously applied. The monochrome filter can be removed in your RAW processing software so you aren’t giving up the color option if you change your mind later. Which I rarely do when it comes to black and white.

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Travel photo of the week: Garchen Institute

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The Garchen Institute in Chino Valley, Arizona is one of my favorite places to get away from everything, including TV, internet and even conversation at times, as some of the people there have taken vows of silence. High above the Prescott Valley, all you hear is the sound of the Buddhist prayer flags in the strong winds that blow on the mountain where the retreat is located.

The Big Empty: Travel photography on Hwy 8

The Big Empty: Travel photography on Hwy 8

Most people come home from a trip with nice photos of sunsets, beaches, and smiling tourists. I come home with travel photography of abandoned buildings, barren landscapes and roadkill. Or at least I did on this roadtrip from Tuscon to San Diego. Obviously I travel with my camera with a little different agenda than most people. I’ve always been drawn to the desert for so many reasons I don’t even understand them all. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth… and one of the most deadly. It’s ruthless, yet there’s something about looking across that vast horizon with the sun beating down on you, but storm clouds gathering in the distance. Or slivers of late afternoon sunlight peeking through the clouds, selectively lighting the mesas. There’s a great monologue in the film “25th Hour” where Brian Cox is supposed to be taking his son, played by Edward Norton, to prison in New York. He talks to him about making a wrong turn and just driving west to find a small town for him to disappear and start over, and while the whole thing is powerful, there was one part in particular that stood out to me.

“Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die. Nothing for miles around. Nothing but sand, and rocks, and cactus and blue sky. Not a soul around for miles. No sirens. No car alarms. Nobody honking at you. No madmen cursing or pissing on the streets. You’ll find the silence out there. You’ll find the peace. You can find God.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

O’Brien’s Pub and Grill: Ouray, Colorado

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Shepherd’s Pie, anyone? O’Brien’s Pub serves it up with some healthy veggies and salad if you like.

I love casual bars and dining, and especially a good Irish pub. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be alone, so you can find them in even remote places, like Ouray, Colorado. In this case, O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, right on the main drag in Ouray, with lots of wood, mirrors and good Irish whiskey. And, of course, some good Irish eatin’.

I popped into the pub on a weekday afternoon when it wouldn’t be too busy to satisfy a craving I had for some Irish food for weeks. I had first tried to check it out during their holiday off season, when many businesses have their breaks. But today I was going to score me some traditional Irish cuisine, and after debating over the Fish and Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Bangers and Mashed, I finally decided I was going to get me some Shepherd’s Pie or die trying. (Well, maybe not DIE trying, but it sounds good, right?)

Now calories and watching ones’ waistline is generally not a high priority if you walk into an Irish pub and grill, but I was glad the side dish served with it was a salad to compensate for the ridiculous calories I was going to consume. It’s sort of like having Diet Coke with your Big Mac… it cancels out the Big Mac calories… everyone knows this. But even the Shepherd’s Pie was actually lighter than I expected. More like a stew with some potatoes on top. I’m not sure that’s traditional, but it was a refreshing surprise. Now, I’m not naive enough to think it wasn’t loaded with stuff that’s bad for me, but hey, that’s the whole point of going to a bar — doing things that are bad for you. But delightful. The lamb was tender and aromatic. In fact, it caught the attention of the bartender who confessed he has never tried it, but he thought it looked and smelled pretty tasty and liked the fact it seemed more like a soup and salad dish than a huge stuff-till-you-burst entree.

Since I was so good and had a salad with my Shepherd’s Pie, well, I had to have dessert. DUH! So I had the warm bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Oh, it was so good on a snowy day. Or any day, but especially with a chill in the air and snow on the ground.

Now, most people expect to read about the Guinness at an Irish pub. I must confess, I haven’t developed a taste for it yet, but I suspect I just had a cheap version when I tried it.  So I did not partake of the Guinness, but… I do love my Irish whiskey. Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey, to be precise. O’Brien’s takes it’s patrons on whiskey flights if they choose, where they get four different shots of whiskey to sample.  For instance, the Middleton Distillery Flight where you get one shot each of Powers Irish Whiskey, Paddy Old Irish Whiskey, Tullamore Dew and Redbreast Aged 12 Years for the bargain price of $13 at the time of this writing.

You can also opt for a Cooley Distillery Flight, or  John Jameson Flight, but my choice on this one was a no-brainer: bring on the Bushmill’s Flight, bitches! For a mere $24 I had a shot of Bushmill’s, Bushmill’s Black, Bushmill’s 16 Year Old, and Bushmill’s 21 Year Old. Now that’s good drinkin’ y’all. You can add a pint for $3.00, but I decided I wanted to remain upright and be able to sober up for the drive back to my hotel later.

This place would be deadly on an overnighter.

Check back in for more articles on Ouray, which is one of the coolest towns I’ve ever visited, and it’s nearby neighbor Ridgeway. These are real gems off the beaten path in Colorado, along with Silverton and Durango. The best of Colorado in this old girl’s opinion, and that’s saying a lot. (I still have some photos of Ouray and Ridgeway as well as one more restaurant review coming. I need to get back to cover more, as I LOVE Ouray!)

Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

When people think of Colorado ski country, they usually think Aspen, Vail, Telluride… all the rich folks’ places. And if you have deep pockets, those places can be great. But here are a couple of gems close to Telluride where you can stay and eat a whole lot cheaper, and mix with a bunch of laid-back everyday folks. I’m talking the small towns of Ouray (Your-ay) and Ridgway.

About 10 miles separate these two places, and they both offer a taste of how the locals in Colorado live. In general, I’ve found locals in both towns friendly, they love the great outdoors all year round, good, local beer, and good food in varieties you don’t normally see in such small towns. I mean, sushi and Thai food — very good Thai food — in a town of less than 1,000?

Get outta here!

Let’s start with that. Ridgway has a wonderful Thai and sushi restaurant that would easily hold its own in any major metro area. I’m sorry to say I have no photos of Thai Paradise’s food, because I was having one of my weird shy moments about taking photos when I dined in, and got takeout the other times I was there during my stay. (Most of the time I’m oblivious to what people think, but I have my moments.)

The restaurant is very small and quiet, and there was no way not to overhear a couple of women discussing their massage therapy classes. There is a sort of New-Agey, holistic vibe, but not in an obnoxious way like some cities I’ve been to (*COUGH*Sedona*COUGH*). They also have their own art district, which must be pretty much the whole town, and moonwalk art events during the full moon. I’m telling you, this is a very livable small town if you want to get away from it all yet keep some culture and cool things.

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You’ve also got the True Grit Cafe amongst other pubs, as much of the John Wayne classic was filmed here. Other notable celebrity ties include Dennis Weaver, who made his home here and has a park named after him with hiking trails. With Telluride 39 miles away, you’re still close enough to hit the slopes there.

I didn’t much time there, with the lure of Ouray close by, but it’s definitely on my list of places to return to. And I’ll get some photos of that yummy Thai food next time, promise.

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Tucked into the mountains is Ouray, dubbed the “Switzerland of America.” Ouray has less than 1,000 locals as well, but they pack a lot of fun and variety into that small number. I’ve already sung the praises of O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, and you can find plenty of local microbrews on the rooftop patio at the Ouray Brewing Company in warmer weather, or grab a swing at the bar. (Yes, the bar has swings instead of barstools.) The big claim to fame in Ouray is the sulfur-free hot springs, and you can partake in huge hot springs pool in town. (See the top photo.)

The whole area is filled with off-road 4-WD tours, hiking, mine tours, historic architecture, pubs and great restaurants, but Ouray is also known for its Ice Park, where winter visitors can scale a huge frozen waterfall of ice.

The whole Ouray/Ridgway area is so awesomely livable, it would be a serious contender for a permanent home if I could ever settle down in one place.  I can’t wait to go back in the spring to see it then, and finish touring the sights.

Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

moab000 Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah is known for magnificent scenery and an outdoor sports culture. I was hellbent on checking out the local Arches National park, and sampling some nostalgia at the Moab Diner, but hit a small distraction on the way.

The Blu Pig.

Even cruising by on the highway entering town, the Blues, Brews and BBQ sign was about to make me slam on the brakes, because anytime you want to combine good food, alcohol and music, I’m down. Unfortunately, I had many hours to fill till they opened at 4 pm, so I did my hiking/photography thing and pulled in as the full moon was rising over the blue neon.

The restaurant is laid out with a huge table running down the middle, and the servers seemed to be preparing for a big party. Bummer – I like a nice, quiet and preferably empty setting when I’m going to geek out taking food and restaurant photos.

My waitress was friendly and very professional, and told me they do have live music Wednesday through Sunday, but on this Tuesday night I had to settle for piped in blues. Eh, I’ll take that. It beats the hell out of Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, or whatever top-40 douchebag du jour is on heavy rotation on the radio.

Even though I wasn’t very hungry, I opted for the three meat platter, choosing sausage, smoked turkey and pulled pork. Call me crazy, but I have yet to meet a Texas brisket I’ve liked, so I left that for another day. You also get two sides with this order, and they have a huge selection, including southern favorites like fried okra as well as more traditional sides of baked beans.

As I figured I’d be hard pressed to find anyone else offering red beans and rice in a radius of, well… several states, I went with that, and asked for a recommendation from the waitress for my second side. She recommended the coleslaw – a classic BBQ side, and a simple dish, but one so many restaurants can’t seem to get quite right.

I got my corn bread before the main meal was served, and after smothering it with butter, couldn’t resist starting in before the rest of my food arrived. It was moist and fresh, and a nice start to the big plate that came out quickly after.

Thank goodness for take home boxes.

The waitress explained each of the sauces at the table: Carolina mustard sauce, Kansas City-style and their “house” Texas BBQ sauce. The smoked turkey comes with a special BBQ sauce, as well. And the pulled pork uses the house Texas sauce, so I tried the Carolina and Kansas City-style both on a little turkey, as well as the turkey BBQ.

Much to my surprise, I liked the Carolina sauce best, perhaps because it stands out so much from more traditional sauces – I found the Texas and Kansas City somewhat similar.

The red beans and rice was a little bland, and it occurred to me afterwards it really needed the sausage mixed in with it to give it some kick, as it didn’t really seem to have any in the side dish by itself.

But the coleslaw… I swear they resurrected my mama and had her back in that kitchen making slaw. It was a creamy, fresh cabbage (not browned, old cabbage like so many restaurants serve) adding a nice contrast to the BBQ sauces.

Good tip for me, means good tip for you, Ms. Waitress.

The sausage was my favorite of the meat offerings, with good spicy flavor and nice and juicy. The turkey had just a hint of smoky flavor, but paired well with all the sauces offered.  The pulled pork was moist, tender, but a little less flavorful than some pulled pork I’ve had, but hey, we’re in Mitt Romney/Mormon country, not the deep south or Kansas City, so how high can you really set you BBQ barometer? Especially for a girl who used to live less than a quarter mile from Slo’s BBQ in Detroit.

Tasty food, good service and good music, in a beautiful town. You can’t beat that.

BBBMoab Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah