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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The great outdoors: Moab, Utah

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“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey called Arches National Park the “most beautiful place on earth” in the opening to his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” drawn on his time as a ranger there. Few who have visited Arches or its the nearby parks around Moab, Utah, would argue that point. Trails and traditional campsites allow visitors to enjoy this majestic setting, but to fully embrace its rugged beauty, the adventurous leave the beaten path for primitive camping.

Arches National Park

Plan on walking at least a mile to set up primitive camping in Arches National Park; all visitors must make camp at least one mile from any road, designated trail and any named arches on the USGS maps. Keep campsites out of sight of those areas, as well. In addition, further restrictions prohibit camps within 300 feet from of any archaeological sites or non-flowing nonflowing water, and 100 feet from flowing water. The main park road cuts right through the middle of the park, so meeting the requirements provides a bit of a challenge. Permits are required for all primitive camping and may be purchased at the visitor center, To protect the fragile environment in the park, all campers must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to leave the area as they found it. The maximum group size is 10, but smaller groups are strongly encouraged to reduce environmental impact.

Canyonlands Camping

In the nearby Canyonlands National Park,  campers need permits for all overnight backcountry trips. You may reserve them in advance, unlike Arches National Park. But like Arches, all primitive campsites must stay outside a one-mile radius of roads, and at least 300 feet from water sources or archaeological and historical sites, with river corridor camping as the only exception to the rule regarding water sources. No wood fires are permitted at primitive campsites except along rivers, and pets are not allowed. Permits expire after seven consecutive days on at any one site.

BLM Lands

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many primitive campgrounds without water or facilities in the Moab area and charges no fees. Most cannot be reserved in advance. Check the BLM website to find maps and more information about the individual campgrounds. Guests may not stay more than 14 days in any 30-day period. Note that you may share these sites with RVers, who love the free “boondocking” on BLM lands.

Food and Water

You’ll find no drinking water in the backcountry around Moab, save the occasional flow from outside the parks where livestock graze, which needs boiling and purifying to be potable. Even if you do follow those precautions and drink that purified water, don’t expect it to taste good. One way or another, plan for at least one gallon of water daily per person, which person — a gallon weighs eight pounds. If you plan to cook, bring in a camp stove as stove, because few of these areas allow fires. Use extra caution when lighting stoves during high winds and keep any flames away from dry grass, as fires grass. Fires in this arid region can catch and spread quickly.

Leaving No Trace

The old saying goes “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” To practice “leave no trace” camping principles, either bring a portable toilet system or dig a “cat hole” four to six inches deep and at least 300 feet from any water source. Toilet paper and any feminine hygiene products must be packed out, as well. Swimming or washing up directly in pools violates these principles, but you may collect water in a clean container and use it for washing at least 300 feet away, using bio-degradable soap only. An ecological consideration particular to this desert climate involves taking care not to disturb living soil crusts with misplaced footsteps. The crusts, which look black and bumpy or red and smooth, consist of living cyanobacteria, lichen, fungi, algae, algae and moss. Try to stay in dry washes or on rock as you hike to and from your site to avoid destroying this soil-enriching life form, as well as setting up form. Set up your camp itself on a rock foundation.

Safety

These remote camping areas around Moab give campers dramatic views of towering rock formations and sweeping sunset views, vistas, but can be hazardous to the inexperienced and experienced alike. Know basic topographic map reading map-reading skills and come prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during your visit. The most common safety issues relate to dehydration and careless hiking or climbing, especially on slickrock and sandstone. The former is easier to climb than descend, and the latter can crumble or and tends to get slippery when wet.

Exercise caution by shaking out and checking clothing, bedding and shoes for unwanted visitors, such as scorpions, black widows or rattlesnakes; never reach into dark places blindly to avoid bites and stings. Thunderstorms pose a serious threat to backcountry campers and hikers. Do not take refuge under rock overhangs or in caves, but proceed directly to your vehicle. If your hair literally stands on end, quickly  remove any metal objects such as pack frames, squat near the ground, and cover your ears. Sudden thunderstorms can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes, so avoid setting up camp there.

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.

A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style

There are many benefits to traveling off-season besides the obvious: missing the huge crowds and the elevated prices. When you visit a town in its off-season travel, you get a rare chance to really get to know the locals, and hang out like they do. Normally, when you’re looking for restaurant, a crowded parking lot is a good sign that there is good food, if you’re willing to wait. But on this particular day in Ouray, Colorado, I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to the restaurant with the empty tables.

I was greeted at the door of The Silver Nugget by a huge black dog wagging his tail at me, and a cowboy reading the newspaper in the corner. He told me I didn’t need to be scared of the dog, which I wasn’t anyway and we were the only folks in the whole place. Turns out the cowboy was the proprietor and the cook and the waiter on this particular weekday in Ouray, before the full ski season hit and many while businesses were on vacation.

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I decided to get the front here breakfast just because of the something different: your basic eggs and hash browns but with an Idaho rainbow trout on the side instead of bacon and sausage. As my cowboy friend went into the kitchen to cook my breakfast, I walked around the restaurant snapping photos and chatting with him about the town. I make no secret that this is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and a must do travel destination if you like small towns and like to mix with real people who are friendly and welcome visitors. This place is no exception.

When he served up my breakfast, he chastised the dog to stay away. As if. When the cowboy cook went back to the kitchen to busy himself, my canine friend trotted back up and sat there patiently begging the whole time, hoping I would drop a little fish or some eggs either accidentally or on purpose.

On purpose, in this case. How could I resist a face like that?

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The Silver Nugget is right on the main drag in downtown Ouray, Colorado, and if you do decide to make a visit, make sure you bring cash because they don’t take debit cards. prices are reasonable and you can get a wide variety of old-fashioned hearty breakfasts or a Gravalanche of yogurt, fruit and granola. Later in the day, try a burger or veggie sandwich, or even pizza.

The food is tasty, and the company is friendly without a long wait, not that you should be in a hurry anyway. At least if you hit it at the right time, during off season.

There are many benefits to traveling off-season besides the obvious: missing the huge crowds and the elevated prices. When you visit a town in its off-season travel, you get a rare chance to really get to know the locals, and hang out like they do. Normally, when you’re looking for restaurant, a crowded parking lot is a good sign that there is good food, if you’re willing to wait. But on this particular day in Ouray, Colorado, I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to the restaurant with the empty tables.

I was greeted at the door of The Silver Nugget by a huge black dog wagging his tail at me, and a cowboy reading the newspaper in the corner. He told me I didn’t need to be scared of the dog, which I wasn’t anyway and we were the only folks in the whole place. Turns out the cowboy was the proprietor and the cook and the waiter on this particular weekday in Ouray, before the full ski season hit and many while businesses were on vacation.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 037 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
I decided to get the front here breakfast just because of the something different: your basic eggs and hash browns but with an Idaho rainbow trout on the side instead of bacon and sausage. As my cowboy friend went into the kitchen to cook my breakfast, I walked around the restaurant snapping photos and chatting with him about the town. I make no secret that this is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and a must do travel destination if you like small towns and like to mix with real people who are friendly and welcome visitors. This place is no exception.

When he served up my breakfast, he chastised the dog to stay away. As if. When the cowboy cook went back to the kitchen to busy himself, my canine friend trotted back up and sat there patiently begging the whole time, hoping I would drop a little fish or some eggs either accidentally or on purpose.

On purpose, in this case. How could I resist a face like that?

OurayRidgewayJan2013 030 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
The Silver Nugget is right on the main drag in downtown Ouray, Colorado, and if you do decide to make a visit, make sure you bring cash because they don’t take debit cards. prices are reasonable and you can get a wide variety of old-fashioned hearty breakfasts or a Gravalanche of yogurt, fruit and granola. Later in the day, try a burger or veggie sandwich, or even pizza.

The food is tasty, and the company is friendly without a long wait, not that you should be in a hurry anyway. At least if you hit it at the right time, during off season.

The Ol’ Hitchin’ Post

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I’m currently on travel assignment in Norwood, Colorado, where I have been hanging out for four weeks till they can move me to the town where my client actually lives, about 20 miles away. The reason I am here instead of there is because they had to squeeze me in where they could between this and their other hotel during their busy season.

No, it’s not Thanksgiving yet. Nor is Halloween the big season. We’re talking something far more sacred in this neck of the woods at this time of year…. hunting season.

I’ve spent the last four weeks in Motel Man Cave, as pretty much the only female in a sea of testosterone and camouflage. And a dumpster full of beer cans and Swiss Cake Roll boxes.

They thought they were going to be able to move me today, but the current resident in what is about to be my room is staying one more night. So now I’m stuck here in Season Two of the “Motel Man Cave” series… Elk Season. Our new batch of contestants like to sit outside and smoke cigars outside my open windows, and discuss the various merits of different truck tires, and bass vs. trout vs. crappy.

Fascinating. *COUGH*

So I decided to go out to eat. Now on any given day, my options are limited to about six options. On Mondays and Tuesdays, that number goes down due to certain restaurants taking their day off between those two days. The town’s high end Lone Cone and the artsy live music venue Two Candles were both closed, so I decided to go with the Hitchin’ Post Cowboy Saloon. I’d read reviews a lot of locals hang there, but also less than kind reviews of the food.

The latter factored heavily in my decision when I saw the special was meatloaf. I love meatloaf… GOOD meatloaf, and I knew if I was really going to embrace the “adventure” of going local that was the choice. But seeing the handful of people present for dinner, and imagining it being even slower during the day, I was picturing that meatloaf sitting around stewing all day.

I went with the half pound burger.

They caution you to be patient, because they do make their burgers to order and that half pound slab takes a while. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and they make a very respectable burger. It has a strong flame-broiled flavor, like a super-size whopper but not dripping with mayo and ketchup. They had options of cottage cheese, soup or tater tots instead of fries, but I went with the onion rings. Your basic frozen rings, which is what I would normally expect in a small town restaurant, but was hoping for homemade due the generally very high quality of food I’ve run into in the small towns here.

But the burger and rings were certainly acceptable, but then I decided to go with dessert, as apple and cherry pie were the daily dessert special.

Saying it’s special and being special are two very different things I’m afraid. There’s no other way to describe it but bad. Certainly not homemade, with a un-browned, limp top crust. It was served room temperature and my ice cream was covered with chocolate sauce.

Huh?

As I sat there mentally critiquing it in my best Alex Guarnaschelli, try-to-be-diplomatic imitation, I found a whole new appreciation for how kind those culinary judges can be sometimes.

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The restaurant and bar is huge, and there is a nook where the waitress stand is stocked with coffee cups, steak sauce… and the most craptastic western cowboy mural in town. I’m guessing this place must be hoppin’ at breakfast time, and even though it wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, I definitely need to try their biscuits and gravy, one of my favs.

But if it fails like that apple pie, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I’ll channel British food writer and Iron Chef judge Simon Majumdar — that guy’s the Simon Cowell of the culinary world.

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.