Located about 50 miles north of Albuquerque, this place is one of my favorite locations in the entire state. I’ve done the hike several times and the level of amazement and wonder at the beauty to be found there has not yet waned. The Slot Canyon Trail at the Kasha-Katuwe* Tent Rocks National Monument is an opportunity to marvel at what the passage of time can do to a landscape.
*Kasha-Katuwe means “white rocks” in Keresan, a pueblo language. The national monument is located near the Cochiti Pueblo.
The name “Tent Rocks” comes from the cone-shaped rock formations (also called hoodoos) created from a volcanic explosion over 6-7 million years ago. The monument includes several areas for hiking and sightseeing, including the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook, Shelter Cave, the Cave Loop, and the Slot Canyon Trail.
The trail is a three-mile loop that is easily done in about two and a half to three hours. It is a beginner-level hike, which is great for someone like me who isn’t a hiker but enjoys the great outdoors. Both the Cave Loop and Slot Canyon Trail begin at the same place, just off the parking lot. The Cave Loop trail circles the base of the tent rocks and is a mile loop, dotted with juniper trees and posted information about the geology and history of the area. At the half mile point of the loop, the Slot Canyon Trail breaks off to the right.
As the trail winds through the canyon, a large tree with gnarled roots big enough to hide behind acts as your portal to a sacred place. Once past the tree, the canyon walls rise up and the trail gets narrow. The modern world and all its trouble and worries disappear within this place as you wind past boulders and rocks and view trees and bushes that literally grow and survive off the sides of the canyon. The weight of time and the past pull you from your worries and cares as you begin to understand the temporariness of your place in the universe.
The first part of the Slot Canyon Trail is a gradual easy increase in elevation. Around the mid-point, the trail gets steep. You have to scramble over boulders and rocks as the path continues to rise. Railroad ties placed within the side of the mesa assist in the ascent, but it is still a steep journey. For someone afraid of heights (like me) there is always a big fear of just how temporary my place in the universe might actually become, but at Tent Rocks I always push past that, which is a sign of how wonderful this place is.
When you reach the top you’ll experience some truly beautiful views, as it seems you see the entire northern part of the state from here. After taking some time to rest and experience the beauty of the area, you’ll go back down the way you came, but you’ll be changed. And if you’re not changed, you’re not doing it right.
Tips for Your Visit
There is a $5 fee to get into the area. Check out their site to ensure they are open the day you visit.
Try to get there as early as possible (the monument opens at 7 a.m. in the spring and summer and 8 a.m. in the fall and winter). The Slot Canyon Trail is narrow in certain spots, and at the midpoint of the loop it you have to climb over some rocks and boulders as the elevation increases. If you go earlier, you don’t have to wait for other hikers, and you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of being overheard by anyone as you wail about the heights and curse openly at Little Trickster for talking you into this trip (but maybe that’s just me).
Bring your own drinking water, as there isn’t any running water at monument. Also, if hiking in the spring or summer, be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen, as there is pretty much no shade.
Be sure to bring proper footwear. While the hike is easy, it’s not flip-flop easy.
Hello! This post is part 1 of a (so far) 8-part series dedicated to a weekend trip we recently took around northern NM. Check back soon for the following 7 (or so) parts.
In northern New Mexico, highways and byways have names, not numbers. Well, they have numbers too, but their names are much cooler. A few weeks ago, team EatingNewMexico took off on a whirlwind weekend jaunt around north-central New Mexico. Instead of using interstates and bigger roadways, we opted for back roads and scenic byways: The Turquoise Trail, The High Road, andThe Enchanted Circle.
We hit a bunch of historic and special little towns along the way, and of course ate a lot, because that’s how we roll. We were extremely wise/lucky to plan our trip for mid-October, just as the trees along the rivers and on the mountainsides were their brightest yellow and orange.
The Turquoise Trail
The Turquoise Trail is where our journey began. It is a National Scenic Byway (turquoisetrail.org) that spans about 50 miles along Highway 14 from Tijeras to Santa Fe. (Once it hits Santa Fe, it turns into Cerillos Road.) The Turquoise Trail runs through the towns of Tijeras, Cedar Crest, Sandia Park, Golden, Madrid, Cerillos, and San Marcos.
Worth a stop nearly every time we go through is the small town of Madrid. Madrid (pronounced like “MAD-rid” not “muh-DRID” like you might think) was an old mining town turned ghost town that was then revitalized in the 60s and is now a small but thriving artists’ community. There is a cool little dusty museum there, galleries and shops to walk through, and the Mine Shaft Tavern, where you can get a green chile cheeseburger (and probably some other stuff). Madrid is also where parts of the John Travolta movie Wild Hogs was filmed.
Alas, on this trip, we had much to do and not much time, so we didn’t stop in Madrid. Just blew right through (at the prescribed 20 mph).
Our first stop on this trip was San Marcos, at the San Marcos Café and Feed Store. (visit on Yelp)
San Marcos Café and Feed Store
This adorable little café is one of those places that you’ll miss if you aren’t looking for it. And you might miss it even if you are looking for it. It’s located just off the road along Hwy 14, about 7 miles south of the intersection of I-25 and Hwy 14 near Santa Fe. It is open daily for breakfast and lunch.
The grounds of the café are unique to say the least. Peacocks and turkeys and chickens roam free, and behind the building are several aviaries for turkeys, doves, and other birds. You might also catch a peek of what we call the “Lady GaGa Chicken” which is pretty much a chicken in a really fluffy feather suit.
The inside of the café is just as charming, with uniquely painted and crafted wooden tables and chairs, and a cozy fire in the fireplace (this day, at least).
The wait staff is friendly and welcoming, and somehow remembered that our group of 5 likes cinnamon rolls, even though this was only our second visit. Cups of coffee all around and cinnamon rolls for everyone. That’s how we wanted to start this trip.
San Marcos Cinnamon Roll
San Marcos Coffee
The cinnamon rolls are flaky and sweet and delicious — everything a good cinnamon roll should be. The coffee is tasty. This is a great duo to start off a weekend getaway.
Overall, we have fully enjoyed our stops at San Marcos both times we’ve been so far. I’m sure we will be back soon and often!
Next up, we headed into Santa Fe to drop our doggie off at the doggie hotel. The Z Pet Hotel, to be precise. This is a little doggie hotel right off of Cerillos where you can board your pets and even get them groomed on their last day there. We have been very happy with Z Pet Hotel. They have easy reservations, easy drop offs, easy pickups, and the dogs seem happy there. Prices are reasonable and the employees are nice! Check them out here: Z Pet Hotel
Between work and a somewhat hectic social life, I’m bombarded by all kinds of extraneous noise. I mean how many snarky tweets, Facebook postings of cute animals and Google alerts on Channing Tatum can a girl wade through before just needing to run away for a while? Luckily, I have a special place I can go to escape the fast pace and noise of today’s world. A place that offers me some time to relax and unwind. Oh yeah, and drink some lovely teas and eat some amazing, wonderful food.
This magical place is the St. James Tearoom, located on the corner of Edith and Osuna in Albuquerque. What is a tearoom, you ask? You actually may not be asking, as you might be more refined than I am. Because the first time I heard of the St. James Tearoom, I assumed it was a place where caffeine junkies hung out, hopping themselves up on the latest teas and discussing—well, I honestly don’t know. But in actuality, a tearoom is a place where you get to experience a traditional afternoon tea service, a two hour respite from the world where you relax while enjoying a variety of loose leaf teas and a full meal.
The first time I ever went to the St. James Tearoom, I was leery. I’m not dainty, refined or even the least bit graceful. So the idea of sitting still for two hours in a room where I was expected to be quiet and drink tea from a dainty china cup while sitting on dainty furniture rather terrified me. I actually brought extra money with me knowing that the chances of me breaking a cup or piece of furniture was going to be quite high. While I might not be graceful, I am always prepared.
I’m glad to report that in the five years that I’ve gone to the St. James Tearoom, I have never broken anything.
For those of you who have never been to a tearoom and have stuck through the previous paragraph, I will reward your patience by describing the wonders and logistics of the St. James Tearoom. As each tea setting is broken into two-hour intervals, you must make reservations ahead of time. Reservations can be made by calling, or via their online reservation service. Seating times are available at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and at those times plus 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
As this is a formal tea, I recommend dressing up. Not in a full-length ball gown or anything, but at least in either your Sunday best, or minus the scruffy jeans and shorts. Although the staff at the St. James Tearoom is so gracious and mannered they won’t judge you. (I totally would, but they won’t). To add more fun to your adventure, you may also want to wear a decorative hat to tea (think Kentucky Derby-type hat). If you do not own such a hat, you can find a selection of loaner hats in the Tearoom’s gift shop.
Once you arrive at St. James Tearoom, you can wander through their gift shop or peruse their wide variety of loose leaf teas and tea accessories. A bell will sound to alert you that it’s time to be seated for your tea.
Depending on the size of your party, you will either be seated in one of the cozy nooks or the library area. Each of these areas are decorated to represent a different estate of a famous person from the Victorian era. For example, there is a room decorated to look like the home of Florence Nightingale (my favorite nook) and another to represent the farmhouse of Beatrix Potter. Each area is blocked off by a curtain to allow you privacy, and to let you enjoy some peace and quiet. So turn off your cell phone and use your inside voice. That said, my inside voice is quite loud and I’ve never been shushed, so you’ll be fine.
After being seated, a server (dressed in darling Victorian garb) will introduce you to the month’s menu. Each month, the St. James Tearoom features a theme. For instance, this October’s theme is “Phantom of the Opera” and next months’ theme is “A Narnian Teatime.” I only mention November’s theme because I love C.S. Lewis and am geeky-excited about the theme. Essentially, the foods will be named or inspired for the theme, such as Mr. Tummins Fig and Goat Cheese Sandwich (see how I got Narnia in there twice?).
Your server will begin by serving you one of three teas for your setting. Usually, your tea adventure begins with a traditional black tea, followed by a spiced black tea, or a green tea, finished by a flowered or fruit tea. Each tea is served in a pot and you are provided cream and sugar. Your server will tell you which tea goes best with cream and sugar. Once you’re done with a particular tea, you set the lid of your tea pot up to indicate you’re ready for your next tea.
During Christmas, the St. James Tearoom features my absolute favorite tea—sparkling sugar plum. The tea actually sparkles!!
Ah, now let’s talk about your afternoon tea food. After you’ve been given your first tea, your server will deliver heaven on a three-tiered tray.
Now, don’t be alarmed by how small everything looks. The first time I saw the amount of food provided, I leaned over to my niece and told her we would go for a cheeseburger afterwards. Trust me, you will leave full and satisfied. The bottom tray of the tier will feature savories, such as (from this month’s menu), carrot soufflé, salmon en croute and more. The second tier will have the St. James traditional scones and lemon curd and the month’s featured scones with cream. The top tier will have desserts, fabulous, wonderful, sugar coma (worth it) inducing desserts. I cannot say enough about the food. This is melt in your mouth, savor every bite, sell your mother or your soul for another bite, wonderful food.*
Another bell will ring letting you know that your tea time is officially over. Feel free to cry that your respite from the real world has come to an end. Your server will offer you a hot towel to let you wipe away your tears. Okay, the towel is really to wipe your hands, but you know, they’re not going to judge you. Even I won’t judge you as there has been many a time that I’ve cried and wailed. You know, in my inside voice.
I will say that this wonderful, magic experience does not come cheap. Seating prices for adults is $33 and for children 4-10 is $24. During the Christmas season, prices are $36 for adults and $26 for children. But I’ll pay anything for those sugar plum sparkles. But while the tea experience is pricey, it is completely worth it. The St. James Tearoom also caters to individual dietary needs. They offer decaffeinated tea, as well as a gluten free and vegetarian menu.
*I realize this post sounds rather blasphemous. I in no way really mean that the food is literally like heaven, as in actuality it’s not served by Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling. And in no way should you really sell your soul for food. Hold out for a car at least.
Insights from a “forty-something” rookie skateboarder…
This is a story about longboard skateboarding and some things I’ve learned about it over the last year. Before I jump into the skateboarding part though, I need to share a little back story about why, at age 48, I feel the need risk broken bones and road rash to careen down the hills east of Sandia Mountain in New Mexico.
Around February 2007, I was living in the Florida Panhandle when a friend of mine invited me to come out to the beach and try something called “standup paddleboard surfing.” Using a borrowed wetsuit and a borrowed 11’ Nash paddleboard and paddle, I attempted to paddle out into a churning surf that looked like it was being created by a giant washing machine agitator. It was one of the most exhausting hours of “fun” I’d ever experienced. Even though I didn’t come close to catching a wave, or even standing up for that matter, I was hooked. A month later I bought my own paddleboard. By that summer, I was at the beach constantly. On days with good surf, I would go out and catch waves. On flat days, I’d paddle up and down the beach, watching the assortment of sea life below my board: jellyfish, pompano, and even the occasional green sea turtle or Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Life was good.
Eventually, around 2009, I bought a 9’ longboard and started to learn to “prone-paddle” surf, the more traditional surfing style. Learning to “pop-up” from a prone position after being a paddleboarder was a steep learning curve, but I eventually became competent at it. (Notice I didn’t say “mastered” it. I never really mastered it.)
Shortly after I bought the longboard, circumstances in my life changed and I left Florida. I sold off the paddleboard, but (thankfully) I hung onto my longboard. In 2012, after a couple years of living inland and not surfing at all, I jumped at an opportunity to move to Southern California. Even though I only lived in Ventura County for a year, it was good to be back to surfing again. I missed my paddleboard, but I was grateful to be back in the water. I have some great memories of early morning surfing at Mondos Beach and playing tag with the sea lions.
But job changes and life changes happened again, and today I find myself living near Albuquerque, New Mexico. My surfboard still hangs in the garage; I didn’t have the heart to sell it. Last Christmas, knowing that a move to New Mexico could be coming, my awesome girlfriend bought me a Sector 9 longboard skateboard. From the first time I took it out, I knew it would make for a suitable substitute for surfing, as well as be a great way for me to keep my balancing skill sharp for the northern New Mexico ski and snowboard seasons I might soon be enjoying.
I’ve always been a minor-league adrenaline junkie. Personally, if there’s not a small chance I’m going to hurt myself, then it’s probably not something I’ll enjoy all that much. Arguably, skateboarding is a young person’s sport. Like a lot of other sports that involve balance and wheels turning quickly over the earth’s surface, it’s not a matter of if you’ll crash, but when. And let’s face it, 18-year-olds heal a lot faster than 48-year-olds, plus they have that sense of invincibility that makes them more prone to push limits, whereas those of us who’ve seen a lot more sunrises tend to be a bit more conservative. With that thought in mind, I think someone in their late-forties or even older is more than capable of taking up skateboarding. The key to not winding up in the emergency room is knowing…and respecting…your own limitations. With that said, here are a few tips I’d offer a new skateboarder of any age.
1. Get out there and skate!
Conventional wisdom probably says I should hound you about safety gear first and foremost. And yes, safety gear is important, but I’m going to talk about that later. What I really want to stress here is that you’ll never be good at anything unless you get out there and do it…a lot. With a skateboard, the more you ride it, the more it becomes an extension of your body. Most of what you learn when you ride a skateboard comes through trial and error. The more you ride, the more you can sense when you’re going too fast, when you’re turning too deep, or when you’re about to lose control. There’s a lot going on below your feet when you’re riding. The more time you have feeling the board beneath your feet, the less likely things will surprise you and send you sprawling across the pavement.
2. Wear protective gear.
Speaking of sprawling across the pavement, at some point it’s probably going to happen, so it’s always a good idea to wear protective gear. At a minimum, wear a helmet. I usually roll with a helmet and some leather gloves. When I get to the point where I’m rolling at higher speeds and doing big downhill runs, I will eventually wear knee and elbow pads and slide gloves. Wearing a helmet is crucial, because you can strike your head pretty hard even at a low-speed crash.
Case in point, I was out with my girlfriend (Zia) and her eight year-old daughter (Little Coyote) a couple of months ago, skating on a short hill near my home. I was wearing my helmet mostly just to set a good example for Little Coyote. Normally I wouldn’t have been wearing one on this particular hill. I was practicing some deep turns at a low speed when I over-skidded on the toe-side and stumbled, falling over backwards. I was barely moving with any speed, but the back of my head struck the pavement hard. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I definitely would have split the back of my head open, and probably even had a concussion. After that incident, I ALWAYS wear a helmet now. Also, as I become more confident in my riding and start digging deeper into turns at greater speeds, the more likely I am to take a spill, especially on my heel-side (backwards). Instinct is always to stick a hand out there to break your fall. Leather gloves won’t save your wrists when this happens, but it will help prevent a painful road rash on the palm of your hand.
3. Learn about your skateboard and its parts.
I had a couple of skateboards in the 70’s when I was a kid. I even had one that my dad helped me make by cutting the wheels and mounts off a pair of roller skates and bolting them to a piece of pine board. Skateboard technology, especially with wheels, has come along light-years since then. There are specific board setups for all different kinds of riding, whether you plan to carve up the ramps at a skateboard park, freestyle ride down gentle slopes, or bomb big hills. Take some time to research the type of riding you want to do. YouTube is a great source of information. For me, the original wheels that came on my board were great for standard freestyle riding, soft and grippy. But I wanted to learn to control my speed more by sliding the wheels, and I found out that the wheels I had were the wrong durometer for sliding. Watching skateboard wheel reviews on YouTube helped immensely when it came to finding the right wheels for the type riding I wanted to do. (Also, big credit to Skate City Supply in Albuquerque! They not only sold me some awesome wheels, but they showed me how to change them out as well.) There’s a lot to know and learn about skate wheels. Check out this very cool and very informative Skate Wheel Infographic!
4. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to push them.
Like surfing, skateboarding should be all about having fun. Do what’s fun for you…always! For me, the fun comes with learning new skills and riding that fine line between exhilaration and terror. (Exhilaration: a controlled, fast descent down a long, gentle hill. Terror: Way too fast, “speed wobbles,” and a fast approaching STOP sign with cross-traffic. I’ve experienced both!) On a skateboard, it’s very easy to find yourself in over your head before you even realized it’s happened. Most of the time, it’s because you’ve reached a speed that surpasses your abilities to slow down or stop. If the “want” to stop becomes a “need” to stop, then your short list of options is just basically choosing the least painful way to “eat it.” To avoid this situation (even though it is chocked full of valuable lessons), here’s some sage advice.
5. Learn to stop.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. There are several methods and they all have two things in common. They all entail applying friction to the road surface, and they all take practice to master. Here’s a link to a great YouTube video that helped me out a lot:
6. Don’t skate faster than you can sprint.
Sometimes, the best way out of a bad situation (before it becomes a terrible situation) is to simply jump off the board. If you’re pointed downhill and you feel like you’re picking up speed too fast, jump off. Your legs will automatically try and accommodate for the speed. If you’re traveling faster than your legs can carry you, then you’re going to meet the street. However, as long as you are traveling less than your sprint speed, what normally happens is you step off and run 4-5 steps to slow your momentum. Your skateboard will stop in place once you bail out, because your foot will kick it backwards as you leave the board (pretty sure there’s some physics law happening there…). The important thing to remember is if you’re in doubt, just bail out. There’s usually about a half-second between “Hey I should jump off,” and “Oh crap! I’m going way too fast to jump off now.”
7. Know the surface you’re skating.
As I’m walking up a hill I plan to ride, I watch the surface for things like loose gravel, extra-wide cracks in the road, grass growing in the middle of the road, coyote poop, basically anything I want to avoid on my way down. Skateboard wheels today are made of high-tech urethane and can pretty much handle anything they roll over (not like the 1970’s, where a single pebble would stop your board instantly and launch you into a low-trajectory orbit). Regardless, hitting gravel or a clump of grass in the middle of a deep, sliding turn can make your board do some crazy things. It’s best to know what lies ahead before you get there.
8. Forego the headphones.
I admit, it looks cool to cruise down the road on your longboard listening to your favorite tunes on your iPod. However, the reality is I usually hear a car before I see it. Maximize use of all your senses when you ride.
Rediscovering skateboarding as an adult has been an incredible experience. I wish I had taken it up years ago, even though most of the places I’ve lived (like the Florida panhandle) weren’t really conducive to longboarding. Regardless, I’d recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. On a parting note, next spring I’m going to start incorporating “paddling” back into my game!
A small stretch of road along old Route 66 / Hwy 333 near Tijeras, NM has been enabled with a musical ability. If you drive over a special rumble strip at exactly 45 miles per hour (no, not 40, not 50), you will be serenaded with a slightly asphalty rendition of the last few bars of America the Beautiful.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Albuquerque, at the Tramway/Central intersection, either hop on I-40 then exit to Rte 66 at Carnuel, or just get on Rte 66 right there at Tramway/Central and take it the whole way. Either way, after Rte 66 passes under I-40 (east of Carnuel), get ready and start looking for the blue signs. There is a sign reading “Musical Highway” that prepares you, then a sign reading “Reduce Speed to 45 mph” to get you in the proper speed zone. Arrows painted on the rumble strips show you where to actually place your tires. Note: The musical section is on the eastbound lane only.
If you watch the video above, you’ll see a second, shorter rumble strip after the first one. The first time I drove the Musical Highway, that second rumble strip played the Nationwide jingle. I kid you not. It was terrible and I felt somehow violated. But the second time I drove it (in the video above), the second rumble strip had been…. de-activated. THANK GOODNESS.
Rumor has it that the Musical Highway was created here as part of a Discovery Channel experiment in crowd control for a show to air soon, with the added benefit of getting drivers to slow to the speed limit, at least for a little while. In my experience (ahem), drivers just speed back up when the music stops. But at least we are being safe for a little while.
UPDATE: We indeed saw the episode of Crowd Control that featured the NM Musical Highway. Pretty cool, and I was happy to see that the jingle was included for the episode only. Plus, Crowd Control has become one of our favorite shows.
Pie Town is a tiny little community located about 20 miles west of Datil, New Mexico. The town was named after a baker in the 1920s that made pies. Pies so good, the town was named after it.So you can bet when I heard this town was holding its annual Pie Festival, I was going to attend. Always held the second Saturday in September, the event is a fundraiser held by the Pie Town Community Council, a volunteer organization that provides a variety of services for the town. The event features crafts for sale, an open air flea market, pie eating and baking contests, horned toad races, the crowning of the Pie Queen, a dance, and most importantly… pie for sale.
Early Saturday morning I, along with my seven-year-old nephew and a friend, made the trek to Pie Town. The plan was to ensure that we made it to the event in time to sign my nephew up for the pie eating contest, and to meet up with this blog’s very own zymbologistbob, who had been wanting to go to the festival for 14 some years, and a couple of his pie-friendly friends. The two-and-half-hour drive from Albuquerque to Pie Town was gorgeous. After a stop at the Very Large Array outside of Magdalena, New Mexico, we arrived.
The festival is held in Jackson Park, along Highway 60 and across the street from the Pie-O-Neer bakery. There was plenty of parking available along the road, and the place was packed. Apparently, for such a small town, this festival is quite popular. Because, pie. Throughout the day, we met people from Oregon, Arizona, and California.
Our first stop was to sign my nephew up for the pie eating contest (and myself, but that’s another post). There were about 20 to 30 stands set up around the park with people selling different items. Some were crafters and others were selling tools and used DVDs and such. There were also several food vendors, selling burritos, Navajo fry bread and other treats. But there were only three pie stands among the town. I was a bit surprised, as I expected for a pie festival, there would be more pie stands. That said, the town is incredibly small, and perhaps for the citizens-to-pie ratio, three stands was more than enough. And truth be told, there was more than enough pie available from those vendors.
After touring the stands, we made our way to the Pie-O-Neer bakery. After all, we were here for pie. The place was packed and the line was almost to the door. We each ordered something different (after some indecisiveness with my nephew who couldn’t decide if eating pie would make him too full for the pie eating contest). I had a slice of pecan pie, while my nephew enjoyed blueberry pie. My friend got a slice of the famous green chile apple pie.
The pecan pie was lovely, it was light, and wasn’t too sugary. The crust was nice and buttery. My nephew said he greatly enjoyed his blueberry pie and was very impressed by the stars on the pie crust. But the green chile apple pie was by far my favorite (I took a bite of my friend’s). It had a hot bite to it, but it the chile flavor wasn’t overwhelming. In case you missed out on the festival this year you can always make your own green chile cheese apple pie withthis recipe – previously posted here on EatingNewMexico.
Topped off with pie after our long drive, we went back to the festival grounds. While my nephew played on the swing sets and slides, we waited for the crowning of the Pie Town Pie Queen. I was curious if there were campaigns run ahead of time for the crown, or it if was based off of the best baked pie. Unfortunately, those questions were never answered, as I missed the big crowning. All of the events were announced by a woman with a bullhorn, and by the time I realized it, the crowning was over. Zymbologistbob was upset he didn’t take the title, but I reassured him there is always next year.
While we waited for the pie eating contest, zymbologistbob and his friends enjoyed pie from the Pie Town Café stand. Zymbologistbob had a slice of tart cherry, and his friends each had a blackberry and blueberry. It was the Pie Town Pie Festival after all, so after a bit more wandering they found themselves at the pie stand for the Pie Town Cafe and each shared a mini pecan and strawberry rhubarb pie. It was decided that the strawberry rhubarb was some of the best z-bob ever had.
After the contest (and subsequent clean up as there was whipped cream and pie remnants everywhere) it was time to enjoy the horned toad races.
As I have never experienced such a race, I had questions. Could you bet on the toads before the race? Were there little lizard stalls so you could see which one looked like a winner? Was there illegal drugging of horned toads going on to ensure a victory? Were there grasshopper jockeys? Luckily, these questions were quickly answered. No, no, no, and sadly no.
Everyone gathered on the basketball courts around a chalk circle. Each of the horned toads were marked on their stomachs with number and the owners were marked with the same number on their hands. The owners were asked to sit outside the circle to encourage their horned toads to victory. The toads were all placed into a bucket and then dumped out in the middle of the circle. The first toad to cross the chalk line was the victor.
There looked to be an early victor, Taco, who ran to the edge of the circle, but then seemed to get confused and just ran around the edge. He was upset by a wee little horned toad. The word “race” might give the impression that this is a fast-paced event, but it took the better part of 15 minutes for a horned toad to finally cross the not-too-distant finish line.
After all that excitement, there wasn’t much left to do. The Pie Festival had other activities into the evening, including a dance where the winning pies from the baking contest would be announced. But as I was responsible for a seven-year-old that I had hopped up on sugar, it seemed best to wind up our day at the Pie Festival. We went back to the Pie-o-Neer to purchase pies for the road, but the majority of them were sold out. So we went to the Pie Town Café and purchased several red chile and apple cinnamon mini pies for gifts. I’m told they were delicious (although I was also told they tasted more like Hot Tamale candy than red chile). We then hit the road back to Albuquerque, after a pleasant day filled with pie, horned toads, more pie, and fun.
Ever since my seven-year-old nephew, Little Trickster, learned he would be returning to the Pie Festival in Pie Town, New Mexico, he talked about nothing but winning the children’s pie eating contest. Turns out, last year he lost due to a hand raising technicality. A similar travesty was the fate of Sir Leopold Chestnut, SECOND PLACE winner of the 1903 Summer Olympics prune and custard pie eating contest. Both were sadly unaware that after they finished their pie, they were to raise their hand to be declared the winner. At least this year Little Trickster could learn from his folly. Chestnut, shunned by his peers, never competed again.
Little Trickster had been studying up on how to win this year’s contest. On the two-and-a-half-hour journey from Albuquerque to Pie Town, between singing verses of popular Disney songs, he spoke non-stop about the rules of the contest as well as the best techniques to take the crown. Each contestant was given an appropriately sized fruit pie by age division. All but the youngest contestants had to keep their hands behind their backs during the challenge and could not use them to eat said pie.
The best technique, said Little Trickster, was to move the pie closest to the edge of the table. After the stuffing was inhaled, it was best to use your teeth to flip over the pie tin and drop the pie on the table. It was much easier to eat the rest of the pie this way. He called it the alligator technique. A bit of a misnomer as we all know alligators prefer tarts to pies, unlike their fatter cousin the crocodile.
“You need to listen to me,” said Little Trickster, “so both you and I can be winners in our contests.”
I knew my nephew was entering the pie eating contest, but I had no plans of entering the adult pie eating contest. I envisioned my first time at the festival perusing pie stands and craft tables. I had not planned on entering a pie eating contest. But Little Trickster, being adorable, was insistent. And I, being both a sucker and partaker in pies, was talked into entering the contest.
Upon our arrival to the Pie Festival, I went to the pavilion and paid the $1 fee to sign Little Trickster up for his age group and then paid $5 to sign myself up for the adult division. We were each given ribbons that showed the judges that we were participants.
In hindsight, it would have been a great deal to concede the contest and walk away with a $25 pie for $5.
At 1 p.m., the pie eating contestants gathered around the row of tables in the middle of the Pie Festival open area. The audience surrounded the pies and contestants (outside the “Splash Zone”) to cheer on their friends. Much attention was paid to the Splash Zone in fear of pie in the sky debris.
First up were the kiddos age 0 – 5. I’m not quite sure how a 0-year-old would eat a pie, but hey, there you go. The little kids were given mini-pies and the contest was on. A winner was declared, and two runner-ups. Each were given ribbons. The parents next to me were rather upset and kept talking about cheating from the winner (their kid got second). Seemed a bit silly to me as it was all for fun — it’s not like it was the pie eating Superbowl. [Editor’s note: fun or not, pie eating contest rules regarding hands on the table is a disqualification-level action. It is a safety matter, fingers are libel to be chewed off in the heat of the competition.]
Next up was Little Trickster’s division, ages 7 – 12. There were 19 participants. Their pies were larger than the mini pies, but still not a full-size pie. Little Trickster was down to business. Right off, he asked the judge if he was supposed to raise his hand when he was done. Once he got the affirmative, and the other kids were all lined up, the contest started. Little Trickster face-planted into his pie and tore that pie up! He used his teeth to flip the pie over using the Alligator Technique. There was whipped cream everywhere — on his nose, on his forehead, even in his hair. He mowed through that pie as fast as he could. (In related news, whipped cream is apparently an excellent conditioner.)
Unfortunately, those older kids were way faster. Out of the 19 participants, Little Trickster got 4th place. I was very proud of his placing and he seemed to be in good spirits, which can’t be that surprising as it’s hard to be sad after eating pie.
Then it was my turn. Little Trickster came up to me and helped me tie my plastic apron. “Since, I didn’t win, you’re going to have to win this,” he said.
I was just doing this for fun (and pie) but mostly just to placate the now berry-stained kid. Suddenly there was all this added pressure on me to win? Really, my only goal was to not end up like that kid in “Stand By Me.” (No, not the dead one, the one in the pie eating contest, though I didn’t particularly want to end up like the dead one either. I have to remember to chew.)
“Don’t worry,” said Little Trickster. “I’ll coach you. I already asked the judge if I could stay with you and cheer you on.” There were 24 participants in the adult division, and the trash talking starting early. A man from Portland told the rest of us we were going down. A woman from Arizona giggled and said this was her first time. A woman from California let us know she had won three years ago. Ooh, a seasoned veteran.
We lined up around the tables and placed our hands behind our backs. Little Trickster ran around to eye the competition and shout out instructions. He told me to kneel to be closer to the pie.
“REMEMBER THE ALLIGATOR!” he shouted.
The judges placed the pies in front of us. Unfortunately, these weren’t mini pies, or even medium. These were daunting, huge, full-sized strawberry rhubarb pies. Pies that were covered in whipped cream (much like most of the previous contestants).
And not with a shot, but a splat, the contest was on. I shoved my face into that pie and started chewing. And chewing and chewing. And I stopped and realized I was only through the whipped cream. I went back to chewing. I finally hit the filling. It was delicious. I could hear my friends cheering me on. I could hear Little Trickster yelling out instructions. “Do the alligator! Stick your whole face in that pie!” I got through half the pie and drug the tin over to the edge of the table with my teeth. I flipped it and dumped the pie on the table.
I started working on the crust (which was just as tasty as the pie). I stopped to look up to see where everyone else was at. One girl had given up, and looked rather green. Most of the other contestants had way less pie to get through than I did.
“Put your face back in there!” Little Trickster shouted. I took another bite and looked up again. Little Trickster threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t win. And I couldn’t help it. I spit out my pie laughing. Poor Portland guy. He was across from me and wasn’t too happy. I tried to chew again but the cheers and coaching was just too much. I just kept giggling. Finally a winner was declared, and then the second and third place winners. My adventure was over. Out of the 24 contestants, I came in 23. Thank goodness for the one green-looking girl.
Little Trickster came over to comfort me. “It’s okay,” he said, “we’ll do better next year.”
It was a dark and stormy night. Just before midnight, glared the dash clock in the ‘64 station wagon. This highway I had already seen twice today: going south, then back north, and now south again. The earlier two trips were in bright friendly sunlight. Now I was driving south in the darkest of darks. Behind me two miles was Corona, and ahead of me just 44 miles was Carrizozo. Then on to Alamogordo, my final destination where I would rid the car of my guest and guests: the one in the front seat, asleep for the past hour and to stay same until we reach his driveway, and the rowdies caged in back who were about to awake.
I was a first year rookie with NM Game and Fish and in assignment to Jack, a seasoned wildlife information officer who also hosted the weekly Game and Fish PBS television show in Albuquerque. As we prepped for this week’s show, he said, “Tomorrow drive to Alamogordo and pick up our guest and his props, drive him up for the show, then drive him back to his home tomorrow night. It will be an easy and fun day and you will be entertained during your drive,” Jack, the Prankster, said.
I learned some things in my first 16 years in New Mexico when we never lived closer than 15 miles to a town.
Don’t waste water, ice is a heavenly gift, take a flashlight to the outhouse, never go barefoot outside, always shake your shoes in the morning to empty of critters, and many other helpful tidbits to well serve during a full life.
And the most important: You will — from time to time and without a doubt — hear a rattlesnake rattle. The rattle is the signal that it is near. You must first determine its location. Then your options are: (1) remain perfectly still, or (2) leap high and far in the opposite direction, and (3) scream because you cannot contain a good scream. In my youth I practiced all three many times. To this day the sound of rattles rattle me. And did that night south of Corona.
Early that day when I gathered the guest for the night TV show, he brought his props all right: two boxes of rattlesnakes that he promised were boxed tightly with secure lids. He placed the boxes in the back of the very long ’64 wagon. The trip to Albuquerque was pleasant. Not a sound from the back. Occasionally I breathed. I could see the boxes in the rearview mirror. Lids were secured. We did the TV show and the guest allowed the snakes to crawl around on stage. All of us bystanders were watchful and ready to run.
Show is over, boxes of snakes are placed in the back of the station wagon, and off we go into the dark of the night on the two lane to Alamogordo. All is well until Corona. The guest in the passenger seat goes to sleep. The 46 miles to Carrizozo is a much rougher road at night and the shocks on the wagon have hardened since the trip up earlier in the day.
Now, with each bump in the road, a snake rattles. The more bumps, the more rattles.
I turn on the dome light and can just make out that the lids appear to be on the boxes. “Will the lids hold?” I ask myself. I am now looking at the front floor board to see if I am still alone. Did I see a wiggle? A slither? More bumps; more rattles. I now have one leg and foot under me and the remaining foot has increased our speed to 75 which has increased the number of bumps in a short period and increased the rattles until we are a speeding lights-on missile in the dark of night near out of control rattling and screaming as we pass the turns to Ancho and White Oaks and finally arrive at the old Texaco in Carrizozo where I brake to a sliding stop and abandon the idling vehicle. Leap high and far and scream.
An hour later we finally arrive in Alamogordo and as the guest opens the back to get his boxes he says, “That was sure a nice and quiet trip; glad my little friends did not bother you.”