Out in the West Texas town of El Paso

Bowling, Gambling, James family, My-Sugar-Na, Naughty businesses, Restaurants, Vacation

From the time that I began bowling the-then American Bowling Congress Championship Tournament, much of the allure was the travel (and exploration) of somewhere I'd never been... and possibly wouldn't have reason to ever be there again.  By the time I was 35, I had amazing adventures in cities like Mobile (Mardi Gras parades), Salt Lake City (cruise on the Great Salt Lake), Syracuse (Niagara Falls and the Baseball Hall of Fame) and Billings (Yellowstone National Park and the Little Big Horn Battlefield). However, for the last 9 years, the USBC Open Championships has gone to "repeat" locations...

2007 Reno (previously 2004)

2008 Albuquerque (previously 2000)

2009 Las Vegas (previously 1986)

2010 Reno (previously 2007)

2011 Reno (previously 2010)

2012 Baton Rouge (previously 2005)

2013 Reno (previously 2011)

2014 Reno (previously 2013)

Until this year's tournament in El Paso, that is.  Even looking forward (in order 2016 Reno, 2017 Las Vegas, 2018 Syracuse, 2019 Las Vegas, 2020 Reno, 2021 Las Vegas) there isn't even a chance to bowl at a new site until 2022.  So what did that mean?  It meant that I had to get 13 years of exploring done in one five-day stretch.  How did I do? I thought you'd never ask...

Saturday, May 23rd - This day isn't as much my story as it is (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Son, Mitten's, because this was to be his first trip to the USBC Open Championships (to be called "Nationals" from here on out).  Six of the 10 bowlers in our group, plus My-Sugar-Na and the girlfriend of one of Mitten's buddies were all on the same flights from Milwaukee to Phoenix and then to El Paso.  (Side note; I love to eat.  Pictures and reviews of meals will be indented)...

Dinner was at the Barrio Cafe inside of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which was as non-exciting as airport fare can be.  Seven of the eight of us dined (all of us except for The Cooler, who kind of wandered off on his own).  I decided to be adventurous and ordered the cochinita pibil (their specialty, which I later found out that Guy Fieri had featured at the original Phoenix location on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) and it was kind of dry and flavorless, despite being described as being their "famous recipe with achiote pork and sour orange".  Others had various burritos with no real complaints.  My $13 margarita was pretty good, but nothing special there, either.  Personally, I rate it a 2 on a scale of 1 to 5 sour oranges.

Back to Mitten's buddies, on the other hand...

Mitten's friends, I will call them OK and Power Sander, are from the Minneapolis area and had left around 11:00 AM CDT on their MSP - DEN - ELP itinerary.  By the time we landed in Phoenix, the buddies should have been in El Paso.  However, we find out that due to bad weather in Denver, their flight had been re-routed to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and they were just about to get onto another plane heading to Denver... knowing that they missed their connection to El Paso and would be stuck in Denver for the night.  At their own expense (can't blame an airline for weather delays anymore, I guess.  That apparently went out with the stale turkey sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies aboard flights.)

Sunday, May 24th - Breakfast at the Quality Inn...

Ugh. I rate it 0.25 on a scale of 1 to 5 stale biscuits with sausage gravy that had a nasty skin on top.

The day started by finding out that OK and Power Sander's flight from Denver (in whcih they were only going to have 12 minutes in Dallas) was already delayed.  No idea when they'd be in.

I had reserved a room at the Quality Inn at the "Bowlers Rate" of $50/per night.  It was nice enough, but kinda small.  So Sunday morning, we decided to Priceline a better quality hotel for the same rate and take our chances.  Sure enough, we were awarded the Ramada Suites about a quarter mile down (and coincidentally where Mitten and his buddies were staying).  Via the magic of smartphone technology, I was able to do this while standing on the side of a mountain, waiting in line.

The Franklin Mountain is right in the middle of El Paso, and a ride on the Wyler Aerial Tramway was $8 to get to the top of the mountain.  The viewing platform there ringed the gift shop, giving a great view of the El Paso valley, along with southeastern New Mexico and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  Going up the mountain with me were My-Sugar-Na, Mitten, Smokey Bear and Shoulda Brought the Invasion.  The tram was kinda rickety, which made it a thrill ride for those of us not afraid of heights.

Me, My-Sugar-Na and Mitten

The best part of the trip to the top of the mountain, though, never got photographed.  The viewing platform had a gate, and if one wanted to hike, that would be the starting point.  On a flat surface just beyond the gate was a gecko, and he was doing push-ups.  While we were there, he never moved in any direction other than up or down.

From there, My-Sugar-Na and I began our "Separate Activities" portion of the trip; she to pack and check out of the Quality Inn and check into the Ramada, while I went bowling!  That-a-girl!

Although Smokey Bear and Shoulda Brought the Invasion gave Mitten and I a lift to Fiesta Lanes which was holding the 40-Frame Game, they did not bowl, leaving Mitten and I as the only bowlers on the Noon squad.  Individually, we didn't bowl well enough to cash on the prize list, but we paid for an optional doubles entry, and that is well above the Low to Cash... it may only be for $20 or $30, but it's better than not cashing, right?  I thought you'd see it my way.

OK, confession time.  I didn't make the wife do the packing and moving because I am a big meany.  She had a few hours available, as she had a ticket for Mary Poppins at the University of Texas - El Paso Dinner Theater .  I had seen it (see here for my actual view) a year earlier at the Fireside, but she was willing to go alone and it actually scheduled well with what Mitten and I were going to do. (Side note; she was so excited about how much bigger and nicer the Ramada was that she texted me about a half-dozen pictures of our Ramada room).

After bowling, Mitten and I walked over to Whataburger...

Not having a Whataburger in Wisconsin is a shame.  Though my favorite "out of town" fast food chain remains In-N-Out (not to be confused with my favorite overall "out of town" chain, which is Waffle House), Whataburger is certainly a treat.  I had the Green Chile Double, and it was actually a little spicy.  It didn't blow the doors and roof off, but fast food "spicy" items aren't usually too hot... I liked this.  Fries were fries and soda was soda, so this meal rated a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 "W"s.

Mmmmm. Green Chile Double.

While at lunch, Smokey Bear told us that his bowling balls (which he had shipped in advance via UPS) hadn't yet arrived.  He had already run the scenarios in his head and decided the best would be to not bowl the Team event, so after lunch we went to the El Paso Convention Center to check-in, and to put an emergency request on the substitute board... and prayed that someone would find it within 24 hours.

Next on the to-do list was... more bowling.

I blame Mitten for this.  Again, this was his first Nationals tournament, and I think he was making up for lost time.  I will occasionally bowl one of the side tournaments when I go to Nationals.  But the kid wanted to bowl and bowl and bowl, so who was I to tell him "no"?  (Side note; Well actually, I am his father, but I told him "no" enough when he was 0-11 years old.)  Smokey Bear and Shoulda Brought the Invasion dropped us off at Bowl El Paso where the InsideBowling.com 9-pin No-tap tournament was being held. Even though you immediately think "9-pin tournaments are easy", this one wasn't.  The tournament is bowled on the same pattern as the Nationals Team event, however, they only dressed the lane once - at 9:00 AM.  What we bowled on at 4:00 PM was, um, an adventure.  Actually, I started with a 258 game, but that was the lone highlight as neither Mitten nor I bowled a score that will cash.

My-Sugar-Na, with a Supercalifragulisticexpialodocious in her step, picked us up and took us back to our rooms for quick showers before the highlight of the day (Side note; Race horsing through two tournaments sandwiched around a fast food hamburger is fun, but it wasn't a highlight. The day gets even better).

Each year, we try to organize one large group dinner.  Part of the rationale is that for various reasons (like "we're all good friends", "we're all good bowlers", or, well, severe desperation) we're all in this together.  Another reason is to take a head count and make sure everybody is in town.  Luckily, OK and Power Sander finally arrived (after that MSP - CYS - DEN - DAL - ELP route that took about 29 hours) as well as Bowling Uncle UJ and Ain't B, who had driven down from Waukesha.

The National tournament has been going on for over two months, and numerous friends (as well as anonymous internet posters) have been raving about Cattleman's Steakhouse (about a half hour east of El Paso).  Cattleman's is set on the Indian Cliffs Ranch, where motion pictures such as Lone Wolf McQuade and Courage Under Fire were filmed.  The ranch itself sprawls out in every direction, offering spectacular scenery (and the related photo ops).

Left, Mitten and Power Sander.  Right, The Group

My-Sugar-Na on the left, and then I get the photo taken of me last, with the light mostly gone.

Cattleman's was everything that everybody had said that it would be.  It handled our group of 11 quickly and efficiently, split checks in as many ways as we needed, and put out spectacular food, well, almost perfectly.  The only small blemish was that Ain't B had ordered her steak rare, and it came in resembling shoe leather.  However, once we notified the server, it was replaced with a perfect steak in less than two minutes.

Here is the BEFORE and AFTER of the 2 pound T-bone that Mitten took care of handily.

Steaks were perfectly seasoned, perfectly seared, and perfectly served.  The accompanying Cowboy Beans were more like chili but were also a hit.  The surprise was the pineapple coleslaw that was served family-style.  You wouldn't think that pineapple and cabbage would go together, but it was delightfully refreshing.

And then there was the Apple Pie a la Mode...

The meal was a 4.5 (the side of corn, which was expected to be grilled but came wrapped in foil and was possibly kept in the steam tray since 2006, was horribly mushy and tasteless... but then again, we didn't go there for the corn) and the event was a perfect 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 Wagon wheels.

Monday, May 25th - What is the opposite of "awe inspiring"?  Because if you can say it, you've described the free breakfasts at both the Quality Inn and the Ramada Suites.  My-Sugar-Na suggested eating at the Corner Bakery Cafe, not realizing that it was a chain with a location in Wauwatosa.  However, anything was better than the hotel breakfasts, so there we were.

As mentioned many, many times in previous trip reports, I am not an egg eater.  The only meal (not including the bakery and other sweet rolls) was a plate of pancakes, which is what I ordered. And I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.  They were light and fluffy, served with hot syrup and were delicious.  My wife had something with eggs.  I love her anyways.  The pancakes rated a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 coffee carafes.

After breakfast was time for one last side tournament, the Bowlers Journal tournament that was held at the Convention Center (but on a different set of lanes) using the oil pattern of the Nationals minor events. Once again, only Mitten and I bowled this tournament.  Mitten surprised me as he was stringing strikes, and I could never get more than one-in-a-row.  By the third game, I had considered this a practice session and fished around my bowling bags for something that would work.  That didn't happen, and Mitten beat me by well over 100 pins.  I don't believe his score will cash in the tournament, but he sure did manage to update his Facebook feed quickly.

While bowling, Smokey Bear came up to me and said that he was purchasing a new bowling ball, and that it would be ready to bowl the Team event that evening.  It was great that a friend was able to shoe-up and compete with us, but he was going to have only one ball to use (and in comparison, I brought nine bowling balls to El Paso).  As glad as I was that he was bowling, I had an unsettling feeling about how he was going to bowl.

With the Team event only five hours off, everybody sort of went their own way for lunch and relaxation before coming back to the Convention Center.  I (The Adventurer) and My-Sugar-Na (The Adventurer-Goer-Alonger) were off to find an "authentic" Mexican restaurant for lunch.  I had explored Restaurant.com the prior week and purchased a handful of certificates.

First, we set my Waze app to find Maria Bonita Restaurant.  Upon arrival, the building was empty with some other business name on the door (Side note; thank goodness for Restaurant.com's liberal exchange policy).  Next we set the app to find Burritos Y Tortas El Coco #2.

I love My-Sugar-Na, but navigating is not her thing, so she drove as I watched the scenery.  Waze took us on Cesar Chavez Border Highway which, you guessed it, runs along the US / Mexico border.  Ciudad Juarez was like a forbidden zone.  It could be seen very clearly from the highway, but with Border Patrol every quarter mile, railroad tracks, the almost-dry Rio Grande River, and a high, razor-wire covered fence.  Then Waze told us to turn left, then right, then boom... we got to the restaurant. My lovely wife found it a little concerning to be that close to the border.

But man, what a restaurant!  This place was authentic with a capital "A".  We walked in around 1:00 and the place was empty (keeping in mind that this was Memorial Day).  The owner greeted us with a loud, bombastic, broken-English greeting, and (unprompted) gave us the history of the place... his mom came from Ciudad Juarez ("Legally", he was sure to point out) and the restaurant had been in his family for over 50 years.  Unfortunately, the entire menu was in Spanish.  I was able to pick out some words... burrito, quesadilla, tortas, pollo, carne asade, etc., so I decided to play it safe and order a chimichanga.  He immediately (but very kindly) stated that chimichanga is what Americans think of as Mexican food, and he mentioned that the only place I could get one in El Paso was "across town, at my brother's restaurant"... the way he said it, it was like he was thumbing his nose at his brother.

My-Sugar-Na at lunch on Monday

Without the chimichanga in play, we started even more safely (we thought). Each of us had a burrito ($2), her's with chicken and mine with steak. Mine was fine, but my non-spice-loving wife was breathing fire and struggled to finish it ("I tant fee my tunn!" she exclaimed, while I snickered.) The burritos were more like a large soft taco (and came with no sides), so we decided to get a second item.  This time around, my wife chose the steak quesadilla ($3) because I had told her the steak was not spicy.

My wife's non-spicy quesadilla.

I said to the very pleasant owner "Surprise me". He made a gordita (a small corn cake, not anything like Taco Bell's) and he filled it with some red chile pork... and it was life altering. He said that he wouldn't charge me if I liked it, and I liked it so much that I ordered a burrito with that filling ($2). The entire bill (which included two cans of Coke at $1/ea) was $11. The Restaurant.com certificate was $10 off of $20. There was no WAY that two people could spend $20, so it also went unused. My wife rates this meal a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 glasses of milk, while I rated it a 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 chile pork things (it gets downgraded slightly because of its extreme authenticity...  The building wasn't exactly inviting, and the meals were served on paper plates with no accompaniments or garnishes).

After a return to the hotel so my wife could catch a quick nap, it was back to the Convention Center for the biggest, bestest event of the trip, the Nationals Team event.  The entire year's calendar revolves around this three hour block of time.  We put in extensive practice, we read on-line experiences of others and we make sure our equipment is prepared properly because it's (almost) all geared towards this event.

From left:  The Cooler, me, Smokey Bear, Big Daddy, Shoulda Brought the Invasion

Our team entered with an adjusted average of about 1060 for our five players.  Our actual first game was 811.  Should I continue?  For my buddies' sakes, I won't.  Our team did come back a little, however at the time I write this, our team score is about 5 pins below the "low to cash" estimate.

Personally, I had a 561 series, which is a little under past year's Team events, but with an acknowledged trickier oiling pattern, I wasn't too disappointed.  I was a little disappointed, however, when my $200 in side action only brought back $140.

After bowling was complete, it was about 9:00 PM so everyone kinda went their own way.  My-Sugar-Na and I went to Rudy's BBQ, which was near our hotel.  This past Easter, (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official brother Mr. Uncie, his wife Knobbleknees and their three kids - who had moved to Houston last summer - brought a tray of Rudy's brisket to dinner.  It was fabulous, and I couldn't keep from snitching before dinner time.  I was excited to try it in person.

At Rudy's in El Paso, I had a brisket sandwich that wasn't quite as good (possibly a little dry because of being so close to closing time), but I think it also could have been because I was kind of beat.  The barbecue sauce was still a hit, and the bottled root beer was cold, sweet and a perfect accompaniment.

But I noticed something while ordering... it was all cafeteria style (grab a tray, grab a drink, grab a cold side if interested, etc.)  I do prefer being waited on, especially if I don't know what I want..  I rate Rudy's a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 wetnaps, mostly due to the cafeteria line (and cafeteria seating with long rows of tables, too).

Tuesday, May 26th - Ramada Suites for breakfast.

Ugh. I rate it 0.25 on a scale of 1 to 5 stale bagels with rock hard cream cheese.

It was back to the Convention Center for the last two events of the trip, the Nationals Doubles and Singles... six more games on a tough oil pattern at 9:00 AM.

The bowling was more of the same struggles, where I didn't score well but didn't embarrass myself, either.  I had a 579 and my doubles partner, Big Daddy, had a 586 for a total of 1165 which will net a decent cash of about $100 or so.  By the time the Singles event started, I did what I tell myself NOT to do (Side note; You are NOT supposed to tell yourself what NOT to do... you are supposed to tell yourself what you WILL do instead).  I had told myself to not let the mental and physical fatigue get to me.  Unfortunately, I did let it get to me.  In my 18th, 19th and 20th games in a 48-hour stretch, I missed a couple of easy spares and limped to a 548 series, for a total of 1686 for all 9 games of the Nationals. That score is my lowest score in three years, however once again, these lanes were oiled to be intentionally more difficult than recent years.  When I compare my scores to the ten of us in our group, I was second behind Big Daddy.  I also know of many, many friends that scored lower.  However, I also know of many, many friends that bowled better.  In other words, I didn't embarrass myself, but I didn't impress anybody either.  i just, kinda, was there.

However, as mediocrely as I had bowled, I did PROFIT $125 in side action on Tuesday, which was truly an unexpected surprise because I had two games under 170.  I snatched it out of the guy's hands as he was paying out... just in case he changed his mind!

We said our "Good byes" to Bowling Uncle UJ and Ain't B (who were leaving to drive home right after bowling) and to the others who I probably weren't going to see for the rest of the trip, My-Sugar-Na first went back to the hotel so I could shower before we started the "us" part of the vacation.  My-Sugar-Na had spent a lot of time stuck in a bowling environment, so we decided to take a couple of extra days to explore the Chihuahuan Desert area

General dawdling after my shower, though (I was so drained) cost us some time so we decided to give My-Sugar-Na her first Whataburger experience before hitting the road.

I decided to try something different this time, so I ordered the Monterey Melt which has grilled onions and red bell peppers on it.  I may have mumbled - or else the clerk couldn't understand actual English - but she punched in a Patty Melt (Side note; Fast food restaurants throughout the world struggle with Patty Melts because they don't actually grill the bread, they just send it through a toaster. They should just give up and leave Patty Melts to places that make food to order).  But I was too tired (and kind of in a rush) to argue, so I ate it.  It was very good, but it wasn't what I had wanted.  On the other hand, she also gave me a 32 oz shake instead of the 20 oz shake that I ordered, so they kind of cancel each other out.  My wife said that her burger was "nothing spectacular".  I rate this Whataburger experience a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 "W"s

I do enjoy driving through the mountains, because you see the occasional building in an odd location.

The El Paso Visitor's Guide described a day trip through the pecan orchards and vineyards to Las Cruces, NM.  The only winery open was La Vina (which is fine, because we're not really wine drinkers) so we stopped in and had a wine tasting (six small portions of wine for $5).  The sommelier first asked what kind of wines we do prefer (white, sweet and cold, thank you) and described about a dozen that fit the bill.  Once we finished the tasting, we bought another glass of the one we liked the most and enjoyed it on their shady patio.

We got back on the road and started passing through the pecan orchards.  The trees are planted in very strict rows, exactly the same distance apart.  The larger trees stretched out over the road to meet the tree on the other side of the street to make a beautiful canopy of shade.  Unfortunately, it produced a strobe effect (six feet of shade, six feet of sun, repeated for miles).  Between the 20 games of bowling in 48 hours, the mental drain, probable dehydration, and a few glasses of wine... I closed my eyes to avoid the strobe and promptly fell asleep.

I awoke when my wife pulled into a parking spot in Old Mesilla, NM (I must be a hell of a navigator if I can do it in my sleep!)  Old Mesilla is very similar to Old Town in Albuquerque, in that there is a central square, with boutique shops, galleries and cafes in historic buildings around the perimeter.

It was 5:00 PM, and many of the shops were closed, but enough were open that we were able to spend an hour buying souvenirs and gifts.  I had a headache and was still a little groggy after my nap, so we found a bench under a shade tree in the central square.  While just sitting there, an older lady walking her dog stopped by and started chatting for a while (by this time, it was like, the fourth time on the trip this had happened... is that what happens in small towns?)

The building that houses the Double Eagle restaurant is haunted... or so they say.  That meant that My-Sugar-Na just HAD to eat dinner in that building.  The Double Eagle was a little more highfalutin than we were dressed (or financed) for, but luckily they have a restaurant within the restaurant, named Peppers on the Plaza.  While seating next to the fountain and looking at the menu, I made a quick check and found that this restaurant could also be found on Restaurant.com... I ended up saving about $15 while noshing on chips and salsa!

The menu was mainly Mexican, however their special that evening was a Homemade Meatloaf. Now let's do some figurin', shall we?  My-Sugar-Na does not like spicy food.  My-Sugar-Na is in a restaurant called Peppers while New Mexico.  What do you think happened next?

Well, she did order the meatloaf, and sumunagun there were NO peppers in it.  As a matter of fact, she claimed it the "second best meatloaf ever".  When she mentioned that to the waitress to pass along to the chef, the waitress asked whose was better.  When My-Sugar-Na mentioned that Wolfgang Puck's restaurant at the MGM Grand was better, the waitress said that if they had to take second place, Puck is a good one to be just below.

I had ordered a combo plate, which included a green chile enchilada, a cheese-filled poblano pepper and a red chile steak taco. My meal was good, but I still wasn't feeling all that well, so in fairness I can't rate it.  My wife rates Peppers on the Plaza a 5 on the scale of 1 to 5 chefs that don't feel the need to put peppers into every dish.

Still feeling dizzy, my wife drove back to the hotel, and we spent the rest of the night watching Chopped (and with me sucking on Gatorade, as we both agreed that I may have been dehydrated).  I mention - a lot, to many people - that vacations aren't for resting, they are for go-go-going.  But after four days of go-go-going, it was kinda nice to stretch out on the couch and relax.

Wednesday, May 27th -

I am going to contradict myself a bit.  As the months passed while preparing for El Paso, I was really struggling with "things to do" in that part of the country... so much so that even though she had a plane ticket, My-Sugar-Na really wasn't too interested in going.  Along the way, she mentioned that the only thing she'd be really interested in was Carlsbad Caverns, but with the original schedule, we were going to leave on Wednesday and there wouldn't be time.  When I suggested a month or so ago that we extend by a day, her eyes lit up.  From that moment forward, Wednesday would be "Carlsbad Caverns Day."  She got on-line and found that certain areas of the cave can only be seen on a guided tour, so for $8 per person, she booked us on that tour that started at Noon.

There is no interstate from El Paso to the national park, and I was concerned how long the 140 mile drive would take, so we left around 7:30 AM.

McDonalds Sausage McMuffins for breakfast.  I know McDonalds gets a bum rap among fast food places, and a really, really bad rap as an out-of-town meal choice.  But, McDonalds serves a purpose, and this was the purpose. Four value menu sausages, a dollar large diet soda, a dollar coffee that cost $1.39 (apparently dollar coffee cost more the closer they are to the coffee beans) hit the spot.  The sausages and the english muffins both tasted different... different suppliers, maybe?  Breakfast rated 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 cholesterol tests (note that is five times better than either hotel's breakfast).

Nothing to report on the drive.  And I mean nothing.  140 miles of driving on a two-lane road with a 75 MPH speed limit through the desert.  Occasionally we'd drive through a mountain pass to break up the monotony, but it seemed like we drove forever.  Apparently, its similar to driving on I-80 through Nebraska.

We arrived at 10:30 and we were told to meet at 11:30 for the tour, so we descended the 75 stories on an elevator and took a one-hour, self-guided tour. Carlsbad Caverns is an absolute awe-inspiring natural wonder.  However, once you wrap your head around how old the caves are, and that other than bats, no creature set foot in the caves for over 200,000 years before Jim White discovered them on accident in 1922... at that point, once you've seen one stalactite, you've seen them all.  We both agree that the guided tour was very much worth the $8, as the tour guide was a "caver" himself and he seemed to really, really appreciate the history. 

The best areas, by far, were the ones on the guided tour, but again, once you've seen one stalactite...

One point that hammered home the age of the caves was when the tour guide discussed that they had drilled into the rock to make a walking path in 1932.  They blew through an active area of cave, and the guide pointed out a new, forming stalactite that is 83 years old... and it was the size of a pimple.  Compare that to some of the columns that are 40 feet tall, and 20 feet in diameter; how old must those be?

We were in the caves from 11:30 to about 3:00, and had lunch in the cafe.

I was surprised that there was not one restaurant anywhere near the entrance to the park, and that the cafe was the only food option for miles.  I had a panini that had two pieces of salami and was swimming in vinegar.  I rate it 1.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 piles of bat guano.

On the way back, we stopped at some lookout points for the Guadalupe Mountain Range.

The drive back was slightly more exciting, and we headed for dinner.  Another Restaurant.com certificate was in hand for Tacos Chinampa...

We sat down and were given a basket of chips with three salsas.  The Pico de Gallo, usually the mildest, was quite spicy.  The other two salsas were far milder, but had a distinctly different flavor. I asked the waiter what those flavors were, but I don't speak Spanish, he did, and I have no idea what they were.  But the taste was great.  Too bad I can never replicate it.  This is a fast casual restaurant in a strip mall, but it was wonderful.


I ordered the Six-Pack of Tacos al Pastor, served with a navy bean soup and garnished with an avocado, onions and cilantro. This was a very Mexican dinner... the kind I was expecting of El Paso, and I wasn't disappointed.  I rate this a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 unpronounceable peppers.

Even though it was only about 8:30, it was our last evening so we decided to once again just relax in the hotel.  I turned on (what I thought) was a very interesting look at the Cuban Missle Crisis on PBS... while My-Sugar-Na fell asleep on the couch watching me watch it.

Thursday, May 28th

While driving back to the hotel on Wednesday, we drove past a place that looked like it might be a nice family restaurant for breakfast.  My-Sugar-Na said that we should try it.  And try it, we did.

Grandy's was another order-from-the-counter place.  That concerned me instantly.  And I was right to be concerned.  I ordered the pancakes and bacon, and the cashier slid a drawer out from under the counter and pulled three pancakes out with a tongs and put them on my tray. He then turned around and grabbed 20 pieces of bacon (you'd think that would be a good thing) from a container on a ledge behind him.  My wife ordered The Feast, which came with scrambled eggs pulled from a different drawer next to the pancake drawer, two hockey pucks (oh, those were sausages?) and biscuits and gravy.  I have to admit, I had walked away with my pre-garbage that I didn't see from where he grabbed that stuff.  While walking away, it occurred to me that many of our El Paso dining experiences were cafeteria style.  I don't know if that's how they prefer things down there, or if it was our dumb luck to choose those places. 

Breakfast was as bad as I described.  I forced down the pancakes (I mean, I did pay for them) and the cold bacon that just thick enough to use as a flat washer, if needed.  My wife did the same.  This meal rated a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5 packs of impossibly hard margarine.

As my wife grabbed the tray to throw it away, she asked me "Do you have the car keys?"  I didn't. She then got to meet the rest of the eggs and gravy a second time as she did the garbage dive. At least they didn't fall too far down the garbage bag (though I theorize that the garbage bag was mostly empty because nobody eats there).

After packing - and priding ourselves that we spent five days on vacation without going to a casino - we headed towards the Sunland Casino just across the Texas/New Mexico border.  I did want to go the long way, so I could take a specific photo.

All week, I'd seen this big, red X statue on the Mexican side of the border.  I wanted to get a good photo of it, and so we went back to the border highway.

The photo is of La Equis, a statue just across the border in Ciudad Juarez.  It was built in honor of the former Mexican president Benito Juarez, who is apparently most famous for changing the spelling of Mejico to Mexico.  Does the X statue make more sense now?

We got to the casino, and as bowlers got to spin the big wheel and we each won $10 in free play.

45 minutes (and a stunningly large loss) later, we were on our way to the last meal in El Paso, to use the last Restaurant.com certificate.  By this time, the temperature was in the low-90s and our car had been in the sun all day.... and it hadn't cooled off really well.  Eventually, we found El Chihuahuaitas Tacos Al Pastor located in a strip mall near the airport.  Make that the un-airconditioned El Chihuahuaitas.

We were seated (nice!) and greeted by the waitress (who might have been an owner) with chips and salsa... and one was the same salsa as the night before.  However, I didn't bother asking what the flavor was.  I made a passing glance at the menu, but I knew what I wanted... it was in the restaurant name.  I ordered the tacos al pastor, and the waiteress told me that they didn't have al pastor that day. How, just how, can you not have the one ingredient that you name your restaurant after?  I ended up with barbacoa, and the tacos were very good.  But it wasn't what I wanted.  And I was uncomfortably hot.

Before the waitress came with the bill, I showed her the Restaurant.com certificate, and she says that they no longer accept them.  I was stunned, as I had bought it just two days earlier.  I asked why they were still for sale and she shrugged and walked away.  It was only for $5 off, so it wasn't bank breaking (well, a little bank breaking after that casino experience) so I got my $5 back by stiffing her of a tip.  You don't screw with a man and his coupons.  The food I had rated as a 4, but I bet the al pastor would have bumped it higher.  The experience (stifling hot restaurant, out of the food I wanted and wouldn't take my certificate) drops the grade all the way to 1 on a scale of 1 to 5 ceiling fans.

We drove to the airport and were stunned at the line for the skycap outside (which was shorter than the inside line for a ticket agent) so we dragged the bowling balls over and stood in line outside, in the sun, for about 40 minutes.  Good thing we got to the airport earlier than we normally do.

The flight to Phoenix was (thankfully) uneventful and we sat in the airport wondering what do for the three hour layover.  We were on the C concourse and started walking aimlessly towards the B concourse in the hopes we'd find somewhere nice to sit down and kill some time.  No sooner to we get to the moving walkway and a indoor golf cart driver offered us a ride.  We said what we were looking for and he said that Cowboy Ciao would be perfect, so he drove us practically forever to that restaurant.  As he waited his tip, my wife pulled up the menu on-line, and though it was a nice place to sit down, we really weren't interested in $30 meals, so we checked the airport website for other options.  We settled on New York Pizza Department, which, sigh, was back from where we tipped the guy to drive us away from.

We walked to the pizza place, and it was another order-from-the-counter place.

Airport pizza, what do you expect?  It was fine, not great, and the buffalo wings were garden variety (medium must have meant a quick toss of the wing in the sauce, because hot was complete immersion in sauce).  Rated a 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 packets of parmesan cheese, downgraded mostly for not being a sit-down restaurant.

Another (thankfully) uneventful flight home, and as we awaited our baggage, had the standard "I prefer vacation, but its good to be back home" thoughts... until we walked outside.  At midnight, it was 68 degrees with a 65 dew point.

At that point, I missed being in the desert.

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