Saturday, August 27, 2011

A German in America

It was late Monday night that Sabine arrived from Munich. Ever since, every day has brought new experiences for her, and from what I gather, she's loving it. On Tuesday I gave her a tour of Lubbock—on the bikes, of course. I had fixed up one of my 'cross bikes, and together we rode about 25 miles to the campus and the Depot District, on the way stopping by here and there to chat with friends and acquaintances. Over a lunch at Triple Js I introduced her to the crappy microbrews as served by this lackluster establishment. Alas, that's the best we have to offer in the Hub City! A visit to the American Wind Power Center took the place of the usual trek to the pathetic Prairie Dog Town that the city used to tout as a major attraction.

Sabine enjoys some shade in 100-degree temperatures
Wednesday started with a 35-mile ride to what I lovingly call the End of the World, a road that T-intersects the dirt county line trail in far west Lubbock county. Now Sabine knows what I mean when I tell her about a windy ride or a hot ride, or both. That evening, I had invited about 20 friends for a potluck dinner in the backyard, and we all had a grand time. Unfortunately, nobody but I was more than politely interested in the radish that Sabine sliced into curly strings with a tool made just for such purposes. I suppose not everybody has Bavarian genes.
Keebler LOVES beer, and Carl loves to grill

Sabine trying to impress the crowd with her radish-slicing skills
On Thursday morning we fired up the Miata and headed toward New Mexico. Sabine was less than impressed with the general run-downness of all those little, dried-up towns along US 84 on the Texas side of the state line—one can only think Grapes of Wrath when passing through the likes of Anton, Sudan, or Farwell. The drought sure has taken its toll on an already impoverished part of the state. Nevertheless, when we made it to Clovis, we stopped for a true cultural capsule: Joe's Boot Shop, the biggest boot store in the known universe. Neither one of us had ever seen such a vast assortment of western paraphernalia!

Albuquerque, where we spent two nights, was its usual self: A tidy city (mostly) with great restaurants and microbreweries that offers outdoor entertainment opportunities. Why can't Lubbock have a place like, for example, Marble Brewery where not only outstanding beer is on offer but an eclectic collage of locals can enjoy free music? Sabine very quickly picked up on the different vibe here. While in New Mexico's largest city (which isn't exactly huge!) we had dinner at Il Vicino's (one of my longtime favorites) and El Pinto, as suggested by Liz as one of the best Mexican food places. I have to say, the ambiance was second to none, but their red chile was several levels inferior to what was served up for breakfast in the Hilton.

Sabine could not believe that we were carded at Marble Brewery!
On Friday, we took the aerial tramway up to Sandia Peak.The view during the 15-minute flight is spectacular—at times one is 1,000 feet off the ground! Once we were an extra 1,500 meters above the city (and its heat) we hiked along the crest trail and picnicked with a superbly expansive view of much of western New Mexico. If you've never taken the tramway to Sandia Peak, consider doing so next time you're in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque's aerial tramway is one of the longest in the world

The view from above
For culture, we visited (once again upon suggestion of Liz) the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. How Judy and I managed to miss this gem of a living museum is beyond me as the IPCC is an absolute must! It just so happened that during our visit a dance demonstration was taking place, and we learned a lot about pueblo culture and how family traditions play an important part in preserving the heritage. The youngest dancer was 4 years old, and he was as serious as any of his much older siblings. Special exhibits and a permanent collection of items from all of New Mexico's 19 pueblos allow visitors to get a little bit of an idea about the life of the Native American pouplation. Absolutely fascinating, and we wished we'd had more time.

Native Americans performing at the IPCC
While museums are interesting, nothing beats driving through this part of the world in a convertible and seeing the landscape and how man has integrated himself. Instead of taking I-25 up to Santa Fe, we took the detour route up to Jemez Springs and over to Los Alamos, through the Jemez Mountains. The colors of New Mexico ... well, we all know how the light has influenced many an artist. Entering the Jemez valley, the red rock formations stood in stark contrast to the green junipers and the deep-blue sky. Sabine was completely mesmerized by the landscape and the sights. We drove though the pueblo of Jemez, seeing it with somewhat different eyes thanks to our visit to the IPCC.

Red sandstone in the Jemez valley

By the time we entered the Valles Caldera National Preserve, both landscape and sky had changed significantly. The mountains become almost alpine in nature, and we had watched the blackness of a huge thunderstorm over those mountains. Thank goodness we had stopped to eat some Indian fried bread and had just been slow-going, and thus we missed the violent hail and torrential rain that had torn through the area just half an hour earlier. The wildfires that had raged in this area just to the west of Los Alamos and the national labs back in May have reduced the hillside forest to black, dead stalks, and the erosion that this one thunderstorm  caused was a reminder about how a wildfire has tremendous aftereffects as well. We encountered even a snowplow that cleared the mud and rocks off the road!
After the wildfires and after the rain
We spent our third and final night in New Mexico in Santa Fe, the state capital. We didn't get there until sometime in the late afternoon, and after the long drive we spent some quality time over a well-poured beer at Second Street, one of my (many) favorite pubs.
The German hop-head shows off a perfectly poured IPA at Second Street

While sitting on the patio, the Rail Runner, the new light-rail service connecting SF and Albuquerque, drove by. And when we checked in at the Hilton, we were welcomed with a magnificent upgrade to the best accommodations in the house, the two-bedroom casita which is almost as big as my house and is located in the historic stables of the Ortiz family compound. Thick adobe walls, wooden beams, a luscious south-west-themed interior—it was reminiscent of the upgrade in Versailles earlier this year, and it was for a freebie (points stay) as well. Sabine and I ate it up! I mean, how often does one stay in such digs in a 400-year-old mansion and doesn't have to pay a penny? Life, indeed, is good.

Saint Francis of Assisi keeps watch over Santa Fe

So, after a wonderful evening on the town and a final stroll around the plaza in the morning (after another red chile breakfast) we loaded the Miata for a final time with our few things and headed back to Lubbock. It was like a movie being played backward now: First the mountains recede, then there are fewer and fewer junipers, the skies become even bigger, the ground cover changes from green to brown, and then arrive the windmills and the cotton fields and the vast heat of West Texas. Lubbock had us back at 6:15 p.m., after a five-hour drive—just in time for a wonderful meal with Alan and Martha after their trip to Peru.

And now we have a day in Lubbock before flying out to Jamaica tomorrow for a week of R&R. No, you don't hear anybody complaining here.


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