Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mount Carmel Junction, Utah!

     Mount Carmel Junction!
     "Where did we dine yesterday evening, before we zonked out at the little motel?  I cannot remember, but the food sure was great!" ... 
     When traveling by car to distant vacation destinations, all too often there seems to be an unexpected place where good food was found, which ends up being forgotten about soon after.  Maybe it has something to do with driver fatigue or spending endless miles staring at the landscape till it all becomes a blur.  Maybe the dining destination was forgotten because after getting a belly full of food, the only thing that matters is finding a motel with the vacancy sign lit up, before drowsiness turns into deep sleep.
     What is even weirder is when a few years later while traveling on vacation, just by dumb luck, the same restaurant that was forgotten about is inadvertently visited again.  Feelings of eerie déjà vu arise and one cannot help but to say, "You know something?  I cannot remember when, but I think that we have dined here before and if I recall correctly, the food was pretty good!" 

     Mount Carmel Junction is one of those places that people can pass through several times in a lifetime, yet remembering the details about this place is not easy to do.  Maybe it is because Mount Carmel Junction is located near several National Parks and travelers are totally focused on what they will be doing at these destinations while on vacation.      
     The first time that I stopped at Carmel Junction was back in 2004.  I was moving to Las Vegas from back east and I decided to take the scenic route west of the Rockies.  I just got through driving over 2,000 miles and everything was a blur.  Tired and hungry, I stopped at a place in Mount Carmel Junction for coffee and pie, before cutting through Zion National Park to a motel in Hurricane, Utah.  
     Needless to say, the next day I completely forgot the name of the of the town and I did not have the foggiest idea what the name of the restaurant was.  All that I knew was that I liked the place.  
     Several years later in 2011, I did a similar drive from Chicago when I decided to attend college in Las Vegas.  I did not realize that I was retracing the same route through Zion that I had taken many years before.  I pulled up to a restaurant in Carmel Junction and déjà vu struck.  It was then that I remembered the great pie and coffee from the previous trip. 
     Oddly enough, after getting to Las Vegas I completely forgot the name of the little town in Utah that had great food.  It was just like some kind of a forgetfulness curse.  Fortunately I took a few photos while I was there and after spending some time searching for information on the internet, the name Mount Carmel Junction was finally etched in stone!

     After completing 4 years of college in Vegas, I did a little bit of traveling in the Southwest during the summer of 2015.  One trip involved visiting the Grand Canyon, then taking the northern loop through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and Kanab, Utah.  This route runs west to Zion National Park, then south back to Las Vegas.  
     This time I remembered Mount Carmel Junction was next to Zion and planned the trip so I would pass through in the afternoon.  After driving a few hundred miles, a slice of "Ho-Made Pie" at the old Thunderbird Restaurant sounded pretty good.  Since I was on vacation, a craft beer sounded pretty good too.  An ice cold beer, a cup of chili and a slice of Thunderberry Pie may seem like an odd combination, but one must remember that I was a college student at that time and anything goes!   
     After the Southwestern travel fling of the summer of 2015 was over, I accepted a seasonal job in Wyoming.  I decided to take the scenic route through Utah, so I could visit Capitol Reef National Park along the way north.  
     Amazingly, I actually looked forward to the opportunity to pass through Mount Carmel Junction once again!  It is funny how Mount Carmel Junction went from a déjà vu vacation dining destination to being a planned event.  Of course after driving the extra miles for a good meal, I was so tired that the only thing that I craved after the long drive was pie and coffee.  All I can say is that the homemade mile high Banana Cream Pie at The Golden Hills Restaurant in Mount Carmel Junction sure hit the spot!

     Of course there is more to Mount Carmel Junction than just great pie.  There are some nifty tourist traps and antique shops going north on U.S. Highway 89 toward Orderville.  There are also several rock collector shops that feature local gemstones, petrified wood and dinosaur age fossils.  Outdoor excursion guides and camping outfitters can be found in this area too.  
     Zion and the Pink Sand Dunes are next door and Bryce Canyon is just up the roads a spell, so the location of Mount Carmel Junction is perfect for travelers coming from any direction.  This little town has 2 restaurants that specialize in great homemade pie.  To a weary traveler this is like a dream come true, because everybody knows that pie makes everything better!      

Saturday, July 23, 2016

New Mexico Scenic Drives ~ I-40 & Route 66!

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     New Mexico Scenic Drives ~ I-40 & Route 66!
     Traveling from east to west on I-40 through New Mexico is the fastest way to get to many National Parks and scenic destinations in the Southwest.  Because of the desolate vast expanses of this region, the speed limit on I-40 is 75 miles per hour.  This means that the travel time that it takes to cover the long distance through New Mexico is somewhat bearable.  
     It can take nearly a day to go from one end of the state to the other on I-40.  Most of the scenic landscape along this highway is a flat desert that stretches out forever with a few distant mesas.  There is not much of anything to break up the monotonous scenery when traversing the eastern half of the state.  Toward Albuquerque in the center of the state, the long drive on I-40 West starts to get interesting.  The Rocky Mountain terrain takes over and there are some nice majestic views.  As one travels further west toward the border of Arizona, the red and orange sandstone rock outcrops paint the landscape with classic western views.   
     Historic Route 66 parallels I-40 all the way through New Mexico.  In fact, there are still a few sections of Route 66 that are old dirt roads from before the mid 1930's.  Yes, Route 66 was a New Mexico dirt trail long before it became a glamorized paved road.
     Because the distances are so vast in New Mexico, many of the old original Route 66 wayside stops have vanished over the years, because there was not a sufficient population to support the local businesses.  In some places along "The Mother Road" in New Mexico, the only thing that remains is a few dilapidated buildings and a concrete slab where gas pumps used to be.  After seeing the dusty remnants of the past, it is easy to imagine how the livelihood of so many people were devastated when Route 66 was bypassed by I-40.
      Just like in Arizona, modern New Mexico Route 66 tourism is still thriving in some small towns along I-40.  A good old fashioned diner restaurant or western style steakhouse can be found in nearly any old town along Route 66.  Everything from RV Parks to old fashioned motels and "cheesy" 1950's style tourist traps can be found in places where the Route 66 lifestyle still lives on.  Albuquerque is world famous for its "Mother Road" heritage and this city has a website devoted to everything Route 66.  
     Toward the western end of New Mexico, there are many Navaho and Zuni trading posts along both I-40 and Route 66 that are worth checking out.  These trading posts offer an opportunity to purchase priceless mementos of a once in a lifetime vacation out west.  The trading posts offer a vast selection of Navaho rugs, pottery and works of fine art.  Navaho and Zuni silver and turquoise jewelry is what many of the native trading posts are famous for.  The craftsmanship of the local silversmiths is exquisite and the jewelry has meaningful design.
    Of course quality commands a price and you get what you pay for.  I wanted to get a wool blanket with a Southwestern style design for a long time.  After visiting several trading posts along I-40, I finally found one that I really liked at Indian City.  The fancy bright color Southwestern style blanket (in the photo above) may have cost a few dollars more than average, but the quality was great and the design work is timeless.  Now when somebody says, "Where did you get the cool looking Indian Blanket?" ... I can tell them a little something about New Mexico!
     There are more opportunities to experience some cultural exchange along the way when traveling west on I-40.  Many western tribal nations have gotten into the modern hospitality industry and there are a few tribal resort hotels and casinos in the western end of New Mexico along I-40.  Some of these resorts are the closest accommodations to nearby Native American Heritage Sites and National Monuments.  
     By the time that I was approaching the border of Arizona, it was a few hours after dark.  Hunger started setting in, so I decided to find accommodations in the town of Church Rock by the Navaho Nation.  As luck would have it, the Navaho Fire Rock Casino was on Route 66 in Church Rock and as everybody knows, a casino usually has a restaurant that is guaranteed to be open late.  
     As it turned out, Cheii's Restaurant in the casino was having its grand opening after a recent remodel.  The new menu featured many Native American food specialties from around the local Four Corners region.  If my memory is correct, I tried the Four Corners Vegetable Stew.  The Four Corners Stew was made with local Navaho farm sourced squash, beans, maize and sweet potatoes.  This old fashioned Navaho vegetable stew helped to revitalize my dulled senses after the long drive.  
     After the great meal at Cheii's Restaurant, I played casino card games for a few hours and made enough money to top off the tank with gas before calling it a night.  The visit to the Fire Rock Casino turned out to be a memorable Route 66 experience!
    As one can see, traveling west on I-40 through New Mexico does not have to be a long boring drive.  All it takes is getting off the four lane expressway and doing a little exploring on good old historic Route 66 to perk things up.  Stretching the legs while doing some shopping at a trading post helps too and nearly anything purchased will be a conversation starter for many years to come!      

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Boot Hill Gunfighters ~ Dodge City, Kansas!

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     Boot Hill Gunfight ~ Dodge City, Kansas!
     The Boot Hill Museum offers a chance to experience the history of Dodge City first hand.  The Boot Hill Gunfighters put on re-enactment shows that are guaranteed to thrill visitors of all ages!  Everyday during the summer season, the good guys and outlaws take the law into their own hands and settle things with some good old six gun justice.
     The gunfight at high noon is as rough and tumble as it gets.  Just like in the old Dodge City western movies, the entire dispute starts as an all out brawl that spills out of a saloon onto the street.  There is some humor mixed in between the punches, till a few shots are fired, then the action starts to get serious enough to keep the spectators on the edge of their seats.
     By the time the dust settles after the big shootout annihilation, it is difficult to figure out who the winners and losers are, because so much blood was shed.  The sound of silence after the big Dodge City gunfight sure is ominous enough to make members of the audience wonder if this is really how Dodge City was back in the old days.  Once again, Dodge City did not have the reputation of being "the most wicked little town in the west" for no reason at all!
    The Boot Hill Museum offers several package deal options for individuals, families and groups.  Paying general admission just to see a few exhibits is okay, but it is better to plan the whole day around the Dodge City experience.
     Paying the full admission price with all the extras includes a cowboy meal in a ranch style a dining hall and a variety show that takes place in the saloon.  There is even a show for the kids.  Special catered events, group parties and weddings can also be booked.
     So, saddle up and ride tall into Dodge City and get ready for one of the best old west style gunfights that there is!  No matter what the expenses are, it all goes for a good cause, because all proceeds help to support the Boot Hill Museum project!            

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Boot Hill Museum - Dodge City, Kansas!

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     Boot Hill Museum - Dodge City!
     Mentioning Dodge City in a conversation does conjure up images of the old west.  Part of the reason is because of the Gunsmoke television western series from back in the mid 1900's.  Gunsmoke was about the life and times of Marshall Matt Dillon in Dodge City.  Just like with most Hollywood western productions, Gunsmoke romanticized Dodge City and the west.  In fact, Gunsmoke was filmed just about everywhere in the Southwest except Kansas, with most outdoor scenes filmed in Kanab, Utah.  All it takes is looking at the old Gunsmoke TV series to see that Dodge City was not in Kansas anymore, according to Hollywood!
     Hollywood may have romanticized Dodge City, but the reality is that the old west town of Dodge City was as rough and tough as it gets.  Dodge City, Kansas, began as a U.S Army fort that was built to protect the Santa Fe Trail.  The original fort was overrun by natives and it was abandoned.
     During the years leading up to the Civil War, the U.S. Army role in protecting the Santa Fe Trail floundered and the civilian settlement of Dodge City took up the slack.  After the Civil War, the Native American Wars quickly reached a peak during westward pioneer expansion and the U.S. Army resumed its presence in the southwestern Kansas region with the intent of keeping the Santa Fe Trail safe.
     The post Civil War years is when Dodge City achieved its famous notoriety in wild west history.  Not only was Dodge City a Santa Fe Trail stronghold, this town was the final destination for many longhorn cattle drives.  As one can imagine, Dodge City turned into a haven for sin filled vices and lawlessness.  Soon this frontier settlement earned the reputation of being "The Most Wicked Little Town In The West!"
     The original old west style wooden buildings of Dodge City burnt down long ago around the time that this town was entering the modern age of automobiles.  Old brick buildings still stand along the main street area near U.S. Highway 50 and an old steam engine from a bygone era has found a permanent home at a depot on the Boot Hill Museum grounds.  The western cowboy heritage is still very much alive in Dodge City and this town just happens to be the home of the Cowboy Hall Of Fame.
     Much more history has taken place in Dodge City than can be expressed in a few paragraphs in today's article.  The best way to become familiar with this old west destination is to visit the Boot Hill Museum.  Just like many western towns, "Boot Hill" refers to the local cemetery, where most cowboys died with their boots on.  Yes, the Boot Hill Museum actually is located on the old Dodge City cemetery grounds.
     Everything Dodge City and more is on display at the Boot Hill Museum.  The Boot Hill Museum probably has the most extensive collection of pristine condition old west relics that there is.  The interesting thing about the museum is that the exhibits are displayed in wooden shop buildings and storefronts located in a reproduction of the original Dodge City.  Thats right!  A 3/4 scale full reproduction of good old Dodge City was built on the Boot Hill Museum grounds.  All that visitors have to do is walk down the wooden sidewalk and step through any door to enter the old wild west as it was!
     The Boot Hill Museum is more than a collection of old west exhibits.  Stage shows are performed at the saloon and it would not be Dodge City unless there are a few gunfights each day.  Old west actors re-enact a classic good guys versus the bad guys gunslinging shootout everyday.  The action gets fast and furious in this crowd pleasing event.  A followup article about the staged gunfight will be published real soon, so stay tuned!
     The Boot Hill Museum - Dodge City is located in western Kansas on Highway 50.  Dodge City is near the border of Colorado, New Mexico and the Oklahoma-Texas Panhandle, so one might say that this old historic town is a great place to start a vacation tour of the Southwest.  All that one has to do is follow the Santa Fe Trail west from here to run into one historic destination after another!