day 18: gallup to phoenix.

Gallup was, let's say, "in the right part of the batting order" on this trip. I know this sounds unbelievable, but we'd had too much Mexican and Southwestern food by this point in the trip. We'd looked at too many crappy flea markets and overpriced antique shops. So we went to the Navajo Flea Market in Gallup.

We didn't eat anything good and we didn't see anything we wanted to buy either seriously or jokingly. But what I'm saying is that we didn't really want or expect any of these things anymore by this point so it was OK.

What we did see were Navajo. And if we hadn't been so so tired by this point, we would've immediately Googled things like "Navajo why all same eyeglasses" and "Navajo why heavy metal shirts" and "Navajo diabetes rate".

You know, you hear things from people you know who live out here. And not living out here yourself and having no occasion to encounter Native Americans in your usual holiday business, you just kind of casually and gradually build a profile or dossier that makes up your impression of a people, without ever having met any of them in real life.

"They've got plenty of money, they just don't manage it very well" is something I've heard repeatedly. My first-hand encounter didn't look like mismanaged money. Well I'm not even sure what that looks like, but I'd imagine something more along the lines of Die Antwoord or some other psychoghetto rap crew.

This looks like depression. Serious, polite, semi-embarrassed maybe. More on this when I can make full sentences.


day 17, santa fe to gallup: meow wolf, no meow wolf; a very very good tomato sandwich; a new "car", worst pizza ever.

Morning came early on Day 17, and it's a darn good thing it did, because this is the day our rental car finally decided to stop starting for good.

Nouf had just finished pre-consoling us with one of the best tomato sandwiches I've ever had, and I've had a lot of great tomato sandwiches. As legend has it, I was responsible for introducing Nouf to the concept of the simple tomato sandwich back in 2007 or so via my eGullet foodblog (a concept for which I deserve zero credit), so this was a delicious callback that almost got us through our rental car crisis.

There we are being towed. Of course having your rental car break down on an epic, epic road trip means that you get a free upgrade to a bigger car, right? Yessssss:

A 15-passenger van. I made Nelson drive because I couldn't handle not knowing how big I was that day. Our drive to Gallup was uneventful except for the part where we passed the old historic part of Gallup and drove 10 more miles to our exit ramp Red Roof Inn because someone named VDuck hadn't finished doing his Gallup research and just booked "something".

It was mostly OK, not being in Gallup Proper. Gallup Improper was scary enough. I bought some giant cans of beer at the roughest-looking convenience store I've ever seen, and we took baths and ate the worst delivery pizzas of our lives. And then fell asleep to something apocalyptic on the Discovery Channel, images of the end of the world flickering over every exposed surface until blessed relief closed our eyeses.

day 16, santa fe: absence of farmers market; donuts/coins; the shed; strawberry jalapeño donuts and mole: pumpkin posole to go.

This was the kind of day that you're not exactly sure how you got through when you look back. For example, did I really hop out of bed and, still cradling my first cup of coffee, dash out to the "Santa Fe Farmers Market" with Nouf?

I put "Santa Fe Farmers Market" in quotes because as you can see below, there is no Santa Fe Farmers Market in the spot where we went. This is where it's supposed to be. We had the wrong day. It was funny, and fortuitous, because had it been there, who knows how the rest of the day would've evolved.

So we went on to part two of the plan, which involved making fun of every Papyrus-fonted sign we saw and then correctly choosing between Donuts and Coins, which somehow allowed us to pick up white chocolate bark at this chocolate place whose name eludes me but that I shall deduce soon. I myself split off and made up a part three of the plan by picking up awesome-sounding things at Whoo's Donuts, since we were there and all.

I then of course dressed up as a life-sized poop emoji and the second part of the day began. Nelson and Nouf and I would go to Whole Foods, because Nelson had never seen one. Then we would score one tiny veggie taco each from El Parasol (something like these), with salsa you should sip like gazpacho, and eat them in the car on the way to the Santa Fe Spirits Tasting Room, which in my mind will always be most famous for being located next to Santa Facials (not joking). a name which is just begging for Google Trouble.

Then Peter showed up in an Uber, he seemed as confused as anybody about it. Then, The Shed. Then...Xmas ornament shopping? In which I told Nelson to buy something which I was convinced was a chile pepper, only to find out in the light of day it was a pickle. We also met the future mayor of Santa Fe with his ventriloquist's dummy.

Then Draft Station while Nouf picked up some pumpkin posole to go from The Plaza Cafe. Then homeward with The Highwaymen. Then donut/mole experiments. Then pumpkin posole, possible Food Highlight of Trip 2016.

day 15: taos to santa fe, taos pueblo, the high road.

Above: $5 organic half-and-half. This was one of the longer and more trying days of the middle section of Trip 2016. But you wouldn't know it from the pictures. The extortionately priced coffee creamer above was only one component of a "quick stop for essentials" the night before at Cid's Food Market, which made me wonder exactly who could afford to shop there. There was no jar of peanut butter cheaper than $5. Pretty sure our loaf of bread was $5. It was like a dollar store but, you know, a five dollar store.

Anyway, bitch bitch bitch. I sound bitchy. Below: Taos Pueblo, which generated more questions than answers. Who gets all the admission money? What's up with the pile of recycled graveyard headstones? Why does the grandma making our "green chile" ask everyone if they want beans in their chile or not? Why do people who don't want certain things in their food not know this until the food shows up or it is otherwise too late to do anything about it (pueblo grandma to customer, "So you want everything on this, onions, beans, salsa?" Customer: "Yes please, everything." One minute later: "Actually could you hold the onions on that?" Grandma: "Sorry sweetie, I already put them in back when you said you wanted them," Customer: "Oh, well, I guess that'll be OK then,")?

Still bitching. Regardless, overall impression of Taos Pueblo: you don't need to go there, we did it for you.

After Taos Pueblo and a brave lunch pictured above of "vegetarian green chile" and Pueblo fry bread (this version being the tastiest fry bread we encountered), we were finally ready to leave Taos. Oh right, after we spent an hour at a vintage/antiques store. And after we had coffee and picked up a weapon-sized red chile burrito to go at Taos Diner. And after we stopped at an incredible roadside gift shop? metal animal market? to buy a yard flamingo for my parents. Not joking.

I  sound like I'm still bitching, but these post-Taos Pueblo moments in Taos were my favorite of our brief brief stop there. We spent time in three great local businesses and had real-seeming contact with real-seeming people who lived there and seemed to like being there and were also open to having a real-seeming experience with us. So: good save, team.

Then, we hit the High Road. Or tried to: the plan was to take the High Road down to Chimayo or something and then veer off to Lake Santa Cruz to check out the overlook. I had a vague idea of how to get there and a crappy PDF file saved to my phone...Google Maps would do the rest!

Wellllll.....that didn't work out. A couple things did go right that afternoon: 1) most importantly probably, the car that would die two days later managed to eventually start again every time I turned it off in a terribly remote location with no cellular service and no passing cars, this desolate roadside cemetery pictured below for example, and: 2) speaking of no cellular service thus no navigational assistance, at a certain point all I was left with as a navigational aid was this PDF file that wouldn't render all the way. You could kind of tell what state it was.

I had a faint impulse about something I was pretty sure was called County Road 98, but we juuuuuust couldn't seem to find it even though it was supposedly right under our noses. So we tried some other county roads, which in this county were one-lane gravel paths that reminded me a bit of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.

Anyway, despite some extended stretches of 5mph driving while squinting at my iPhone compass to make sure we would eventually hit civilization again...we found the lake. And all in all, it was a beautiful drive, especially at precisely this time of year, where the autumn leaves are fully exploded into burnt yellows and crisp oranges and will also be gone from the trees within a few weeks. But our mild "that's it?" response to it made me wonder what we would have thought if we'd done the whole trip in reverse, so the spectacularly extraterrestrialness of Utah would've been the big finale instead of the early scene-stealer.

We were also just tired, and Nelson was still sick, and tired of being sick. After kind of seeing the lake, we decided to hit one more scenic stop before Santa Fe, Nambé Falls, but our intelligence didn't know that they were closed for the season. And at this point I think that we didn't yet know that if you commit a crime (like speeding, or trespassing) on Native American land in America, the tribal police will take you back to the police station on the reservation...it's a different police force and different set of laws altogether. Which sounds really really interesting! And probably a sure way to "get off schedule."

So, not knowing this, we picked up some beer and I tried to fill Nelson in on American drinking laws, and how your car is one of the "safest" places you can drink as an American teenager because you're less likely to attract attention in a moving vehicle that is obeying traffic laws than just about any other public space.

Then we arrived at Peter and Nouf's and they proceeded to shower us with spiced pecans, mezcal, and mushroom tacos. And guacamole, and some corn business I need a reminder about, and a pepita salsa, and, well...it was quite a shower.