Friday, May 26, 2017

I Deserve a Medal

Our trip to Colorado and New Mexico last week was a celebration of 40 years of marriage for Donna and me. Actually, our 40th anniversary is today, but we had to take the trip early due to obligations here in Angelo.

I had just completed my student teaching assignment when Donna and I were married in the small side chapel of the First United Methodist Church in Conroe, Texas, Donna's hometown. For the next 2 years, we lived in a small cabin outside Huntsville while I worked on my MA degree and taught freshman English classes at the university in their fellowship program. From there, we've traveled far and wide, living mostly in West Texas but also working abroad a few years in the 1980s. It's been an interesting journey.

Yep, we done been married for 40 years. I must be a saint for putting up with that old woman for so many years. She's one lucky gal. But I'm getting kind of used to her now, so I guess I'll just keep her for another 40.

I wish all of you many happy years of marriage as well. I'm afraid that marriage as an institution is on the decline. I still believe in it, though; I believe in the commitment that it requires to make a marriage work. I believe in the trust that a couple builds over the years. I believe in the team work that a marriage requires.

I guess I'll take the old woman out for lunch today. I believe she deserves a good hamburger on a special day like today. I wonder if I have any coupons.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bronco Billy's

We really enjoyed our recent trip, and we really enjoyed our time in Cripple Creek. Even though I mentioned our stay at Bronco Billy's in a previous post, I wanted to go back and provide more detail.

We spent 3 nights at Bronco Billy's. When we checked in at the hotel desk, we were greeted warmly and friendly. The clerk asked if we had player's cards; we said "no" and asked if we needed them before checking in. She replied that she could issue us cards. The hotel found that to be more convenient than sending customers to the player's club. Now, how many casinos do you know that provide this type of service. Imagine, trying to make things easier for the customer rather than the establishment! After issuing our cards, she then presented us with a rebate voucher, a coupon for 2 free meals at either Baja Billy's or the Home Café, and then 2 coupons for 1 free breakfast at the Home Café. All of these were given to us for each night of our stay; in other words, we were able to eat free twice each day during our stay.

The rebate voucher was a nice comp. Our individual accounts were linked together. As a couple, all we needed was to acquire 250 points a day for a $10 cash rebate and 500 points a day for a $20 rebate. We were given one of these vouchers for each night we stayed at the hotel. By my calculations, each point required $4 coin-in, so it was no problem for us to get 500 points daily. As a result, we received $20 cash rebate each day of our stay there.

We played mostly quarter NSUD, which is a 99.73% deuces wild game. There are probably a dozen or more of these games in the casino, mostly at the bar in the Tap Room or at another bar in another room 4 or so "levels" to the east (I don't know the name of this bar). Since the games are all progressive, they are actually worth more than 99.73%. The progressive feature enhances not only the royal flush but also quad deuces. I hit quad deuces twice, and the mini-jackpot netted me at least $250 each time. Donna hit the royal for over $1100 as well as quad deuces once. There are other progressive games at various denominations, but I don't play them so I did not note their pay tables.

Further, natural quads, including quad deuces, entitles the player to a wooden token they call a "Woody". When you get 4 such tokens, take them to the cashier and get $5. As if that is not enough, Tuesday is double points day, so points add up even faster.

The rooms at Bronco Billy's are old; after all, it is an old building. But they are well maintained and clean. Our room consisted of the bedroom, a dressing area consisting of the sink and closet, and the bathroom consisting of the toilet and tub. The bathroom was tight; we had to squeeze in to shut the door. But everything worked well. There was a microwave and mini-fridge, and the flat screen TV had plenty of channels. Even though we were above the casino and facing the street, we were not bothered by noise. One big lack is the insufficient number of electrical outlets, but this is to be expected in an older building.

Bedroom at Bronco Billy's. Window overlooks Bennett Avenue

This is what I call the "dressing area". To right is closet, while sink is to left. Notice that bath area is very small. Microwave and mini-fridge are out of sight on right.
Photo taken from door to dressing area. Flat-screen TV on wall on left. Windows overlook street.
We enjoyed eating at Bronco Billy's. We arrived on a Sunday and immediately went to Baja Billy's to get our free meal. The coupon entitled us to ANYTHING on the menu. I ordered the carne asada plate while Donna had the taco salad with chicken. We enjoyed these items very much. In addition, we enjoyed the chips and the 2 salsas and frijole dip that was served. We looked forward to returning; unfortunately, the restaurant was closed our remaining days (Monday - Wednesday) so we did not get to eat there again.

We ate breakfast each day at the Home Café. This is a small place, but full of character. The waitresses are old style; they could teach waitresses at fancy restaurants quite a bit about customer service. For example, our waitress one day noticed we were having trouble getting ketchup out of the bottle, and she brought a new bottle for us. Our drinks were always full and nothing else was lacking. They were efficient and friendly. There is a $.49 breakfast served each morning, and that is what the coupon allows. I ordered something different each day. The first day I ordered the omelet. The next day I ordered the pancakes. The last morning I tried the eggs. The omelet and egg orders came with hash browns and toast/biscuit. I preferred the toast to the biscuit. The pancake breakfast came with 2 pancakes that literally flowed to the edge of my plate. We also ate a late lunch at the Home Café.

In all honesty, the food at the Home Café is not great, but it is very decent and very filling. No, it is not gourmet food; it is down-home basic stick to your ribs food. And that is the way it should be in a casino like this.

The Tap Room was only open Sunday during our stay there, and that is a pity. Now, you can still play when it is closed, but there is no one tending bar when it is closed. The one day we played at that bar, we were able to order Dunkel beer on tap, and it was good. Dunkel is one of our favorite beers, and it is difficult to find. Of course, while playing, the beer is comped, so we are essentially able to drink free. During summer months, I think the Tap Room is open more days.

There is a lot about Bronco Billy's that reminds me of what I call "old Vegas." It's difficult to find a casino these days that give the player a good gamble and good service. We are already planning our next trip.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bosque Redondo

The following event occurred on Thursday, May 18.

On our way home from Santa Rosa, New Mexico, Donna and I stopped just outside the small town of Fort Sumner to visit the Bosque Redondo Memorial.

Bosque Redondo Memorial
Along the banks of the Pecos River, one of the sadder episodes in our nation's history occurred. Under the direction of Brigadier General James H. Carleton, Commander of the Military Department of New Mexico, U.S. troops rounded up Navajos and Mescalero Apaches in the early 1860s and herded them onto a newly formed reservation on the barren plains of eastern New Mexico. The Navajos lost over 1,000 people on the "Long Walk" of 450 miles from their tribal homelands in the Four Corners area. The land was unable to support the number of people the army placed there, and conditions were horrible. The Apaches finally left one night and disappeared into the countryside. When General William T. Sherman investigated conditions at the post in 1868, he found the conditions abominable and reported his findings to Washington. General Carlton was removed from his post, and a new treaty was signed with the Navajos, allowing them to return to their homeland.

Mural in the memorial depicting the "Long Walk" taken by the Navajos.

Close up of the above mural.
Later, the Maxwell family acquired ownership of the post and its buildings. A small ranching community sprang up. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, Fort Sumner played a role in the Lincoln County War as it was a popular stopping place for William Bonney (aka Billy the Kid) and his companions. In fact, it was in Pete Maxwell's home that the Kid was killed by Pat Garret on the night of July 14, 1881.

Supposed final resting place of William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. However, in the years following his death, there was flooding along the Pecos River, and bodies from the Fort Sumner cemetery were often washed away. It is unlikely that the Kid and his pals actually are resting here.
Today, irrigation makes farming possible, especially alfalfa. Canals crisscross the countryside and fields were green and lush as we passed by.

If you stop, allow 1 to 2 hours to really take a close look. Start at the visitor center, where numerous displays are available. Then walk over to the remains of the military post, passing the Treaty Rock and Travel Shrine along the way. Spend a few minutes in the soldiers' barracks, then take the walk along the river.

Navajo Travel Shrine. These rocks were first carried here from the Navajo Nation in 1971 to commemorate those who were exiled her and who died here.

Navajo Treaty Rock marks the field where the Treaty of 1868 was signed by Navajo leaders Barboncito, Manuelito, and Delgadito, as well as US officials William T. Sherman and Samuel Tappan.
Soldiers' Barracks (right) and Artist-in-Residence Home (left)

Interior of soldiers' barracks.
Plaque placed near location of Maxwell home
Marker indicates specific location of William Bonney's death.

Marker at exact location of William Bonney's death.
This goat was grazing next to the memorial. I found the horns to be highly unusual, so I stopped for this photo.
The murky and alkaline Pecos River, working its way downstream. This is the water the Navajos and Mescaleros were expected to live on.

Friday, May 19, 2017

On the Road: Cripple Creek, CO, to Santa Rosa, NM

This trip actually occurred Wednesday, May 17, so I'm a bit late posting it.

When we left Cripple Creek, Colorado, we had 2 objectives. First, we wanted to find a better route to Cripple Creek from our home. I really didn't care for going through Colorado Springs, and I really didn't like the road from there to Cripple Creek. So, for future trips, we wanted to find something a bit easier and less stressful for my old nerves. Second, we wanted to see some more beautiful country.

Our 435 mile route wove in and out of the mountains.
With the first objective in mind, we took Teller County Road 1 about 9 miles northwest of Cripple Creek. We then headed almost south for 22 miles on Highway 11 (High Park Road). Both highways had plenty of beautiful mountain scenery, but little ledge driving, which I don't care for. We then picked up Highway 9 for about 9 miles south, where we turned east on US 50. While on this highway, we noticed signs for the Royal Gorge, a place we hope to return to and explore at another time. US 50 -- which roughly parallels the Arkansas River -- took us through Canon City, then on to Highway 45, which is basically a bypass on the west side of Pueblo. We looped around Pueblo, then picked up I-25 and headed south. It was nice to be out of the mountains for a while, even though they were still in clear view to the west. On future trips to Cripple Creek, we will probably come up I-25 to Pueblo then take the route described above to the little mountain gaming town.

The Spanish Peaks, northwest of Trinidad, CO
We followed I-25 south for just over 100 miles, where we then picked up US 64 south of Raton and headed southwest towards Cimarron, New Mexico. The road was straight and the landscape open. We saw numerous antelope along the road, sometimes in large numbers. In the town of Cimarron, we turned off the main road to drive through the downtown area, only to discover 2 mule deer to our left and another to our right on the side street.

Open country along US 64 between Raton and Cimarron
Antelope along US 64 east of Cimarron.
Mule deer on side street near downtown Cimarron.
One of the prettiest stretches of country we saw during the day occurred just west of Cimarron. US 64 passes through Cimarron Canyon. Carved by the Cimarron River, which was flowing nicely thanks to recent snow melt, the canyon is beautiful and stretches almost the entire length between the town of Cimarron and Eagle Nest. It's a beautiful drive through a narrow canyon, and the roadway crosses the river a number of times. Cimarron Canyon State Park stretches along the river for 7 or 8 miles along the highway, with camping, hiking, and other outdoor opportunities available.

Eventually, the road climbs away from the river, topping out with a beautiful view of Eagle Nest Lake to the west. Eagle Nest Lake State Park wraps around the lake in the valley.

Beautiful Eagle Nest Lake. The road to Taos goes through the mountains towards the left.
After passing the lake and park, we followed Highway 64 west up a mountain, then back down. This is a very curvy and slow stretch. We finally came out in the historic village of Taos. I covered Taos in an entry when we visited there 5 years ago entitled "Day Trip: Santa Fe to Taos."

After a short break in Taos, we headed south towards Las Vegas via Highway 518. The middle section of this road -- around the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort -- was the most scenic. The road followed the Rio Pueblo, which was also flowing nicely along the road, working its way down the canyon.

The Rio Pueblo cascading down the canyon. I love mountain streams.

Another view of the Rio Pueblo.
We broke out of the mountains before arriving in Las Vegas. From there we headed south on US 84 to Santa Rosa, where we stopped for the night.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cripple Creek, Colorado

I'm glad we decided to come to Cripple Creek. Donna and I have enjoyed our stay here.

Cripple Creek is a small town, with just over 1,000 residents. I like small towns. Things here are slow paced and easy. Originally a mining camp, today Cripple Creek finds its wealth in tourism and gaming. At an elevation of 9,494 feet on the western slope of Pikes Peak, the air here is crisp and clean. During our stay in mid-May, daily highs were in the low 70s while nightly lows hovered around the freezing mark.

There are several casinos in Cripple Creek. In ABC order, these are:

  • Bronco Billy's
  • Century Casino
  • Colorado Grand Casino
  • Double Eagle
  • Johnny Nolon's
  • McGill's
  • Midnight Rose
  • Wildwood
All of the casinos above line the main street through town and are within easy walking distance of each other. We stayed at Bronco Billy's and played there and at the Double Eagle. We found excellent video poker games at both these casinos (9/6 Jacks or Better and NSUD). The service was excellent everywhere we went, both on the gaming floor as well as in the restaurants.

Cripple Creek reminded me a great deal of old Vegas. For example, upon check in at the hotel, we were given a rebate voucher as well as coupons for free meals. We did not pay for a single meal until our last day there, and the rebate voucher got us a total of $40 cash. Numerous other opportunities were going on during our stay at Bronco Billy's, including "hot seat" drawings, tokens for natural 4 of a kind, and double points on the Tuesday we were there. Yeah, they treat the gambler right in Cripple Creek. We'll certainly be going back. And maybe the best thing of all is that there is no smoking in the casinos. How nice to be able to play without being covered in the reek of cigarette smoke!

Most of the casinos are in old buildings. Bronco Billy's, for example, actually occupies what once was probably 6 or more old stores, each about 30 or more feet wide and stretching from the street to the alley. The separate buildings are now connected with openings. Sometimes it is a bit cramped, but for Donna and me, that just adds to the old Vegas appeal.

Below are some pictures from our stay in Cripple Creek.

This is  Bronco Billy's. It occupies all the store fronts you see with the blue awnings in the picture, so it is really a pretty big place.

This is looking west.

Another photo looking west, from the same side of the street as Bronco Billy's.

I don't know who this street urchin is, but she kept getting in my photos.

Lots of historic buildings in Cripple Creek.

Here's that street urchin again. This photo looks east. It was taken from near the Double Eagle.

Another of the many historic buildings in town.

Looking west from near the Double Eagle.

Monday, May 15, 2017

On the Road: Amarillo, TX, to Cripple Creek, CO

I've traveled through Colorado several times over the years, but Donna has only cut across the southwest corner of the state, to my knowledge. So our trip today was, for the most part, new and exciting. I had been over most of the roads we covered today, but it had been a number of years ago, so it was good to see the country again.

The normal route people take from Amarillo to the Colorado Springs area is to cross to Raton, NM, hit Interstate 25, and then head north. Donna and I opted, though, to head due north from Amarillo to cross the High Plains across the Oklahoma Panhandle and through southeastern Colorado.

428 miles from Amarillo to Cripple Creek

We began the day by taking Loop 335 around Amarillo to the north, where we picked up US 87/287, the same US 87 than runs through San Angelo. About 20 miles north of Amarillo, we crossed the Canadian River, then continued on through a series of smaller towns such as Dumas, Cactus, and Stratford before crossing into the narrow Oklahoma Panhandle. At Dumas, US 87 turned west, so now we followed US 287.

The highway so far is good, 4 lanes all the way from Amarillo to Stratford. From Amarillo to just north of the Canidian River, the land rolls gently, but north of the Canadian the land becomes flatter, occasionally dipping into creeks to break the monotony. At the Oklahoma line, the road surface changes, becoming a bit bumpier, but there are numerous passing lanes available. The speed drops to 65, and it would remain at 65 all the way to Colorado Springs.
Much of the land north of the Canadian River is as flat as a billiard table.
At Boise City, OK, we stop for gas at Loves, the continue north on US 287. At the Colorado line, the
highway surface improves, but it is still 2 lanes and 65 mph. We stop for a break at Lamar, the cross the Arkansas River and continue north. So far this morning, it has been a very pleasant drive, with very little traffic on this early Sunday morning, which is also Mothers' Day. But at Lamar, traffic picks up, especially truck traffic.

Sometimes there are swells to the land, especially along creeks. 
And sometimes, a piece of the earth just juts upwards out of nowhere. This is Twin Buttes, northeast of Springfield, Colorado.
At Kit Carson, we follow US 287 northwest a few miles before turning due west on Highway 94. We were now heading straight for Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains. We eagerly looked for the snowcapped mountains on the western horizon. This is a rather desolate highway, with no services for 70 miles. We meet very little traffic. But we do begin to spot Pike's Peak in the distance, and watch over the miles at it looms closer and closer.

Pikes Peak, while we are still 40 or 50 miles east of Colorado Springs.
We pick up US 24 on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs and follow it straight through town. We then began heading into the mountains. For hours, we had traveled along straight roads on flat, treeless land; now we were weaving northwest through scenic tree covered hills, heading up and up. At Woodland Park, we turned sharply to the southwest for a few miles before heading south on Highway 67 for the final 20 miles into Cripple Creek, elevation 9,494 feet.

The final 14 miles or so is slow, with normal speeds of 30 or so. As a flatlander, I'm very cautious driving on the ledges, but the natives seem impatient with me. I pull off frequently to allow the speed demons to race around the curves. Finally, we cross a pass and can see the village of Cripple Creek nestled in its valley. Our journey is over.

As an afterthought, I just want to mention the wildlife we saw along the roads. We spotted antelopes in numerous places, from near the Texas/OK border all the way to just east of Colorado Springs. And somewhere in southern Colorado, we spotted 2 very healthy looking coyotes along the road planning a bit of mischief.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Good Eats: Big Texan Steak Ranch

I've heard about the Big Texan Steak Ranch for years. I've passed by it a number of times. It has been featured on numerous food and travel shows. But I had never eaten there until this trip. So when Donna and I got to Amarillo yesterday, we moseyed on over to the ranch for a hunk of meat.

The Big Texan is famous for its 72 ounce steak challenge. The rules are clearly stated on the web site. For the record, it you lose, you have to pay for the steak (technically, you pay up front and are refunded if you win). At this writing, the price of the meal is $72.

Well, there is no way that I could eat a steak that large, even with Donna's help. So we found some other steaks on the menu that looked good to us.

Both of us ordered rib eyes, one of our favorite cuts. The steak came with a roll and 2 sides. The steak had a good flavor. I normally prefer to eat my steaks without sauce. I just like the flavor from a bit of basic seasoning and the grill. The Big Texan appears to only offer its own house version of a sauce, tasting somewhat like A-1. I didn't care for it, so I ate my steak without sauce, and I enjoyed it. It was a bit thinner than I expected, but it was cooked to my liking. The baked potato was good, and the  toppings for it were generous. I had a Caesar salad with my steak, and I was disappointed with it to some degree. The lettuce was very limp; it was as if there is a big batch of salad prepared ahead of time, with the dressing added. But the taste was good.

A steak challenge was starting as we arrived. Two gentlemen were on the stage, ready to destroy their 72 ounce steaks and all the sides. Well, they didn't make it. I would guess this is the normal outcome.

What many people don't realize is that the Big Texan is also a brewery. At the time we visited, the brewery offered 11 beers. Besides the meal and the brews, the Big Texan is just an interesting place to visit. Below are some pictures that show its unique nature.

Entrance to the Big Texan Steak Ranch
The Big Ranch is next to I-40
These 2 fellows were just starting the steak challenge when we were seated.
The grill. The steak challenge stage is just to the right.
Although the lighting is bad, this pic shows the dining area, which is family style for the most part. We were sitting at a small table upstairs.
A strolling cowboy troubadour entertained diners. Every song I heard included some reference to Texas. It is the Big Texan Steak Ranch, after all.

Some of the interior décor.
Near the back of the Big Texan, there is a wall of photos. As you walk by, the photos change appearance. This picture, for example, shows a nice lady. But as you walk past her, she changes to . . . .

. . . this scary image.

So, would I go back? Yeah, if I happened to be passing by. But I wouldn't drive across town to eat here. The food is good. But this is first and foremost a tourist stop, and everything about the place points to that, from the items inside and out, the steak challenge, the wait staff dressed out in cowboy garb, and so on. The food is good grub, but there are other steak places Donna and I prefer.

But if we are passing by on I-40 and want a steak, we'll certainly consider making a stop.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

On the Road: San Angelo to Amarillo

We're on the road again. Donna and I are celebrating 40 years of marriage. We wanted to do something different, so we are taking a week long trip. For the first leg of our journey, we are headed for Amarillo, Texas, and the Big Texan Steakhouse.

Now, the easy way to get to Amarillo from San Angelo would be to take US 87 to Lubbock, where US 87 becomes Interstate 27, then follow the interstate the rest of the way to Amarillo. That is a nice drive, 4 lanes all the way. But we've been that way before. We decided to take a more easterly route, one that cuts through the canyon country.

328 miles from San Angelo to Amarillo
We began our journey on Texas 208, which takes us up through Robert Lee and then Colorado City on Interstate 20. I've covered some of this country in previous blog entries, which I've listed below, so I'll not go into any detail this trip.
We stay on Texas 208 through Snyder, home of Western Texas College. We take a break at the local McDonald's, then hop back on 208 north through Clairemont.  Once, Clairemont was the county seat of Kent County, but the usual factors developed and the county seat eventually move to Jayton. There isn't much left of the old town today.

This is what is left of the old Kent County Courthouse. As we passed by, I thought this was an old school house, but I later learned that the upper floor -- or floors -- were destroyed by fire. In the background is the old jail.

Old Kent County jail.
Just south of Spur, we intersect with Texas 70, and stay on this highway north through Spur, Dickens, and Matador, home of the famous Matador Ranch. From Snyder to Amarillo, all the towns are, in fact, very small, with Spur and Claude being the largest two at just over 1,000 folks.

We continue north to Turkey, home of Bob Wills. We head west at Turkey on Highway 86, passing through Quitaque, where we detour for a quick run through Caprock Canyons, where Donna and I spent several days in August 2012. I posted several blog entries at that time covering this area:
I took several pictures of the park, but they look about the same as I posted 5 years ago, so I'll not post them here. However, Donna spotted some Martin nests at the office area, and I've posted those below.

These are just a few of the nests lined up near the restrooms.

Here's a closeup. Perhaps you can see the little beaks, or the entire baby in the nest on the left.
After our detour, we get back on the highway. This is rugged western country, on the eastern slopes of the Llano Estacado. We actually climb up from the canyon country to the table flat land between Quitaque and Silverton. Just west of Silverton, we turn north on Highway 207. Almost immediately, we descend into Tule Canyon with the MacKenzie Lake dam in view. This is a picturesque canyon, only about 2 miles wide, formed by Tule Creek. It merges with Palo Duro Canyon downstream, to the east. We continue north and finally reach Palo Duro Canyon about 15 miles later.

This is the High Plains, with flat, endless horizons. One moment, the world looks like a table.

The next moment, you come to an abyss. That is the downstream side of the dam which forms MacKenzie Lake in Tule Canyon.

Lake MacKenzie is very scenic.

This whole area was instrumental in the Red River War of 1874. Colonel Ranald MacKenzie and his troops (who had pushed north from their home base at Fort Concho in San Angelo) surprised a large Indian encampment in Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874. Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyennes were camped along the Prairie Town Fork of the Red River, which carved the canyon. Although there were few casualties on either side, the attack resulted in almost complete destruction of the Indians' supplies needed to see them through the approaching winter. MacKenzie's troops also captured almost the entire Indian horse herd. To prevent the Indians from recapturing the horses, as they had done on previous occasions, MacKenzie ordered the about 1,000 of the captured 1,400 horses slaughtered. The slaughter took place in Tule Canyon.

We stopped at a rest area just below the southern lip of Palo Duro Canyon to snap most of the following pictures. This area, by the way, is downstream from Palo Duro State Park.

Starting down into Palo Duro Canyon

This picture gives a pretty good depth perspective of the canyon. We were about a third of the way below the rim of the canyon, and you can see that the road below is still heading down.

There's a lot of canyon down there.

My anniversary girl, with the canyon as a back drop.

Heading down into the canyon after our stop.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, which carved the canyon. Amazing what a little water can do over time.
The drives through the canyon pass through very scenic country, much different than the surrounding table land dominated mostly by crops. North of Palo Duro Canyon, we arrive in Claude and take US 287 west the remaining few miles into Amarillo and our hotel on the east edge of town near the Big Texan Steakhouse.

Time for a good steak.