My Favorite Austin Burgers

How do I judge a burger?

First thing I always do is eat just a piece of hamburger meat with nothing on it. Does the meat have its own flavor? Is it juicy? Is it cooked correctly at medium and no more than medium well (exception made for sliders)? Is the bun too dry or does it perform the job of sopping up juice and add flavor and depth to the burger? Does every burger a place offers taste good or only a single burger? If only a single burger, then that’s fine, but it does detract from being a “burger joint.”

There are a tons of great burger joints in Austin, but only a few were pure bliss, what I call the “hallelujah burger.” The burger that hits your mouth and sends you to that special place in your head where you’re at peace with yourself and everything around you. That place where if you were butter you would melt instantly and ooze all over the floor of the joint. There are also a lot of places that are not burger joints, but have a good burger. Those places had to really stand out to make my list, as I focused on places that catered to the burger lover in me.

NOTE: I fully acknowledge that taste is subjective. I don’t think judging a burger on the quality of the meat, how it’s cooked, if it’s juicy and has flavor on its own is subjective, but once you get past the meat and onto the bread, condiments, and add-ons, then you enter subjective taste. I fully expect people to disagree with my list and that’s perfectly okay. I encourage you to post your own top burgers!

The List

So here they are, from least to best (least being the wrong word to use here, since it did make my list):

But What About?

Where are the standard ones you see on so many Austin lists like Sandy’s, Hut’s, Dan’s, P Terry’s, etc? Well, they’re somewhere between Wendy’s and McDonald’s because they’re just sliders and mediocre ones at that: especially the exceptionally overrated P Terry’s.

So with that said, here’s are my favorite slider joints, which I’ll only eat at if I’m really hungry and they’re close by. Otherwise I’m heading to my tops above. This list is again least to best.

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The Problem With Plastic Straw Bans

Okay, so plastic straw bans are suddenly all the rage and quite a few people are lashing out in favor and against. But here’s the problem I see with this…

The plastic straw ban is really just political ass-kissing to shut my fellow liberals up. It doesn’t do a damn thing to stop the problem because a lot of my fellow liberals think these tiny battles are actually meaningful.

Hell, the plastic sippy cup style lids that are being used to replace straws (like at Starbuck’s) use more plastic to make than the regular plastic lids and straws they previously used. The problem isn’t straws: the symptom is plastic and the problem is human behavior.

When we realized lead was killing children we banned lead paint. When we realized asbestos was causing cancer we banned it. We can’t just ban all plastics as kneejerk emotional bullshit legislative action. We need to look at the entire problem and come up with solutions based on science and reason and critical thinking. Ban plastic where it can be banned without affecting people in negative ways. Keep it where it needs be to be kept, but work on solutions to removing plastic even where it’s currently still needed. For example, we clearly need plastic IV bags in hospitals. However, we used to use glass bottles for IVs. Can we go back to glass IV bottles? Is there the will to do that? Is the will there to do that for so many other examples as well?

There are a lot of replacements to straws already in place, such as metal straws being used in homes (we use them in our house) and in places with permanent residents (retirement homes, etc). A few restaurants have started using pasta straws as a replacement. Yes, pasta. And some of us are old enough to remember when straws were made of paper (granted, they weren’t the best, but I’m sure some human ingenuity could improve upon those old-fashioned paper straws).

Why can’t we go back to paper cups at fast food places and coffee shops? Why is my iced chai latte in a plastic cup instead of a paper cup? Why not offer me the option of bringing in my own cup and charging me by the ounce? Why not bring paper bags back to grocery stores? We don’t need plastic bags at grocery stores: we just want them.

People whined about killing trees for paper. We see all these companies bragging about saving paper (a public relations move, not an actual environmental saving move), but that’s non-scientific. Ninety-one percent of all paper products come from self-sustaining tree farms and “second growth” forests (forests that were cut down for other uses before and are being “recycled” instead of cutting down old growth. ONly 9% of paper comes from tearing down old growth forests and that can easily be stopped. Killing off paper is silly, especially since it’s biodegradable (yes, I fully acknowledge the paper-making process has its own issues that need to be resolved: especially the waste it makes). We replaced paper towels with air blowers in bathrooms, but those are electric and use more electricity from coal-based electricity production. But everyone was happy we got rid of paper in bathrooms. It’s kneejerk nonsense that’s not scientifically or rationally based.

Photo via USA Today

The reality is that if every bit of plastic ended up in properly maintained landfills there would be zero issue with plastic (especially landfills that reclaim methane buildup for energy usage). But the problem is people not disposing of them properly so they end up in the waterways and oceans killing animals: like that whale that died with almost 80 plastic bags in its stomach: literally died from starvation because there was no room left in its stomach for actual food. Or the video of the turtle with the straw stuck in its nose that caused so much outrage over straws while a gazillion plastic bags and plastic water bottles (a much bigger problem than straws) and six-pack beer rings are floating around the oceans killing animals as well.

There are solutions for this entire thing and one of the biggest ones is to get rid of our disposable attitudes toward everything from electronics to plates and cups to utensils, etc. We need to start repairing things that break instead of just tossing out that monitor or TV or phone and actually get it repaired instead of putting it in the garbage. We need to stop buying plastic and Styrofoam plates and cups and utensils.

Austin, Texas banned plastic bags for good reason a long time ago and recently the State of Texas overturned plastic bang bans via the Texas Supreme Court. It now won’t be long before plastic bags liter Austin’s streets again, getting into the sewers, finding their ways to the streams and rivers and out into the Gulf of Mexico. The reality is humans are the real problem: plastic in the waterways and oceans is just a symptom of human stupidity.

So because humans are too stupid or lazy or just don’t care to properly dispose of their waste so that it ends up in properly managed landfills, we now have to take drastic kneejerk reaction legislative measures. Humans are the problem: plastic in the waterways and littering our cities is just a symptom of that problem.

So how do we fix the real problem of human behavior? We can’t (at least not in terms of decades – just look at how long it took for the anti-smoking behavior modification to make a dent and people still smoke cigarettes). We can’t fix human behavior like that. So we have to accommodate it and come up with viable solutions and alternatives so that if human morons throw their trash into the street it doesn’t kill animals in the ocean or kill off coral reefs. We need a scientific and fact-based approach to this and kneejerk bans of straws are neither scientific nor fact-based and just a band-aid placed on a sucking chest wound of humanity.

Top 30 Synth Albums of 2017

TOP 30 Synth-Based Albums/EPs from 2017!

This list was very hard to do. There were so many amazing albums, EP’s, and singles released in 2017. In order for an album to qualify, it had to be in my library. I get music a lot of ways. A lot of times promoters, record labels, and artists send me their music so I can play the music. A lot of times I have to buy the albums. Sometimes the artists offer the albums up for free on their web page, Bandcamp, or other sources.

All those sources resulted in having 4,396 unique album/EP/single entries from 2017 that I had to go through. That’s a daunting number and it should be noted that there’s no way I have all the new music released in 2017! There is no doubt in my mind that I missed some new music that may have ended up on this list if I had it in my library.

Narrowing the list down:

In order for an album to qualify it had to be new material from the musician/band. So the first thing I did was remove any remix albums. The second thing I did was remove any compilation/best of/greatest hits albums. The third thing I did was remove any singles where the song was part of a later or earlier album. Doing those three things dwindled the number of unique entries to 3,477. Still a daunting task.

Next step was to go through each of those almost 3,500 entries and rate them from 1 to 10. Then I deleted everything that I rated 8 or below. Entries required a 9 or 10 to make it to next round. This processes narrowed the unique entries to 76.

I then re-rated the remaining 76 entries with a much stricter ear. After the re-rating I removed anything below a 9. That left me with 47 unique entries. Then I had to do it again until I got down to 40 entries. At this point, removing anyone from the list physically hurt my heart. The amount of awesome goodness on that list of 47 and 40 was painful as I removed one after another.

Now that I had it down to 40, I had to remove 10 more, who are the honorable mentions. As hard as it was getting down to 40, removing those 10 more was even more difficult!

The Caveats:

  1. Music is subjective. There is a really good chance that your list would be completely different from mine. I did not use any criteria like record sales, listening stats, or anything that would require me to hire someone with a Master’s Degree in musicology.
  2. My criteria for the initial rating and re-rating was asking two simple questions:
    1. Do I want to listen to this album on repeat or just once and listen to a different album?
    2. Are the majority of the songs on the album listenable? The more I wanted to listen to an album on repeat and the more songs on it that were listenable, the higher the rating it got (weighted for singles and EP’s of course). Narrowing those down to just 40/30 was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be for sure.
  3. I am sure that I will get a lot of “But what about Band A and album B? How could you not list those?” See #1. Music is subjective to the listener.

There was a lot of amazing new music put out in 2017. Let’s hope 2018 is just as awesome!

2017 TOP 30 SYNTH-BASED ALBUMS (alphabetical order):

3FORCE — Resistance
3Teeth — _shutdown.exe_
AM Tierpark — Trashy Luxury
Angelspit — Black Dog Bite
Arian 1 — Signals
Blakk Glass — Trial EP
Christopher Anton — Connected
CRYSEHD — EP III
deZeption — Mature
Drab Majesty – The Demonstration
Elektrostaub — Birthday And Death
Funker Vogt — Code Of Conduct
Gary Numan — Savage: Songs From A Broken World
Grendel — Age Of The Disposable Body
Hexheart — Midnight On A Moonless Night
Lorelei Dreaming — Banshee
ManMindMachine — Point Of Departure EP
Missing in STARS — Echo Point
Night Drive — Night Drive
Priest — New Flesh
Reflection — Lumen EP
Schwarzschild — Radius
Stilz — Starcrash
T.O.Y — Pain Is Love
Telekon — Hope for Believers
Torul — Monday EP
Wiccid — By Design
William Control — Revelations: The White EP
Xenturion Prime — Humanity Plus
Zynic — Neon Oblivion

2017 SYNTH-BASED HONORABLE MENTIONS:

C-Lekktor — Out Of My Way
Crüxshadows, The — Astromythology
Dav Dralleon — Depths EP
Forces Of Light — Darklights
New Division, The — No Pride In Paradise EP
Orange Sector — Endzeit (Deluxe Edition)
Slave Republic — Songs For Sinners
Sonic Reunion — Turning Point
Vainerz — Patient
Watch Clark — First Week of Winter

Social Media Advice For Bands

I’ve been asked for advice now and then about certain social media activities for bands: sometimes from bands and sometimes from fans. I certainly don’t espouse myself to be some kind of expert. What I can say is that I have 30 years of experience running groups and doing social media outreach for organizations (majority non-profit). There are way too many things to cover and tons of nuance, so I’ve decided to do a list of ten things: things I’ve noticed pages (bands and non-bands alike) do or not do over the years. Take this for what it is: friendly advice from someone who wants you to succeed! Or ignore me completely. After all, in the long run, it is your page and your band and your decisions to make.

  1. Unless you have directly harmed someone (emotionally or physically) you should not apologize on your social media (or on stage for that matter). Having technical difficulties? Been absent a bit too long from your page? Post the wrong thing? Don’t apologize. Instead, thank people for their patience or understanding. What sounds better, “Sorry about the technical difficulties everyone” or “Hey, thanks for your patience as we get this sorted out!” Thanking your listeners/page visitors puts the ownership of being awesome on them. It let’s them know how appreciative you are for their behavior and not how apologetic you are for yours. Don’t say you’re sorry for not posting in a long time, instead thank your readers for their patience.
  2. Don’t put your personal drama on your band’s page. It sucks that your band is broke and can’t afford to pay the rent. It sucks that last night’s venue short-changed you or only let you perform for ten minutes instead of the planned thirty. We have all been there. Post that stuff on your personal page if you must, but your band page should not be where you are complaining about your personal life (even if it’s band-related). It’s not that people don’t care, per se, it’s that people have their own personal drama they are dealing with and the majority of the “that sucks” or “sorry to hear that” posts are just that: posts that are meaningless. Air that out with your friends on your personal page (or your actual real life friends) and not on your fans.
  3. Along the same lines as #2, do not talk smack about other bands on your page (or on stage). By all means call out egregious behavior like racism, homophobia, etc., but just because you don’t like a band doesn’t mean a damn thing to your fans. That only risks isolating some of your fans who do like the band your talking bad about. Music is mostly subjective and whether or not you like it does not mean others will not. For example, I would never say that a comedian is bad: I say instead (because it’s true), that the comedian is not funny to me. So I would never say that Band A sucks, just that Band A’s music doesn’t appeal to me or “it’s not my thing.”
  4. Make sure your About section is filled out as much as possible. Provide a link to your Bandcamp page or Soundcloud page or main web page. List your band members and what they do (keyboards, vocals, guitar, programming, etc). Specify your genre(s) and fill out the “bands you like” or “influences.” In the About section on Facebook, make sure you fill in a “username.” The username should cause your page to come up immediately. Have someone check for you who is not an admin. If they put in @bandabc and it comes up with six different pages, then you need to modify it. It amazes me how many bands don’t think about this. You want your fans and radio shows and DJs to tag your band and the easiest way to do that is to have an @username that definitely comes up with your band and not something else. You may have to modify it to @bandabcofficial or @bandabc.info or similar to get it to come up immediately in a tag. Play with it until someone can tag your band easily in Facebook. If you luck out and user FB “username” matches your Twitter handle: BONUS POINTS!
  5. If you’re going to use an image to bypass Facebook’s algorithm that forces you to “boost your post,” that’s fine, just don’t forget to include a direct link in the first comment. Don’t make your fans search for the event page or manually type in the web page that’s in the image.
  6. You don’t have to respond to every fan’s comment, but you should at least post in the thread where fans have commented. Something along the lines of “Thanks for all your feedback everyone” or “Keep the comments coming, we love and appreciate your input!” Even a simple “thanks” from you can make a fan’s day.
  7. If your band’s page is tagged by a radio show, DJ, magazine, or genre supportive social media group (the page itself, not readers or fans of that page), then you should at a minimum like their post. You should consider posting a “thanks” of some kind in the comments. You should definitely think about sharing their post: not just when it’s only about your band, but when your band is included among others. The scene is equally as important as your band. Without a scene, your band has no support network. Sharing this stuff introduces your fans to other bands and vice versa. It increases awareness of the scene and increases the fan base across the spectrum.
  8. Speaking of the scene, it is important that you support the scene. You are not an isolated band. If there are no other scene bands, no clubs, no scene fan groups, then there is no fan base for you. Don’t be afraid to tag other bands in the scene (especially if sharing a radio show or magazine that mentions them). Don’t be afraid to introduce your fans to other bands or share music you like that isn’t yours. Hopefully the band you tag is just as awesome as you are and will reciprocate.
  9. There is nothing wrong with posting things that aren’t “professional” if you are willing to engage your fans with fun things. Don’t post something like “What’s your favorite holiday meal” and then not interact with those who respond or not posting your favorite holiday meal as the first comment. It’s perfectly fine to have fun with your fans on your page and interact with them in ways other than sharing your videos or events. If you do, you need to actually interact with them. Don’t ask them to participate if you are not going to participate.
  10. Last, is politics/religion. There are definitely bands out there who are political in their stance and their lyrics and that’s perfectly okay. If you are not one of those bands then you need to weigh the risks of posting political or religious stuff on your band’s page. You risk isolating some of your fans. Obviously there are legitimate reasons to isolate some of your fans (like a band posting that anyone who is a racist should not be their fan), but if you’re not going after the big fish of racism, homophobia, etc., then be careful. Use your personal page for politics/religion unless you fully understand the ramifications and consequences of posting on your band’s page. I’m not saying don’t do it: what I’m saying is understand the fallout that can come from doing it.

Best of luck to all of you as your pursue your musical dreams. I want all of you to succeed. I want the scene to be stable and thriving and full of amazing talented folks! Keep making music. Keep doing what you’re doing! Keep the synth-based scenes alive!

New Mexico Trip: Itinerary, Money Saving Tips, and Pics

20161215_183938
Our New Mexico Trip

Surprisingly, quite a few people have asked for our itinerary from our New Mexico trip. Apparently, living vicariously through our pictures wasn’t enough and people want to actually visit. That’s great! More people should visit New Mexico. It is an enchanting and beautiful state with tons to do! You can click on any picture to see the larger image.

How Much Does It Cost?

A question we were asked several times was, “How can you afford to do all that?” (or some variation thereof). The quick answer is, “We couldn’t.” We really could not afford a vacation. So we had to cut corners, use Groupons, pack our own food, and do as many free things as possible.

20161216_163905It took us over a year to save up for the trip and even then we needed to save up for another six months. The major cost was going to be hotels and food. Twelve nights of hotels adds up quickly, even if you stay in $50/night hotels. Just as we were thinking we would have to delay the vacation to save up even more money, we happened upon a huge saving aspect: a cabin in the Jemez Mountains for only $15 per person, per night. When we did the math using that cabin and bringing our own food to use as much as possible, the trip became doable immediately instead of saving up more money. I’ll go into detail on the cabin later, as it is definitely a jewel in the mountains!

20161215_171608Here are the money-saving tips we used to save up for the trip and save money on the trip:

  1. Pack your own food and eat it as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, eating local food in New Mexico is part of the New Mexican experience. So plan on spending some money on food. We packed peanut butter and jelly, honey, fluff, and cheap snacks. Make sure you buy your snacks and food at a grocery store: not a gas station. Look for sales ahead of your trip and stock up on drinks and road snacks. Make the sandwiches a fun family thing by pulling over at one of the many picnic areas on major roads (or rest areas). Get out of the car, sit in the sun and enjoy a picnic. If you eat lunch in town, eat a packed dinner at the cabin or hotel. If you eat dinner in town, bring a packed lunch with you.
  2. We saved money for the food we wanted to eat out with by not eating out when we were at home. When we wanted to go out to eat we would ask, “Do we really need to go out to eat or should we save the money?” 70% of the time we decided to save the money. The money we would have spent at a restaurant, we put into savings instead. The other 30% of the time? Well, you can’t say no all the time. LOL
  3. Every bit of money leftover at the end of each payday we transferred to savings. Whether it was a single dollar or a hundred dollars didn’t matter. Once the money was transferred to savings it was untouchable until the vacation. We committed to that from the beginning and stuck to it. You will be surprised how much that adds up to after a year if you commit to it and make a conscious effort to save money where you can.
  4. We looked for free or cheap stuff we could do. Mostly those things boiled down to state and national parks and walking around historic districts. There are fees for the parks, so keep that in mind, but they’re reasonable (unless you have 10 kids… then you should really save money for birth control – not a vacation).
  5. We used a few Groupons. We were hoping there would be more Groupon opportunities, but either they were for larger parties or for things we weren’t interested in. Where we could use them, we did.
  6. We went during the off season and that saved us HUGE money.

We actually came home without spending all the money we had saved. We were more frugal than we needed to be. Yes, that’s a good thing, but then again… maybe I could’ve had a few more Navajo Tacos!

20161216_110243Itinerary!

Okay, here’s the TL:DR version. If you’re interested in details, keep reading beyond this! To make it easier, I’m putting all links to the sites here instead of in the longer description area.

20161220_111229Here’s the expanded version with more details!

When we planned the trip we had our calendar setup day by day with arrival times at hotels, departure times, where we were going, etc. It was planned, but not overly planned. That plan fell apart quickly for us. Not because things took too long or because of problems, but because we simply slowed down and took our time and did what felt good at the moment. We still visited everything we wanted to do, but at a slower and more mindful pace. Even with two snow events creating havoc for the area (we were warm and cozy in our cabin), we still got to see everything, including several expeditions in the snow.

Keep in mind that we drove. Suzie kept saying that driving was a waste of vacation and that we should fly. I’m the opposite. Flying is a waste of vacation. You are at the mercy of others and stuck in airports with the risk of a body cavity search, flight delays, an incompetent and useless TSA, and asshole passengers with screaming children sitting next to you. I’d rather drive. To me the drive IS the vacation. Stop at roadside attractions. Stop at rest areas and picnic. Stop and take pictures and actually enjoy the scenery!

12/13:

We departed Austin, TX and drove to Carlsbad, NM. The US-285 from Fort Stockton, TX to Carlsbad is a mess. Almost the entire stretch is surrounded by oil wells and refineries and the truck traffic is heavy. It is full of pot holes and slow moving vehicles with few chances to pass. Be prepared to be on this road a while. Don’t worry, you’ll get through it, but it will test your patience: just keep your destination in mind – it will totally be worth it. We checked into the Great Western Inn & Suites in Carlsbad. The Great Western is a fairly good deal for the area and much cheaper than the name brand hotels. They cater to the oil & gas folks who work all the refineries and pumps in the area, which means they have a steady flow of customers and income, which means they take good care of their hotel. The rooms are clean and the beds are soft.

12/14:

20161214_091745Visit to Carlsbad Caverns! Make sure you stop in White’s City and visit the gift shop. There are tons of things that are picture-worthy in the gift shop. If you need gas, get it in White’s before you head to the caverns. There are pullovers on the way to the caverns with mini trails. Make sure you stop and look around. There’s a really cool trail that identifies all the plants used by Native Americans for clothing, food, dye, and medicine as well as a shelter cave they used. There are two ways down into the cavern. First is to walk the long path down to the Big Room. Second is to take the elevator down to the Big Room. If you have children, have any back or leg problems, or are not in good shape then do not take the winding path down and through the cavern entrance: take the elevator. The climb down is not easy. If you take the elevator, it’s simple. The Big Room trail is mostly flat and where it’s uphill, it’s done with a steady and even grade. There are parts of the Big Room that are handicap accessible, but honestly, you should avoid Carlsbad if you’re in a wheelchair or walker. There are two trails you can take in the Big Room, the full Big Room Trail or the Shortcut Trail. Do yourself a favor and walk the 1.5 mile full trail!

20161214_100351You’ll get to see the Hall of Giants, lots of cavern pools, see some remnants of historic explorations of the cave, Top of the Cross, the Bottomless Pit, the Massive Gypsum, The Chandelier, the Totem Pole, Cave Man, Crystal Springs Dome, the Painted Grotto, and more. When you come outside, make sure you walk to the western edge of the parking lot and take a look out at the great expanse.

We left Carlsbad Caverns and started driving towards Roswell, NM. On the way out of Carlsbad toward Roswell along the US-285 is Brantley Lake State Park. It’s worth the 10 mile jog off the beaten path to see the lake and check out the primitive camping area. You’ll have to pay a small fee (honor system if the visitor’s center isn’t open) to gain access. There’s a park there if your kids need to get out of the car and play a bit. There is easy access to the water via the primitive camping area (just don’t drive where people have pitched tents). You cannot access the water from the boat ramp, as that is reserved for people offloading boats into the water.

20161214_152141You can also stop in Artesia further up the road and check out all the sculptures and memorials. They have some really beautiful ones, especially the oil rig memorial. We arrived in Roswell and stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it wasn’t the most expensive, either. We stayed there because the cheaper options didn’t look that appealing to us (in the Norman Bates kinda way). An AirBnB might be more suitable for you if you’ve used it before. We arrived in time for dinner and ate at Big D’s Downtown. One of the best burgers I have ever had. Their green Chile burger is phenomenal! Eat at Big D’s if you can.

12/15:

20161215_095155Roswell, NM was for Suzie. She got to do all the cheesy Roswell things she wanted to do. There are tons of alien-related things to do in Roswell. You can take the guided tour if you want to spend the money, or you can do your own thing like we did. The International UFO Museum (sorry, no UFO’s there – it’s like having an airplane museum without actual airplanes) charges a small fee, but it’s doable. If you want to read a bunch of magazine articles and look at pictures and see a few paper-mâché setups of aliens landing in New Mexico, then the IFUOM is for you. If you’re into that sort of thing, you will absolutely love the museum and the rest of the alien-related stuff in the area. Roswell is split into two populations: those who embrace the alien-related stuff and those who hate that Roswell is associated with aliens. So if you go into a business or restaurant that doesn’t have alien stuff up, don’t talk about it: they don’t serve your kind there! If alien-related stuff is not your thing, then you should avoid Roswell as there is nothing else to do there (except Big D’s). Roswell is a day trip: you can do everything there in a single day, so no point in staying multiple days.

We departed Roswell and headed toward Albuquerque. Just before we left, Suzie was looking up places to stop and roadside attractions and she asked if we were going through Lincoln. Originally we weren’t, but figured an extra hour on the road would be fun and that would bring us through some really beautiful mountains and old lava fields. We did not regret that decision.

20161215_154546It turns out that Lincoln is more than just “a preserved town” and is where a lot of the Billy the Kid action took place and it is the origin of the Regulators. During the off season, a lot of the locations and shops are closed, but a few are open and the Courthouse is always open (during normal business hours). Lincoln is absolutely worth a stop! Make sure you also swing by the local coffee shop. It’s an art gallery up front, but go in back and get the spicy Mexican hot chocolate. We left Lincoln with a smile on our face as the town brought back memories of Young Guns and oddly enough, confirmed that a lot of what was portrayed in the Young Guns movie was historically accurate.

20161215_162938We left Lincoln and kept heading west on the US-280 toward Socorro and the I-25 corridor. We hit the Valley of Fires Recreational Area, just north of Carrizozo, in time for an amazing desert sunset with enough light to stop at some of the markers and take pictures of cacti and lava flows. Then we drove in the pitch black until we reached the I-25. We stopped at the Isleta Resort & Casino just south of Albuquerque to grab some dinner. If you go to Isleta to eat or gamble, make sure you use the valet: it’s free. Just give your valet a $5 bill when you pick your car up (don’t be a douchebag who doesn’t tip the valet). We stayed the night in another Comfort Suites because it was super cheap. Turns out it was super cheap because it’s a crappy hotel (letter to Corporate for sure). But it was just one night.

12/16:

20161216_121843I woke up early (as I did every single morning on the trip) and headed to Rebel Donuts. You should absolutely do Rebel. They are better than Voodoo Donuts. Seriously. They are! If you’re a Breaking Bad fan (I’m not) you can get the Blue Sky donuts. Make sure you try the French Toast donuts and the bacon & red Chile donuts as well! Watch for a possible awesome sunrise over Sandia Mountain. They aren’t always spectacular, but you just might get lucky! We stopped at Mama’s Minerals downtown and checked out their expansive rock and fossil collection. Then we headed over to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Spend the money and go into the museum. Even if you don’t like Native American stuff (why are you even in New Mexico at this point then?), it’s a worthy cause to give them your money. At the end of the Museum make sure you visit the Pueblo Harvest Cafe. Do yourself a favor and be a culinary explorer and introduce yourself to Pueblo food and get the Pueblo Feast for two. It says it’s for two, but really four could eat all the food. You’ll get everything you need to introduce you to Pueblo/New Mexico style foods.

20161216_152226From there we headed up to Jemez Springs (pronounced Haymiss) to visit the Jemez Historic Site. They are open year round, but not every day, so check their web page ahead of time. The Jemez Historic Site is ruins where you can see the Spanish Catholic influence on the Pueblo natives and how that influence changed everything for many natives. There is a small entrance fee into the park.

In Jemez Springs, make sure you eat at least lunch or dinner at Los Ojos. You’ll enjoy the ambiance and the food. Also check out the local shops (some are too expensive but others have some cool stuff). Eat breakfast at least once at the Hwy4Cafe and get the Jemez Burrito with elk sausage!

We immediately fell in love with the cabin when we checked in. The scenery was phenomenal. The cabin was cute and roomy enough for the two of us. I’ll get more into the cabins below as they deserve their own write-up. We settled into the cabin and waited for the first snow storm to hit.

12/17:

20161217_102606The snow came and was still falling at higher elevations. We only had a light dusting at the cabin and that was already melting. Our original plan was to head into Albuquerque, but instead we decided to go see some snow. We drove north on SR-4 to find snow-topped mountains and it did not take long to find them. We came across Battleship Rock and it was gorgeous in the snow! We decided to go further north on the SR-4 and made it a few miles before the roads got too bad and we had to turn around. So we decided to go back south and head to the Jemez Pueblo. We stopped at the Walatowa Visitor Center for the Jemez Pueblo. We got to see a couple of local artisans, check out their gift shop, and tell them about the snowy roads. They had no idea the roads were that bad and immediately called my report into the Pueblo administration and police. We bought some red Chile and green Chile honey (they are amazing, BTW). Next to the Walatowa center is a large gas station that’s the only gas station for a while, so that’s the place you need to fill up each day before heading out exploring. We spent the rest of the night eating in front of the fireplace at Los Ojos and then enjoying the freshly falling snow at the cabin.

12/18:

20161218_093842With the snow stopped and already melting, we decided to try heading north again on SR-4. We are so glad we did because we ended up at the Valles Caldera! There are tons of (and miles of) trails to walk at the Caldera, but we stuck with the 1.5 mile trail around the base of the lava dome. We were the first humans to walk the trail since the snow. Walking the Caldera after a snowfall, so quiet, able to see the tracks of elk, rabbits, coyotes, cougars, and other animals was simply magical! I have no doubt that the Caldera is gorgeous in different seasons, but being there in the snow and as quite as it was made it very special for us.

20161218_094042After leaving the Caldera we had no plans but it was still early in the day, so we decided to continue on SR-4 and see where it took us. Where it took us was an armed gate at Los Alamos. We thought they were going to make us turn around, but they just asked for my driver’s license and sent us through. While we couldn’t get into the secure areas and testing areas, we could see some of the buildings from the road before we hit Los Alamos proper: the city built by radioactive science. We continued to drive on and head to Santa Fe. On the way to Santa Fe, stop at Camel Rock. Yeah, it’s cheesy, but it’s cool as well!

20161218_171505We ate a late lunch at Tecolote, a restaurant recommended on Triple D. We wanted to eat at Berg’s, but they closed permanently after 45 years in operation. We went to historic downtown Santa Fe. Parking is a pain in the butt downtown. If you can’t find street parking, some of the churches will allow you to pay to park there. There are a couple of public parking garages, but they’re more expensive. We visited the Loretto Chapel ($3 entry fee) and checked out the “miracle stairs” (even though there’s actually no miracle). From there we walked to the historic downtown area. We realized most of the shops catered to the really rich. Santa Fe has become so pretentious. But don’t let that scare you off. It’s worth the day visit. There are cheaper shops. There are local artists. There are beautiful buildings to see and awesome parks to visit. If you’re there around Christmas, the luminaries are phenomenal.

20161218_163343On a recommendation from a friend, we stopped at the Kakawa Chocolate House. They will give you a sample of everything that’s in rotation that day. If you don’t like the bitterness of dark chocolate, this place may not be for you. I’m not a fan of dark chocolate, but they let us try the Tzul spiced hot chocolate. Yeah, that was amazing. It is pricey, so get a 3oz if you want to save money or share a 6oz. Honestly, we didn’t like their chocolates, so you may want to stick with the hot chocolate. We got hungry later on the road home and stopped at a Blake’s Lottaburger. Make sure you eat at a Blake’s at least once during your trip. Try to find an older one, as they are better than the new franchise ones.

12/19:

20161219_130728We decided to drive north on the US-550 and see what we ran into with the maybe goal of reaching Durango, CO to see the snow-topped mountains. We never made it to Durango because we realized we were very close to Chaco Canyon (thanks, random road sign). The proper name of the park is the Chaco Culture National Historic Park World Heritage Site. Yep, long name. The road to Chaco Canyon is not an easy one. When you leave the US-550 there is a gas station there. If you need gas, drinks, or anything else: get them there! There is no place else to stop for anything between that gas station and the national monument.

20161219_131343The first 8 miles of road are paved: after that it’s 10 miles of gravel and then 4 miles of a dirt nightmare. If you have a really low car (with hardly any ground clearance) or a bad back… don’t bother. You’ll ruin your car or mess your back up. If you have a car with at least 8” of clearance, then you’ll be fine. You can stay in the center of the gravel part as long as no other traffic is coming from the opposite direction. When you leave the gravel and hit the dirt, it’s eroded and full of pot holes. You’ll have to navigate left and right and slow down a lot to avoid the bigger holes. You’ll pass though a wash. If it has been raining, you will not make it past the wash. Do not even try: you will die. Turn around and maybe try again when it’s not raining (in other words, don’t go to Chaco Canyon during the Monsoon season). Once you reach the park itself, the road becomes paved again.

20161219_120831Stop at the welcome center and pay the small day pass fee. Then head on in and enjoy the ruins. Spend the extra $3 to get the brochures for the larger sites (and don’t forget the free ones as well). Chaco Canyon was really amazing. Seeing the ruins of the Chaco culture was cool as hell. We had recently watched a documentary about the Chaco, so that was fresh in our minds as we walked through the ruins. On the way back, stop at El Bruno’s in Cuba, NM. They don’t skimp on the spice there with their New Mexican dishes.

12/20:

20161220_110355We had another free day so decided to just explore the area. We decided to take some side roads and ended up on SR-485 heading north through the Santa Fe Forest (which is nowhere near Santa Fe) and along the Guadalupe Rio. There are numerous washes along this road, so if it’s raining or has recently rained, drive with caution and turn around if the wash is flowing. After several miles you’ll enter the mountains on the canyon road. Then you’ll drive through two single-lane tunnels. Make sure you stop after you go through both tunnels at the pull-over on the Guadalupe Rio side. The scenery here is totally worth the stop. The river cuts through the rock and several waterfalls are visible. The tunnels have been used in several movies, including 3:10 to Yuma. We then drove east on SR-290 to another part of the Santa Fe Forest, but unfortunately it was closed when we got there. So we went back to the cabin for the rest of the evening. It was then we got the full tour from the owners and shown all the trails and highlights (more details and pics below).

12/21:

20161220_131759We went rock and fossil hunting in the canyon. Then we went to Giggling Springs in Jemez Springs as a treat. It was only $25 per hour per person, which is a really good deal considering that some of the hot springs in the area can cost hundreds of dollars. The water was hot enough that we couldn’t stay in the whole hour, so we got a smoothie in their shop and just chilled on the patio watching the sun go down. Then we went to the Jemez Pueblo to check out a local pottery artist we met in Santa Fe and to get some dinner at Dave’s Burgers and More. The pottery artist invited us into her home and introduced us to her family and sat us down at their dining room table and showed us the process of getting the clay, mixing it with volcanic ash, using local plants to make the paint, etc. Then we went to Dave’s to get a burger. Suzie got to try her first Indian Taco and I got the Pueblo Burger. The cold was fierce as another winter storm was rolling in. They invited us in to eat at their table instead of being in the cold. We got to sit and talk about the Pueblo, food, and Jemez culture with them in their house. It was really cool and greatly appreciated. The hospitality we encountered was above and beyond. Then it was back to the cabin to prepare for the winter storm.

12/22:

20161222_064806We woke up to lots of snow! Not just at higher elevations, but everywhere. We had 2.5 inches at the cabin and higher elevations had up to 16 inches! I risked driving down the mountain in the snow in order to run to the Jemez Pueblo and get some breakfast burritos at Dave’s. They only make breakfast burritos on certain days and they sell out quickly. If you happen to be there on a breakfast burrito day, get up at 6am and go get some! Safety tip: if your car has electronic stability control, turn it off when you are going down slick roads (ice, snow, etc). Turn it on going up the hill.

20161222_125001When the snow stopped we went north on the I-25 to try to make it to Las Vegas (the New Mexico one). It was still actively snowing in areas and there was a chance we would not be able to make it through the pass, but we at least wanted to try. While the roads were a bit rough in some areas, we were able to make it to Las Vegas. Roswell was for Suzie and Las Vegas was for me. Las Vegas is where they filmed the original Red Dawn and I got to see the Calumet welcome sign and Murphey’s Drugs where they got the toothbrushes in the movie and later blew up. Murphey’s Drugs is now a bank, but they left the Murphey’s Drugs sign up. We stopped at the Castaneda Hotel as well. My original plan was to actually spend a night in Las Vegas and stay at this hotel, but the hotel shut down and is now surrounded by fence and decrepit. It’s too bad because it’s the hotel where the Cuban and Russian officers stayed during the invasion and where the Mayor’s office was located. The last thing we saw was the park where Matty died in the movie with the gazebo in the background. Then we hit the Hillcrest Restaurant for a late lunch and started driving back to the cabin as it was starting to actively snow again. We needed to get over the pass before it got blocked. The pass wasn’t blocked but it was treacherous and there were lots of trucks and SUVs on the side of the road. I think a truck and SUV gives people too much confidence and actually makes them more likely to wreck or hydroplane.

12/23:

20161223_111107Time to depart the cabin and head to Albuquerque for a stay in a hotel there. This was our one expensive hotel we agreed upon, the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. Before we went to the hotel we decided to drive up Sandia Mountain. The top of Sandia is accessible by tram except during the winter, so we had to drive. The road had been plowed and was okay until we got to higher elevations where it was actively snowing and we were enveloped by snow fog. We did make it all the way to the peak, but when I tried to park I lost traction and got stuck. I had no choice but to put it in reverse and flip the car around in order to get forward momentum to go back down the mountain. So we didn’t get to enjoy the top of Sandia, but the road up and down was gorgeous, especially in the snow. There were lots of people taking advantage of the snow and sledding on the slopes of the mountains and the ski resort was open.

20161223_123550We then went to downtown Albuquerque to eat at Frontiers. If I had my way, we would have eaten there every day. You have to eat at Frontier in Albuquerque. Parking is a bitch and you can only park for 45 minutes. So get in, order a variety of food to try (make sure you get their cinnamon roll), eat, and get out! We head up to Nob Hill and there are a few cool shops, but it’s really pricey and snobbish and pretentious in so many bad ways now. So we just went to the hotel to take a nap before heading to the casino.

The Sandia Resort & Casino has a seafood buffet on a few nights. It’s a bit more expensive than their normal buffet, but if you’re a seafood lover it’s worth it. I hate seafood, but Suzie loves it and she was craving it. She enjoyed unlimited crab legs and mussels while I enjoyed unlimited prime rib and mashed potatoes. We gambled a bit while there and went back to the hotel.

12/24:

We departed Albuquerque and drove to Lubbock, TX. We just didn’t feel like driving all the way home in a single day. 12 hours in the car just did not sound like something we wanted to do. So we stopped in Lubbock for Christmas Eve (one of seven people in the hotel). We lucked out and found out there was an Alamo Drafthouse in town and there were still seats available for Rogue One. It was the perfect Christmas Eve dinner and treat!

12/25:

Lubbock to Austin and home. We both took 12/26 off to recover from the trip.

The Cabin!

20161216_163543Let’s talk about the cabin. When we stumbled upon this cabin for $15 per person per night, we jumped on it. It allowed us to take the vacation immediately instead of waiting to save more money. First let’s get the obvious out of the way: the cabin is located on the Ardantane property. Ardantane is a Pagan and Wiccan-centric center. That doesn’t mean you have to be Pagan or Wiccan to stay there. All that Ardantane asks is that you be respectful of the earth to stay there. That means use their toiletries to help maintain their state-of-the art black/gray water recovery system. That means don’t damage their property to destroy any of their grounds (rocks, trees, etc). That means properly recycle your trash while. That means don’t dump trash in the desert or on the mountain. If they have a ceremony while you are there, you can go into the dome and watch from outside the circle (or join if you want to participate). Be respectful of the people and the property.

20161220_115729There are currently two cabins on the property: the Cattail Cottage and the Halloween Cabin. The Cattail Cottage contains a queen and twin bed as well as a dresser. The Halloween Cabin contains a bunk bed that’s made of a double on the bottom and a twin on the top. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room in the Halloween Cabin, so I would recommend the Cattail Cottage for longer stays. Each cabin comes with a heater for cold nights and the beds are made with clean sheets before you check in. You are responsible for stripping the bed after your stay and depositing the linen in the hamper in the bathroom. There are areas on the 27-acre property where you can tent camp as well.

20161220_115458Speaking of the bathroom, the HARRE Potter bathrooms are heated during the winter. There are two bathrooms in the same building. One is a sink and toilet and the second has a standing shower with a folding handicap seat in the shower. The second one is fully handicap usable with bars along the toilet, etc. The bathroom has motion sensor lighting to help you find it at night.

20161220_121344Hawk’s Haven is currently the “media room” where you can watch movies, and access the fridge and microwave. Hawk’s Haven has a large patio with chairs and tables for enjoying any meal, but especially for watching the sunset while eating dinner! There are plans in place to make Hawk’s Haven into a third cabin once the new common room/kitchen are completed. There are lots of plans in the word at Ardantane, including a common room, common kitchen, more cabins, etc.

20161220_121645There are plenty of trails, including trails for those who are spiritually inclined, such as the Seeker’s Trail with 7 altars or meditation points along the trail. The trail ends in a labyrinth for meditation and walking.

20161220_115022The dome is used for events and has a coffee maker in the building. There are tons of books on Paganism yes, but also science and nature books as well as some fiction. There are plenty of chairs to relax in. You can use the dome as long as they are not using it for retreats or ceremonies.

20161216_163525Ardantane is a beautiful place and worth going to. If you happen to be in a Pagan or Wiccan group or coven, then you should definitely consider using their facility for a retreat. If you are not Pagan or Wiccan, you’ll be just fine there. After all, I did just fine there. :)