NM21 Road Trip – Day 8

September 22, 2021

All good things must come to an end. Today was the last day of vacation, and not very interesting or exciting at all. But at least it started nice, with breakfast in bed. It wasn’t fancy, but my Airbnb reservation included a simple breakfast. I chose the breakfast croissant sandwich with fruit. And coffee from a Keurig. My room at this Airbnb had two single beds, and therefore no room for a chair or a table or desk. So I ate sitting cross-legged on the bed in my jammies.

Breakfast in bed, or on bed

And then I drove several hours from the San Luis Valley to Denver. I was really sick of driving by the time I got home, and my back hurt. It took me two trips to unpack everything, and after getting the mail I decided the car needed a bath. So I took it to the automatic car wash.

Car wash from inside

It’s nice to be home again, though I wish my vacation was longer. Not much has changed while I was gone. There’s a new homeless camp across the street, and my terrarium’s tiny succulent plant has sprouted some new leaves. Other than that, it’s the same old condo in the same old place.

Oh, I gained 8.2 pounds on my trip. I’m the heaviest I’ve been since June of 2020. I guess it’s time to go back on my diet. No more sopaipillas for a while.

Shorty examines the new leaves on my one plant

Thanks for reading my daily travel journal about my New Mexico rock art road trip. In case you missed an episode, here are links to all of them.

Day 1 – driving to New Mexico, eating my first stuffy

Day 2 – Pecos National Historic Park, driving to Albuquerque, shrimp and grits

Day 3 – Petroglyph National Monument, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology

Day 4 – Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs, Santa Fe

Day 5 – vacation from the vacation

Day 6 – Mesa Prieta, Tsankawi

Day 7 – driving to Colorado, Old San Acacio

Day 8 – return home


NM21 Road Trip – Day 7

September 21, 2021

No hiking, no rock art. Today I packed up my stuff from the casita where I was staying near Santa Fe and headed north. I did get to spend a couple hours relaxing before hitting the road, and did some reading.

My first planned stop was Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe in Taos. You see, there’s one New Mexican dish that I realized I never had on this trip, and today would be my last day in New Mexico, and therefore my last chance. That dish? Frito pie. So I did some research to find a well-rated restaurant in Taos that also had Frito pie on the menu, and Orlando’s was my choice.

The drive from Santa Fe to Taos was longer than I remembered from last time I did it, but I arrived around 12:30 or so, and then had to wait for another 20 minutes to get a table. Orlando’s is popular. Anyhow, here’s a picture of my lunch. I ordered it with beef and red chile, neither of which you can see under the lettuce and Fritos. But it was tasty.

My ultimate destination for the day was an Airbnb near San Luis, Colorado, and I wanted to arrive after 3pm, but before 5pm. So I stopped a couple places on the way since I had time. One stop was to see Old San Acacio which is a tiny village that’s home to Colorado’s oldest standing church, the San Acacio Mission Church, built in 1856. The church definitely wasn’t built to last 150 years, so they’ve had to do a ton of remodeling and stabilization since shortly after it was built. I found this awesome article that talks about the history of the church, but I’m not gonna repeat any of that here. Click the link if you are as curious about history as I am.

Behind the church is an old graveyard. Also, much appreciated by yours truly, there’s an outhouse. Beyond the graveyard is a cattle pasture, with, ironically, a dead cow. Church, dead people, dead cow.

After walking around the church grounds and taking these photos, I drove to and checked into my Airbnb, took a nap, and then drove back to San Luis for some amazingly good Thai food.

That pretty much sums up my day. Tomorrow I drive the rest of the way home. I expect it’s going to be pretty uneventful. No hikes, no rock art, no New Mexican food.


NM21 Road Trip – Day 6

September 20, 2021

Part 1, Mesa Prieta

After a restful Sunday, today I hit it hard. I was up and dressed and packed for the day and out the door by 7:40. Destination: Mesa Prieta. That’s the home of the Wells Petroglyph Preserve (now owned by the Archeological Conservancy) and the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project, which is located on private land in a semi-secret location between Santa Fe and Taos.

In some ways, this destination was the main reason that I planned this whole rock art road trip. I had originally bought tickets for two on a guided tour for spring 2020. Then the pandemic hit and they canceled all tours. Then they made an offer that instead of two spots on a public tour I could use those tickets for a private tour. When they finally started offering tours again in the fall of 2021, I leapt at the chance. Today Shorty and I got that private tour. We pulled into the parking area about 8:50, and the tour guide arrived shortly after, then we got underway.

As you can imagine, it’s pretty special to get a private tour. I could take as much or as little time as I wanted at each stop on the hike. When I wanted to stop for water, we stopped for water!

Like the rock art hikes at the Petroglyph National Monument and La Cieneguilla, the rock art here is all petroglyphs carved into volcanic rocks that have crumbled and fallen off a east-facing cliff above a river. There’s a pattern here!

Some of the figures here are from the archaic period (5500 BCE to 500 CE, footprints, handprints), some are classic period Ancestral Puebloan (14th century to 17th century, flute players, religious figures), and some are historic period (starting in 1598 when Oñate and Spanish settlers arrived to colonize the region, horses, crosses).

Enough introduction, let’s look at the photo gallery…

I got no time for the jibba-jabba. - Mr. T

No, Mr. T is not the photo gallery. Click the photos below:

I bought a booklet from the tour guide called Mesa Prieta Rock Art on the Wells Petroglyph Preserve. From reading that after I got back to my Airbnb, I learned two things that made the morning’s rock art excursion even more significant than I realized at the time:

  • “Mesa Prieta is the largest known site of petroglyphs representing Spanish history and culture in the United States”, and
  • Mesa Prieta “has more rock art images than any other site in the state” with current estimates in the neighborhood of 80,000 (roughly 4x as many as Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, where I hiked on Day 3)

Part 2, Tsankawi

After I said goodbye to my tour guide, my next priority was lunch. She recommended a place in Española called La Cocina, so that’s where I went.

New Mexican food choice of the day: lamb enchiladas with green chile

It was delicious. And of course I had to eat the sopaipillas they brought with the meal. Later they gave me extra energy to climb rocks and ladders on my afternoon hike.

Ground lamb enchiladas

After lunch I drove toward Los Alamos. On the way, the road passes through a half dozen Pueblo Indian reservations. It was weird to see signs all along the way that read…


They take their COVID-19 precautions pretty seriously in these parts, and most of the pueblos don’t want visitors right now. One or two of the places I considered hiking on this trip are closed currently because of that.

Near Los Alamos, New Mexico is Bandelier National Monument. The main district of the monument is a canyon with a bunch of cave dwellings (called cavates) carved into the soft volcanic rock that exists in this area. Separate from that, though, is the Tsankawi section of the national monument. It’s got a little bit of everything.

There are some of the same sort of cave dwellings, ruins of a pueblo on top of the mesa, some rock art, and a lot of trails that have been walked on by so many people over the past 600 years that there are now deep grooves worn into the soft rock.

The hike includes a couple of ladders that freak some people out. Walking on the side of a cliff also freaks some people out, especially parents with children. And so this section of the monument gets a lot less tourist traffic than the main section. And that’s why I went.

The whole loop trail is only 1.6 miles, though a fair amount of it is up and down, so it feels like more. But I knew it wouldn’t take me long, so I didn’t bother taking any water or my backpack. I even left Shorty in the car, because I wanted to move fast and he’d just slow me down.

Here’s what I saw:

Once I got back to the car, I headed down valley toward my next stop, the Sonic in Santa Fe for a large diet limeade. All the hot dry walking made me appreciate it so much!


NM21 Road Trip – Day 5

September 19, 2021

Today is was time to take a vacation from my vacation. The first four days of my road trip, I got going early because I had something planned for morning – hiking before the heat of the day, early admission to the museum, or a day full of driving. But Sunday I decided to take it easy.

A bowl full of New Mexico for breakfast – stacked enchiladas, pozole, and beans

I slept in a bit, made a pot of New Mexico piñon nut coffee, ate some leftovers for breakfast, and just chilled out most of the day. I did laundry, picked some pears from the pear tree on the property of my AirBnB, read my book, and did a little bit of planning for the next couple days.

Pears I picked from the tree outside the casita

Because of all this, I don’t have many photos to show you. The only New Mexican food I ate was the leftover stacked enchiladas, beans, and pozole from lunch yesterday. Oh, and the leftover shrimp and green chile pizza from supper.

I did meet my AirBnB host in person. She came by in the morning. I told her I appreciated all the coffee options she has for guests. She’s got a Mr. Coffee type drip machine, plus a French press, and three different kinds of coffee. I mentioned to her that the can of piñon coffee was nearly out, and she said to just throw the rest out. When I came back from a car trip into town, there was a fresh bag of coffee on the doorstep. What a nice touch!

My blogging station on the patio of the casita


NM21 Road Trip – Day 4

September 18, 2021

Hang on, folks, because this one’s gonna be a long one…

Part 1, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Saturday was another day that started kinda early. I had purchased a timed admission ticket in advance to get into the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center at 9am, and the adjacent restaurant opened for breakfast at 8am. So I had to get up and pack everything up and check out of the hotel in time to get to breakfast in time. Fortunately, the hotel I was in was only about 1/4 mile from the cultural center.

I’m gonna talk about food for a while now, before I talk about the cultural center museum itself. If you’ve been reading this blog series, you know I’ve been trying to get some New Mexican food every day. Well, this day was special, because the restaurant that’s adjacent to the cultural center is run by a world-renowned native chef Ray Naranjo. If you’ve never heard of him, google his name and you’ll find dozens of articles and interviews, he’s like the pueblo Jacques Pépin.

The menu at Indian Pueblo Kitchen (formerly called Pueblo Harvest) uses as many native and local ingredients as possible, and when I read it over while planning this road trip, I was in hog heaven. My original plan for the day was to have breakfast there, then walk through the museum for a couple hours, then watch the monthly dance performance in the courtyard from 11 to 12, and then go back to the Indian Pueblo Kitchen for lunch. It didn’t work out that way, but that’s how excited I was for this place.

Anyhow, on arriving, the waitress immediately asked if I wanted some coffee, and I was hesitant, because I wanted to know whether they had espresso drinks. It turns out they do, so I ordered a small cappuccino. On the menu it was labeled a “tall” size, not “small”. I thought, “Hmm, they use the Starbucks measurement system for drinks, but I guess that’s because everyone who’s here is a tourist who probably also drinks Starbucks.” Still, I was surprised, when the cappuccino that arrived was actually in a Starbucks cup. Maybe I shouldn’t have been. I guess they have a mini-Starbucks hidden away in the kitchen somewhere.

There’s just no escaping Starbucks

For my breakfast I chose “superfoods griddle cakes with sausage”. The “superfoods” part was listed as “blue corn, quinoa, amaranth, currants, piñon, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, triple berries, and pure maple syrup.” But I’d swear mine had some chocolate chips in it, too. Regardless, it was three thick pancakes, very hearty considering the seeds and nuts inside. The sausage was two pieces of sausage made from ground turkey and – of course! – diced green chiles, plus breakfast sausage spices. It was all very filling.

Superfoods griddle cakes and turkey sausage

Anyhow, a few minutes after 9am, I did get my electronic ticket scanned and went into the museum. I’d been here years and years before, but didn’t remember any of it.

The main permanent exhibit had a ton of information about the pre-history and history of New Mexico’s pueblos. Not surprising, they’ve done a good job of telling balanced stories of conflicts with Europeans and other Native American groups. I especially liked that it wasn’t all just history, but also had a lot of focus on art.

The Three Sisters are corn, beans, and squash – seen here in the city

After finishing the main exhibit, I viewed a couple of temporary exhibits, one of which was called “HERitage: Pueblo Women Paving Cultural Pathways.” It had sections on about 20 different women from various pueblos from the past century or so. These women lived a variety of lifestyles as artists, scientists, doctors, politicians, and storytellers. Since so much Native history we see in museums is centered around men, it’s great to see an exhibit about modern Native women.

Hummingbird art by DeHaven Solimon Chaffins

The other temporary exhibit was called “Radon Daughter” and it was all art from an artist named DeHaven Solimon Chaffins. I loved the colors and style of her art. Her subjects have a lot to do with growing up next to a uranium mine.

By then it was time for the dancing to start. When I first read about the dance performances, I thought it was performances from four different tribes, but I was wrong. It was actually performances by one group called simply “Pueblo Dance Group” whose members come from several different pueblos (Acoma, Laguna, Jemez, Ohkay Owingeh, Zuni, Santa Clara, and Hopi, according to the brochure). The leader of the group said normally they have more dancers, with a total count of around 20 members. But due to a variety of events, there were only four dancers and about six guys drumming and singing today. The standout was the dancer playing the role of “hunter” who was a boy who just turned 9 this week. That kid was good!

Pueblo Dance Group

Anyhow, at noon when the dancing was finished, my original plan was to go back to the restaurant and have some more pueblo-inspired food. But there was a 35 minute wait for a table, and frankly I was still full from the huge breakfast I had. So instead of waiting, I said goodbye to Albuquerque and headed north. But not before picking up a pueblo cookie and peach pie from the baked goods counter.

Part 2, La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs

After an hour or so on the road, plus a stop for lunch, I arrived at the parking area and trail head for La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs.

OK, hold on a second. I didn’t talk about lunch, but maybe I should have, because it was yet another New Mexican food experience. I found a place in the northern reaches of the Albuquerque sprawl that good good marks – at least on Yelp – for and ordered the chicken enchilada plate. The waitress asked if I wanted red or green, and I said “Christmas!” And she said the meal came with two sides, so I ordered beans and – of course – posole!

By the way, I still don’t know what the proper spelling of the word is. Everywhere I’ve seen in New Mexico, they spell it posole. But in Mexico it’s spelled pozole. In Denver, it’s spelled both ways, roughly 50/50.

Anyhow, the waitress delivered my plate of food, warned me that it was hot, and then she looked at it really weird, like she was afraid she brought out the wrong thing. “I’ve never seen them make it like that before,” she told me. “I can take it back if you want.”

I think she assumed I was a regular who was going to get upset, but couldn’t be farther from the truth. The way the kitchen prepared the dish, instead of three rolled enchiladas, they made them stacked style. And then they smothered the stack in queso sauce, with red chile on one side and green chile on the other. It was delicious, but way too much food. I had to get a box to take about half of it with me for leftovers.

Now back to rock art. This particular petroglyph hike was a bit unusual in a few ways. First, it’s on BLM land, which means it’s way more wild west than most. There’s a trail head, but the whole area is a network of social trails, without any indication of anything being “official”. That’s why descriptions of the train range from 0.8 miles to 2.0 miles in length. I pulled up the trail that’s in AllTrails, and planned to do the loop it recommended, but once I got there I realized it was very stupid. If you follow the trail as defined in the AllTrails map, you’d spend half your time on top of the mesa where you can’t see any of the rock art, and the other half of your time circling back on an old road that’s also too far away to see any of the rock art.

As with the petroglyphs along the escarpment west of Albuquerque, this group is also carved into an escarpment of black rock. For all I know, it could be lava from the same volcanoes, but I kinda doubt it.

The second way this group is a bit unusual is that there are a ton of flute player figures, and also a lot of duck figures. The flute player, known to many in the American southwest by the Hopi name Kokopelli, is the hunchbacked creature who, well, is always playing a flute. Nobody knows for sure why this figure was so popular. He’s seen in rock art ranging over hundreds of miles that was created over several hundreds of years. Was it meant to represent a single person? Or a caste or class or group of people – traders from the south carrying a bag of trade goods over their shoulder? Some say he’s actually an anthropomorphic insect. All I know is there are lot of carvings of him on this particular cliffside.

Anyhow, after scrambling over lava boulders to see the main group of petroglyphs here, I headed back to the car and onward to my AirBnB.

Supper was pizza. The pizza was good – shrimp and green chiles – and the service was terrible. But later I did enjoy the “pueblo cookie” from the Indian Pueblo Kitchen for dessert.


NM21 Road Trip – Day 3

September 17, 2021

Part 1, Petroglyphs

At last, I did some more serious hiking today, and got my fill of rock art.

Once I got up, I got my things together, and headed out of the hotel to the car, stopping in the lobby just long enough to get a grab-and-go breakfast of a travel mug of coffee, a banana, and a microwave breakfast sandwich (spicy sausage). I ate those on the way to the trailhead for my first hike of the day.

On the west side of Albuquerque, a few miles past the Rio Grande, there’s a long escarpment that runs generally north-south. What’s an escarpment? According to Wiktionary, it’s a “steep descent or declivity; steep face or edge of a ridge; ground about a fortified place, cut away nearly vertically to prevent hostile approach.” In other words, it’s a fancy name for a long cliff. This one in particular was formed when a volcano a few miles to the west poured lava that reached a certain point and then just stopped. So there’s this long cliff of black lava rock, and Native Americans over hundreds or thousands of years used these black boulders as a canvas for their petroglyphs.

Yours truly in front of the lava escarpment

This area is protected now as Petroglyph National Monument. The weird thing is that the city, as it’s sprawled to the west, has built subdivisions right up to the cliffs and then on top of the cliffs. So there’s just this narrow meandering strip of land that is part of the Monument.

There are three canyons with trails that make up the Monument, and I ended up hiking in two of the three. My first hike of the day was Piedras Marcadas Canyon. The trail is only about 1.5 miles round trip and is pretty easy.

After finishing that hike, I drove to the trailhead for the next hike I wanted to take, at Boca Negra. The marked trails here are all very short, but the AllTrails database has one longer loop hike that encompasses all the shorter hikes plus a hike to an area that was accessible about 50 years ago but is no longer, plus a section on top of the rim. AllTrails calls this the Cliff Base trail. All told it’s about 2 miles, but with some elevation gain up and down the escarpment so it feels longer, especially in the heat of the day.

My plan was for the last part of my visit to the Petroglyph National Monument to be a visit to the visitor center, where I would eat lunch. The Cliff Base hike left me pretty dirty and sweaty, but I cooled off by the time I reached the visitor center, which is at yet another location, not adjacent to any of the trailheads. There, I found a book I wanted to buy, but learned there were no picnic tables. The nearest picnic tables, according to the volunteer who was there, was at the third of the three trailheads, at Rinconada Canyon, just a mile away.

So I drove there. I was deflated to find that some genius put the two picnic tables right out in direct sun, but I found a separate shady area for lunch. Because I really, really prefer to have lunch in the shade. I ate a ham and cheese sandwich I’d been carrying around all day from my Whole Foods run the day before.

I was tempted to go take the third and final hike, but then I remembered I had another thing on the agenda for the day, and that was to visit the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the campus of the University of New Mexico. And the museum closes at 4:00pm, so I skipped the third possible hike and drove across town to campus.

Part 2, Museum

Museum means air conditioning

It’s just my luck that after paying $6 for on-campus parking, the very first thing the freshman staffing the front desk at the museum asked was, “Would you like a parking pass?” I didn’t realize that they gave our parking passes if you’re visiting the museum! I wish I’d known. I’d much rather give that six bucks to the museum than to whatever company runs the parking meters. Oh well. Speaking of money, admission is free.

I’ve read about this museum numerous times over the past 20 years or so. It’s a famous museum for southwestern archaeology. In addition to having lots of representative artifacts from pueblo and ancestral puebloan sites, they routinely have very good traveling exhibits.

OK, I guess I’ll go up

I wandered around, I read stuff, I looked at all the exhibits. I even checked out an art exhibit that I really liked – photos from a Diné artist. But the museum wasn’t as big as I was expecting it to be, so my trip lasted only about an hour or so.

By then I was tired out, and headed back to my hotel for a delightful hot shower and lots of drinks and some photo editing.

New Mexican food of the day was supper at Laguna Burger: green chile cheeseburger (the Laguna Wimp), with a side salad and avocado ranch dressing, plus a $5 pineapple margarita. Five bucks!


NM21 Road Trip – Day 2

September 16, 2021

It always takes me a few days to get into vacation mode, where I can really just be lazy and relax and enjoy myself. At first, I always feel like I should be doing something at all times, and today I’m still feeling like that. But I did get to do some more vacation-like stuff today.

I got up and packed up my things in the motel in Las Vegas, and had a tiny sack breakfast, then hit the road. First stop was the Pecos National Historic Park. I got briefed by the volunteer outside the visitor center, and got a map of the main trail around the ruins. And then I went inside and browsed through the gift shop, watched a short film about what I was about to see, and then walked through the museum.

Using the gee whiz panorama mode of my cell phone camera to show you that I was the only tourist interested in the Park Service video that morning

The main trail here goes around and through Pecos Pueblo and the adjacent Catholic church that the Spaniards built right next door. In fact, they built four Catholic churches there over the course of a couple hundred years. The first was a tiny experimental affair, and then the second was a huge cathedral with buttresses and everything. But then the locals destroyed it in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. But of course the Spanish came back and built a temporary church, and then a bigger one on top of the ruins of the previous big one. But Pecos was on the decline by the time the new church was finished, and the remaining inhabitants of the pueblo moved in with their relatives in another pueblo about 80 miles away.

I drove into the modern village of Pecos, but didn’t see anything that caught my interest, so I drove on to Santa Fe for lunch. In keeping with my theme of trying to eat New Mexican style food everywhere I can, I got an open faced hamburger smothered in red chile. Of course you can order it with green or Christmas, instead.

Pantry Burger with Red Chile, from Pantry Dos

Then I drove to Albuquerque and checked into a new hotel near Old Town, which would be my home for the next two nights.

Yeah, I got some food at Whole Foods, but I was surprised and delighted to find these other things – my favorite pre-mixed Old Fashioned cocktail, some pre-mixed Moscow Mules (not awesome, but whatever), and a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. The blue popcorn is for Mom, assuming I have the willpower to not eat it before I see her next.

After a shopping trip to Whole Foods to stock up on food and booze (they sell beer, wine, liquor, and pre-made cocktails there), I had a nap and a shower and then walked to a restaurant for supper that specializes in using local ingredients, called 66 Acres. I had a cocktail called The Manhattan Project (a Manhattan made with bourbon from Taos) and for a main course I had New Mexico Shrimp & Grits, which has green chile in the grits and red chile on the shrimp.

New Mexico Shrimp & Grits from Sixty-Six Acres in Albuquerque

NM21 Road Trip – Day 1

September 15, 2021

It’s Wednesday, and I’m on vacation. A much-needed vacation. A long-overdue vacation. In fact, I’ve been planning this vacation for two years. You see, the Summer 2019 issue of American Archaeology magazine had an article called “Touring Ancient Art Museums” about rock art sites in New Mexico and Arizona. I had been to one or two of them in the past, but most were new to me.

So I got the idea to have a road trip to northern New Mexico that would tie together hikes to several of these rock art sites, plus hitting up some related museums. The plans really came together in early 2020, and the goal was for a 7 to 10 day trip in May 2020. I did a lot of research and put together an itinerary. I reserved an AirBnB and reserved two spots on a tour of one of the rock art sites that’s on private property. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I had to cancel all those plans.

At one time I hoped to be able to do the trip in the fall of 2020, but travel restrictions were still a thing. Then I hoped to do it in the spring of 2021, but the pandemic was still at its worst and my father passed, leaving me not much in the mood for frolic and cavortment.

Finally, things came together in the fall of 2021. I dusted off all the previous plans, put together a new itinerary to fit into 8 days of travel, and started to make reservations. Unlike the original plans, Brooke couldn’t join me because she needed to go to New York to help her aunt deal with selling her house. So I ended up on a solo road trip. And that’s how I came to be writing this journal entry from a worn and cheaply-made chair in the Super 8 motel in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Today was the first day of my trip, and probably the least exciting. All I really accomplished today was driving. I finished packing and squaring things away at my condo in Denver, and headed out on Interstate 25 southbound. Hours later, I arrived at tonight’s lodging. I got breakfast at a drive-through, and lunch at another drive-through farther south. But I got to have supper at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant here in Las Vegas.

My road trip companion Shorty and me, stopping for a picnic lunch at the city park in Walsenburg, Colorado

That’s when it really sunk in that I’m in New Mexico now. I ordered the “stuffy” with “roast beef”. That’s New Mexico lingo for what in Denver we’d call a stuffed sopaipilla with carne deshebrada. The waitress asked “red, green, or Christmas?” as one does here (I chose green). And instead of beans or rice as a side dish, I had posole. Plus, a free sopaipilla for dessert. The whole huge meal with tax and tip came to just over $13. The price is one nice thing about eating in small towns.

I tried to go for a little hike to get some exercise after arriving in town, but the only decent trail that AllTrails recommended in the area turned out to be in a state park. When I drove there I saw they wanted me to pay a $5 day use fee just to walk less than 2 miles on a trail to a reservoir that’s mostly dried up at the moment. It didn’t seem worth it, so I skipped it. There will be hiking tomorrow.

The best parts of the Super 8 Motel in Las Vegas, New Mexico are the pillows and this big photo by the bed.

my neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant – Anise

If you’re one of my six regular readers, you know I love good food. Well, one of the local Denver newspapers – Denverite – has been doing a special series where readers can nominate a restaurant in their neighborhood that they are especially grateful survived the COVID-19 pandemic. I nominated a Vietnamese restaurant called Anise, and they picked my nomination to do an article on!

The reporter interviewed me and the couple who own the restaurant. I’m mostly happy with the way the article came out. I went there for lunch today, and talked to Long, one of the owners, a bit. He said of all the press they’ve gotten, this article is the most shared on social media. And several new customers have come in because of the article. So that makes me happy.

Read on…


celebration of life

This weekend was the “celebration of life” ceremony for my father. My family and a ton of friends and neighbors met in Redstone, Colorado for hour-long program at the Church at Redstone, followed by a catered BBQ lunch with lots of cookies and ice cream for dessert.

Dad was so loved that three different pastors traveled from various parts of Colorado to speak. Also, I spoke to the group, as did my cousin Dawn, and a former neighbor of my parents.

Below are the notes I spoke from. It took me a while to write this piece. It seemed well received. The standing-room-only audience in the church gave lots of laughs and applause.

Ernie Bradley Celebration of Life Talk

by Todd Bradley

Delivered in Redstone, Colorado on June 26, 2021

Hi, I’m Todd Bradley. For those who don’t know me, I’m Ernie’s oldest son. Or, as Dad sometimes called me… Matt, Kent, Missy, Todd. Remembering people’s names wasn’t Dad’s greatest strength. He was much better at remembering the names of fish or birds or creeks. But that’s another story, not what I’m here to talk to you about today. Instead, I’m here to talk to you about Willie Nelson.

When Mom started organizing this Celebration of Life event a couple months ago, she asked if I’d like to say a few words. Her only request was that it couldn’t be too sad, since we all want this to be as happy of an occasion as possible. Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to or not, or even if I would be able.

So I asked myself, “What would Dad do?” And of course what Dad would do is to write a 27 page story that would take roughly an hour to tell, and include a half dozen twists and turns that eventually end with ice cream. So that’s what I did. And that’s what I’m gonna do. And here we go.

When I was a kid, the family lived in Casper, Wyoming for a few years. That’s where Matthew, my youngest brother, was born, in fact. Well, being in the middle of Wyoming, there were lots of pronghorns around. At the time, we called them antelope, though I later learned that biologically they’re not true antelope. True antelope live only in Africa, and scientists say the nearest living relative of the pronghorn is actually the giraffe, believe it or not. Whatever. Dad, as everyone here knows, was an avid hunter, and so he wanted to hunt these things.

I’ve seen a photo or two of Dad and his father, Cecil, hunting pronghorns in either northern Colorado or Wyoming in the 60s or maybe early 70s. So I know it wasn’t a new thing for him. But once we lived in Wyoming, Dad wanted to hunt them every year.

Now if you’ve never hunted pronghorns with a rifle, it’s quite a bit different than hunting deer or elk. Deer and elk like to stay in forests and brushy areas, where they can stay somewhat hidden from predators. So hunting them requires some sneaking around in the aforementioned forests and brushy areas, maybe on foot or horseback. Pronghorns, though, live out in the wide open plains. Their defense strategy isn’t to stay hidden in vegetation, because there isn’t any vegetation tall enough to hide in! Their defense strategy is to see predators coming from a long ways away, and then run like the devil to escape. They can run up to 60 miles per hour, and they can keep up that pace for a long time. You know what also goes about 60 miles per hour over flat ground? An automobile. Maybe you can see where this story is headed.

Anyhow, as the oldest of us three brothers, it was my job to go along with Dad on trips to scout for and hunt pronghorns. I was too young at this point to hunt big game myself, but not too young to go along for the ride.

I don’t know if this is how everyone hunts pronghorns, but the way Dad felt was best was like this: We’d drive around the prairie hour after hour until we’d spot a herd. Then he’d slam on the brakes, throw the gear shift into Park, and look at the pronghorns through binoculars or the scope on his rifle, to see if there were any suitable adult males to shoot. Sometimes there weren’t, so we’d move on. But when there were, then the pursuit was on.

In some cases, the prey was within rifle range, and he’d try to shoot one. But most of the time when we first spotted a suitable buck, it would be too far away. So we’d close range in the truck. If the geography was suitable, we’d sneak up closer to the herd for a few minutes, maybe driving out of sight on the other side of a hill from the pronghorns. And of course, we’d hope the pronghorns hadn’t moved during that time. And of course, most of the time they had moved. So we’d repeat this process over and over.

Occasionally, though, Dad would get excited about one particular buck and instead of creeping along out of sight from the herd, he’d stomp on the gas and try to chase the herd down. Now something you’ve gotta understand about this is that there was never a road that led to the herd, because we were out in the middle of nowhere on the short grass prairie. So Dad would just point the truck at the herd and floor it, heading cross country over rocks and brush and cactus and small creek beds, and so on. Everything in the truck would go flying around as we hit rock after rock at about 40 or 50 miles per hour, so I learned to hold on for my life.

grrrr BOOM there goes lunch flying across the cab of the truck…BOOM as we hit another rock, and there goes Dad’s rifle lurching through the air…BOOM another rock, and there goes my canteen. I learned that when we were in pursuit mode, I better roll up the truck window. Otherwise, half the contents of the truck would fly out during the bumpy chase. And some of that stuff was important, such as my lunch!

Anyhow, that’s what pronghorn hunting was like, for the most part. But there were also times where it was very quiet, as we took a break and waited in the truck for the herd to move. During these quiet times, I liked to read and would sometimes have a book along. When I didn’t have a book, though, and when Dad and I ran out of things to talk about, it could get really boring.

However, there’s one special thing the truck had that was something of a saving grace, and that was an 8-track player.

Some of you are too young to have ever used or even seen an 8-track player, but it’s how people played music in the car when you were out of range for the radio to work. Imagine a music cassette that’s the size of a tuna sandwich. Now Dad wasn’t the kind of person who would go buy music from a wide variety of artists in different styles. To use a joke from a movie, he liked both kinds of music – country AND western. (Can anyone name that movie?)

As I remember it, when he bought the truck, the 8-track player came with one tape, and Dad never saw any reason to buy another one. So that was the only music we ever had to listen to as long as we had that truck.

And that one 8-track tape? It was Willie Nelson. As a child, I had no interest whatsoever in Willie Nelson or his music, or really in country music at all. I liked rock and roll, pop music, and later disco, like what I heard on Casper’s Top 40 radio station. That’s what the other kids at school listened to. But any music – even country music – was better than no music, I guess.

One difference between Dad and me, at least at that age, was our approach to music. I had the very simple opinion that if a song sounds good at one volume, then it’s gonna sound twice as good at when you turn it up twice as loud.

Dad did not agree. Dad felt like the best volume was when the music was turned down so low you couldn’t understand the words, and could barely tell there was music playing in the first place. You might wonder if that was just his way of expressing that he really didn’t like Willie Nelson that much. But he treated all music like that. It should be quiet and in the background. Besides, if he didn’t like Willie, he could’ve bought another 8-track tape.

Anyhow, time passed, we moved to Colorado, and I eventually grew up. I didn’t think about Willie Nelson or country music for most of the next 20 years. Then I heard a song from a band I liked that triggered a wave of changes. The band was named Cake; the song was titled “Sad Songs and Waltzes”. Now by this time my taste in music had expanded quite a bit. In college, I started to appreciate classical music, bluegrass, a few styles of jazz, show tunes, progressive rock, heavy metal, and so on.

During those next 20 years, I learned to play a half dozen musical instruments and I wrote and recorded about a hundred songs. So naturally, as part of all this, I gained an appreciation for how difficult songwriting is.

After I heard this song by Cake a couple times, I thought, “Wow, that’s some really good songwriting. It’s witty, it’s poignant, and it tells a great story.” This tune, “Sad Songs and Waltzes” is about sad songs and waltzes, AND it is both a sad song and a waltz. That really impressed me, for some reason. But I realized this song seemed a bit out of place for the band Cake. It’s just not really their style. So I read the liner notes of the CD, and that’s when I learned the song was a cover tune. It was actually written by none other than…you guessed it, Willie Nelson.

And so it was that 20 years after antelope hunting, excuse me, pronghorn hunting in Wyoming, I was reunited with Willie Nelson. What else did I miss by writing off Willie Nelson all those years. That spurred me to dive deep into Nelson’s work and life.

I learned that Willie was a native Texan. His first music breakthrough was in Nashville in the 60s, but he retired and then moved to Austin. Unable to stay away from music, he un-retired and founded the “outlaw country” musical genre there with a few friends. I learned that he ran into trouble with the IRS because his manager failed to pay several million dollars of income tax. Oops! I learned that he’s been such an avid user of cannabis that at the music hall in Austin where the famous Austin City Limits television show is filmed, when it smells like pot smoke back stage, people say “it smells like Willie around here.” I learned that he has been playing the same guitar, named Trigger, for 53 years. His guitar is older than me!

But most important, I learned Willie is a gifted songwriter. As with all artists, his style has changed over the years. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, he sang songs about cowboys and women and whiskey. But in his later years his focus changed to themes like acceptance, animal cruelty, tolerance, and gay rights. Willie started off conservative and ended up liberal, an unexpected transition for someone born in the 1930s in rural Texas.

But enough about Willie Nelson. I volunteered to come up here today to share a memory or two of Dad.

What interesting things did I learn from him that the rest of y’all might not be aware of? Well, I learned something about hunting pronghorns, as I already mentioned. I’ll leave it for Kent, the son who inherited the hunting and fishing genes, to tell you over some barbecue what he thinks of Dad’s pronghorn chasing techniques.

I also learned that when using a knife you should cut away from your body, not toward it. That’s a good Dad lesson I use a few times every week. And unlike the accidental lesson about Willie, this is one Dad actually meant to teach. It took me a couple tries to get it right, though. Here’s another little story to illustrate what I mean.

After we had moved to Grand Junction, one night Dad and I were the only ones at home. I can’t remember why, but we were making supper as we were both hungry. We decided to make something that required grated cheese; I think it was tacos. Anyhow, Dad was cooking the meat and I was prepping the toppings. There was a block of cheddar cheese in the fridge, and I needed to open up the thick plastic wrap so I could grate it. I remembered my lesson from Dad and cut away from myself, but unfortunately nicked myself in the finger pretty hard with the knife.

Within a couple seconds, it became clear this wasn’t just a minor cut, as there was an arc of spattered blood across the counter and refrigerator door, just like in a horror movie. And then the pain hit. I was lucky I didn’t cut the whole thing off. We ran it under the cold water in the sink for something like 15 or 20 minutes, applying constant pressure. Finally, the bleeding slowed enough to wrap the finger up in some bandages.

I always assumed Dad would know what to do in these sort of situations, perhaps some sort of standard protocol written down in a book somewhere. Like: If the bleeding stops in under 5 minutes, use a bandage and carry on. If the bleeding continues longer, go get stitches.

But Dad looked at me for guidance. “Do you want to go get that thing stitched up?”

And I remember thinking, “I’m just a kid, how am I supposed to know whether this cut requires stitches?” We discussed it a bit. I learned there isn’t a 5 minute rule for blood loss, or anything like it. Or if there is, Dad sure didn’t know it. However, one thing we were both certain of is that we were even hungrier after all this than before.

So we skipped the hospital so we could eat those tacos. In hindsight, I probably should’ve gotten stitches. That cut kept partially healing and then cracking back open for several weeks, and I still have a visible scar from it that’s numb 40 years later.

Looking back now and trying to figure out what it all means, I guess there’s three different ways Dad taught me things. One was traditional lessons, like “cut away from your body so you don’t stab yourself if you slip” or “this is how we hunt pronghorns from a truck.” Another way is to accidentally plant a seed of an idea and then just stay out of the way and see if it grows. That’s how I learned to appreciate Willie Nelson.

And the third and final way was this: just provide the room for kids to be independent and learn their own lessons. That’s how I learned that when you almost cut your finger off, seeing a doctor really is more important than eating tacos. Looking back now, I think that’s probably the teaching technique Dad was best at.

Speaking of eating tacos, I think it’s getting closer to lunch time. Good thing, because that’s all I’ve got to say. Thank you all for coming and listening politely.