Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Backpacking and Hiking Glacier National Park, MT, 16-23 September 2016

2 October 2016

Summary

50+ miles walking in Glacier National Park, MT, with an early departure due to lousy weather to see the Park.  Massive views otherwise, a lot of critters and critter signs, amazing lakes.

The photos for the trek are on Google+ here.

Want to go back already!

Getting There

I’ve been putting in for backcountry permits at Glacier for the past couple years, and this year we finally hit one in the lottery, with an itinerary Clark had submitted.  I quickly found out that United or Delta were my only choices for flying into Kalispell, MT, which was the closest airport to the Park.  $550 later, I was ready to go.

The team had decided to get to the Park a couple days early and dayhike, so we all came in for Friday.  Chuck and I headed out from OKC way early, and in Denver we had a delay due to an airplane problem after we launched for Kalispell.  The flight between DEN-FCA was stunning, we flew over East Yellowstone.  I will put up a separate blog post for that.  We got in about 1115, picked up Clark and Jason in Kalispell and had lunch, then headed to the Park.

Jason had found a very nice house that would sleep us all at Glacier Guides.  We dropped out stuff there on the way to the Park.

Dayhiking

We had a total of 17.58 miles dayhiking over three days.

First, we headed up to Avalanche Lake.  We were amazed that in late September, the trailhead parking was full, and then some.  There was construction going on the boardwalk part of the trail.  The trail up to the Lake was pretty easy, and there were a TON of people going up there.  We were on the trail from 1415 to 1700.  The trail starts on the Trail Of The Cedars, which is a loop boardwalk trail.  At several points you are treated to small cascades on Avalanche Creek.  Once at the Lake, you immediately transition from woods to a majestic wall around the south end of the Lake that had three ribbon waterfalls coming down a couple thousand feet. Photos were taken in quantity.  We hiked along the lakeshore, alternating between river rock and bigger rock hopping.  We got about halfway along the shore when we decided that it was getting dark, so we headed back.  We found a trail to the main trail; if we had realized that trail was there we would have made better time and more progress to the head of the Lake.

This hike was 5.86 miles roundtrip, and about 650 ft of altitude gain.  Highly recommended.

avalanche_lake

Saturday, we started the day by hiking a loop trail that ran by Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls.  This was a pretty flat trail for the most part, except the part that goes by John’s Lake, where you get a little up.  The woods on the north side of McDonald Creek were deep and dark.  The Falls were very pretty, I climbed down about 30 ft to get near the surface of the creek.

This hike was 3.03 miles, and had a total of 500 ft of altitude gain, mostly on the south side of Going To The Sun Road to climb up to the Lake.

waterfalls_and_johns_lake

After the loop hike, we headed back into town to pick up Dave, then get lunch, then back into the Park for some more hiking.

This was not so much happy.  We had decided to drive up Going To The Sun Road for the views, and to hike to Hidden Lake.  On the way up, it started to rain, and the wind started to blow, and as we went up, the clouds came down, and in short order we were in a low-visibility situation.  We ended up at the Visitor Center at Logan Pass, looked around a couple minutes, then hitched up our rain gear and headed out.  It was raining, sleeting, and blowing hard enough that a couple times you had to push pretty hard.  The first part of the hike was over tundra, and was on a long boardwalk with occasional trail.  There are some pretty waterfalls to the north.  We got out to the overlook, and looked over a bunch of clouds below us.  We decided that the Lake would not be seen today, and headed back down.

The hike to the Hidden Lake overlook was 2.98 miles, with about 550 ft of up, and then 550 ft of down.

hidden_lake_overlook

We headed back to the house and met up with Lance and Luke, then headed into Columbia Falls for dinner and a grocery run.

The third day, we drove into Whitefish to do a bit of shopping for gear, then headed back into the Park for lunch and another hike.  For this one, we decided to hike up to Fish Lake.  I really wanted to see a moose, and figured that an alpine lake would increase the odds.  This hike was a very straightforward out and back off of GTTS Road, and it had a bit of a climb.  We crossed several streams along the way and back, and had some nice views of Lake McDonald from the trail.

This days hike was 5.65 miles round trip, with a gain and loss of about 1,200 ft.

fish_lake

After our hike, we returned to the house for some home-cooked spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread, and final packing for departure the next morning.

We had been checking the weather.  The next two days were nice, with rain predicted for Wednesday afternoon, and snow Thursday and Friday.  Snow was predicted for the southeast side of the park, which is very high.  We went into the Backcountry Office and talked with them about routing, and made a change to reflect a route I had tried for the previous two years, modified to a different camp site for Thursday evening.

Backpacking

Day 1

We had a really good breakfast before leaving, and got out of the house around 0900.  It was steadily raining (the forecast notwithstanding), and the drive on GTTS Road had not really improved view-wise.  On the other side, we broke out in sunshine (mostly), and turned north at Babb for the trailhead, near Chief Mountain very near the Canadian border.

We managed to hit the trail around 1030 after the drive in.  It was a perfect day to hike, with temps in the 60s, with the only downer a very stiff wind blowing into our faces.  We hiked along until around 1300, when we found a place that was both in the sun and in the lee of the wind behind some trees.  Lunch was very good!

The trail was well worn along here, although a bit narrow, and after a good descent from the trailhead, mostly flat.  We passed a Ranger station with about seven horses that watched us pass.  At this point, we started back into trees, and bounced up and down quite a bit.  We crossed the Belly River on a suspension bridge, ran into and talked to a Ranger, and hike along in pretty good shape.  We had the threat of rain but never really got any.

An unexpected surprise was a beautiful waterfall along the way.  Dawn Mist Falls is about 100ft high and was thundering and stunning.  If you miss the turnoff for the foot of the Falls, you get a good view from an overlook.

We motored into camp at the bottom of Elizabeth Lake around 1645.

We had secured food storage boxes at Elizabeth Lake, and an outhouse.  After storing our food bags in the boxes, we set up camp, and came back for dinner.

Glacier is sorta different in the food area.  There is a food area, and you are required to do all cooking and eating there.  The food area is very nice, with logs to sit on, and upended logs to use for tables.

I had Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Chicken and Rice for dinner, with a couple cups of chicken noodle soup, and it was great.

It was around 50F when we got into camp, and in the mid-40s at bed time.

Our day was 10.3 miles.  Once you lose about 770 ft from the trailhead, you have a net gain of around 300 ft of climb by the time you get to camp, but the actual gain is probably 1000 ft by the time you factor in a number of intermediate bump ups (and downs).

Day 2

It was 38F when we got up.  Rather, it was 38F when *I* got up :).  The rest of the crew was up around 0700, I struggled out at 0830.  Oh well, I didn’t hold the group up, I got my tent down and stuff packed up when everyone else was ready, and I used a bit of existing hot water to make some hot chocolate.  I ate my breakfast (a bag of Frosted Flakes and a package of blueberry Pop Tarts) as we hiked along.

We headed down the trail towards Helen Lake.  The trail follows the north side of Elizabeth Lake, and contours up and down quite a bit below a cliff that feeds a number of small waterfalls.  There were a lot of sheep and goats up there.

We got to the head of Elizabeth Lake and took a break at the camp there.  The trail continued on towards Helen Lake, climbing steadily but gently.  We found a very pretty waterfall and decided to stop there and have lunch under a beautiful blue sky, with all that mountain around us.  After lunch, we continued up the trail, going another 150 grueling yards until we found the Helen Lake campsite :).  This site had a tall bar installed for hanging food bags.  We did so, set up tents, and relaxed.  We had this site to ourselves.  It was 5 miles and a net gain of just over 200 ft altitude at this point.

One of the highlights of the hike to Helen as seeing the dramatic Old Sun Glacier and a large Yosemite-class waterfall off to the north.

After a bit of resting, we went off on a dayhike.  There were trails heading south of the camp that looked promising, right up to the point that we were in an impenetrable network of brush.  There were lots of berries in there, and we wondered if bears were also.  We retreated and tried the shoreline, but no luck there.  So we headed to the north side.  We tried low first, then went a little higher and found a way through.  We contoured steadily up, and as Sun was starting to get close to Ahern Mountain to the west, we stopped and admired the lake below us, the snowfields to the west, the waterfalls across the lake, and Ahern Glacier above.  We headed back after a bit.  This hike was 2 miles total, and got us about 1/3 of the way along the lake shore.  We also had another 200 ft of altitude gain to get us above the lake.  If I get back there, I will make it a point to get up the lake farther.

Dinner for me was Mountain House Chili Mac, and it was very good.

Our total for the day was 7 miles, and about 400 ft of altitude gain.

Day 3

We awoke to a very overcast sky.  I had oatmeal and hot tea for breakfast.  The temp was 43F.  We couldn’t see any of the mountains around us, the clouds were only a couple hundred feet over our heads.  We headed out at 0830, back towards the tail end of Lake Elizabeth.  Again, it was a nice walk to get there.  It rained on us several times on the way.  We got into camp just afternoon, unpacked the food, set up the tents, and had lunch.  It continued to rain on and off, and the last temperature I checked, it was 45F.

We knew the trail we were taking Thursday started right out of camp on a suspension bridge over the Belly River, and we had been told by the Backcountry Office the bridge would be removed at some point this week.  A couple of us walked over there after lunch, and sure enough, the bridge was gone.  The suspension cables were there, but the deck was stacked up nearby.  A trail crew was busy building a new bridge approach.  They pointed us a bit upstream at a horse ford that was about three feet deep as a place to cross the next morning.  I note that I measured the water temp a bit later at 53F.

We also got a weather update from the trail crew.  The weather was deteriorating, with heavy rain expected were we were, starting later that afternoon, and several inches of sleet and snow higher.  Well…  The next day, we were headed 2000ft higher.  Most importantly, the clouds were going to stay right where they were, and the highs the next couple days were in the mid 30s where we were, and so quite colder 2000ft higher.

We kicked it around as a team.  One option was wading the stream, and taking an intermediate trail that went through Ptarmigan Tunnel, then into Many Glacier.  It was only a 1200 ft climb, but we would end up five miles from our shuttle car.  We could also just escape out the way we came.  We settled on that option.  Then it was noted that it was 1415, and we really couldn’t hike anywhere else, and it was a long time until sunset. So we modified the option, packed up, and headed out about 1515.

There isn’t a lot to say about this day.  The trail was a muddy, disgusting slog due to all the rain.  We had just eaten a good lunch and had a good rest after the five mile walk into camp, and it was mostly down, so we burned along.  We saw a lot of tracks, and a live moose, which was very cool.  Near dusk, we got to the last hill that climbed up to the parking lot.  We all slowed down some on that climb, and we got into the parking lot at 1930, just after full dark.  We had some tired legs.  In all, we walked 10 miles in 5 hr 30 min, which is 1.8 mph sustained, with backpacks.  Not bad.

In all, we hiked 14.8 miles that last day, with 600 ft of altitude loss over the first 13 miles, with an 800 ft gain over the last 1.8 miles.

As you might expect, the decision to abort the second backpacking trip due to weather while on the trail really bugged me.  It was the right decision, given that we had a likelihood of having trouble finding the trail on a high ridge, socked in, with a couple inches of snow.  The overriding thing was not being able to see mountains, which was the entire point of being up there.

The trail:  it was a muddy, disgusting mess.  All of our boots, and our rain pants, and some of our jackets, were covered in mud.  It really made the hike a lot harder, due to slipping around.

Regardless, we got to the parking lot, loaded up in the Suburban, and drove to East Glacier, where some good staff support work by Gayle found the team some very nice (overheated!) rooms at a local place, where we could spread out our wet tents and stuff to dry overnight.

We were so sweaty and wet, that not only did every window in the car fog up, the plastic covering the dash instruments fogged up also.

Critters

We saw quite a lot of wildlife, and signs of others.  We saw deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, fox, moose, a number of ducks and waterbirds, and elk while out on the trail.  We saw paw and hoof prints from elk and moose, bear, lynx, and cougar.  There was quite a lot of bear scat seen.  I would like to see a brown bear in the wild, maybe next time.

Water

We had no issues with water.  Even when we were not walking by lakes or camping by lakes, there were plenty of streams crossing the trail, and most of them could be pumped from.

Altitude

Glacier is a lot lower than Rocky Mountain NP, or some of the stuff we have hiked in New Mexico.  This is a plot of the altitudes of the various walks we did.  Note that when I moved the GPS track data over to LibreOffice, I swapped the order of the John’s Lake and Hidden Lake plots.

glacier-hikes-altitude

Getting Home

While we were at breakfast Thursday morning, we all checked on flights, and decided that a departure that afternoon would work.  We drove around the south end of the Park, looking at the clouds covering up the mountains. We drove into Whitefish and walked around downtown for a while after lunch, then headed to FCA.  We had some issues with incoming flights at FCA, which caused all five of us to miss our connections, which were the last ones of the evening, so we were all put up in hotels overnight.  Friday morning (after seeing one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen), we all got out and home.

Gear Notes

My fully loaded pack, for five days, was 29 lbs.  My Helium 55 held all my gear internally (but it was tight!), and the pack rode well.

Food was good.  I almost forgot to get soup, but found some at our last stop before the trailhead.  Raegan had helped me by taking my two-person dinners and cutting them by half for the trail.

I needed to have replaced my water pump filter before heading out on this trip.  A new one is on the way right now.

My clothing was a good mix.  I would get into camp, put up the tent, and immediately put on my base layer and other long sleeved stuff, and I was warm enough.  I took a fleece jacket that I wore under my Frog Togg rain jacket.

Looking Ahead

I still have not walked on a glacier.  After hiking and backpacking on this trip, I think that I will aim at the trail in the Gunsight Pass area to try to get to Jackson or Sperry Glacier, or focus on dayhiking out of Many Glacier.

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Peter’s Family Restaurant, Largo, FL

9 September 2016

Peters Family Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I had breakfast at Peter’s Wednesday morning. I got there about 0730 and it was pretty much empty. It’s another in the plethora of family restaurants in the area.

I had a country skillet. Now, I like skillet meals as they are usually just a mess of flavors, and that’s a Good Thing. 🙂 This one was advertised as having green peppers, but I asked for them to be not there, and they weren’t. The rest of the meal was some home fries, ham, onion, sausage, and cheese, with a couple eggs (over easy). Two things that were kind of odd, the cheese was a couple slices of American laid on top of the mound of other stuff, right under the eggs, and the sausage was basically links that had been cut up. I’m a bit particular, but I like my sausage as ground up and cooked in with the meal, and I prefer shredded cheese. Beyond my whining about that, it was a pretty good skillet. As is my custom, I cut up the eggies so that the yolks ran down into the mess of food. It was very good.

The meal came with some wheat toast, that hosted some grape jelly. I had some decent iced tea to drink. Service was very friendly. The place was uncrowded (more like mostly empty), so I had time to digest the USA Today while I ate. My check was $9.31. I would happily go back.

Kristina’s Cafe, St. Petersburg, FL

8 September 2016

Kristina's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I’ve mentioned before that the Tampa area is filled with small family restaurants that resemble east coast diners in that they have a huge menu. I visited three of them on this trip, the first one being Kristina’s.

I had the pot roast. It wasn’t what I expected. It was presented as a slab of roast beast, lying on a bed of egg noodles, and with a red sauce with carrots and onions spooned over it. Although it’s not what I expected, it was pretty good.

I had a small bowl of rice pudding for dessert.

Service was very fast and friendly, and the iced tea was good. My check was $10.49. I’d have no problem going back.

Red Mesa Cantina, St. Petersburg, FL

8 September 2016

Red Mesa Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Continuing my current business trip, I had dinner with a group of work friends at Red Mesa. There were 11 of us, and I figured that it would be hours, but I have to say up front that the server was outstanding. I never ran out of iced tea, and stuff got to the table in good time.

That being said, this is not a true Mexican place. It’s more Tex-Mex and stuffy. Regardless, it was good.

I got the table a couple bowls each of refried beans and queso con carne to dip our chips in. The beans needed some salsa added, but the queso was great stuff.

I had a beef burrito, it was filled with shredded barbacoa, cheese, and the like. I gutted it to eat it, and the filling was great stuff, just the right amount of heat, and wonderful flavor.

The iced tea was very good, and kept refilled in spite of the size of our group. Our server, as I mentioned, was very attentive, and we had our orders taken, food dispensed, and checks taken care of very efficiently, and he was a very friendly guy. My check was $47.20, but bear in mind that my meal was actually about $12; the rest of it was the appetizers, and a $6.80 forced gratuity (that I significantly sweeted, I will add, the guy busted his tail). I would go back again. The place was only a couple blocks from my hotel in downtown St. Pete.

Longhorn Steakhouse, Tampa, FL (Westshore)

8 September 2016

LongHorn Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

So I am in Florida this week on business, and I had a couple really good meals.

I’m starting with Longhorn. I can count on Longhorn for a decent steak when I don’t want to take a chance. It was even so here.

I had my standby ribeye. It came a perfect medium, and was very tender and flavorful. I had most of a baker with bacon, cheese, and butter. The soup was a bit of a disappointment. I always get the baked potato, but I received some chowder. The correct soup came right before the steak, and the flavor was off. Didn’t really matter, the steak made up for it.

Service was OK. The iced tea was GREAT as always. My check was $23.32. Reliable.

B’s Restaurant, Chandler, OK

8 September 2016

B's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

As we headed out of OKC last Friday, we needed dinner, and Chandler was just up the road. B’s is in a hotel right off I-44, nice and close.

Erin had a cheeseburger that seemed to have decent flavor, but it was overcooked a bit and charred. Raegan had catfish, and while she enjoyed it, it was a huge amount of food that she couldn’t finish. I had a ribeye steak that was outstanding. That steak was about 3/4″ thick, perfectly cooked medium, and was darn near fork tender. It was seasoned a bit (they say right on the menu that they love to season), but the seasoning didn’t overwhelm the beef.

Sides were OK. The iced tea was very good, and service was OK overall. Our check was $58.29, that included the very good pecan pie that Raegan had to go, mostly right there in the place :).

Granny’s Kitchen, Huntsville, AR

8 September 2016

Grannys Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This wasn’t the only restaurant in town (in fact, there are a couple others that look worth checking), but it’s good.

We cruised through Huntsville on the way to the Ozarks last Saturday on our NW Arkansas drive. There’s a creek right below the place that I really liked.

I had chicken fried steak. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it was FAR from the worst. I rated the CFS a 9 out of 10, mainly because a 10 is 100% fork tender and just bursting with flavor. There were a couple tougher places on this one. I had a cup of chili also, it was OK. The green beans and mashers with gravy were OK.

But… Raegan and Erin got pulled pork sandwiches. Oh my gosh, that was the best pulled port I’ve ever tasted. Fortunately, I got to eat about a third of Erins sammich. Wow, that stuff was tender and had amazing flavor. I liked the fries as well.

The iced tea was excellent, and the service was very friendly. Our check was $41.56. Good stuff.

Roma Italian Restaurant, Harrison, AR

8 September 2016

Hot dang, I’m at TPA early, and they have desks with power and good WiFi, so I’m going to play catch-up on some restaurant posts!

Roma Italian Ristorante & Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Raegan and Erin and I did some very relaxed driving through Northwest Arkansas last weekend, and we had a good dinner the second night in Harrison. The front desk person recommended Roma (not Roma’s), it was a good recommendation.

First of all, Roma is one of the Stealthy Chain Of Italian Restaurants That Is Not A Chain. The giveaway Spaghetti The Works was on the menu.

We got there about 1840 and the place was not even close to crowded.  I had Spaghetti the Works.  Aside from the fact that the marinara was a little more orange than I’ve experienced at the other places, it was perfect, a big pile of noodles and a ton of meat sauce, mushrooms, and a very good meatball.  Raegan had manicotti and Erin had chicken fettuccine al fredo.  All were outstanding.  We had the usual table bread, and some of that outstanding al fredo to dip the bread in, and it was just great.

Service was friendly and just right.  Our check was $50.30.  You probably can’t do better for Italian, or much better for anything else in Harrison.

Papa Reno, Bellevue, NE

25 August 2016

Papa Reno's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This restaurant is in the location once occupied by my beloved Mama Alvino’s. I will try very hard not to compare the two.

I had lunch here today with a work friend. We both had calzones. Mine was pepperoni and sausage. The calzone was not that large, and I thought that it was very light in the stuffing (read: there wasn’t much pepperoni or sausage). There was quite a lot of cheese. I would like to make a recommendation to the staff: you might not want to cut the calzone in half before serving, as it spills its cheese guts out; I think it should be plated and served uncut. The crust was pretty good, just the right amount of chewy and decent flavor. The marinara was OK, and each calzone comes with some on the side.

They don’t have real iced tea, but the Dr. Pepper wasn’t bad. Service was pretty fast. The food was OK. My check was $10.64. I will go back, and probably try the pizza next time.

La Mesa, Omaha, NE (Northwest)

25 August 2016

La Mesa Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tonight I met a work friend here for dinner, as it was roughly between our hotels. And like the rest of the La Mesa outlets, it was outstanding.

As usual, I had mixed chicken and beef fajitas with no bell peppers. Except it showed at the table with bell peppers, and got taken back and replaced very quickly. I dumped my beans, a lot of the excellent salsa, and lettuce on the meat, and squeezed the lemons from my iced tea over the resulting mess, then ate it! It was, simply, perfect. All cooked nice and tender, and with tremendous flavor.

The iced tea was wonderful, the conversation great. Service was perfect. Our check for two was $35.85.

Just a great meal. La Mesa is one of the best Mexican restaurants I have been to, anywhere.

Garden Cafe, Omaha, NE

24 August 2016

Garden Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After I got my hair cut this evening, I did a Google search, and was surprised to see a listing for the Garden Cafe nearby.

There used to be about 10 of the Garden Cafe outlets around the Omaha and Council Bluffs area, and there was even at least one in Kansas City I really liked them, in particular their potato casserole dishes. Regrettably, over time more and more closed.

So I headed over there. It seemed to be the same as the chainlet I thought it to be. I ordered an Omaha Potato Casserole. When it got to the table there was at least a quarter of a chopped red onion, and some pickles. I did a little configuration change by getting rid of the onions and chopping up the pickles over the meal.

It was excellent. The amount of ground beef was prefect, the potatoes were cooked all the way through, there was copious cheese, it was great!

Service was fast and friendly. The iced tea was great. The meal came with a blueberry muffin (pretty decent) that I had as a snack an hour ago. My check was $13.35. Overall, a very good meal that I will be happy to repeat.

Texas Roadhouse, San Antonio, TX

21 August 2016

Texas Roadhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We had dinner here evening before last with Ian in the San Antonio Food Tour. 🙂

We had called ahead for seating, and when we got to the restaurant at 1730, it was packed, with a long waiting line. Fortunately, we only waited five minutes since we had called ahead.

Ian and I had steak, both of us had ribeyes. Both steaks were cooked perfectly to order (medium and medium rare), and were very good cuts. Mine had no spots that were not tender.

Raegan had a grilled shrimp dinner.

Nothing was left of any of these meals. Service was very good, we never ran out of iced tea. Our check was $60.56. Good food.

Tooling Around the Northeast, 29 July – 06 August 2016

9 August 2016

Last week we took a driving tour around parts of the Northeast.  We drove 1093 miles over eight days.  Photos from our vacation are here on Google+.

We left OKC Friday evening (29 July). We had an airline Charlie-Fox right off the bat. The ground crew got us boarded and completely ready to go 10 min before departure (very cool). The pilot reported that the fuel guy loaded 1,000 lbs too much on the airplane. We sat for a while, and then the pilot announced that it would take to long to get the fuel guy back to defuel, and it would be faster to sit near the runway and burn it off (that’s REALLY strange to hear). We say there for 20+ minutes, then the pilot says they have a brake temp warning light, so we have to taxi back and have maintenance look at it.

We go back, but there is only one ground crew in OKC, and the airplane in the gate is having a maintenance issue, so we wait 20 minutes before they push back. In the meantime, the LAX-OKC EMB 175 has come in, and is waiting behind us. We finally get there, the maintenance guy agrees the brakes are not on fire, they sign out, and we head out again. AA booked us on a later flight, but we get into BOS at 1250, and to the hotel in Providence at 0230, and in bed about 0300.

A note here: we had a sail around Newport harbor scheduled for Saturday morning, I sent an email to the folks there (Classic Cruises of Newport) right before bed, and they changed us to the 1230 Monday cruise, which was darn nice of them. We slept until almost 1000.

After dragging out of bed, we headed to downtown Providence and visited the Rhode Island School of Design museum. They have an impressive collection of art from names I know, including an interesting piece by Rodan. The museum is connected to the Pendelton House, which has a lot of Revolutionary War era stuff in it.

After the museums, we headed towards NYC. We stopped in Milford and checked into our hotel, then headed to NYC. I wrote a blog post about driving there.

While Raegan saw Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Erin and I just wandered around the Times Square area.  It was raining (occasionally pretty hard) while we were there, and it wasn’t quite as crowded as it was last year, but there was still a huge amount of life and elan around us.

Once Phantom was over, we headed back to the hotel, arriving around 0100.  We were now working on one loooong day, less than six hours sleep, then another looong day.  We woke up at 0900, getting a decent recharge, and headed out to Mystic.

We hit the Mystic Aquarium and spent a couple hours there.  I was not as impressed with this aquarium as some others.  While I enjoyed seeing the beluga whales, I liked seeing the rescue area (which was mainly populated by exceptionally cute baby harbor seals), and the couple of sea lions.  I was less than impressed by the one display area.  There was a “pet the shark” area, kind of cool.  The jellyfish exhibit was also very neat.  But it just seemed to me that there was a lot that was lacking.  A physically large part of the aquarium was a swampy area that was filled with lilypads, and had turtles (must have been on vacation that day 🙂 ), small frogs, and bullfrogs (very cool).  At the end of the swamp was a penguin area.  We ended our visit at the stingray “petting” area, where Erin and I were approached by a couple rays.

Afterward, we went down to the Seaport area and wandered around for several hours.  At one point, the drawbridge opened to let a couple ships through, very cool.  We drove the coast route back towards Groton, and drove down to Noank to look at the ocean from in front of some very expensive houses.  We had dinner in Groton, then checked into our hotel, and crashed early.

Monday was a big day.  We headed towards Newport, and part of the drive was through the beautiful woods between I-95 and RI 4.  The big Claiborne Pell Bridge over the Narragansett Bay is very impressive. As I mentioned before, we had moved our sail to Monday, and we arrived at the boarding area early (for us, a minor miracle).  We sailed on the Madeline, a 72-ft trimast schooner.  I *love* the schooner and sloop form, it’s very flowing and sleek.  The folks at Classic Cruises put on a wonderful sail.  The breeze was about 15 knots out of the SE, and when those big sails got filled, the boat accelerated nicely.   We had several heels in the 30deg range.  The breeze was fresh, the crew very nice, and the sail absolutely relaxing.  We didn’t get quite as far out to the ocean as I would have hoped, but it was a great experience:

Newport_sail

After the sail, we had lunch and visited some of the shops in the harbor area.  Then we drove to the coast, passing some amazing, large houses south of downtown.  We drove around the coast and all the way to Fort Adams, then stopped and waded in the ocean for a while.

From Newport, we drove up the east side of Narragansett Bay towards Providence.  We stopped for dinner SE of town, and then headed on into the Boston/Norwood area for the next phase of the trip.

Tuesday and Wednesday were work days for me, so we had activities in the evening that mainly involved shopping.  I found some pretty interesting robotics kits and parts/supplies at a hobby shop in Dedham, and visited an Eastern Mountain Sports to buy a hiking trail map of the White Mountain National Forest.  We also hit an REI, and Raegan and Erin visited the Boston Museum of Fine Art, an amazing museum.

We tried to visit the Blue Mountain Observatory, supposedly the oldest continuously operating weather observatory in the United States.  I noted on their website they were open until 1630, and that was enough time for a quick visit.  We got there, and I was surprised that the road to drive up to the observatory was not open to private vehicles.  I noticed in the parking lot just to the west the sign that said you needed to walk up the road.  Note:  I submitted a correction to Google, as Maps shows the road as drivable.

Regardless, Erin and I walked up there.  It’s just about a mile, and a couple hundred feet of altitude gain, but it was easy for us.  We got up there and saw nice views to the south, northwest, and north.  But… the observatory was closed.  A sign there noted that it was open weekends.  Well, crap.  We walked all around it, petted a couple dogs a couple had brought up, and then we decided to walk back down.  We went back down the road, and decided to walk over to the ski area just a bit down the road, and ended up at the top of the ski lift.  After checking all that out, we walked down the ski slope, and then over to the parking lot.

There was a Massachusetts Audubon Society Blue Hills Trailside on the way.  It has exhibits on the local environment, and displays of rescued animals.

Thursday we got up and checked out of the hotel, and headed northwest towards New Hampshire. My intent was to leave early enough to be able to hike in the Franconia State Park area, but that didn’t work out.

We got to Manchester and visited the Lawrence L. Lee Scouting Museum, which is located at Camp Carpenter, a council facility just southeast of Manchester. The Museum as a lot of vintage uniforms, handbooks, patches, and gear. I was fascinated by the backpacking baskets they had (people actually used them!). The docent was amazingly knowledgeable. We also visited the Scout Shop and I scored a Wood Badge patch.

We drove a sorta roundabout path from Manchester to Concord, then to Lebanon, and north on 91 until we got to 301, where we cut across the corner to Littleton. Tomorrow, we hike.

Friday, Erin and I got up and drove to Franconia Notch State Park.  I-93 is two lanes through here.  We got to the park about 1000, and found every parking lot full of cars.  We parked on the shoulder of I-93 and walked underneath to the east side.  We hiked about 1,000 ft up the Falling Waters trail, marveling at the beautiful waterfalls.  It was hottish and fairly humid.

After the hike we drove back into Littleton, and the three of us had lunch, drove back to the Park, and walked around the Flume Gorge area.

Then we drove down I-93 to Tripoli Road and drove through the White Mountain National Forest.  There were a huge number of campsites along the road!  Many of them were occupied.  We rejoined civilization at Waterville Valley, then drove back to I-93 to our hotel in Manchester.  We tooled around Manchester for a bit, then got up the next morning and flew back to OKC.

This was a nice trip.  Aside from work days, and the flight situation getting to Boston, we got up and out of the hotel in decent time, saw a lot of pretty scenery (always a priority for us), did some cool stuff, and generally relaxed.

Food was very expensive on this trip.  We typically pay about $35 for the three of us to eat, and we were getting meals at family restaurants in the $50-$60 range, with no real evidence of additional quality.

There were some nice towns that we would like an extended visit at, including Manchester and possibly Littleton.

There is always next year for more exploring.

Red Robin, California, MD

9 August 2016

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I haven’t been to a Red Robin in ages, having sworn them off for increasing cost while decreasing quality. However, in this case, when a small group needed to get lunch, but didn’t have time to drive, and the other option was Olive Garden, Red Robin was suddenly the answer.

I had a Whiskey River BBQ Burger, which wasn’t much in the way of BBQ. The burger was cooked well enough, and had decent beef flavor, but it just wasn’t that outstanding. The steak fries were OK.

Service was kind of slow, even though the place was largely empty from 1140-1245. My check was $15.35. The iced tea was pretty good. I will not be seeking out Red Robins, as I think that the cheeseburger was not worth $15, but if I was in the same situation where we needed to be near, I would still go.

The Lighthouse, Solomons Island, MD

9 August 2016

The Lighthouse Restaurant & Dock Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I had dinner here this evening with a group of work friends. It was pretty darn good.

The rest of the table had seafood of one form or another, including oysters, soups, and other stuff. I had a New York Strip, 14 oz and a perfect medium. The steak was very tender and had better than average flavor. I had a baked potato with cheese, butter, and lots of bacon, and applesauce. The baker was very good, but the applesauce had a not-entirely-pleasant sharp aftertaste. I ate all of it, regardless.

They have very good iced tea. Service was just right for allowing us to sit and talk, not rushed, and very friendly. My check was $41.35, which was not bad for a steak of that quality. The rest of the crew reported their food as excellent.

Miller’s Cafe and Bakery, Littleton, NH

6 August 2016

Miller's Cafe & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After Erin and I did some hiking, we headed back to Littleton to meet up with Raegan, and get lunch.

Miller’s was almost empty when we got there. The menu was kind of limited, but Erin and I got a club sandwich. The sammiches were very good, not too big, and filled us up after the hike. They came with some penne pasta noodles. They didn’t have any iced tea, so I had a Coke.

Service was very friendly. Our check was $26.21. I thought that while the sandwich was OK, the menu was a bit limited.

The Airport Diner, Manchester, NH

6 August 2016

Airport Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For our last night on this combined work/vacation, we wanted to hit a diner. The Airport Diner was pretty close.

First of all, I had one of their custom root beers. Very good.

Raegan and I had the turkey dinner. There was quite a bit of food on the plates. The turkey was very tasty, but just a touch on the dry side. It had very good cranberry sauce, and decent mashers and dressing. I really liked the gravy.

Erin had chicken fingers, and ate all of them.

They only had Gold Peak iced tea, so I had a very good Coke. Service was fast and friendly. We would go back. Our check was $38.86.

Moe Joe’s, Manchester, NH

5 August 2016

MoeJoe's Family Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Today we were in Manchester after visiting the nearby Scout Museum. We picked Moe Joe’s as it was on the same side of town.

Erin had chicken tenders; I tried one and it was very good. Raegan and I had burgers. She had a swiss burger, and I had a bacon cheeseburger. The burgers were made from decent beef, and were cooked medium well. They had good texture and better than average beef flavor. The bacon was mostly pretty good and crunchy, but a couple chunks were burned. Raegan had some OK onion rings, and I had slaw that was passable.

We followed up the main meal with various ice cream sundaes, that were pretty darn good.

Service was exceptionally friendly and right on the money. They didn’t have brewed iced tea, so we had water (me), Mt Dew (Raegan), and a root beer float (Erin). This place was good, I would be happy to go back. Our check was $50.85, pretty good value, I think.

Victoria’s Diner, Boston, MA

4 August 2016

Victoria's Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This was the best meal I have had in the Boston area, ever.

We started out with some excellent iced tea. Great stuff. I had a bowl of beef stew that I would have been happy to get anywhere. Big chunks of braised beef, veg, and wonderful broth, all tender and highly flavorable. YUM!

Raegan had baked haddock, and ate all of it, reporting it excellent. Erin had a bowl of mac and cheese, it was great, as I had about 10 bites of it. She liked it too. I had steak tips with mashed potatoes, gravy, and baked beans. All excellent! The steak tips were tender and had great beef flavor. I loved the mashers and gravy. The beans were good also. I could finish the tips, but between the stew, Erin’s mac and cheese, and the tips, I left a small pile of taters and 80% of the beans.

We finished the meal off with a huge piece of very good chocolate cake.

Service was very friendly and fast. The food was excellent. The iced tea was welcome. Our check was $80.14. Recommended, I would go back any time.

Blue Hills Grill, Canton, MA

4 August 2016

Blue Hills Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After we walked up Blue Hill, we hit the Grill for late lunch.

First of all, the iced tea is very good. Really nice after the slightly sweaty walk. Raegan got a turkey wrap, really good turkey in that. Erin got fish and chips, it was two HUGE pieces of fish, and one of those was her limit. Finally, I got shepherd’s pie, and it was perfect, one of the best I’ve had, and done in the traditional style.

Service was very friendly, the food was great. Our check was $55.57, a bit expensive (perhaps we are noting this is a trend for New England). Again, the iced tea was great. Very nice place, would be happy to eat here again.

Olivio’s Pizza, Norwood, MA

3 August 2016

Olivio's Grill and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We had been thinking about pizza for a couple days, and decided that tonight was the night. I found Olivio’s from Google and we headed that way.

Just so you know, go to the counter and order, then go sit down, and they will bring your food to you.

We started off with some decent buffalo wings, and Raegan had a Greek salad. They didn’t have iced tea (too bad), so I had DP, not bad.

Our dinner was a large (14″) pizza that Reagan and I shared. Her half was ham and mushrooms, mine was a Meat Lover’s, minus the salami. Erin had a small chicken parm. Both of these are hand tossed, thin crust pizzas, and both were better than average. The crust was crispy but not tough, and the toppings were very good. Kind of unusual, the sausage was largish slices cut from the sausage log-style.

Service was very friendly. The place was not crowded. Our check was $55.89. We ended up bringing about 2/3rd of Erins pizza, and about 1/3 of our pizza, back to the room with us for a snack, or breakfast :). Not bad at all, I would be happy to go back.

Not Your Average Joe’s, Seekonk, RI

2 August 2016

Not Your Average Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

OK, that’s a silly name for a restaurant.

We picked the place out pretty much at random, driving the east route between Newport and Providence.

An observation: we felt the menu was a little on the limited side.

Erin and I had fried chicken. In both cases, the chicken was significantly overcooked, and a bit stringy and less plump than I like. It had OK flavor. Erin had creole fries and a biscuit for her sides, and I had mac and cheese and onion straws for mine. The sides were pretty good. The chicken came with honey flavored with siracha, which while it was interesting to try, I don’t know that I would seek it out. I liked the mac and cheese, and the onion straws, but I left a pile of the straws, I just could not finish them. Raegan had a cup of chowder and a goat cheese salad. I also had a cup of chicken noodle soup that was right on the edge of being chicken stew, really good (and HOT coming to the table).

They had brewed iced tea that was very good. Our server was very attentive and friendly. Our check was $62.66.

We left quite a lot of food behind, but really have no way to store it. Too bad.

Benjamin’s, Newport, RI

2 August 2016

Benjamin's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I’m keeping up this trip!

We took a lovely cruise around Newport this afternoon, and afterward stopped at Benjamin’s for lunch.

Erin had a HUGE Seafood Macaroni, it was great but there was no way she could finish it. I had a HUGE (note the trend?) fish and chips, it was very good but there was no way I could finish it. Finally, Raegan had a HUGE Lobster Salad Roll, and… she liked it a lot but there was not way to finish it. The chips (fries) were pretty decent, but the slaw was vinegary and sort of flat.

Erin and I had some very good NE Clam Chowder also.

The tea was a concentrate and not very good. The Coke was OK. Our check was $70.75. We should have shared something. Service was fast and friendly.

I don’t like fish much, but that fish (it was cod, I asked) was pretty good.

Paul’s Pasta, Groton, CT

1 August 2016

Pauls Pasta Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This place was great! The building is pretty neat, we ate out on the deck, with a great view of the Thames River and New London. We got there around 1900, and had a 20 minute wait.

We started off with some excellent garlic cheese bread and marinara. The bread was very good, and the marinara was excellent, thick and with great flavor.

Erin and I had fettuccine al fredo with chicken. Hers was the small (one chicken breast) and mine was large (two chicken breasts). The fettuccine was excellent, not too rich, and the noodles were perfect. Neither of us could finish our dinners.

Raegan had lobster ravioli, and while she said they were very good, again, it was hard to finish them as there was so much.

Service was good despite how crowded the place was. Our check was $54.34. They had pretty good iced tea as well, brewed there. The only thing I would count down is that the chicken in our meals was breaded, fried, and then put on the bed of noodles, when it should have been sauteed and tossed.

I would contrast this meal with our lunch. Cost was about the same, but the quality of this meal was far better.

Good stuff. I would eat here again any time.

Filomena’s, Waterford, CT

1 August 2016

Filomena's Market Cafe & Ctrng Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We hit this place for lunch today traveling between Milford and the Mystic area.

We all started with a cup of very good clam chowder. The meals were a Caesar wrap, which Raegan reported was OK, a philly cheesesteak, which Erin liked, but it was huge and she could not finish. I tried a good chunk of it; the beef was pretty good. Finally, I had a burger. The beef was pretty good, the bun was huge, the fries were OK.

The tea was concentrate and not good. The Coke was OK. Service was very good. Our check was $55.30. For what we got, it was pretty expensive and not that good. The best part of the meal was the chowder.

Sammy’s BBQ, NYC, NY

31 July 2016

Sammy's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Erin and I dropped Raegan off at the Majestic to see Phantom of the Opera, and there was Sammy’s right across the street.

We got in there at 1920 and had immediate seating.  First of all, very good iced tea (for me) and lemonade (for Erin)!  We had buffalo wings as an appetizer, and again, very good.

Erin had a Sammy Special, which is a thick sandwich with brisket and cheese.  It was very good, but too much for her to finish.  She had chili cheese fries, which were really good. The chili had no heat but decent flavor.

I had a two-meat combo of pulled port and brisket.  The pulled pork was pretty darn good, tender, but not as smoky as it could be, and a little dry.  The brisket was great, tender and smoky, and cut a little bit from the wet side of the brisket. My sides were mac and cheese (EXCELLENT!) and beans.  The beans might as well have been chili.  There was as much brisket in there was beans (a darn good thing, in my view), and they tasted great.  The mac and cheese was baked, and just perfect.

The only issue I had was getting refills.  The tea was served in a small mason jar, and I go through the stuff pretty fast, so I was waiting with an empy jar several times.

Regardless, this was pretty good BBQ.  It was kind of expensive at $57.55 for the two of us, but it is in NYC.  I would not mind going back.

Thoughts On NYC Traffic

31 July 2016

To be short about it, it sucks.

We left Milford, CT last night about 1700 for the 2000 performance of Phantom Of The Opera in NYC.  It’s about 70 miles.  It took about 2 hours 15 minutes to get there.

We spent about 10 minutes getting from the Hudson expressway to the theater.  We spent about 10 minutes getting from I-95 down the Hudson expressway.  We also spent about a half hour getting from Milford to NYC.

The rest of the time was spent crawling along I-95, AKA the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

There weren’t any accidents, just too many cars for the number of lanes.

I don’t have any solutions, I just wanted to have a short rant.

I think I would have liked to figure out the combination of trains and subway stops that I could have taken instead of the car.

Regardless, Erin and I just enjoyed walking around the theater area and Times Square, watching all of the people.

31 July 2016 Update

I just did a bit of research.  If we had taken the train from New Haven to Grand Central, then the subway to 42nd street, it would have cost about $30 round trip, and taken about 2 hrs and some change.  From a driving frustration standpoint, that’s pretty legit. From a cost standpoint, the couple bucks of gas, and then no $38 parking fee, is very favorable. I’m going to plan on that the next time we do something in NYC.

Homeslice Pizza, Durango, CO

20 July 2016

Homeslice Pizza North Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After getting off the trail from three days of backpacking, our Scouts were hungry! We were at the nearby Community Center for showers, and called in our pizza order (for 20!) to give Homeslice some warning.

They treated us very well, we got there and were seated on the small patio around a cool serving area. The pizzas started coming in about 10 minutes. Our crew went through five large pizzas (pepperoni, supreme, greek, cheese, and something else) pretty quickly. Drinks were provided with glasses and pitchers of several beverages, including a welcome pitcher of Dr. Pepper!

The pizzas were thin crust, and were very good.

Our server was seemingly always there and smiling, which was especially hard when the first round of drinks were dispensed, which meant a lot of back and forth with pitchers.

I don’t know what the check was, but the pizza was excellent, and I would gladly go back again.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, TX

20 June 2016

This past Friday, after my work finished, Raegan, Ian, and Erin and I headed to downtown Dallas to visit the Perot Museum. We got there about 1330.

One of the reasons I wanted to hit the museum is that they were playing an IMax film about our National Parks. We scored our entry tickets to include tickets for the show at 1415. Raegan got in free as she is an educator, and Erin got a discount for being a student.

We looked through the gift shop prior to show time. The movie was essentially a long commercial for our national parks (I have no problem with that). It was beautifully filmed. It was in 3D format, which was occasionally interesting but didn’t add much to the scenery.

They have a flow through the place. They want you to take a couple long escalators up to the 3rd floor, where you see a small exhibit on earth and space science, including an earthquake simulator. They also have a decent set of fossils there. On top of this level is a mezzanine devoted to birds. This was my favorite level in the museum.

From there, you drift down to level two. I love mineral collections, and while the mineral collection here was on the small side, they had some spectacular large crystals.

The life sciences hall was kind of sparse, but one thing that was pretty neat was some MRIs of the human body showing the midsections. Seeing the relationships between bones and organs was cool.

The hydrocarbons exhibit was basically a long commercial for fracking.

The Innovations hall has some cool hands-on stuff. The best thing was a robot programming station that used a form of Logo on a drag-and-drop GUI to program the robot to roam around the table.

We left right before 1800. It was an enjoyable visit, but was less extensive than other science museums we have been to. We won’t have a return visit for some time, unless they add some spectacular new exhibit. It’s worth a visit.

Ranch House, Stroud, OK

12 June 2016

Ranch House Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday evening, we were driving to Tulsa so Raegan could attend a science teachers convention, and we were hungry, so we stopped here. It was very good.

We started off with salads from the small salad bar. The potato salad, peaches, and cottage cheese were very good. We also got a mix appetizer plate with wings, mushrooms, and onion straws. All were very good.

Raegan and I got fried chicken, it was pretty much perfect, crunchy, juicy, and not dried out. It was a lot of chicken, being a four-piece. Ian got a chicken fried steak. I got a couple bites, it was very good as well. I rated it a 9 out of 10. Erin got fish and chips and liked them.

The iced tea was excellent, and service was fast and friendly. Our check was $56.84. I would gladly eat here again.

Smokehouse Bob, Muskogee, OK

12 June 2016

Smokehouse Bob's Bar-B-Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ian and Erin and I were taking a lunch break from working in Muskogee and headed to Smokehouse Bob.

They were out of chicken, ribs, and pulled pork, so we all got brisket. It was excellent. Cut a bit wet, it was tender and smoky and so flavorful. The kids both got fries. They were rough cut, deep fried, and had a bit of salt on them, and they were perfect. All three of us thought those were some of the best fries we had had. I had potato salad and slaw. I finished the salad but not the slaw, I just ran out of room.

Service was very friendly. The iced tea was excellent. Our check was $32.00. This place was great! I look forward to eating there again and trying the stuff they were out of.

Hickory House BBQ, Marietta, OK

6 June 2016

Hickory House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Of the hundreds of times I have been down I-35, I don’t think I have ever stopped in Marietta. When I was coming back from a trip to Richardson back on 30 April, it was early afternoon and I needed some lunch. I saw a sign referencing Hickory House, and since I’m always up for BBQ…

First mistake, they seated me in a room full of OU stuff. When I hit the restroom, I passed a room full of OSU stuff. Oh well ).

I had my usual, a two-meat dinner with chopped brisket and ribs. The ribs first. Decent smoke flavor but a little on the tough side, with a lot of meat. About an 8 on a scale of 1 to JTs. The brisket was excellent, more coarse chopped than fine chopped, and very juicy but not swimming in grease. Really good. I think I had slaw and fries for my sides.

Regardless, the iced tea was great and service was very good. My check was $17.87. Hopefully, I won’t wait another 30+ years to visit Marietta.

Delta Cafe, Shawnee, OK

3 June 2016

Delta Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I generally like the Delta Cafes. Ian and I were driving back to Muskogee one evening back on 10 April, and we were hungry after working most of the day in Muskogee, and Delta Cafe was open.

He had a chicken fried steak, and I had pot roast. It wasn’t very good. His CFS was tough. The pot roast was also.

Service was OK, and the iced tea was good. Our check was $30.77. It just wasn’t very good.

Cool Things From The Air, DFW-SAT-PHX-SLC-DFW

28 May 2016

Note:  I found this draft post from April 2015 on my blog, and decided I ought to finish it.  I seem to remember I was trying to pin down the exact location of one of the photos.  Oh well.

———————————————————-

I was on travel the past week [note, actually 13-17 April 2015], and saw some interesting things from the window seat.

The photos are on my Google+ site here.

I saw the very pretty Lake Belton in central Texas, followed shortly by downtown Austin.

I was astounded at the amount of mining going on between Austin and San Antonio.  I went hiking at a park west of San Antonio a couple years ago, and passed several mining operations, and saw more from the air flying in and out.

One facility right outside one of these mines caught my eye.  The Bexar Concrete facility had a lot of what looked like tubes outside it, but on closer Google Maps examination, I think the “tubes” are highway overpass beams.

On Wednesday I flew from SAT to PHX.  I was astounded by the number of oil facilities along the way.  I’ve seen some of those when flying from DFW to SAN, but the sheer number are amazing.

I also saw the very dense King Mountain Wind Farm.  King Mountain looks to me more like a mesa.

We continued north of PHX towards SLC.  Over Williams, I saw a sun reflection off a track track, it was very cool.

I had high expectations of seeing Grand Canyon shortly thereafter.  It was clear, and the network of canyons to the south of Grand Canyon  (Havasu Creek) was clearly visible.

[This, BTW, is what led me to not completing this post.  I was trying to identify this odd structure that I thought was right on the Canyon rim.]

Odd_structure

Right after the picture of Havasu Creek, we ran over clouds that blanketed Grand Canyon.  Very annoying.  I thought the structure above was right on the north rim, but today, I did a little dead reckoning using time instead of airspeed, and that analysis placed that structure near Jacob Lake.

Next I started looking for some structures that I thought to be near Bryce Canyon, but again I had no luck finding the exact location.

For the return from SLC to OKC (via DFW), I was lucky enough to get a great shot of Philmonts Baldy Mountain, and a canyon between there and DFW.

I’ll keep looking for the stuff near Grand Canyon, I really want to find it.

TSA and Long Lines

17 May 2016

In all the news stories about super long lines at some airports, there is little in the way of discussion as to why the lines are long in the first place.

There has been some talk about the need to hire more TSA “screeners” (they are really searchers, but use the term screeners to dodge the Constitutional issue), but I think that is just a dodge.

If you travel much, you can observe that most TSA checkpoints are way overstaffed.  I’ve been through numerous checkpoints, and there are maybe three people actually in contact with travelers:  the ID checker, the x-ray machine runner, and the strip-search machine viewer.  In almost every case, there are other TSA people standing and watching those three people.

In OKC, the last time I flew, there were three ID checkers, and two other TSA people standing  behind them and watching them.  There were two people who told everyone over and over to remove their shoes and such.  The strip-search machine operator had a second person watching the first person (and the damn machine identified the back of my head as a threat, which got me a full-body pat-down).  There were two x-rays operating, and each had a second person watching then operator.

There were others hanging about the screening area generally watching, I think about four.

So why does TSA apparently not trust the people who don’t trust the travelers?  There is so much TSA could do, for example get rid of the strip-search machines, which are slow and alert on stupid stuff like wrinkles in socks, every one of which get’s you a patdown, which further slows the line.

It’s not really about security to them.  Remember the lady in OKC who went through “security” wearing a bikini?  She was denied boarding.  She clearly had no weapons, so it clearly was retaliation for her making a statement.  The million-dollar strip search machines alert on a piece of paper in your pocket.  Where’s the threat?  The magnetometers are good enough for Pre-Check people, why are they not good enough for everyone?  They are known technology, far less expensive, and faster.

TSA is a disaster.  The strip-search machines probably got some people promoted and made a hell of a lot of money for some contractor, and still are making money for the contractor to maintain them, but they didn’t increase security one bit.  If they did, they would be used for Pre-Check as well.  TSA also ought to have more lanes open, and stop using TSA people to watch TSA people.

Their lack of accountability is astounding.  Congress, where are you?

Judy’s Cafe, Garland, TX

27 March 2016

Judy's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I’m only two weeks behind with this one!

I was in the Dallas area last week, and had dinner at Judy’s. I think I ate here once several years ago.

I had the hamburger steak. I asked that the onions be well cooked, but when the mail came, there were large pieces of onion that were not cooked at all, and a few smaller pieces that were. The hamburger steak and gravy were very good. I had asked for the steak to be medium well, and it came medium rare to medium.

I sent Raegan a text and told her to sue to place if I died of food poisoning :).

The mashed potatoes and gravy were very good, and the side veg (corn) was also. I had a cup of very good vegetable beef soup to start.

Service was a little slow and on the curt side. My check was $9.73. Not a bad place, I would like to try breakfast.

Five Star BBQ, Stroud, OK

27 March 2016

Five Star BBQ & Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ian and I are headed to Muskogee, it was near lunch, and we were passing through Stroud, so Five Star seemed like a good choice.

He got the small (3 ribs) dinner, and I got a two meat with ribs and choppoed brisket. The ribs first. I think they were smoked fast or finished on a grill. That being said, they had decent flavor and were tender. They had little bark and little smoke flavor. I rated them as an 7.5 on a scale of 1 to JTs.

The brisket was chopped a little finer than I usually like (which is 1/2″ or so chunks), but it was tender and had great flavor, without a single piece of gristle.

Ian had fries as one side, and I had green beans. Both were OK. We both had “baked beans” as our second side, but they were really pintos cooked with brisket, and a distinct flavor of chili. REALLY good!

Service was fast and friendly. Our check was $31.16. Pretty good BBQ if you are in Stroud.

Black Bear Diner, Salt Lake City, UT

24 March 2016

Black Bear Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I had dinner here with work friends Monday evening. It was close to my hotel.

I had the roast beef dinner, with the standard sides. It was decent, mostly fork tender, and had decent flavor. It wasn’t the best roast beast I’ve had, but it was good for dinner that night. I had chicken soup instead of a salad.

The iced tea was OK. Service was really spotty. We didn’t get flatware until the meal was tabled, and getting drink refills was on the slow side.

My check was $17.88. I am on the fence here. I have been to a number of the Black Bear Diners in various parts of the West. I think that quality has been dropping, and I wonder if the BBD is falling to prepackaged food as a result of expansion. I hope not.

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, Colorado Springs, CO

24 March 2016

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

In the last post (I think) from Colorado Springs, I had lunch the last day there at Garbanzos. This is not necessarily a bad review, but it’s not the kind of food I generally go for. You might really like it. I didn’t think it was bad, but it didn’t appeal to me.

I had the chicken plate (bowl) with rice, tzatziki sauce, lettuce, pickles, and chips. The tea was not very good, so I switched that drink to Coke (IIRC).

Service is at the counter, and was very nice. My check was $11.17. Next time it’s suggested, I will probably go get some brisket at the nearby Bird Dog BBQ, but that’s just more to my taste.

Hacienda Villareal, Colorado Springs, CO

24 March 2016

Hacienda Villareal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

As part of my December trip to Colorado Springs, several people who had been stationed at Peterson AFB recommended this place for lunch. It was great! We had about 12 people.

I had Pork Chili Verde, and it was perfect. Not too spicy, with tender, flavorful pork chunks in a very tasty verde sauce. I had double beans, and they were pretty darn good as well.

Service was fast and friendly (it helped that we got in there at 1300, so the lunch rush was past). My check was $12.38. Great chow, I’d be happy to go back.

Rocco’s Italian, Colorado Springs, CO

24 March 2016

Rocco's Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tonight, I go back to 01 December 2015. I was in Colorado Springs on a business trip. I hit Rocco’s for dinner.

At the servers recommendation, I had beef stroganoff. It was… OK. I expect stro to have a rich, full flavor that is imparted by the sauce to slow-simmered beef. The beef was on the tough side, and the beef and the sauce were neither rich in flavor, nor was the flavor entirely pleasant. In fact, I didn’t finish the meal (if you know me, that’s really rare).

The iced tea was OK, and service was very friendly. My check was $21.42, which was too high given the quality of the meal.

I think I would be willing to give Rocco’s another try, this time for one of the Italian dishes. But the stroganoff was very disappointing.

Robert’s Restaurant, Salt Lake City, UT

23 March 2016

Roberts Restaurant & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I had dinner here this evening. It was very near my hotel, and pretty good.

I started off with a Caesar Salad. Good dressing, needed a bit less of the hard parts of the lettuce stalks.

I had a steak on my servers recommendation. I got the 10oz New York Strip, medium. It wasn’t fork tender, but on the other hand it was cooked a perfect medium, and had great flavor. The steak had a pile of very good mushrooms on it, and the sides were mixed steam veg and rice pilaf.

The iced tea was excellent, I am pretty sure it was Earl Grey. Service was just fast enough, and friendly. My check was $22.63. I would be glad to go back.

JG’s Burgers, Dallas, TX

15 March 2016

J.G.'s Old Fashioned Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I had been to a nearby store, so I hit JG’s. It wasn’t the worst burger around, but it wasn’t nearly the best, either. I had the single cheeseburger, with a side of onion rings. The rings first. I don’t know they were cut and breaded there, they were very uniform, and had little flavor. The burger was OK. It was a small patty on a big bun. One thing that was nice, a big bar to dress your burger. I used mayo; that was all I needed. Oh, and some pickles. Regardless, the burger had little texture and not much beef flavor. I sorta think I should have had a double.

My check was $10.88. Service was very friendly. I would go back if someone else wanted to, but I wouldn’t go on my own.

Bob’s BBQ, Paul’s Valley, OK

15 March 2016

Bob's Pig Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

As I was headed from OKC to Dallas, I looked for a place to eat. I really wanted BBQ, and the couple places I looked at first were closed Monday. Bob’s wasn’t, though.

I had the three-meat combo, which was a couple pork ribs, some chopped brisket, and some roast pork loin. So, the brisket was the best. Largest chunks, very moist, good flavor, and tender. The loin next. Very good flavor, the largest part of the meal. Unfortunately, sort of dry and not very tender. Last, the ribs, since those are hardest to do. They were not the most meaty ribs I’ve had. They were tender in part of the meat, but there was also some very tough parts I could not chew through. There wasn’t much bark, and not a lot of flavor.

The meal came with some decent slaw, and my sides were pinto beans (very good) and potato salad (OK).

The iced tea was great, and service was right on the money and very friendly. My check was $16.46. I don’t know that I would rush back for the BBQ. But… the guys at the table next to me got some Mexican food that smelled great, and there were a number of other menu items such as burgers that have promise.

Pepino’s, Okemah, OK

10 March 2016

Pepino's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This place was great! I was headed from OKC to Muskogee yesterday, and I stopped in Okemah since it was right at lunch.

I had #58 Puerco con Chili Verde. Pretty much perfect. The pork chunks were very large, and they were also quite tender. Not a tough spot on the plate. The beans and rice were OK. The chili verde was outstanding. Raegan would have thought it too spicy, as we all have different levels of spice tolerance, but to me it was perfect. The flavor of the chili verde was cooked into the pork, and after the bite, the spice level dropped off quickly, leaving flavor. Great stuff.

The iced tea was good, service very quick. I was in and out in 25 minutes (mainly because I had a meeting to get to). I would happily stop by Pepino’s again.

Luigi’s, Gainesville, TX

9 March 2016

Al's Luigi's Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Note: this restaurant is one of the stealthy chain of Italian restaurants that is so very good.

Back on 02 January, we were headed back to OKC after a two-day retail run to Dallas. We had stopped in Sanger to eat at Babes, but they were packed. We tried a Mexican and Italian place there, but both were closed. We drove up I-35 to Gainsville to hit Fera’s, but it was closed. We ended up at Al’s or Luigi’s, and we were happy.

We did as we always do at these places, we ordered bread and marinara and al fredo and feasted. Along with Caesar salad. Ian and Erin had chicken parm, Raegan had manicotti, and I had Spaghetti the Works. All excellent.

The iced tea was great, service was great, the food was great. Our check was $40.21, great value. Recommended.

Sicily’s Pizza, McKinney, TX

9 March 2016

Sicily's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For our second stop in the north Dallas area, we hit Sicily’s on the way back home. It was GREAT! We were headed back home and picked Sicily’s as it was on the way home.

We started off with some bread we ordered, along with both marinara and al fredo to dip it in. And salads. All great.

Raegan got chicken parm, and I got fettuccine al fredo. Both oh, so, very good. We even liked the smells of the food being served around us. This place was good!

If I am in McKinney around a meal, this place will be very high on my list.  Yum.  Our check was $40.21.  Service was excellent and friendly.  The iced tea was excellent.  Recommended.

Sidewalk Bistro, Denton, TX

9 March 2016

Sidewalk Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This evening, we are going to two metro areas with long-delayed reviews. I start in the north Dallas area.

On 03 April 2015, which was Good Friday, Raegan and I headed down to the Dallas area for no reason that I can remember. We hit the Target in Denton as it carries some stuff Raegan likes to collect, then we hit lunch at the Sidewalk Bistro.

I got the CFS while Raegan got a BLT. Her BLT was OK, but the CFS was OK at best, pre-fabbed in some nameless factory.

The iced tea was OK but service was spotty at best. For this, we had a check for $29.18. I don’t get to Denton often during meal times, and this place will not be on my list of preferred spots.

Blue Plate Diner, SLC, UT

8 March 2016

Blue Plate Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Since I’m on a theme of diners…

Back on 30 September, I was on a business trip to SLC, and had been hiking in Little Cottonwood Canyon. I remembered that I had tried to have dinner at Blue Plate Diner back over the summer, but they had just closed when I got there. I was earlier this time.

I had a chicken fried steak, mashers, and green beans. Classic blue plate special. These guys claim country cooking. None of it was very good. That’s not to say it was bad, as in bad tasting. The problem was that none of the food had much of any flavor. The CFS was pretty tough. It had little flavor. The gravy was the right consistency, but again, little flavor. The iced tea was OK.

So, the meal was bland. I would not go back unless I somehow found out that they had upgraded their beef. The iced tea was OK, and service was friendly enough, although a touch on the slow side. My check was $15.54.

Shortcakes Diner, Stillwater, OK

8 March 2016

Shortcakes Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

In this episode of Blog Catch-Up, we go to Stillwater. Last October, we had dinner at Shortcakes while visiting Stillwater.

All of us got breakfast of one kind or another except Ian, who had CFS. I had a bite of it, and it was pretty good. I had a Country Breakfast, which was eggs, bacon, hash browns, and pancakes. All excellent. Raegan had eggs and bacon.

All in all, a good breakfast. Our meal for four was $52.15. Service was fast. I would go back any time.

Bar D Chuckwagon, Durango, CO

4 March 2016

Bar D Chuckwagon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

OK, just so you know, you don’t go here for the food. You go for the cowboy singing.

Bar D is a faux village from the American Old West. You show up in early evening and walk around and buy stuff. We were there 23 July 2015. Our Girl Scouts looked at all the shops and such, and then had more fun in the playground area running around.

I will say up front, again, the food is OK, but don’t go here expecting to get the best chow around. As they tell you, they can serve 700 people in 30 min, and in that situation, it isn’t fine dining.

You have three options for dinner: roast beef (which looked to me to be chuck roast braised in BBQ sauce), grilled chicken dipped in BBQ sauce, or (for an upcharge), a ribeye grilled to medium (although mine, Erin’s, and all I saw were medium well). The sides are a baked potato, applesauce, and baked beans. The objective is to get everyone through the line as fast as possible, so no customization.

One very impressive thing: the dining area is usually open-air on picnic tables. The entire area can be covered by a telescoping cover that rolls out from the back of the dining area, very impressive. We had a shower pass by while we were eating, and the cover deployed in about 30 seconds.

During the meal, you get seconds on beans and applesauce, and drinks are kept refilled by roving bands of servers.

After the meal and a dessert of cake, the entertainment begins. The show goes for about 45 minutes, and is five cowboys singing western songs and cracking jokes. They are pretty darn good singers.

So it was a fun experience. The best part was the entertainment, and the food was OK as a bonus. I would go back.

Brown Bear Cafe, Silverton, CO

4 March 2016

Brown Bear Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We stopped in here for lunch in Silverton on 22 July after touring the mine and walking through town. I only remember what three of the five of us had. Erin and I had cheeseburgers that were good if not spectacular. I also had some vegetable beef soup that was very good. One of our Scouts had a ribeye that she reported to be excellent.

The iced tea was good, and service was a bit on the slow side. Our check (for five) was $80.

Serious Texas BBQ, Durango, CO

4 March 2016

Serious Texas Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Can you tell I have some time on my hands this evening? Cranking out a bunch of catch-up posts. I’m going to end the evening with a trio of posts on meals we ate “out” while on the Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT) Durango Adventure last summer.

On Monday of the trip (20 July) the Scouts went whitewater rafting. Since I don’t find that appealing, Steve and I ran some errands for the crew, and since that was very tiring ( 🙂 ), we had to fill up on BBQ.

I had a half pound of brisket and an add-on rib. The rib was OK, surprisingly pretty good. The brisket was excellent, tender and smoky. I had cheesy potatoes (yes, that’s the name) for my side, and they were really good, especially after I mixed a little BBQ in.

Service is order at a counter and pick up from there. The iced tea was great! We picked a table next to an open window, we could see the Animas River and rafters cruising by. My check was $17.50. Great stuff.

J&W Grill, Chickasha, OK

4 March 2016

J & W Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

As I headed home from my last weekend of Wood Badge, I decided to drive through Anadarko. I called my friend and Anadarko native Tammy and asked for a restaurant recommendation for a hungry guy on a Saturday evening. Her advice: head into Chickasha. Hmmm.

So I saw J&W as I came into Chickasha from the west, and had dinner there. I had a large cheeseburger with tater tots. The tots were great, crispy, and hot. The burger was a throwback to my childhood. I had asked for mayo, I got mustard (nto really an issue, I like both). Not a lot of crust on the burger, but decent flavor, and a lot of grease.

The iced tea was OK, and service was friendly. The place is small, and not many tables. I sat at the counter and enjoyed it just fine. I can’t find the receipt, but my check was about $10.00. Good stuff.

Paw Paw’s, Chickasha, OK

4 March 2016

Paw Paw's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

When I was coming back from my first Woodbadge weekend (11 April 2015), I stopped by Paw Paw’s for a very good burger. In fact, I got way too much food. My meals was a large double cheeseburger with chili, and chili cheese fries. It was a helluva mess 🙂 but very good. The chili was nothing special, no heat and not too much flavor. The fries were really good, great flavor. The burgers were great, with lots of beef flavor, and cooked with a nice crust on them. Great stuff.

Service was friendly and pretty fast. My check was something like $15.

Canella’s, Salt Lake City, UT

2 March 2016

This is another catch-up post from a trip I took to SLC back in mid-July 2015.

Cannella's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

One evening, a group of us that were attending the same meeting had dinner at Cannella’s, near downtown. One thing I noted was that the menu seems fairly limited. I had Fettuccine al Fredo with chicken. I had asked to have the grilled chicken sauteed, and my server agreed, but the chicken came back not only grilled, but just a piece of grilled chicken on top of the noodles, and a miserly amount of al Fredo. The tea was a mint tea, and pretty weak.

Service was friendly enough. We had a group of 10. My check was $18.87. There wasn’t any extorted minimum tip, which I liked.

Apollo Burgers, Salt Lake City, UT

2 March 2016

This is another catch-up post from a trip I took to SLC back in mid-July 2015.

Apollo Burgers, 143 N. Redwood, SLC

I had lunch at this location one day, and it was super busy, but looking at both the Zomato and Apollo Burgers websites, the location does not show.

Regardless, I had a double cheeseburger with fries and a drink. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve had, with minimum flavor and a burger with little texture. The burger was, however, far better than Sonic or Braum’s. The fries were OK.

Like I said, the place was packed at lunch. The staff was friendly. My check was $10.43. I would probably eat at another Apollo Burger, to see if this one was just a little below par.

B&D Burgers, Salt Lake City, UT

2 March 2016

This is another catch-up post from a trip I took to SLC back in mid-July 2015.

B & D Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

First, let’s look at B&D Burgers. On my first day in town, I was looking at a couple outdoors places for a new pair of boots. I found B&D and liked it as it was on the way to the general area I was headed to, and it was a burger place.

I was not impressed. I ordered a double cheeseburger, onion rings, a milkshake, and a soda. The milkshake and soda were the best part of the meal. The rings were burned, and the burger just didn’t have any flavor at all. None. I can’t recommend it. My check was $10.00 for everything except the shake, and a couple extra bucks for that.

Hornback’s Shawnee Restaurant, Muskogee, OK

28 February 2016

Hornback's Shawnee Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ian and I were in Muskogee overnight, and this morning we didn’t like the look of the Hampton’s breakfast, so we hit up Hornback’s as it was very close.

Ian got sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and hash browns. He liked all of it, but his only complaint was that the biscuit was so crumbly it needed a structural integrity field to hold it together. I had two eggs over easy, ham (and it was a huge slice of ham!), grits, and biscuit and gravy. The eggs were fine, the ham excellent, I think smoked, and very tasty. I liked the gravy in particular. The biscuit was somewhat crumbly but went well with the gravy.

We both had iced tea that was good. Service was friendly and very fast (less than five minutes from order to delivery). Our check was $20.58. Very good.

Fried Chicken at Loaf N Jug

28 February 2016

So this might be more of a sad post than a review. Last summer, on our HAT Durango adventure, we passed through Alamosa, CO. My driving was shift was up when we stopped at the Loaf and Jug on US 160. It was right at lunch, and I went in there and found a small deli.

I got some of the best fried chicken there I have ever had. Large pieces, perfectly fried up, with the skin crispy yet flexible. Wonderful taste, and juicy all the way through. Just perfect. Erin had some chicken tenders and said they were really good as well.

On the way back from Durango a week+ later, we stopped there again. I got more of that chicken, and it was wonderful again.

I complemented the cook on the chicken, and she said that City Market, which owned the Loaf N Jug stores, had elected to close the deli and replace it with a Subway.

I found that very sad. I like Subway, but I love the fried chicken at LnJ, and also feel that we are quite homogenized enough already with a Subway on seemingly every corner. I think that the deli with good local food would be a loss if it were replaced.

I just looked on the LnJ site and it reports that the store has a Real Time Crispy Chicken. I hope it is still the case. I would get that chicken any time.

Roy’s Chicken, Coweta, OK

27 February 2016

Roy's Fried Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Last May, we were headed home one Sunday evening, and coming through Tulsa. Roy’s was open, and I’m always up for fried chicken, so we gave it a shot. Great stuff.

We all got fried chicken, except Erin, who got chicken fingers. The fried chicken was a mix of dark and light, and it was all good. Crunchy and juicy yet not greasy. We all demolished our meals. The sides were OK as well, mashers and gravy and stuff, I don’t remember it all, but it was good.

Our check was $34.81, good value. The staff was friendly enough. I was surprised at how uncrowded it was at 1900. Recommended if Dixie’s is closed.

Dixie’s Cafe, Coweta, OK

27 February 2016

Dixie's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I was headed into Haskell for the funeral of a family member back on 09 January 2015 (yes, more than a year ago), and hit Dixie’s for lunch. It was a classic diner/café experience that I realty enjoyed.

I had a Chicken Fried Steak with mashers and gravy, with green beans. A classic diner meal, and PERFECT. The sides were good, the gravy excellent. The CFS was perfect, hand breaded and deep fried, tender, great beef flavor. That CFS is what I expect a CFS to be.

Service was very friendly. The iced tea was great, and served in huge Mason jars (that is really the way that Iced Tea Should Be Served ( 🙂 ). My check was $8.98. Yes, less than $9, for a perfect café experience. I would have had some pie, but I was full from the meal.

I tried to take Raegan to Dixie’s for lunch a couple months ago, and it was Sunday so Dixie’s was closed. Too bad, I look forward to going back. I just don’t get through Coweta that often.

Brownie’s Hamburgers, Tulsa, OK (Southside)

27 February 2016

Brownie's Hamburger Stand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

So, in the spirit of not playing catch-up, we ate lunch here about 30 minutes ago!

Pretty much a perfect cheeseburger meal. Ian and I both had double cheeseburgers, his plain, mine with mayo. Remembering how huge the fries side was at the Utica location, we split an order here. Ian had a chocolate milkshake, we both had iced tea. The burgers were perfect, in flavor and cooking. The fries, also. None left. Can’t say any more about the meal other than perfect.

Service was fast and friendly. Our check was $21.47. I’d go back any time.

Tally’s, Tulsa, OK

27 February 2016

Tally's Good Food Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

At the moment, Ian is driving us to Muskogee via Tulsa, so I decided to play another round of blog catch-up, Tulsa-oriented. 🙂

Raegan and the kids and I had lunch at Tally’s back on 30 May 2015. We were headed towards NW Arkansas on a weekend family trip.

Tally’s had just a bit of a wait at 1300, there was an entire busload of tourists being fed in addition to the usual customers.

I had the CFS, it was OK. The sides were mashers and green beans. The gravy was OK. Ian had the CFS also, and rated it OK. Erin had CFC, it was pretty good. Raegan had a club sandwich that had more bacon on it than a sandwich deserves, and pretty darn good bacon.

The iced tea was pretty good. Service was very spotty, but it was very busy. Our check was $64.62, kind of expensive for café food. I don’t know that would go back.

Rock Cafe, Stroud, OK

27 February 2016

Rock Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Raegan and I were headed to Muskogee back on 30 October, it was dinner time, and we stopped in Stroud for dinner. I had wanted to try the Rock Café for a while, as it had been recommended by the Discover Oklahoma crew.

I had the CFS. It was HUGE. I am pretty sure I had pinto beans, but I can’t remember the other side. The beans were excellent. The CFS was clearly breaded there, it had voids in the breading. The beef was OK and there were some tough spots I had to use a knife on. The gravy was excellent. Raegan had catfish. She liked it, but it was so big she could not finish it. I can’t remember her sides, but no complaint.

The iced tea was great, and service was very friendly and fast. Our check was $25.42. I don’t know that I would make a special trip to eat at Rock Café, but if I was going by around a meal I would have no problem going back. I would like to try their breakfast.

Fat Guy’s Burger Bar, Tulsa, OK (Downtown)

26 February 2016

Fat Guy's Burger Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Back on 07 November, Ian and I had been working in Muskogee and were headed home. We decided to try Fat Guy’s since it was on several lists of Tulsa’s best burgers.

We got there and an OSU game was playing on the big TVs, so that was cool.

He and I both got Jumbo Double Meat Cheeseburgers, mine had bacon. We both also got fries. This was a mistake, we should have just had one fries as there were a freaking huge amount, seemingly a bushel of potatoes.

The burgers were excellent, with great beef flavor and a nice crust. Drippy as heck, too. The fries were very greasy but very tasty as well.

We had iced tea and DP. Service was order at the counter. It was kind of noisy in there, and crowded. The place is not very big. But they make great cheeseburgers. Our check was something like $25. Good, but on the expensive side.

Elmer’s BBQ, Tulsa, OK

26 February 2016

Elmer's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Back in October, I was on my way to the Ozark Mountains to backpack the Butterfield Trail with the Girl Scout High Adventure Team. I had lunch at Elmer’s as I passed through Tulsa. I’m glad I did.

I ordered a two-meat plate (hey, I was going backpacking, I needed protein 🙂 ) of chopped brisket and ribs. The ribs first: they were about 9.5 on a scale of 1 to JTs. Nicely smoked, with a good texture of bark, and wonderful flavor. Nothing tough about them in the slightest. The brisket was pretty darn good as well. Not as much flavor, but very tender, and there was quite a lot of it. I had baked beans (outstanding) and green beans (very good) as my sides.

This place did not disappoint, in fact, it was very, very good. Service was friendly. My check was $23.45. I would be happy to go back.

Cowboy’s BBQ, Muskogee, OK

26 February 2016

Cowboy's Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I had not been to Cowboy’s in a long time (10+ years) when I had lunch there back in October 2015. Ian and I had lunch there 19 February. It was pretty good both times.

Both times I had a two-meat with ribs and brisket. The first time, both the ribs and the brisket were excellent. The second time, the ribs were a little on the less-than-meaty side, and a little tough, but the brisket was great again. I had sides of baked beans (OK, but bland), and fries (great).

Ian had a chopped brisket sandwich, and said it was really good, not greasy but juicy. He had fries that were good.

The iced tea was good, and the service very friendly. My check the first time was $15.40, and the second time, Ian and I ran up a check of $33.25. The check the second time was a little high as we both scored cane sugar Coke and DP. My only complaint is that the bottled drinks needed to be a colder cooler. But the BBQ was really good.

Calico County Restaurant, Amarillo, TX

25 February 2016

Calico County Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

You can probably tell that I’m in serious catch-up mode today, as I’m bouncing around all over the place.

Back over Thanksgiving, we were headed to Santa Fe on the way to Pagosa Springs for a ski trip. We managed to get out of OKC around 1600 and pulled into Amarillo at 1930 (hooray for the 75mps speed limits in Texas). Calicos was a great find!

I had the pot roast: perfect. The potatoes and gravy in particular were fine. Ian had a CFS: perfect. The cream gravy was excellent, the CFS hand breaded, thick meat, great flavor, and fork tender. Erin had CFC: perfect. Raegan had catfish: perfect.

You might get the impression we liked the place. I think it’s like Cracker Barrel used to be when they were sorta local. Every food item was clearly cooked right there with good ingredients.

Service was extraordinarily friendly. The iced tea was excellent. We would have had dessert but we were stuffed, and about to climb back in the car for another four hours. Our check was $56.12. I look forward to going back, this place could be our go-to restaurant in Amarillo.

They do breakfast. One gripe: when we came back through, we stayed in Amarillo due to an ice and snow storm in the eastern panhandle and western Oklahoma. We got out of the hotel mid-morning Sunday (we were in after midnight), and got to Calico’s at 1045 Sunday, the exact time they shut breakfast down. I would suggest that maybe Calico’s does breakfast a little earlier on the weekends at least. Maybe noon? Regardless, we will make it there for breakfast at some point.

Nicha’s, San Antonio, TX

22 February 2016

Nicha's Comida Mexicana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This completes my reviews of restaurants from a business trip to San Antonio. I had dinner with a number of work friends at Nicha’s 14 April 2015. The place was recommended by one of the guys on the trip.

I had Carne Guisada, and it was very, very good. I do not like my food to be super spicy, and the guisada had just the right amount of bite. I thought the portion size was a little on the small side, but it wasn’t so small I was hungry later. The iced tea was very good. Service was on the slow side, but we weren’t in any hurry, so that wasn’t an issue. My check was about $14.00.

Black’s BBQ, Lockhart, TX

22 February 2016

Black's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This installment of Blog Catch-Up takes us to 13 April 2015 (yes, almost a year ago). I was on a business trip to San Antonio, and had heard great things about “The BBQ Capital of Texas”, Lockhart. I have to say, the food lived up to that hype. We got to SAT and blasted east on I-35 immediately, getting into Lockhart about 1320.

Black’s ordering concept is to specify how much meat you want by poundage, then get sides. I ordered a half pound each of brisket (wet) and spare ribs. Later, when I’m still eating after everyone else was done, I realized they had given me 1.21 lbs of brisket (!) and almost 0.6 lbs of ribs. THAT IS A LOT OF FOOD. I also had some beans and deviled eggs. Those were good, but the reason to go is the meat.

And it was sooooo good. The ribs were tender and smoky. They had less bark than I like (for texture), but they were 9 on the scale of 1 to JTs. They had a lot of meat on them, and were not drenched in sauce. But very, very good.

The brisket was on another level altogether. It was the best brisket I have had, anywhere, ever. It was that good. Tender, yet held together. Flavor, just bursting, great texture and bark. Juicy without being greasy. In a word, perfect. As noted above, there was a heck of a lot of it. I was eating and eating, and I ate all of it. I took a couple ribs back to the hotel, and had them for dinner. Loved that brisket.

The iced tea was perfect. The company was great. The staff was super friendly. It’s probably better that Black’s is so far away from OKC. But I guarantee, any time I am anywhere near SAT or AUS, I will make time for a Black’s stop. It’s that good. My check was $32.36 (the brisket was just short of $20, the ribs a more reasonable $7.76). Make the drive if you are anywhere near, it will be worth it.

Los Cabos, Broken Arrow, OK

22 February 2016

Los Cabos Mexican Grill & Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

You might think we are eating a lot in the Tulsa area recently, and you would be right. The trips between OKC and Muskogee give new opportunities to eat in the area, and we are taking full advantage.

Friday night, we were in the Broken Arrow area around 2000 and were looking for dinner. Los Cabos only had a 20 minute wait, so we decided to try it.

We started out with chips and salsa, with some white queso with seasoned ground beef. These two items were pretty good. I added two spoons of the salsa to the queso, and it was outstanding, great stuff. The combined flavor of the queso and the salsa was far better than the individual flavors.

Ian got the Enchiladas Especial with shredded beef and chili con carne. He thought they were pretty good but a little on the bland side. I had a Carnitas Burrito with chili con carne. It was huge. The filling was quite tasty, and hotter than heck. As is the case with many burritos, the tortilla got sort of eaten by the juice of the meat. I liked it, but I might get it as a chimi next time if I can.

The tea was very good, and service was quite friendly and fast. We sat outside on the patio overlooking the lake and OK51. It was at touch on the chilly side towards the end of the meal.  Our check was $40.05, which feels to me a touch on the expensive side.

While we were eating our appetizer, we saw a drone fly along OK51, make a turn over the Bass Pro Shop, then zip back east and out of sight.

Los Cabos was pretty good, but I feel the menu was limited. I would like to see some more traditional Mexican fare to go along with the Tex-Mex. What we had was good, though, and I would have no problem eating there again.

Sinbad Rotisserie Chicken, Broken Arrow, OK

22 February 2016

Sinbad Rotisserie Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ian and I are headed home from a day of work in Muskogee, and we stopped at Sinbad as it is near the interstate and I like roast chicken.

Ian got a Shawerma and thought it was OK. The beef was a little chewy. I got a half rotisserie chicken with rice. The bird was a touch overcooked, with a roasted flavor, but a bit dried out deeper in.

We had DP for drink (very good) as the tea was not brewed there (too bad). Service was counter and very friendly. Our check was $16.78. I would not mind a return visit.

Hopz Bunz, Tulsa, OK

21 February 2016

Hop Bunz Crafted Burgers & Beer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ian and I were heading to Muskogee today to complete working on my Mom’s house, and needed lunch passing through Tulsa. The first place we tried on Peoria was packed, so we walked across the street to Hopz, and were seated immediately.

We started with fried pickles, that came with a ranch dressing (very good), and a chipotle ranch. The chipotle ranch was excellent; it had a nice flavor, and had an impressive bite to it, without burning your taste buds off. We both got cheeseburgers; Ian plain with fries, and me the Old Hickory (which was dressed with a liberal amount of BBQ sauce, not hickory). The BBQ sauce was quite good. The burger also had thin fried onion straws, and they added well-cooked bacon to it. Those burgers were excellent. They were cooked a perfect medium well, had outstanding beef flavor, and a nice crust. Overall, one of the best burgers I’ve had recently, even better than Brownie’s. I tried a couple of the fries, very good stuff.

Service was fast and very friendly. The iced tea was good and kept refilled. The place is open and very noisy, but we could at least talk without shouting. Our check was $31.33. I would go back and eat another of those burgers anytime. Great stuff.

Ye Old Pancake Station, Amarillo, TX

19 February 2016

Ye Olde Pancake Station Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

In the latest installment of me playing “catch up the blog”, we go to Amarillo, TX. We went skiing at Wolf Creek Thanksgiving week 2015. We had dinner on the way west at a most excellent place called Calico County; they had a heck of a breakfast menu, so that where we were headed this fine morning of 29 November. BUT, they stopped seating for breakfast 15 minutes before the official stop time for breakfast, and since we wanted breakfast, we quickly found Ye Old Pancake Station. It was very good!

We got a bunch of juice and milk and tea to start, and the four of us had all sorts of eggs, pancakes, ham and cheese omelet, grits, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, bacon, sausage, etc. Every bit of it was excellent! And every bit of it was eaten. We waddled out of the place.

Service was a bit slow, but the place was packed. Our servers were very cheery and nice. Our check was $61.46, which was pretty good value given how many extra sides we had, and all those drinks.

I’m sorry the folks at Calico lost our breakfast business, but we had a heckuva meal at Ye Old Pancakes. Great stuff!

Timmy’s Diner, Tulsa, OK

18 February 2016

Timmy's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Back on 03 January, Ian and I were headed to Muskogee to do some work on my Mom’s house, and we decided to hit lunch in Tulsa.  We tried a couple places that were closed, then noticed Timmy’s, and the fact that it was near US169, so we decided to try it.  We got there about 1330.

Ian had a CFS dinner; the CFS was clearly breaded up right there.  It was pretty darn good, tender, and I liked the gravy as well.

I had a Pancakes, Meat, and Eggs.  It was a Significant Breakfast :).  The pancakes almost didn’t get finished (even though they were medium sized).  The eggs were a perfect over easy, and I liked the sausages and bacon (it was very good bacon, crispy).  I was glad we still had an hour drive ahead of us before getting to work, I was full.

We both had very good iced tea.  Service was casual but not slow.  Our check was $21.32, which I think was very good value.  If I were in East Tulsa again and needed lunch or breakfast, Timmy’s would be a good choice.

Brownie’s Hamburger Stand, Tulsa, OK

18 February 2016

Brownie's Hamburger Stand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Permit me a moment. Back in my college days, when I was working the evening shift at Tayloe Paper Company, I visited my friend Gary quite often in the vicinity of the University of Tulsa. We hit quite a few cafes in that time, and one of the best was Brownie’s. Unfortunately, the mists of time had dimmed my memory of the name, but I had the general location, and I thought it was on an east-west street like 21st; I’ve tried to locate it on the occasion when we were in the NE Tulsa area around lunch. This past Monday, Ian and I were headed home after working in Muskogee, we were darned hungry, and I did a Google search for “best burger in Tulsa”, and Brownie’s popped up. We checked it out, and It Was The Place I Remembered. Except that being on Harvard, it was a north-south street. Regardless, the interior was the right one!

We were thirsty. Ian got a chocolate milkshake and iced tea. I got a root beer and iced tea. This apparently amazed the servers, look at all those drinks! 🙂

I had a bowl of chili. Our server and I had a miscomm, as I wanted it plain, and I got it with beans, cheese, and onions. The chili was OK. It had little flavor and no heat. I’ve had worse chili, but I’ve had better. It just needed more flavor.

For our main course, we both got double cheeseburgers. Those burgers were small, and perfectly cooked, with great flavor and a nice crust, and a grilled bun. Wonderful burger, and inexpensive!

Ian had fries, they were pretty darn good. The drinks were really good. I had four mugs of root beer, and a tea to go.

For all this, the service was very friendly and fast. Our check was $26.91 (the drinks drove the cost up, but that’s OK). I will remember Brownie’s from now on, and go back. Recommended.

Claud’s Hamburgers, Tulsa, OK

14 February 2016

Claud's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We’ve tried to eat at Claud’s several times over the past couple months. Today Ian and I were headed to Muskogee on a Saturday, so we stopped by for lunch. The place is tiny, only about 12 seats (eight at the counter, four in front of a window).

We both got triple burgers, which really was a couple larger patties. Mine had bacon. I screwed up regarding onions; I thought they put fried onions on the burgers, and asked for just a few. In reality, they fulfilled my request by putting a couple raw onions pieces.

Regardless, the cheeseburgers were excellent. Great beef flavor, cooked just right with a nice crust. The best burger I’ve had in a while. We got fries as well, and iced tea, both excellent.

Service was fast. Our check was $25.57. I would eat burgers at Claud’s any time.

Old West Cafe, Sanger, TX

13 February 2016

Old West Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

As I headed from the Dallas area to OKC this afternoon, I was in Sanger, TX just after noon. I saw the Old West Cafe on Google and decided to check it out.

I got there at 1245, the place was about half full. I ordered the CFS with mashers, gravy, and pinto beans. The mashers and gravy were very good. I liked the pintos, even though they had a taste of jalapeno in them. The pepper caused just a little bit of mouth burn, but that went away very quickly.

The CFS has real potential. I would rate this one an 8 out of 10. It was fork tender, and had pretty good flavor. It was clearly not pre-made. The problem I had with it is that it had been overcooked a bit. The breading was quit stiff and a bit hard to chew. I think it needed about a minute less cooking time. The CFS here is likely a real winner if it’s not consistently overcooked.

The iced tea was very good, and service was fast and very friendly. This place was slightly unusual in that all ordering was done with what looked like a smart phone, and checkout was done via iPad with a Square-like signature capture.

I hope to be able to visit again at some point; the place has potential. My check was $12.21.

Southern Recipes Cafe, Plano, TX

11 February 2016

Southern Recipes Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I’m at a business meeting in Richardson, and at lunch suggested hitting Southern Recipes. It used to be just west of here. On the way there, we headed that way until one of the guys remembered that SR was now in Plano. We turned around and headed back north to the new location. Unfortunately in one way, the new SR location is in a space that had been occupied by a very good Italian restaurant. Oh well.

The six of us ordered various things. I started out with some very good chicken noodle soup. I had chopped steak with gravy, mushrooms, and onions. It was very good, to include the gravy and mushrooms. I was not entirely happy with the onions, only about 10% of them were cooked to any extent, mostly they were large and raw.

The iced tea was very good. Service was OK, although a bit on the slow side. Te food was very good, I will continue to go back to SR.

Ten 50 BBQ, Richardson, TX

11 February 2016

Ten50 BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This place is pretty good! It is based on the same concept as Black’s in Lockhart. You go through the line, select your meat(s) by the pound(s), thengo through and get other stuff.

I had a half pound each of ribs and brisket (wet). Damn fine brisket, tender and juicy, great smoky flavor. The ribs were pretty good (7.5 on a scale of 1 to JTs), they seemed to come apart in odd ways when pulling it off the bone. The flavor was decent.

I was not a huge fan of the BBQ sauce, but the ribs and brisket were so good I used the sauce sparingly. I had some OK mac (mostly) and cheese (less). The tea was pretty good, and all serve yourself. My check was $28.08. Pretty expensive given the lack of sides.

I would go back, though, with a group. I lament the closure of Soulman’s, but this is pretty good.

Backpacking Grand Canyon National Park, 31 Jan – 05 Feb 2016

8 February 2016

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Hike Summary: 48.4 miles over five days, with 8900 ft of altitude gain. Stunning scenery. Main question asked: “How *can* it keep getting better, backpacking Grand Canyon?”

The photos from this trip are on my Google+ here.

This is our third trip to GCNP. The blog post for the second one is here.

Getting There

Very straightforward. Four of us flew OKC-PHX, picked up a rental car, and headed north. We stopped at REI Flagstaff for stove fuel, then into the Park. Two others drove from San Diego to Flagstaff, then to the park where we all met up. We spent the first night in Maswik Lodge. The next morning, we loaded up, and checked in at the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) for an itinerary check (and change).

Weather Forecast

Our past two years in the Canyon were bedeviled by weather as we traveled there, but it was beautiful and warm while we hiked. This year, it was weather at the Canyon that was the issue. Forecasts were for highs in the 30s, with lows in the -0s for the South Rim, and up to a foot of snow. We were not enthusiastic about finding the Tanner Trail and Escalante Route when covered with snow, with our way out of the Canyon blocked in all three of our potential exits, and even the road closed along the Rim. We worked with the Backcountry Information Center (BIC), and they changed our route and permit, which turned out to be amazing regardless.

Day 1

We started at 0715 with breakfast in the Maswik food court, then got to the BIC right after it opened at 0800.

We headed out from the BIC after changing our route and walked directly to the Bright Angel trailhead.  Not much to say except it’s a long way down.  We started out around 0900, had lunch in Indian Garden, and then got into camp around 1530.  I was very happy that I didn’t have any knee problems this time.  I had practiced by walking a lot of stairs in the month prior to the trip.  The Bright Angel trail (sloped) is also a lot easier on the knees than the South Kaibab trail (large stair-steps).

We all walked around, Corey fished, and I looked for my missing SPOT in the group camp we were in last year (no luck).

Water was weird.  Apparently the NPS was working on the Transcanyon Water System, and there was only one place (right in front of the Phantom Ranch Canteen) to get potable water.  The heads had no water, and to flush, you emptied a big bucket of nasty-looking water into the head after you did your business.  We sent a patrol out to fill water bottles at PR (it’s a half mile there) and dipped water from the creek for boiling for food rehydration.

We decided not to go to the Canteen at 2000 as we were tired, so we all crashed at 1945.

10.5 miles and loss of 4380 ft.

Day 2

We all slept in a bit here, and didn’t hit the trail until 1030.  We walked up through Phantom Ranch to the Clear Creek turnoff, where it was new trail for all of us.  We walked through The Box, where the canyon sort of slots a bit.  The GPS lost lock several times.  We always had water very near us.  There were numerous places where rockfall had happened.

When you come out of The Box, the canyon opens up a bit to several hundred yards wide.  It’s quite the transition, and now you have tall walls in the distance.  It snizzled on us pretty much all day.  The trail doesn’t get a significant slope until just before Cottonwood Camp, then it bumps up and back down about 300 ft in a short distance.  Shortly before you get to the first bump you can see Ribbon Falls to the northwest, and it’s impressive even from a distance.

Going through The Box (and later tomorrow, as well), there are a lot of pour-offs and streambeds that would probably be very pretty waterfalls after a heavy rain.

We got to Cottonwood Camp, and we were the only people there.  We spread out to three of the small campsites.  They have tables and pack hangers there, and composting toilets.  There was no Ranger.  It’s a little hike to get water from the creek, but only about five minutes.

The stars up there were stunning!  So dark, so clear, so…  freaking… cold.  We saw a pair of ISS passes, very bright and pretty.  We all sat up and talked a while, all the way to almost 2000!  Party animals, we were.  🙂

7.2 miles and gain of 1600 ft.

Day 3

We woke up around 0745.  I thought it was cold the night before…  no way.  Our water bottles were liquid when on the ground under the tent fly, but in less than 20 minutes of being out on the table, ice crystals were growing.  I think the temps were between 10F-15F (both mornings).  We fired up Coreys Whisperlite for breakfast.  Ian and I made cheese rice that we had planned to eat with the Chili Mac the night before, but it was better that cold morning.

We headed out with daypacks continuing up the North Kaibab trail.  Our plan was to walk as far as we could until the snow got too deep, or until it was 1330, then head back.  We left around 1000.

We first hit the Pumphouse Ranger residence after about 30 minutes.  A bonus here was seeing a fresh cougar print in the snow, and several more later in the mud.  At this point the trail starts up quite a steeper slope, we started seeing more snow next to and on the trail, and it was getting colder.

After about another hour, we came into view of Roaring Springs, the source of water for the National Park.  It was amazing!  We kept going up, coming to several enormous layer-cake pouroffs.  Eventually, at the 5900 ft level, we ran into a foot+ of snow, and turned back.  Most of this hike was in shade, and it was very cold.

When we got back to Cottonwood, Dave, Neal, and Corey walked down to the trailhead for Ribbon Falls.  Ian and I tried to get across the creek to explore a side canyon, but we couldn’t find a safe place to cross, so instead we explored the area around camp.

We had company in camp when we got back, a couple from NYC.

We eventually had dinner under another cloudless, sharp night, and racked out.

8.2 miles and gain, then loss, of 1820 ft.

Day 4

Very straightforward hiking day after a cold, cold morning.  We got out of camp around 1000 and walked over the first hill to the trail junction for Ribbon Falls.

That Falls is impressive.  The Falls are probably 100 ft high, and you can walk around in back of them for some very pretty views.  We met several other day hikers from Bright Angel/Phantom Ranch there and had nice conversation.

We continued back down trail and through The Box.  When we got to camp, we “upgraded” to the group site we stayed in last year.  Corey and Neal hit the fishing holes again, and Dave, Chuck, Ian, and I headed up to the Phantom Ranch overlook, a 3 mile round trip with 700 ft of elevation gain.  There is cell service there, so I called Raegan and let her know we were OK.

After dinner, we talked for a bit, then headed up to the Canteen for a beer.  We stayed up all the way to 2045, then walked back, and crashed.

12 miles and net loss of 1600 ft.

Day 5

Not much to say about this again.  Chuck, Ian, and I left camp at 0800 and came over the South Rim at 1515.  It’s a bloody long walk.  10.5 miles (to the BIC) and gain of more than 4380 ft.

We went directly to Maswik and had cheeseburgers, then I walked to the nearby BIC, weighed my pack, and we went to our Maswik rooms and essentially ran out the hot water :).  Hot tea was consumed in significant quantities.  We tried to catch up on news as well.

Dinner and beer was had in the Bright Angel Lodge.  I had an undistinguished Salisbury Steak.

10.5 miles and GAIN of 4380 ft.  Whoa.  This single activity is harder than all of the walking of the past four days.

29 February 2016 update:

I put all of the GPS data I had into a single GPX file, then exported it to a text data file. I plotted it in 3D but the result didn’t look right. I realized that the problem was the scale was not right in that the elevation Z axis was in feet, while the X and Y axis were in Lat/Long. I used a USGS online tool to determine the distance in feet between latitude and longitude for the area of Grand Canyon, then wrote an Excel formula to convert the Lat/Long data to feet. Then I replotted the data to get the altitude relative to our walking distance. This is what I came up with, annotated with some major landmarks:

Grand Canyon 2016 Altitude Profile

No matter how you slice it, Grand Canyon is steep!  It’s either up or down pretty much everywhere you hike.  The Box was really the only place that it was fairly flat.  This plot is the 3D view turned on its side.

Getting Back

Very straightforward again.  Dave rode with Neal and Corey to PHX, while Ian, Chuck, and I went to the Geology Museum, the Visitor Center, and then the Planes of Fame airplane museum between Williams and the Park.  We all rendezvoused at PHX and flew back to OKC.

Equipment Notes

My pack weighed 36 lbs when we hit the trail, and 32 lbs coming off the trail.  Not bad, considering that I had just short of *7* lbs of clothing.  I used every bit of it, it was cold!  For a warmer weather camp, that would put my hit the trail weight near 31 lbs, which is pretty darn good.

My REI Quarter Dome 2 tent fit Ian and I with no problem, in spite of me being 6ft 2in and him being 6ft 4 in.

I love the Sea to Summit sleeping pad!  One thing that was nice:.  I used to have to put my closed cell sleeping pad in the bottom of a big duffle bag, then put my partially disassembled pack on top of it.  With the new inflatable pad, everything is stowed in the pack.  It’s nice to be able to pick it up at bag claim, sling it on my shoulders, and head out.

Food Notes

I carried a bit too much food. I started with roughly 6 lbs, and when I came back I had 1.7 lbs still. Most of the food was lunch and breakfast stuff. There was also a lot of trash I carried for other people, maybe a full pound. I maybe ought to not be so nice :).

Lunch was PB&J on tortillas, or tuna salad, or for the first day, a sammich I bought at the Maswik food court. One thing I did here was to buy a packet of Newman’s Own Caesar dressing that I liberally used on the sammich, very good.

One lunch item neither Ian or I liked was Underwood Deviled Ham on crackers. The crackers were crumbly but good. The UDH, not so much. We ate it, but quickly, and then started in on some snacks to get the taste out of our mouth.

Breakfast was oatmeal or Pop Tarts, pretty standard, and the day we had the cheese rice :).

We both ate a lot of snacks on the trail. My favorite is M&Ms. I ate more than usual on this trip, given how cold it was.

Dinners. I’ve written before about the quantity of Mountain House/Backpackers Pantry meals. They are “2-person”, but I used to eat an entire meal myself. This time, Ian and I shared them, and we carried supplemental rice or noodle packets. In the end, we didn’t use any of the supplemental stuff for dinner, but we ate a cheesy rice for breakfast. It was hot and gooey and delicious.

We tried a new Mountain House entree on this trip: Chicken Fried Rice. It was very good, but we added two cubes of S&B Golden Curry medium to the meal as it sat, it melted and we stirred it around, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had backpacking. Ian agreed. Great stuff!

Mountain House Chili Mac. Lordy, it was good. So was the Mountain House Spaghetti.

What Went Wrong

Stove fuel.  I have consistently carried (me personally and/or our group) too much stove fuel.  In this case, we went on the trail with exactly 2 8oz and 1 4oz canister of isopro stove fuel.  We had to cook enough water for four breakfast meals and four dinner meals.  Given what we know about that, for our six guys, it’s 2 pots (10 cups) of water for breakfast, or about 8 overall, and another 3 pots (15 cups) of water for dinner, or 12 overall, with a total of 20 pots of water for the entire crew for the trip.  From my testing, that is well within the capacity of the two canisters Ian and I carried (8 oz and 4 oz).  Chuck had an 8 oz canister as well, so we should have been fine.

BUT, we weren’t.  I broke out my 8 oz canister in camp for the first night, and we boiled 4 pots of water.  It emptied my canister completely, very annoying.  We used the canisters Chuck and Ian carried as well, and both of those ran out as well.  I thought maybe we had bought canisters that were sold to us short (maybe partially used), but after thinking about it, I wonder if the air temperature affected the fuel delivery.  I need to research that, and/or test it.  Regardless, I think the lesson learned is that I should have had one other guy carry another 4 oz.  Maybe we should have tucked the fuel canisters into our sleeping bags to keep them warm.

Speaking of cold fuel canisters, the isopro stoves failed miserably for breakfast both Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  I think the temps were in the mid-teens.  Fortunately, Corey had an MSR Whisperlite (kerosene based) that fired up just fine.  Lesson learned, carry a Whisperlite when the temps get low.  Again, I wonder if they needed to be tucked into our sleeping bags.

What Went Right

Pretty much everything!  It was cold, but we coped and no one got too cold.  Ian was a little cold in his 15F bag, but we piled all our outerwear on him and that jacked the R-value up.  The route we took was stunning!  We got out of camp when we needed to, and got into camp in good time.  In particular, we all got up the Great Big Wall before it got dark.  No one got hurt.  Gear worked

Closing Thoughts

I’ve now hiked more than 150 miles in Grand Canyon, between the three backpacking trips and a number of day hikes on both Rims.

It was super cold this trip. All of our trips to Grand Canyon have been the first week in February, and while the first two were shorts and short sleeves once we were over the Rim, we made up for it with the low temps this time. I do not think that it was over 32F the entire time we were out.  The lows were probably in the 10F-15F range the two nights we were in Cottonwood.

I could not have asked for a better group to hike with.  Everyone was cheerful (and astounded!), and there wasn’t a cross word spoken (except about the cold, not to/at each other).

The change in plan from the Escalante Route to the almost-to-the-North-Rim was not a loss at all.  It showed us an amazing part of the canyon few get to see.

We’ll have to go back next year and try the Escalante Route again.  🙂

Maswik Lodge Food Court, GCNP, AZ

8 February 2016

Maswik Cafeteria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We have usually eaten in Bright Angel Lodge dining room (and did again for dinner both nights we were on the South Rim), but we decided to try the Maswik food court to be able to hit the trail earlier.

We had a couple breakfasts in there.  Both Ian and I had a basic eggs and meat breakfast.  Mine was an eggs and meat (ham) and biscuits and gravy, with a side of bacon.  The breakfasts were excellent.  The bacon in particular was perfectly crispy and had great flavor.  I liked the ham also, it had been fried in real time and was very good.  The cook did the over-easy eggs perfectly, and the biscuits and gravy was pretty darn good as well.

Our breakfast for two was something like $35, which included two cartons of milk and a large Coke, each.

Chuck, Ian, and I also hit the same line for cheeseburgers mid-afternoon Thursday after coming back up the big wall.  We had snacked but not stopped for lunch, and were very hungry.  We all got cheeseburgers, mine had bacon (and again, the bacon was perfect!).  The burgers were cooked well enough, but they had little flavor.  At best, they were good stomach filler until dinner later.  I also had onion rings, and those were pretty good.  I don’t remember how much our meal for three cost, but it was kinda expensive.

I can recommend Maswik for a quick, delicious breakfast before a hard day of hiking.  I would try something else before getting burgers again, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from getting one if you were so inclined; just don’t expect a lot of flavor.

Lucy’s Diner, Fort Smith, AR

7 February 2016

Lucy's Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Back on 20 December, Raegan, the kids, and her Mom were in Fort Smith to visit the National Cemetery. We had lunch afterwards at Lucy’s.

I started with a cup of very good beef stew. For the pretty raw day, it was a good warm-up. Erin had a basket of chicken chunks that she said were very good. Ian had an Ultimate Breakfast, that included eggs, hash browns, bacon, and biscuits and gravy. I liked the gravy a lot. Ian had to work pretty hard to finish all that chow, but he did and he said it was very good. The other three of us had the Sunday special, which was a huge couple slices of excellent roast turkey, with mashers, gravy, and dressing. It was too much for Raegan and her Mom to finish; I finished mine with an effort. It was great stuff, tender and juicy turkey and perfect poultry gravy.

We had tea (sweet and straight) and water; the tea was excellent. Service was fast and very friendly. Our check was $78.32, not bad for such good food for five. I would eat at Lucy’s any time.

Norma’s Cafe, Addison, TX

29 January 2016

Norma's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Back in early December, I was in the north Dallas area for meetings.  On Friday around noon, I headed back towards OKC, and remembered there was a Norma’s around there somewhere.  A quick Google Maps search brought me there.  I got there at 1245, and was seated immediately.

I had a bacon double cheeseburger and fries, just about as straightforward as you can get.  The fries were pretty good.  The cheeseburger was EXCELLENT.  Great beef, grilled with a nice crust on it, the thing even looked good!  The way a burger should be.

Service was very friendly and fast, even though the place was fairly crowded.  My check was somewhere around $12.  The iced tea was very good, and kept refilled.

I will be happy to go back to Norma’s.

Cooper’s BBQ, Fort Worth, TX

29 January 2016

Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar B Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A couple weeks ago we were doing a lot of stuff in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas.  Ian and I had driven by what was claimed in Google to be an El Pollo Loco (but wasn’t).  We found ourselves in the Stockyards area, and drove past Cooper’s, and had to stop in.

Cooper’s has a lot of potential.  You order your meat first, then some sides, then sit down at long tables family style.  Your Q is on butcher paper.

Ian got ribs, I got brisket and BBQ chicken.  The brisket (wet) had decent flavor and was very tender, but it was almost too salty to eat.  The chicken was very good on the first eating, but got quite dry on the inside, so it had been smoked a little too long.  The ribs were very good.  They had decent bark, and were very tender.  I think they were the best part of the meal.  The sauce was pretty thin but was a good addition.

The beans were OK but bland, and the mac and cheese was pretty good.  The iced tea was killer good.

It was a HECK of a lot of food.  The check for the two of us was something like $40.  It was pretty expensive for non-perfect BBQ.  I think that brisket could be excellent, but it was just too salty.  So I would try it again if we were in the area, but I would get about half of the food that we got.  We didn’t finish the sides, and darn near had to be hauled out of there on a two-wheeler.

Backpacking Butterfield Trail, Devil’s Den State Park, AR

23 October 2015

Summary: 17.3 miles over three days, decent altitude gain of about 1300 feet, beautiful but dry terrain.

The photos for this trip are on my Google+ site here.

I’ve been wanting to hike the Butterfield Trail for many years. The Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-WEST) High Adventure Team (HAT) decided to backpack Butterfield for a long weekend, and so how could I resist? While most of the crew headed over toward Arkansas last Thursday morning, work and personal commitments kept me in OKC until Friday morning. I got to the park around 1445, had my permit by 1500, and was on the trail by 1515.

A word on the permits. They are no cost, but those folks are apparently serious about getting them back. When you sign in, you put an expected return time, and a time to start SAR. No kidding. I said I didn’t want that, but got a nope for that. I appreciate folks wanting to look out for me, but it makes me wonder if there is a problem around there that isn’t generally known. I kept an eye out for skeletons and such regardless.

I parked by the trailhead, fired up and zeroed my GPS (more on this later), and loaded my two Nalgenes with Red Diamond Sweet Tea I had bought at a gas stop in Springdale (I like water, but that tea is amazing on the trail).

I started off in grand fashion by going the wrong way. I booked it up the trail, and then realized that I was headed the counterclockwise way around the loop, turned around, and backtracked to the trailhead, then kept going, hoping no one had noticed :). The (correct direction) trail takes a bridge over Lee Creek, then goes along the creek almost a mile before crossing over near the walk-in camp. Lee Creek, BTW, had pools of water, but OTOH, the campsites on the west bank have potable water.

I had a minor screwup here. I assumed the Butterfield crossed Lee Creek a couple hundred yards before it actually did. The trail I was seeing across the creek actually heads up to Twin Falls. I had hiked up to Twin Falls with some of my Troop 15 Scouts a couple years ago, it’s quite pretty. It’s a little more difficult with 30+ lbs of backpack. I looked at my GPS to see where I screwed up. At this point, the GPX of the Butterfield Trail I had loaded the previous evening was not in evidence. I quickly realized that when I zeroed the GPS, I did a Select All, which naturally includes downloaded tracks… Oh well.

I pretty much knew where I was, and instead of hiking back the 1/4 mile or so to the trailhead, I bushwacked NNW and found the Butterfield right after the point it crosses Lee Creek. I continued north. Pretty soon I passed the walk in camp. I was making good time, I was loose and fresh and booking. At the point the trail turns sharply to the east, you start climbing. Not so much using switchbacks, just UP. It’s about 800 ft of climb over about a half mile, so it’s decent. It was in the 70s, so a good temp for a bit of a workout. I stopped twice on the way up to rest a minute.

At the top, you turn sharply south, and over the next four miles you lose all that altitude through some stunning Ozarks terrain. There is some cell service up there, but it is intermittent. I called Raegan and let her know I was on the trail.

While I saw a couple watercourses on this part, they were bone dry. After crossing another trailhead at AR 170, the next major place is Quail Valley. You should plan on spending some time in this area. There are a number of overlooks, and amazing rocks and bluffs. This would be a good campsite. There is water on the east side (but not much), and decent water on the west side.

I continued on and met the crew at Rock Hole camp. The trail parallels a creek that is maybe a hundred yards to the east after making a jog from WNW to SSW; the water was in large pools. Near Rock Hole camp, the trail comes down to the shore. This is a nice set of campsites.

The trail follows that creek (again, with water in largish pools) all the way to Junction Camp, but you would need to bushwhack down a couple hundred yards in places. We headed down the trail to Junction Camp maybe a hundred yards, then had lunch, and left our packs to walk down (pretty steep) to the creek to pump water.

From there, you pop up about 200 ft and contour for the most part. You get above some bluffs and a nice overlook at one point, and you hike through Butterfield Falls (dry for us). It was all very pretty.

Our plan was to find a horse trail that looked like it switchbacked down to Lee Creek for camp for the night. I was watching the terrain for a bluff that was on the other side of the reputed trail; we never saw it. Eventually, we crossed a road a half mile farther on, and followed it 3/4 mile to a nice campsite on Lee Creek. Again, water was in big pools.

The next morning we all crossed the creek, and followed a series of trails and roads back to the trailhead. The maps we had were not a good match to the actual trails.

After reflection, I would almost have rather just followed the bed of Lee Creek back to the main part of the Park.

We had a latish lunch in the Park, turned in our permits to ensure SAR was called off, loaded up, and headed back.

The Park was *packed*. If I were management there, I would have had the cafe and store open.

Free Advice

There was little water on the trail in the Fall. It’s probably better in the Spring.

The “easy” way to hike this trail is clockwise. You have the gradual climb to the ridge along MM 2. Going the other way, you have steep climbs in two place (MM 12 and Quail Valley), and a gradual to steep climb along Blackburn Creek.

The maps of the area that are given out by the Visitor Center have little detail on them. If I had a couple weekends on my hands, I would consider hiking the entire park with a GPS, and giving the map to the Park. The trail signs that show mileage are not right in at least several cases.

Camping in the State Park is in designated sites only. Once you enter the National Forest that envelopes the Park to the east and south, you can camp pretty much anywhere that is 100 ft off trails and water.

Summary

I loved this trip. For a 14 or so mile loop, you could spend a couple days in the middle of it. I would not mind leaving my car at the AR 170 junction and hiking down to Quail Canyon, and basecamping there a couple days.

We saw little wildlife, doubtless due to the dry conditions.

The leaves were just starting to turn colors, I would bet they are stunning in a week or so.

Thoughts On New York

11 August 2015

Lower Manhattan from Liberty State Park in NJ:

NYC From Liberty SP, NJ

We just got back from a second visit to the New York area.  We also spent several days in Boston. First off, the energy in the city was something that I found very inspiring.  We walked quite a bit through several parts of Manhattan, and the “city that never sleeps” was so evident.  People were moving everywhere, constantly.  The pace was pretty fast.  This was in the touristy areas, the business areas, and the residential areas.  People were moving constantly.  Even the conversations by people standing on the sidewalk seemed to be in motion.

We visited Central Park twice.  It was amazing to find such a lovely green space in the middle of the bustling city.  There were places there where the everpresent honk of horns and zoom of motors wasn’t in earshot.  Plenty of trees that blocked out the view of the tall buildings.  Except, that frenetic energy was still there in the park.  Ian and I spent a couple hours walking around the parks various locations.  We have a pretty darn fast pace, yet more often than I would have expected, we would find ourselves being passed by individuals and groups.  Lots of walking talking going on.  Now, this is not to say that everyone was booking along; there were plenty of people that were out on the lawns, in the shade or the sunshine.  The big lawns had various games going on, soccer, catch, ultimate frisbee (we stopped and watch that for a while), volleyball, and the like.

We walked Times Square and marveled at the people, the venue, the street performers, the smells (mainly the street food vendors), and again, that energy!

There were a lot of very well put together people there.  Which is to say, it was the rare overweight person.  I called Bozeman, MT, the City of Great Legs, and that would apply to Manhattan as well.  Ian and I talked it over, and it is clear that the low number of car drivers, with the typical walking that engenders, results directly in better exercise rates.  I saw a lot of people, both genders, in the parks eating yogurts, small sandwiches, and the like for lunch.  This is probably a cost issue as well.

Speaking of food…  the cost to eat in NYC is roughly twice what it costs to eat in OKC, or for that matter, most other parts of the country.  The costs for the outlying areas of NJ and CT were not twice the OKC cost, but probably a third higher.  The food we had there was pretty good, but not twice as good.

And then there is the traffic.  One word overview:  INSANE.  I’ve never been in such a high stress driving environment, and I’ve driven extensively in London, Paris, and Milan.  In each of those cases, the traffic was dense and fast paced, but it was linear and fairly orderly.  Not so in NYC – those people just ignore the lane markers, and there is a significant amount of random-looking lane changes as people jockey for position.  I saw my first true gridlock this trip.  People from cross streets would just pull into the intersection as long as they had the light (and for some, that wasn’t even an issue!), and then sit there blocking the main road.  When that happened, the main road drivers would pull right out, to withing a foot of the cars in front of them, and the automatic system that connects to the horns would start  up.  Nobody lets anyone in, and when it’s time to change lanes (that random thing), I observed at one point that NYC must have a law that turn signals be disconnected lest they be inadvertently used.

Parking is expensive.  In business districts, all road parking is reserved for commercial vehicles.  In residential districts, parking is typically limited to one hour (we saw a couple three-hour zones), but for the most part, you have to park in garages, which costs between $40-$60 per day.

Couple fun facts:  the workday population of Manhattan goes from 1.6M to 2.2M people.  There are about 161K cars on the island, and another 144K cars come in each day with SINGLE drivers!  Fortunately, that is only about 24% of the extra daily workers.  The rest use public transportation.  The number of commercial trucks are equally amazing.

I will say this about Manhattan:  my time visiting there is at an end.  I’ve seen the things I wanted to see there.  It was an amazing experience.  I love the energy in the place.  Most of the people we interacted with were not the hard-boiled types, but just as nice as elsewhere.  The architecture of the buildings was varied and ranged from plain brick to carved to modern.  The museums were amazing.  I think everyone should have the opportunity to visit.

R&R BBQ, Salt Lake City, UT

16 July 2015

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This was pretty good! I picked the place for dinner based on Zomato reviews, and as a bonus, it was only three blocks from my hotel. We had a group of eight meet at 1920. The place was packed! We ended up snagging one of the outside tables and dining al fresco, which was nice as the temperature was perfect. One of our guys reported that the brisket had run out.

I got a three-meat, with brisket, ribs (2), and a smoked chicken breast. I have to say, that was some darn good BBQ. The brisket (I got it sorta wet) was tender, moist, and tasty. The ribs didn’t have a lot of bark, but they did have a good, smoky flavor, and there was a decent about of pig on the bone. The chicken was very good, only a touch dry way down deep. It was a decent amount of food. The hush puppies were loaded with jalapenos, which was too bad.

They only had Gold Peak tea (a depressingly common thing in SLC), but the DP was pretty good. Service was counter but friendly and fast. My check was $19.67, not too bad.

This was very good BBQ in SLC. Recommended.

Cool Things From The Air, DFW-SLC, 13 July 2015

16 July 2015

I had some great photo ops on this flight.

I saved the pictures and captions on my Google+ site here.

Enjoy!

Nico’s, Salt Lake City, UT

15 July 2015

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This place was GREAT! It’s close to where I was in meetings, fast, and great food.

I had lunch at Nico’s yesterday with a work friend. We got there just before noon and left about 45 min later. When we walked in, I saw a freshly served #3, the pork chili verde burrito. EXCELLENT! Flavorful and tender pork, the chili verde was the perfect heat, and the burrito was the right size for lunch.

The only slight downer was a lack of iced tea. Our server suggested “agua de Jamaica”, which was brewed hibiscus flower. It was super sweet. I also got a half liter Mexican Coke, strong and cold.

Service was super friendly and fast. My check was $12.91. This place was very good. Be warned, it’s small, only eight or so tables. Recommended.

Alamexo, Salt Lake City, OK

15 July 2015

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I had dinner here last night with several long-time friends. Alamexo is, first, noisy. It’s hard to have a good conversation due to the echos. It’s also not really mexican, and certainly not tex-mex. It’s more of a mexican fusion theme.

We started off with guacamole (built right at the table) and some queso fundido (a Spanish word meaning melted or molten). Both were really good, but the queso hardened quite quickly as it cooled.

I had a carne daxaquena (which is the feminine singular of oaxaqueño, which is the word pertaining to the Mexican state of Oaxaca). Basically, this was a ribeye that was sectioned, then grilled with lettuce and other veg which was then draped over the steak for serving. Our server said the chef liked it to go out no more then medium rare; I asked for medium, and it actually came out between medium and medium well (I guess I should have listened…). Regardless, it was very, very tasty, although a bit expensive at $22.

The iced tea was some sort of fruity stuff that was OK at best. Our server was very good, kept stuff refilled and came around numerous times to make sure we were OK.

My check was $36.12. We were in there a couple hours for an enjoyable evening.

A related comment about the area in general. This place was about six blocks from my hotel in SLC. I walked there to arrive around 1900, and left and walked back near 2100. The entire downtown area was alive the entire time, with shops and restaurants doing a good business, and lots of people walking and biking. It felt vibrant and safe. I think that SLC has it together.

Parkers Smokehouse, Ashland, NE

21 May 2015

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I had lunch here Tuesday.  It was pretty darn good.  I had a brisket dinner.  The brisket was sliced and piled on a piece of Texas Toast.  There was a goodly amount.  The brisket was tender and well smoked, very good.  I got the “add two ribs” option.  I got the question, do you want the ribs with or without sauce?  Having not had the question before, I said yes, and sure enough, the ribs came out with BBQ sauce on them.  The ribs were kind of different.  I expect ribs to be cooked or smoked or grilled in a rack, which leaves each rib somewhat uniform.  These were not, each of the two ribs was bubbled and rippled all around in a non-uniform manner.  Odd.  But… the ribs were pretty good.  They had a bit of bark, and were tender, and had decent taste.  I rate them as an 8 on a scale of 1 to JTs.  The meal came with a couple sides.  The beans and potato salad were both very good.  The meal also came with cornbread.  It was a heck of a lot of food.

Service was very fast and friendly.  The iced tea was great!  My check was $19.71.  Worth the drive.

Barley’s, Council Bluffs, IA

21 May 2015

To my readers, I apologize for being sooooo far behind in restaurant posts.  I will try to catch up.

Click to add a blog post for Barley's on Zomato

I had lunch at Barley’s today.  It was very good!  I started with iced tea (very good) and some excellent BBQ chicken wings.  The wings were good because (1) the BBQ sauce wasn’t overwhelming, and (2) the wings were meaty and tender.

My entree was a patty melt, 7 oz of excellent beef on rye.  There were a few more sauteed onions than I usually get, but the onions were cooked perfected (too many places either char the onions or leave them fairly raw).  But the beef was the star here, it was excellent, cooked a perfect medium well and with a nice crust and internal texture.  Great stuff.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the fries, I think they were old.

Don’t forget a dollar of change for the parking meter out front.

Service was fast and very friendly.  My check was $13.91.  A nice place in the Bluffs.

Backpacking Grand Canyon, 02 – 06 February 2015

13 February 2015

A group of seven friends had a great backpacking trip to Grand Canyon last week. The weather was perfect!

I took a bunch of photos again. Those are on my Google+ site here.

Hike summary: 5 days, 46.6 trail miles, and huge altitude loss and gain. Sore calves and knees. Staggering and sublime views everywhere!

This is our second trip to Grand Canyon National Park. My blog post for the first one is here.

Getting There

I left Oklahoma City Saturday morning and arrived late morning in Phoenix. Car and baggage were no problem, and I spent my day first with a wonderful brunch with longtime friend Keith and his husband Ben. We followed an excellent meal and talk up with coffee at a nearby Starbucks. We split for a bit for errand running (and me driving all around Phoenix), before meeting back at their house for brownies, ice cream, more talk, and playing with their kitties. A wonderful way to spend a day!

Sunday, the rest of the team was arriving around 0930. They actually arrived around 1300. Fog in the area of PHX caused a ground stop for the flights arriving from DEN and SAN. Dammit. Once everyone arrived, we had a quick lunch (El Pollo Loco, yum), and we booked out of town to avoid any traffic due to the Super Bowl that was being played a couple miles to the west.

We stopped in Flagstaff for the guys to get food and last-minute supplies, and then drove to the Canyon, checking into the Maswik Lodge, having dinner in the Bright Angel Lodge dining room, before returning to the Maswik to get our packs stuffed and a last night in a real bed.

Day 1 (Monday, 02 Feb)

So… this was our short day. Yow.

We got up, checked out of Maswik, had breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge, and drove our cars to the Backcountry Info Center (BIC). Caught the Park shuttle to the Visitor Center, then took another shuttle to the Kaibab trailhead near Yaki Point. We weighed our packs before checking out, mine came in at 38 lbs, about nine less than last year (yea!).

At the BIC I had an electronics fault. The evening before, I had tested my Garmin GPS in the Maswik, and it worked fine. At the BIC, I fired the thing up, and it would beep and shut right off. This happened about 10 times in a row. It had new batteries. I was annoyed by this no end. I didn’t want to carry a nonfunctional GPS, so I left it in the car (another 5oz down). So the end result is I don’t have any GPS track data for the trip. The most annoying thing: when we got back, I picked the darn thing up and it fired right up. Well, crap.

Regardless, we got the Kaibab trailhead, those that needed filled up water bottles, everyone hit the head one last time, we shouldered our packs, and headed down. We hit the trail right at 1030.

This day was down, down, down, down, down hill. There were some level-ish places along the trail, but I do not recall any up. Much of the trail is big stairsteps. It is jarring after a while. There are a couple places to stop on the way down, and at least two toilets (one at the first tip-off point, and the other on the Tonto Plateau). There is an emergency phone at the Tonto location. There are also a couple places that have staggering views down and over the river. But the dominate memory of this day is the relentless down.

That day was the hardest day of hiking I have had. At the end of it, I had a very sore spot behind my left knee, in a place I’ve not been sore before. It reduced me to a very slow pace for the last hour or so of the hike. The trail is so steep it is hard to believe.

I had two full water bottles at the top of the trail, and had the last of my water at the Bright Angel side of the bridge.

The Kaibab ends up at the eastern suspension bridge over the Colorado. Once across the bridge, you are about a third of a mile from camp. We got into camp right around 1730. We stayed at the Bright Angel Camp for backpackers, in one of the two group camps at the south end. The campsite had a nice shelter that was built into the rock face. Two of the guys rolled out their pads and bags right under the shelter. The rest of us put up tents. My tent is not freestanding, and this made me wish it was. The ground was uniformly dirt, but there were a plethora of rocks about two inches under. I found a nice fist-sized rounded rock and took several attempts per tent stake to get them in. Several of them only went in about halfway; for each of those I took a largish rock and used it to hold the stake down.

We all got dinner going. I had Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Chicken and Rice, and it was pretty good. I could not finish it, and only finished about half of it.

After dinner, I changed into my cool weather clothes, and took a couple Advil. My knee was really bothering me. Fortunately, after a good night sleep, the knee had no pain. I had been worried about it enough that I was going over abort-and-walk-out scenarios. So I didn’t have to carry one of those out. The rest of the guys headed up to the Phantom Ranch canteen for a couple brews. I stretched out in my tent to work a Suduko, and passed out around 1945.

Bright Angel Camp is very nice. The group site we were in had a shelter, and the bathrooms have actual flushing toilets. Very plush.

For the first day, we had 7.1 miles of hiking, brutally down, a total of 4,780 ft of loss.

Day 2

We got up at 0830 (really!), and were packed up and out of camp by 1030.

It’s about a half mile from Bright Angel camp to the junction with the Clear Creek trail. Right off the bat, you climb at a good pace. The trail is a bit on the rocky side. It climbs to an overlook for Phantom Ranch. There is a pretty cool bench made of stone there. Right past the bench a short trail goes to a small area with a great view of the Colorado River. After that, you spend a lot of time contouring and climbing and contouring and climbing to get up to the Tonto Plateau, but this time on the north side of the Colorado.

Once up at the bench and overlook, and for maybe another half mile or so, you actually have cell service. Not much, but I was able to call Raegan and tell her we were OK.

There is no shade up there, except a couple places along the trail where the wash is deep enough to provide some shade, and one great big boulder that provides enough shade (see the photos, it’s enormous).

There was one place on the trail to get water, it was just past our lunch place outbound. There were a couple tepid pools below the trail, and one nice looking pool, albeit small, very close to the trail. When we came back Thursday, the same area had a slight, very slight, trickle that had formed another small pool. If that’s what you get in February, I’m thinking there isn’t any most of the time.

Shade is another thing, as noted above, there’s basically none.

The views were another thing altogether. Constant, and staggering, and head turning, and majestic, and all around. The view of the south side changed as we walked along, and of course the north side has those magnificent walls with the grand names like Zoroaster.

The last part of the trail down into camp was tough (but not as bad as coming down Kaibab). A lot of the trail is a sort-of worn area in red dirt, and it slopes down, so if you slip you get to roll 400 ft into camp. The parts that were not like that were rocky and steep.

We got into camp around 1730, with pretty much empty water bottles, and being on the trail eight hours. Camp is small and set in among some cottonwoods. There are a couple areas to camp in, and I think I like the southern one best. Clear Creek was burbling along happily with a good flow.

There is a dehydrating toilet north of the camps. I thought it was a little odd that the toilet was upstream of the camps, but on the other hand it was quite a ways back from the creek, but on the other other hand it was surrounded by washes. Hmmm….

Dinner was very pleasant. We talked a bit after dinner, watching the amazing dark sky and tons of stars until the Moon rose and the extra light wiped a bunch, and then crashed.

This (and Thursday, clearly) were our long days. We had 10.8 miles of trail. We had a 1,680 ft gain from Bright Angel Camp to the Tonto Plateau, and we lost 560 ft of that down into Clear Creek camp, for a net increase of 1,120 ft. The true “up” for the day is something like 1,900 ft, as we had numerous examples of walking up a hill, then back down the other side, and back up the hill on the other side of the side canyon.

Day 3

This was a side hike day for us. You have three basic choices: stay in camp and chill, go down Clear Creek through a slot canyon to the Colorado, or go up canyon. We decided to head up canyon. There are some ruins up there, and the largest waterfall in the Canyon, Cheyava Falls.

You can’t just follow Clear Creek. The creek disappears, and reappears, and there are side canyons. It’s full of brush and low limbs and occasional scrambles up what would be waterfalls if there was water. There are three streams of reliable water: from the Clear Creek camps to about a half mile upstream, then about five miles upstream, and then below Cheyava Falls.

The Falls were not running when we were there. Rangers told us there had been fairly little snow on the North Rim, so there was little to flow down Cheyava.

There are some super pretty sights up those canyons. They collapse down to slot canyons in a couple places (the NPS warns that there is a flash flood risk if there is a storm up-canyon, so obviously you need to watch the weather). There is a huge variety of rock types, shapes, and sizes in the canyon.

One thing to watch: there are an amazing number of cacti of various types in the canyon. Some of them are clustered close together. Now, there are cacti on the Tonto as well, but not nearly as close together as they are in the Clear Creek drainage. I counted 32 (yes, thirty-two) punctures and scratches on my legs. Dave caught one in the shin that we thing punctured a vein just a bit, as he had a huge amount of blood on his leg and boot. Very impressive.

After dinner, we stayed up all the way to 2040 ( 🙂 ) to watch a short pass of the ISS, and then crashed.

This day was 8 miles round trip, and a 1,378 ft climb, then return to camp with the same altitude loss.

Day 4

Not much to say about today, except the views were just as massive and sublime coming from the opposite angle.

As I mentioned above, there was one more trickle of water at one point. I wouldn’t count on it being there now.

We got up and left camp around 0830. It took us 35 minutes to walk from camp up the first big climb and level out some. After that, we motored right along. This walk took us about 7.6 hours coming back instead of the 8 hours going out. We went faster, and took shorter breaks.

We got back into camp in time to stop at the Phantom Ranch Canteen for a beer.

We had dinner in camp, watched an excellent pass of the ISS starting about 1830, and then hung in camp and talked. While we were there, a ring-tailed cat raided the camp! It was hanging out in the roof area of the shelter next to the rock wall the shelter was built into. S/he was not terribly afraid of us, and we took some pictures while getting peered back at.

Around 1955, we headed back to the canteen for some beer, iced tea, and talk. We stayed about an hour, headed back to camp, and crashed. Four of the guys didn’t bother with a tent, and crashed on the floor of the shelter.

Another 10.8 miles, and a net loss, but the uphill out of camp and the back sides of the hills we walked down made for some decent altitude for the day.

Day 5

We got up at 0530 for what we figured would be a long day. Turned out, not so much!

During breakfast and packing up, I noticed my SPOT was missing. We searched all around the camp, and saw the remains of some plastic Ziplocs around, especially in the roof above the shelter. I figure that the darn ringtail was rooting around, and took the Ziploc with the SPOT in it. Damn cat. Rather, damn raccoon family member. I figure the SPOT is in the roof somewhere, or around the camp area. Hard lesson to learn, but put the $150 SPOT in the bear canister with the rest of the food and trash. I let the Rangers know after returning home; who knows, it might turn up.

We got out of camp around 0730 and went directly to the west bridge over the Colorado. James spotted a bighorn sheep above us, which was cool.

On the way, I stopped where I lost my Nalgene last year and looked for it, even venturing down the cliff face a bit. No luck.

Shortly after this we hit the Devil’s Corkscrew. It’s a tough walk with a big pack, even on the last day, but we all made it in good time with minimal stops. We showed up at Indian Garden around 0930 and took a water and snack break. It was 42F there, and since we were sweating and then stopped, it was darn cold! We didn’t stay long, it was better to be walking and warm.

So started the Big Slog. Walking out of Indian Garden, you are walking up. After a mile or so, the trail tilts upward and you begin four miles of trail going up several thousand feet. The view gets better as you go, but that’s about it. It’s just keep the feet going one after another. Around 1430, I came over the South Rim to complete the trip.

The last day is 9.9 miles, and 4,380 ft of altitude gain. I think the only level is walking from Bright Angel Camp and crossing the bridge, and the only down is a couple short segments along the river, but every bit of the rest is unrelenting up. Still, we all did it without any pain. Rest along the trail every once in a while, and keep a good attitude, and you make it.

We went immediately to Bright Angel Lodge for late lunch and beer and iced tea. From there, it was a walk to Maswik, getting checked in, getting the cars parked at the BIC, showers, and all that.

We drove out to Hermit’s Rest right before sunset to watch the sun set. Then it was back to Bright Angel Lodge for dinner, and a long sleep.

Heading Home

Saturday was pretty straightforward. Up and pack, check out, breakfast, and a visit to the Visitors Center and Mather Point for a last look into the Canyon. It’s a long drive back to Phoenix, but we left the Park around 1030 and got to the rental car return by 1400, and on our flights on time.

Things That Didn’t Work

Losing my SPOT is in this category for sure. Lesson learned is put the thing into the bear canister.

I had a tent pole break Thursday morning. I was sitting by the tent, no stress or strain on it (I had pulled the fly off sometime earlier, and the pole broke next to an insertion point, pop! The same thing happened to the front pole earlier. So, that pole will go off to Tent Pole Technologies for replacement. I had the backup sleeve, and took the pole apart by having two of the guys hold it apart by the shock cord, then cutting the shock cord, threading the backup sleeve through the shock cord, and tying the shock cord back together. I used a couple pieces of duct tape to hold the backup sleeve over the break area.

I had something new on this trip, pain in back of my left knee, mainly toward the extreme down of the end of Day 1. A good rest and a pair of Advil, and no more issues. The same muscle I hurt at Rocky Mountain NP last July re-pulled on this trip; it made it difficult to bend at the waist, which made a couple areas on the day hike a bit problematic. Dave is a professional purveyor of PT, and he identified the muscle, and some exercises to heal it. I’ve been doing those.

Maps

Since my GPS got all weird on me right before we hit the trail, I have put these together using some of the tracks from our trip last year, and manually drawing the rest of the tracks in my Garmin Mapsource tool. The waypoints are from my SPOT reports, except the last day.

First, an overview. Our Day 1 hike on South Kaibab is in purple, Days 2 and 5 on the Clear Creek Trail in green, Day 4 to Cheyava Falls in blue, and our last day on Bright Angel Trail in red.

The entire trek in one JPEG.

The entire trek in one JPEG.

Next, a series of zooms on each segment, Days 1, 2, 4, and 5.

Days 1 and 5

Days 2 and 4

Day 3 Day Hike

Things That Worked

I was happy with my clothing choices here. I would typically wake up in my base layer, and immediately put my long sleeve mock turtleneck and Scout pants on over them, with a hoodie over the mock if I still felt the need. Then, either right before leaving, or shortly after hitting the trail, I would strip down to get the base layer and stuff off, and put on a t-shirt. That would be my hiking shirt. Immediately after hitting camp, the (usually damp) t-shirt would come off and the dry base layer go on. I would continue layering as it cooled. The t-shirt was always dry be morning.

I am going to investigate newer fabrics. Most of the crew had these, and they dried amazingly quickly, and I think the stuff was lighter and compacted better.

I went 100% Isopro/pro stove and fuel for this trip. Worked great, flawless, and heated water darn fast. I carried an 8 oz fuel canister, and ended up with about 3/4 of the fuel left. So, I could have carried a four oz canister and saved the extra weight.

Pack Weight

WOW! After my pack weight investigation last year, my loaded pack weight was NINE pounds less than last year! So I went from 47 lbs to 38 lbs. I also am about seven pounds less body weight. Was the pack light? Heck no. But it was also very manageable.

I am going to look into a new tent. At REI, I saw two tents that are two-person models (as mine), and one was in sort of the same form factor as mine. But, they were in the 2.5 lb range, which is about half my the weight of my tent.

Food

Couple things here. For dinner, I’ve always carried one backpackers meal per day. Those things are marked as two servings (read, two people), but I’ve always been able to put a full package away. I didn’t have nearly the appetite on this trip, and on the first day, only managed half the meal. So for the remaining dinners, I emptied the package into a Ziploc, then put half back into the the cooking pouch and used half the water. Worked out well, and I didn’t have to carry a number of half finished but rehydrated dinners.

My usual breakfast is a package of Pop Tarts and a package or do of applesauce. It was even so on this trip.

But I did something a little different for lunch. I took one tuna salad kit, ate that on day one, and went with Pop Tarts and applesauce for lunch.

I’m thoroughly sick of Pop Tarts at the moment. I had nine packages of them on this trip. It’ll be a while before I have any more. They kept me from getting hungry, but just got a bit monotonous. Maybe half Pop Tarts and half tuna next time? I need to think that over.

Summary

So this trip is in the books. I almost wish we had done a side hike (maybe Thursday afternoon up North Kaibab) to get in a 50 miler, as we needed 3.5 more miles.

Everything pretty much worked on this trip! The company was fantastic, and the views were the reason I go to National Parks.

Take 2, Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon Village, AZ

11 February 2015

This is a followup to my first post about the restaurant at the Lodge.

We had five meals at the Lodge on the backpacking trip this past week. This is just a quick summary post.

We had dinner Sunday night after arriving in the Park. We had fried mushrooms and zucchini to start; it was all excellent, especially the chipotle ranch dressing. My main course was spaghetti. The meat sauce was very good, but I think there were about two tablespoons on the pasta. I asked for more, and got a largish soup cup of the stuff, much better. That was a very good meal at that point.

We had breakfast there Monday morning. I got eggs over easy (that turned out over hard) and biscuits and sausage gravy. It was turkey sausage, so the gravy had an odd but not unpleasant flavor. Oh, and a side of most excellent bacon. Frankly, the eggs and odd gravy didn’t bother me, as I wanted to hit the trail! But I was carbed and proteined up for the adventure. However, I think the meal could have been much better.

We had late lunch there after getting off the trail Friday. I had a third pound cheeseburger and fries. And iced tea. LOTS of iced tea. Good beef, cooked medium well. Nothing left. I think I was tired of trail food.

We had dinner there later that evening. I had the 8 oz steak, it was perfectly cooked. I also had a baked tater. I asked for cheese, butter, and bacon. I got a huge soup cup of shredded cheese, some pats of real butter, and… three strips of (excellent) bacon. It took a while to get the tater ready, as I had to chop the bacon. The steak was perfect, though.

The last meal we had was breakfast on Saturday morning. I got the chili verde and shredded pork hash. I don’t know that I’ve had hash. I think I thought it would all be mixed up and grilled/tossed together. But the pulled pork was on one side, the eggs (hard over, again) in the middle, hash browns on the other side, a couple small bits of green chilis on the eggs. I mixed it up myself, but there was little to no flavor blending. Hmmmm.

Service, I have to say, was always very good.

It was a mixed bag. I don’t think the breakfast crew was on their A game, but the dinners were very good.

When we go back, I think I will try some other places, like the food court at the Maswik.

Matt’s Big Breakfast, PHX

11 February 2015

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This place was right down the terminal from my gate Saturday. I’d eat here any time.

I got through security and scored high tables for the seven of us. It took a while for the rest of the guys to get there, but the host and server were super friendly and not impatient.

The rest of the guys got beer of one kind or another and apparently liked them. I started off with a bowl of chili. It was pretty good, about half and half beans and beef, with decent flavor and no heat at all. I’ve had better chili, and I’ve had far worse.

The highlight was a “scattered and smothered”, ground chuck grilled and served with mashers and gravy and grilled onions. WONDERFUL! That was an excellent piece of ground beef, with huge flavor and great texture. I ate every scrap of it. It came with a goodly amount of steamed young asparagus, tender without being mushy, and very tasty.

Service was so very friendly. My check was around $20. This place is recommended.

Richardson’s, Phoenix, AZ

11 February 2015

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This place was GREAT! My friends Keith and Ben in Phoenix recommended Richardson’s, and we met there for brunch a week ago Saturday.

We all got the same thing: Huevos Rancheros, I think all three over easy. We also split an order of carne adovada. Just excellent. So good. The chili verde was a perfect spice level to complement the eggs and potatoes. The adovada was frankly the best I have had. The pork was perfectly tender and fell apart at the slightest prod, and again the heat of the roja was spot on.

This was one of the best New Mexican meals I have had, if not the best.

The iced tea was good, and service was fast and extremely friendly. One other thing: the restaurant smelled wonderful all the time we were there. That’s not something that’s common, but the cooking odors and the wood smoke drifted through the dining area, and it was a great olfactory sensation. Our check was around $50, great value.

The company was priceless.

Some Cool Things From the Air, PHX-DFW, 07 Feb 2015

8 February 2015

I haven’t done a Cool Things From the Air in a while, but I got a chance to see some yesterday returning from Phoenix to Dallas, on the way home from backpacking Grand Canyon.

As we left PHX, I was trying to take a picture of the area where my friends Keith and Ben live. I was shooting to the SE of their house location, but I saw a number of what look like quarries on the southwestern part of Phoenix.

Quarry SW of Phoenix

As we flew on, I noticed one area below that had snow, the rest of the terrain was typical desert, dry and brown.

Mt. Baldy, AZ

The snaky ridge is Mt. Baldy (11,400 ft), about 150 miles east of Phoenix. Just a little farther on…

Basin Lake and Crescent Lake

DSC05055

This is a high meadow or basin a couple miles east of Mt. Baldy. The first shot is Basin Lake and Crescent Lake. While the basin is full of snow, I was really surprised that the higher points were snow free. The basin is around 9000ft, and the points are about 9300ft. Odd. There is a rails-to-trails conversion on the west side of the basin, the Apache Railroad Multi-Use Trail. Something to do when in eastern Arizona!

For some reason, the flight had turned significantly north after taking off. How far north was shown when we flew north of the VLA!

VLA, NM

Super cool!

The last interesting item was the snow cover that again stood out above the desert, the Sacramento Mountains above Alamagordo, NM. This is where Cloudcroft and Ski Apache are located. The elevations are again around 9,000 ft.

Sacramento Mountains, NM

That’s it!

Old South Restaurant, Russellville, AR

10 January 2015

Old South Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday evening we were exploring the area of Russellville, and needed dinner. Old South was a good choice.

Raegan, her Mom, and I all got fried chicken. It was great stuff. Each meal was four large pieces of chicken, perfected fried up, and filling a platter. The chicken came with mashers and decent gravy. That was a heck of a lot of chicken. It was, however, just juicy enough, not dry anywhere, and while there was a bit more breading than I usually like, I ate all four pieces.

Our relatives also got hamburger steaks and liked them.

The iced tea was great and kept refilled, and service was right on and very friendly; the only issue we had was getting a couple sides of okra mid-meal. The check for all six of us was $59.78, which I think is great value for six people. I’d be happy to go back.