Farmington to Santa Fe

After changing our travel plans, Heather and I left Holbrook and headed out for Albuquerque, instead of Taos.  First stop was in Old Town for a bit of a walk around and to find a place for lunch.  Monica’s El Portal Restaurant was the lunch stop where we got to taste sopapillas for the first time.  A sopapilla is a kind of fried, light pastry served with honey that the New Mexicans love.  You can get them at all New Mexican restaurants it seems.

I should warn you about the red sauce.  It’s not so much an enchilada sauce as it is liquid fire.  I like mild to medium heat on my enchiladas and most red chili sauce here at home is wimpy, but there – well, I still sweat when I think of it.

From lunch we walked over to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the exhibits.  This is an outstanding museum.  I love their exhibit, “Hollywood Southwest: New Mexico in Film & Television.”  It’s amazing how many of the movies I like were filmed in New Mexico.  The other exhibits were just as good and I could have spent more time there, but by tea time, my legs were complaining and it was off to the hotel.

I shall refer to the hotel as, “The Hotel Which Shall Not Be Named,” as we came to know as a place of discomfort, disquiet, and disrepute.  The room doors slammed closed with the loud crash of steel prison cell doors slamming shut and being locked by the guards.  The A/C unit had two settings, off and jet engine.  Hallway conversations were clearly heard in our room, and the arguments, TV, shower, comings and goings at all hours in the room next door was clearly heard by us.  Sleep was not something we got a lot of here.

Don’t get me started on the hotel restaurant – worst service in New Mexico.  A person could starve to death waiting for a meal there.  I did lodge a complaint with the staff on-site, via email to hotel management, to the customer service people of the hotel chain, and a few acid worded reviews on travel review sites.

What I received in return was: emotional satisfaction from the negative reviews I posted.  Neither the hotel or the customer service people made any effort to address the issues.

Our second day in Albuquerque, after a disappointing breakfast at the hotel, we headed up the road to Santa Fe.  What a wonderful place.  We loved it – especially the art.  We went into a few of the galleries and spent a long time looking at everything.  At one place we found a very nice ring for Heather and I finally found a great new hiking hat.  I have trouble finding hats that fit me because of my large head size.

Great now, I know what kind of comments this post will generate.

Lunch was at this place with low doors, crowds, slow service, and liquid fire.  Heather was smart and ordered green sauce on the side.  Me, not so smart as I just let them pour the red sauce on and three bites later I was sweating and breathing fire.

After lunch we walked around the Plaza and did a couple more shops, plus we walked by the artists stalls.  There is one sidewalk next to the plaza where native artists set up their wares for sale and there is an amazing amount of jewelry and other art made by these artists.

About halfway down the row of artists, my eye fell on a highly polished brass bracelet.  From a distance I could see a pattern and thought that it might look good on Heather.  She had seen it too, so we stopped for a closer look.  Once I’d gotten close enough to see it, I knew I wanted to get it for Heather, but didn’t say anything right away as I wanted to see if Heather had any interest.

The man knew both how to make fine art and how to sell it.  Clearly he sensed our interest in the piece and started in on what I assume was his standard sales pitch describing how he made it with metal stamps and polishers plus adding how long it took him to make.  At some point Heather asked where he was from and set him down another path of stories.  Turns out he was from Farmington, New Mexico, about a four-hour drive away.

It was a cold day in Santa Fe and likely we were likely his only sales prospect of the day and he was shoveling fast to make the sale.  At one point he offered to put it on Heather and when she accepted, we all knew he’d made a sale.  My mind started thinking about how much I’d pay for the bracelet and to my surprise our man said, “$40.”  My hand flew into my pocket as I was expecting double that.

My guess is that the $40 was either gas home or a few beers as consolation for a bad sales day.

Either way, we both walked a bit happier – us with a treasure and him with cash.

After that we walked up the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and toured the church. Being the middle of a weekday afternoon, the building was open and docent was on duty to answer questions.  The architecture is wonderful and beautiful.

After this, it was back to the car and off to the, “The Hotel Which Shall Not Be Named,” for a sleepless night and a quick get away at 6:00 am the next morning, just after I had a bit of a hissy fit with the front desk staff.

The new day would bring a new adventure, but you’ll have to wait till next week for that.

Till next week,


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Friday Wisdom – Friends and a Book to Read, Twenty-four Days

I am here today with the wisdom that you should always help a friend.  A friend is someone who will help you move.  A real friend is someone who will help you move a body.

Fellow blogger, writer, teacher, and all around good person Jacqui Murray hasn’t ask me to move a body, just help her get the word out on her newly published new book, Twenty-four Days, so here is some info on it – go check it out.

The story of Twenty-four days:

A former SEAL, a brilliant scientist, a love-besotted nerd, and a quirky AI have twenty-four days to stop a terrorist attack. The problems: They don’t know what it is, where it is, or who’s involved.

I always like a good book about AI.  What is AI?  Just happen to have an answer:

An AI is an Artificial Intelligence—a machine that perceives its environment and takes actions to maximize its chance of success. It is often applied to indicate a machine that mimics cognitive functions such as “learning” and “problem solving”.

 Just to be clear: Otto does these and more. He also has adopted human habits and mannerisms that make him comfortable to be around and the preferred friend to at least one of my main characters.

While some of what Otto does is still in the realm of fiction, AI is becoming more real each day as we push the edges of computer technology.  There a number of practical AI systems deployed today and some you likely use without knowing it. 

The book is available on Kindle

Title and author: Twenty-four Days by J. Murray

Genre: Thriller, military thriller

Cover by: Paper and Sage Design 

Available at: Kindle USKindle UKKindle Canada

Enjoy the book and I’ll have more wisdom next week,


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Wednesday Woodworking – Shop Tool Reviews: The Secret Project

Here’s something a little different this week – both woodworking and writing.  I am pleased to announce that the on-line tools review site, Shop Tool Reviews, has just publish my first tool review article.

Check it out here: Ryobi BS904G Band Saw

This was fun to write and I got to spend some quality time in my shop getting to know a tool.  Does life get better than that?

I hadn’t really thought about doing this kind of writing before, but now that I’ve done one, I kind of like it.  At first, I wasn’t sure I could write a 1,000 words about a tool, but I ended up cutting words to get to down to the assigned word count.  And I should mention that a few scrap pieces of lumber got much, much smaller during the research phase of this project.

The pictures for the article were taken by Heather and edited by the Shop Tools Reviews editor.

Hopefully, I’ll be doing more of these for them.

If you need me – me and the band saw will be in the shop,


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Mother and Roads

From my Mother’s grave you can see the golden Californian hills rising in the east – the coastal range.  On a clear day you can see Mt. Hamilton Observatory.  The road to the top is where mother learned to drive, and where I went camping with the Boy Scouts.

The cemetery dates from 1839 – one of the oldest in California.  When I walk among the headstones, I remember sorrows, joys and people I once walked with.  My grandparents are buried here and in the older sections other more distant relatives rest.  Once set far out in the country, away from homes and businesses, the cemetery is now fenced in by condos, shopping malls, and busy roads.


My mother was a traveler.  Give her a car and a little gas money and she’d be gone looking for the other side of the mountain.  As a child, she often took me on her trips.  Every summer I remember being packed in the car with camping gear, boxes of canned goods and an old beat up ice-chest and away we’d go seeking some speck on the map.  Some place we had never been.

In the sixth grade, I studied California history at school and made a model of a California Spanish Mission out of sugar cubes.  Well, not a whole mission – as I recall I only did one wall and part of fence made from Popsicle sticks.  I wrote a long report and I received good marks.  Mother always tried her best to reward good school work and decided that we do a special trip that summer.

I was twelve and it was only going to be mother and me traveling. My brothers had moved away from home and father’s alcoholism consumed his life.  Mother decided that the trip to do was to take me to see a real California Spanish Mission.

Not one Mission, but all 21 missions.

The California Mission system was built by the Franciscan order starting in 1769.  The missions were part of the Spanish colonization of the Alta California region – an area that now includes the coastal area from San Diego to Sonoma County just north of San Francisco. The missions were used to convert the native tribes to Catholicism, take control of the land and provide both religious and military control of Alta California.

It was built along the “El Camino Real.”  If you visit California, you’re bound to see this street name and the signs for it along many parts of the coast.  Roughly translated, El Camino Real, is “The Royal Road,” or “King’s Highway.”  The missions are spaced out along this road roughly 30 miles apart – a long day’s ride on horse back or a three-day walk.  The road provided travelers with accommodations along the route and allowed supplies and communications to flow between the outposts.  It was possible to ride a horse from San Diego to San Francisco in about three weeks while staying in a nice comfortable mission each night.
This is what my mother decided I should see first hand so we loaded the car and headed south to San Diego.  There we took our only detour from the mission of seeing the Missions and went to see both Sea World and the San Diego zoo.  Then we located Mission San Diego and started north along the old route of El Camino Real.

It was a very long time ago and my memories of the trip are a bit vague.  I can recall only bits and pieces.  I remember the big coffee table book of California Missions that mother had and how it became our reference book.  I remember the box of AAA maps that mother had gotten to navigate us.  Mother was generally hopeless about finding her way and we spent a lot of time lost.  I learned to read a map very well on that trip – mostly out of self-defense.

Most days we’d see two or three missions and then camp at a State Park for the night.  Maybe two or three times we stayed at a motel when mother needed to do our laundry.  Breakfast was most often cereal, lunch usually a sandwich and dinner came from a can.

The missions were varied – most were (and are today) working churches with the original buildings fully preserved or restored.  Some missions had fallen into ruins.  At some there were tours.  At some just signs or a little pamphlet.

I learned a lot, but we had troubles too.  Mother’s car was a piece of junk. I was one of the few twelve-year olds who knew how to check the oil, tire pressure and water level in the radiator.  My older brother had drilled me on basic car repairs before the trip, gave me some basic tools and taught me to change a tire – including actually having me practice it. I never did find out if he was acting on his own or if mother put him up to it (he still refuses to say).

When we were coming over the Grapevine Pass on I-5, the right rear tire blew out.  Mother managed to keep the car in control and got us to the shoulder.  I got out and started to take out the camping gear so I could get to the spare tire.  I don’t recall mother asking me to change the tire or me saying anything – I just got out and started to work.
Next to the freeway was frontage road and just as I was starting to set up the bumper jack a man in a pickup truck stopped and called out, “You need help there, son?”

“No Thanks,” I called back

Then he saw my mother, got out of his truck, jumped over the barbed-wire fence separating us and said, “Ma’am, this isn’t the best place to be changing a tire.  You’re boy seems to know what he’s doing, but he seems a little small to be throwing tires around on the freeway. Let me change that tire for you.”

Mother thanked the man and agreed it would be better for him to do it.  When he was done and the car repacked, mother offered to pay the man $5.00.  He refused, but mother insisted he take something and he took a half a bag of stale cookies before driving off.

The trip ended at Fort Ross – the southern most Russian settlement in California.  After all, reasoned mother, the Spanish weren’t the only ones trying to colonize California at the time.

This was one of the last road trips mother and I took together.  Our return home bought a return to the problems of life and too soon I was growing up.  School, career, life overtook the simple joys of the road, looking for the other side of the mountain …

Then one day, I am standing in a cemetery, next to her headstone watching clouds roll past the hills and – wondering when the road ended.

Till next week,

Note: Taking this week out to do a little Mother’s Day post.  Will return to Route 66 next week.

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