New Mexico: An Explorer’s Guide
By Sharon Niederman
The Countryman Press
384 pages, paperback, $19.95
This New Mexico edition of the Explorer’s Guide series hits the Land of Enchantment’s highpoints as well as a few back-road favorites. In addition to listing such guidebook standards as outdoor activities, lodgings, and festivals, this one includes categories for quiet delights, such as farmers markets and wineries. Handy icons point out family-friendly activities and lodgings that accept pets. Niederman excels at finding quirky lodgings and shopping destinations, but, unlike other guides, hers doesn’t suggest itineraries; it’s probably best used while exploring a predetermined destination than while wandering about. Niederman is the author of The Santa Fe & Taos Book: Great Destinations, the novel Return to Abó, and numerous articles and publications about the history, cuisine, music, architecture, and culture of New Mexico. She splits her time between Albuquerque and Ratón.
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Today’s travels took us to Pueblo, Colorado, home of Damon Runyon, who inspired the “Guys and Dolls” lyrics (“the oldest established permanent floating crapgame in New York”). More to our POV is the saying that this old Colorado Fuel & Iron steelmill town, Pueblo identifies its natives as those who “have a potica bread in one hand and a tamale in the other.” That is, the place is ethnically Slavic, Italian, and Mexican. We concentrated on the latter two. While the doggies were being groomed we enjoyed the lunch special at Patti’s, spaghetti and meatballs. We were served pie plates of rich, savory sauce over perfectly-cooked pasta, one giant meatball per customer, fresh iceberg salad with blue cheese crumbles and house Italian dressing, fresh delicious bread and good coffee — for $4.50 each! How satisfying. Patti’s has been in business since 1936, and as my husband says, “If a place has been open more than fifty years, they must be doing something right.” Following our round of “big city” errands – the camera store, supermarket, office supply store– we were ready to dine again. We had an early supper at El Nopal, another long-running Pueblo family restaurant, circa 1957. Being from New Mexico, we are picky about our Mexican food. We split the No. 1 El Nopal Special, a combination of beef enchilada, guacamole, chile relleno, chicken taco, beans and rice. El Nopal had me from chips and salsa. Go there! The Denver Broncos do, when they are in town. We have always made food pilgrimages to Pueblo, but just now are the gates opening. We came here on a quest for potica bread, the rich cream-and-nut- filled loaf served at holidays, and we found the treat at Gagliano’s, an authentic down to the imported salamis and olives and pastas and Parmesan and narrow aisles Italian deli, in business since 1923. We bought appetizers for the dinner party we are giving Sunday night, and some really good olive oil. We drove home happy, watching the clouds build up, and we arrived just before the snow started falling.
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We took a Sunday drive out US 64/87 this morning, looking for some prairie dog hills to forage for dandlions. My husband remembers foraging out there, about four miles east of town, with his dad, who also found wild mushrooms on Johnson Mesa. We loaded up our equipment, two brown bags and two ten-inch knives, and we drove out, then into the open gateway to ask permission. The gentleman said he no longer owned the land, that it was now the property of Cowboys for Christ, but he didn’t see any harm in us removing a few dandelions. He invited us to take out a prairie dog or two while we were at it. All the while, we were reconstructing my husband’s mother’s recipe for the hot bacon dressing she served over the roots. Dandelions are a great spring tonic, and the greens and roots were savored by Native Americans. We couldn’t, however, find any sign of dandelions, so we continued on our way east. We were probably too early, so will try again in a few days. We visited Christina and Tim at their house after first sharing a “Big Boy” breakfast at Sierra Grande Cafe and admiring Dino Cornay’s pencil drawings, then went over to Gallery C in Des Moines. We picked up our order of Fair Trade fresh-roasted in Marfa, Texas coffee (bless you, Christina) and saw all that was new at the gallery. We drove back through Folsom, where we explored the Folsom Cemetery on this windy March day. Buried there is George McJunkin, the African-American cowboy who discovered the Folsom points, now in the Denver Museum of Natural History, that indicated early man inhabited this land more than 10,000 years ago. We enjoyed the view of Sierra Grande, the largest single mountain around the base in the US and Mount Capulin from the dusty, weedy cemetery scattered with faded plastic flowers and stones too weather-worn to read. I imagined the many stories buried in this humble patch of earth.
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