Local News At Its Best

Breakfast at Brownie's
A local Yuma favorite since 1946, Brownie’s is on my list when I’m in town.

We’re back this evening from an overnight Yuma trip where I was reminded what is important in local news. While we were getting ready to leave the motel, we had the TV on. Like most local stations throughout the country, Yuma’s local broadcast talent was on doling out the news, weather, and traffic. I know, it’s good to know how long it will take to get to work. But in this case, instead of helping the viewers avoid the freeway bottlenecks, Channel 11 reported how long the lines were at the Customs and Immigration inspection stations. And you thought your daily commute was silly.

Till then … jw

Rhodes Greece

I am a reluctant traveler. When Linda — my wife — suggested we go to Serbia this year to join my son and his family on vacation, I was more reluctant. Then she said we would also be spending ten days on a Greek island visiting new beaches every day during the middle of our visit to Belgrade. That’s when I reluctantly agreed.

Greece, Turkey, and Rhodes.
The island of Rhodes is closer to Turkey than Greece.

My wife, my son, Nathan, his wife, Nela, and their three-year-old son, Matija and I took a ten-day diversion trip from Serbia to see Rhodes. This was one of the best vacations I have ever been on. We booked a package tour that included the flight from Belgrade, ground transportation, and ten days at a hotel with what’s called “half board”. That means the price included breakfast and dinner and we were free each day to explore the island for good places to eat lunch

I am barely off the plane and I am already awestruck by the history of this island! Most of us are familiar with the Colossus of Rhodes, the giant statue that stood at the mouth of Rhodes harbor, and one of the wonders of the ancient world, built in 280 B.C. Historians estimate the statue was as tall as the Statue of Liberty. An earthquake destroyed it in 226 B.C. and the harbor it overlooked has a “new” lighthouse built quite recently (1412 A.D.).

The whole north and east coasts of Rhodes have become a resort Mecca on the Mediterranean Sea. The west coast is on the Aegean Sea. It’s windier and has more waves, so all the resorts are on the east side of the island. The water on that side is calm, clear, and warm enough for even us Southerners to enjoy. All beaches have chairs and ‘sunbrellas’ to rent, and most have kayaks or motor boats to rent, and some even offer parasailing. Our hotel was in a small town called Faliraki. The town’s main attraction is a long, wonderful beach with sand that felt like velvet under our bare feet.

Saint Paul Bay
This was my favorite beach and it typifies the beaches there. The white chapel on the right is dedicated to Saint Paul in honor of his 3rd missionary journey. You can see how clear the water is!

We shared a rented car with another family and used it to explore the island’s beaches and attractions. Every other day we would drive to a new beach, eat at new Tavernas (as they call them in Greece), and explore new fortresses. One day we visited Lindos, a famous town with a huge fortification at the top of the hill, but found we could not get to the beach easily with our bags and grandson. Just around the corner, however, was another called Saint Paul Beach — my favorite of the trip. There was a scuba diving school, good food, excellent beach sand, and we could swim out to a rock and jump from it. We walked over to a small white chapel to see it up close, and we saw a plaque that explained the bay’s name; it said Saint Paul visited here on his Third Missionary Journey as he returned to Jerusalem. The island’s incredible history came at us like waves all week.

Lindos Fortress
The town of Lindos with the restored fortress at the top of the hill. The Knights of Saint John built the fortress after the Crusades.

Speaking of waves, there weren’t any. No tide either. This made for some very clear water and we realized it was perfectly safe to let the three-year-old play in the water without fear of him being dashed to bits by surprise wave action. Swimming was wonderful and the snorkeling was some of the best I have seen. The weather in July was incredible with blue skies every day, nice breezes to keep us comfortable, and temperatures in the mid-80s. One day there was a cloud and we all stopped to marvel at it; that’s how good the climate is there.

Everyone we met was friendly and almost no one was American. Along the coastline, nearly all the folks in shops and restaurants spoke enough English that communication was simple. We did take a couple of trips to remote areas of the island where English was not spoken, but we quickly learned to point and grunt to make our needs known. The real Greek food was delicious and they press olive oil right on the island. All the dining was al fresco and most places where we stopped had good Wi-Fi so we could update our messages and stare at our phones like true Americans. My only complaint about Rhodes (and most of Europe really) is they still allow smoking in restaurants and even seem to encourage it with ash trays on all the tables. Make sure to get an up wind table!

Rhodes City Gate
This is one of the gates to the ancient walled city of Rhodes. Just across the street behind where I took this photo, is the ancient harbor where the Colossus once stood.

I have gotten this far in the telling and have not mentioned the old, walled city of Rhodes. Oh, my! The history there is worth its own narrative. We spent a day visiting the shops, eating gelato, looking in at several restaurants, touring the old walls and bridges, walking down narrow alleys and passageways; did I mention the gelato yet? One of my hobbies is geocaching — an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS enabled devices — so I took some time and found all the caches in the city. It led me to places I would never have seen otherwise.

Rhodes Open Market
The new city of Rhodes surrounds the walled city but it still exists and is vibrant and alive. This is the main shopping street which runs through the city; one side to the other.

I wish I could adequately convey the sense of awe and wonder we all felt at seeing the ancient and modern artifacts on the island. I would go back tomorrow if I could and I am so grateful to my wife for cajoling me into going this summer. Perhaps I won’t be such a reluctant traveler in the future.

Don

Don is Queen Anne’s older brother and he and his wife live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m pleased that they shared this story and pictures with us and I thank him for contributing to our blog. – jw

The Great Springerville Mexican Food Shoot-out

We we’re traveling to a new town, one of the tools we rely on is the Web Site, Trip Advisor. You can search for things to do, hotels and restaurants. It’s like Yelp. The restaurant reviews are pretty helpful, but you have to watch out for people who have an axe to grind. I’ve even written a few reviews. Before our trip to Springerville, one of my chores was to check the restaurant reviews. When I did, I found two of the top-ten restaurants served Mexican food (the 11th ranked restaurant was McDonald’s). One of them is at the top of the list while the other is tenth.

My all time favorite joint for south of the border food is family owned and they have a couple of places in the Phoenix, and another in Springerville. I love their food because it’s New Mexican style. You may have already guessed that I’m talking about Los Dos Molinos. Their main location is on Central Avenue south of Baseline; in the old Tom Mix house (the link is for those who have no idea who Tom Mix was). The food is spicy hot and the Margaritas will knock you back on your spurs. A shock to me was that it is the underdog on Trip Advisor’s list.

The highest ranked place in town is Booga Red’s, and they also serve American and Southwestern (?) style meals. Cars are always parked in front and they’re open for breakfast. The style of their food is Nortino. It’s milder; like you’d expect at Macayo’s.

For the shootout, The Queen and I ate dinner at both restaurants and tried to order the same menu items — which was impossible. The judges are Queen Anne and me, we get one vote each. The common items that we judged are the chips and salsa, the margaritas, a taco and a tamales. I’ll be talking about the other stuff we ordered. Are you ready … bring out the chips and salsa.

Trailer And Gardinias
The sights of Springerville. Vintage trailers as yard-art.

Chips and Salsa

This is the first impression that you get at any place that serves Mexican food. The worst that I ever had was in Salina, Kansas, where they didn’t have a clue, and served cinnamon bun bites instead. There is a big difference between tonight’s candidates.

At Los Dos, they serve red and green salsa. Of course, you don’t really eat it. You only hold the chip over your favorite color and let it absorb the fumes. If you accidentally dip your chip into the salsa, carefully shake it off, and immediately order a glass of milk. Their chips are thicker and darker, but they need to be. If they were thinner, they would instantaneously burst into flames. We didn’t finish the chips and salsa.

Booga Red’s chips are light and thin and taste good, but the salsa is a clone of Pace, the salsa that you buy in Safeway. There aren’t any chunks, not enough jalapeños and no cilantro. We ate all the salsa.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Trailer With Red Bike
Sights of Springerville. Trailer as yard-art.

Margarita’s

When you order a margarita at Los Dos, they ask you if you want a single, double or three shots of tequila. The mix is distinctly house made. Anne didn’t like it because it was sweet instead of tart, but that didn’t stop her from ordering a second.

I thought the Booga Red’s margarita was indistinguishable from the pre-mixed Costco bottles. The tequila was probably in there but it wasn’t up-front. I still ordered a second.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Trailer With Bunting
Views of Springerville. Trailers as yard-art.

Main

This is where it gets complicated. The nightly special at Los Dos Molinos was Posole which I am very fond of and rarely find on a menu, while Anne ordered a quesadillas at Booga Red’s, so there’s nothing to judge here. I must say that my soup lacked flavor. It needed more seasoning (not just chilies), it needed to simmer longer and it needed more of the ingredients that make up a great Posole, however the pork was fork-tender (as only Los Dos Molinos can do). My other complaint was that Mama’s Carnitas were not on the menu, and that is my favorite and why I go there. As for quesadillas, you can do those in the microwave in fifteen seconds.

(No Score)

Tacos and Tamales

OK, we’re down to the basics. At Los Dos, the tamales was everything you would expect. Course ground masa with a spicy pork filling and, in this case, topped with a red enchilada sauce. If the masa was made with blue corn, I would have died right on the spot. I tried to order a shredded beef taco, but Angelina insisted that I try the Carne Adovada — marinated pork — and I was glad. I can count on one hand the number of tacos that I’ve had better.

Booga Red’s shredded beef taco was very good, and I’d order it again. It was light on flavor but the shell was cooked properly and held up as you ate it. The tamales on the other hand was something I’ve never seen. The masa was light and airy, almost flour like, and it had whole kernels of corn mixed in?!? I ordered mine enchilada style with green chili on top. This close to New Mexico, I expected tears in my eyes, but instead it was a tasty chili gravy. It was good but bland, just like I like my Cream of Wheat.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Desert (this is actually cheating)

At Los Dos Molinos, Angelina makes her own Sangria, that’s a wine and fruit juice mix. It’s awful and most of us stopped drinking it in the sixties. However, after she makes the wine, she uses the smashed fruit to make an upside-down cake. It’s baked in a skillet like a normal pineapple one, only the fruit marinades the cake half-way through. I’ll be really honest here, pineapple upside-down cake is my favorite and I bake one each year for my birthday. This was better than anything I have ever made, and mine are damn good.

Booga Red’s — < the sound of crickets>.

(Los Dos 2, Booga Red’s – 0, but this doesn’t count)

If you’re keeping score, you’ve noticed that we have a tie. You can tell which of us enjoys a little adventure. Now, I regret to tell everyone that Anne thinks that the best tacos come from … Taco Bell. Because she obviously has no taste, she is disqualified from the judging panel. So, the winner is … whoever you like the most. If you like safe and tasty food, Booga Red’s is the place for you. We both enjoyed our meal there. If you’re one of Satin’s children, I recommend Los Dos Molinos, because it’s beyond the normal.

And now we return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Till then … jw

Greer

Over the 2011 Memorial Day weekend, a forest fire started in the mountains overlooking Springerville. They called it, The Wallow fire, the largest forest fire in Arizona’s history. Crews fought the blaze for over a month before containing it, but the fire did an enormous amount of damage and one of its victims was the little town of Greer. The reports that came over the TV news were not good. We feared that Greer had burnt to the ground.

Anne and I have a fond memory of the quaint town tucked into a White Mountain valley. When we decided to get married, she sold her Atlanta home and moved to Phoenix. She drove across the county alone, but I flew to Albuquerque and we made the rest of the trip together. Rather than take the Interstates, I thought it would be nice to show-off some of Arizona. We drove south along the Rio Grande to Socorro, and picked up U.S. Highway 60 so that we could enter Arizona the back way. If this seems familiar, it should. Our route took us past the Very Large Array, through Springerville, and we spent her first Arizona night in a Greer cabin. During the night, we had a late winter storm, and on the morning of April 15th, we found that it had snowed. Ironically, that delighted her. After she finished playing in the fresh snow, we scraped off her car and continued the trip to Phoenix.

Tunnel Lake
An old tree stump and wildflowers provide a foreground for Tunnel Lake in Greer.

Yesterday we drove up to Greer for lunch, expecting to see a barren  blackened valley. We didn’t find that. We saw the burn scar along the mountain ridge flanking the valley’s east side, but the valley floor seemed untouched. The Molly Butler Lodge was unchanged and even the Greer Peaks Lodge, reportedly damaged by the fire, had long been repaired and open for business. What had changed however, was the little town of quaint cabins has become a community of large expensive mansions that were second homes for the wealthy. With its proximity to the Sunrise Ski Resort, Greer was looking more like Vail, without the expensive downtown shops.

Cinder Hill Ranch
A barn at the base of a volcanic cinder cone on a rainy afternoon in Greer.

We stopped at the crowed Rendezvous Cafe and had lunch. The food was great and we took in all the kitsch cluttering the walls (why is that still a thing?). While we ate, we watched hummingbirds fight over the feeders outside. On the specials board, they had home-made cherry cobbler, so we couldn’t pass that up and added a dollop of ice cream. “That’s some mighty fine cherry pie, ma’am.”

Last Cast
A father and kids make one more cast before the rain starts on one of the Greer lakes.

After lunch, we vainly searched for our little cabin Perhaps it fell victim to the fire, or maybe they tore it down to make room for a McMansion. In either case, we couldn’t find it. After we gave up looking, we drove around taking pictures until a light rain started. It seemed like a good excuse to call it a day and head back to the trailer for an afternoon nap. We left Greer behind assured that it was fine and we’d visit again.

P.S. Since this is our last day in Springerville, we’ll be posting the results of “The Great Springerville Mexican Food Shootout” this afternoon. Stay tuned for that. For now, Queen Anne and I are busy watching the eclipse.

Till then … jw

Eww, Bugs

Because we’re so snobbish, we don’t have trash pickup at our house. Instead, we toss the garbage and recycle into Fritz and drive up to the local refuse transfer station. It sounds like another chore, but we get pleasure out of dump runs by stopping off for breakfast while we’re out. There are three local restaurants we can choose from, and we choose which one to eat at depending on the hankering we have at the time. The Ranch House is in Yarnell at the top of the pass, and they have the best ham and eggs. The ham is so big it should come on its own plate and I always get a doggie box, because we can get two more meals out of it. Nichols West is our swanky joint and they probably serve the best Eggs Benedict in the county (if not the state). Finally, there’s the Arrowhead Bar and Grill — usually frequented by geezer bikers that are on a weekend road trip reliving the youth they wished they had. It’s the Plain-Jane of the trio, but it’s the most convenient and so we eat there most often.

Saturday was this week’s dump day and after unloading the truck and heading back, we pulled into Arrowhead’s parking lot. It was exactly 8:00 am and some people were standing in the parking lot talking. The door to the dining room had a sign saying it was closed, so Anne rolled the window down and asked the group what was going on. The group was the new owners having just bought the place two weeks ago. The wife explained that the dining area was infested with boxelder bugs, but the kitchen and bar were open. She added that the exterminator just left but the treatment would need some time for it to work. We considered leaving but they told us that the area was under siege, including the other two places that we frequent. Reluctantly we decided to risk it.

Boxelder bugs are beetles smaller than your pinky fingernail, and Wikipedia said that they get their name because they favor the tree of the same name. They winter over in the warmth of nearby structures by invading through cracks and crevices. You may see one or two of them occasionally, but they lay eggs in the millions that hatch at the same time. The swarm forms large mats of bugs on the warm side of rocks and buildings until they dry out. Then they fly back to good tasting vegetation nearby. I don’t know what they eat here because I don’t think boxelder trees grow in Arizona, but it must be good and plentiful, because (with all the rain we’ve had) there’s an exceptional hatch of bugs this year. They’re not aggressive and don’t bite, but like a mosquito, they can leave a mark if they think you’re food.

Boxelder Bud
The innocuous boxelder bug is harmless until they swarm in the millions.

We’ve seen other insect hatches on our morning walks. White flies, midges, no-see-ums, and those irritating mosquitoes. Early this summer while driving down our street, we drove through a bee swarm moving diagonally to the neighborhood. Until I figured out what they were, I thought it was a dust storm.

We tried to have breakfast at the bar and ordered our usual. As I drank my coffee and Anne her Diet Coke, we watched each other for bugs. Occasionally one would land on our tee-shirt and the other would brush it off. When they served breakfast, we hurriedly gulped it down before ‘the pepper’ moved on the plate. Before we could finish, our waitress came over and apologized and told us that they were closing. “The owners want to say they are sorry by comping your meal,” she said. We left a large tip and thanked them as we left.

On the way home, we had to stop at the Quickie Mart and Post Office. On each of those walls were large mats of bugs with others crawling away from the swarm. My hair is itching just writing about it. We live four miles down the road from town and nary a bug is found. I don’t know what we’d do if they invaded our house. Fortunately, they move on in a week and things go back to normal.

So the next time you think that humans rule the world, just remember insects were around before dinosaurs. Our 7.5 billion world population looks tiny in comparison. I’ll bet there are more boxelder bugs in Congress now. Enjoy your breakfast … watch the pepper closely.

Till then … jw

El Gato Azul

There are a lot of things we’re thankful for when we moved to Congress last year, but shopping isn’t one of them. Sure we have a couple of local grocery stores and merchants nearby that we make do for basics, and there’s always Amazon for the occasional weird stuff we need, but making a Costco run takes days of planning. The stores are far enough away that we plan our trip into town with multiple stops along the route. Shopping at the big box store is an all-day trip.

Our house is conveniently (if you can call it that) located midway between the two nearest stores. We exclude the one in Sun City because it’s impossible to maneuver around the golf carts and inattentive drivers. Our choice is between the Deer Valley store on I-17 and the one in Prescott. The drive time difference is literally five minutes, so the choice comes down to what other errands we need to run. If I need to pick up some hardwood, we go to Deer Valley. If I need something at Harbor Freight, we head to Prescott (for our friends out-of-state, the townspeople pronounce it ‘Press-kit’ and they’re not shy about correcting you). During the summer though, Prescott wins hands down because it’s in the pines and cooler.

When we make the Prescott run, Queen Anne and I try hard to build in time for lunch, and our favorite place there has become El Gato Azul a tapas place at 316 West Goodwin Street. Goodwin is the street that runs along the south side of the courthouse; the restaurant is two blocks east of Whiskey Row.

El Gato Azul Restaurant
Two blocks east of Whisky Row is the tapas bar, El Gato Azul.

The restaurant building is a small one story box on the east side of the Willow Creek trail. It’s smaller than most fast food chains, and the Dijon mustard colored façade has lavender ledges covered with potted plants and lights. The clutter almost obscures the sign.

To enter, you step down from the sidewalk (an access ramp is a few steps to the right) and walk through the bright blue door. Inside the dining room are two . . . maybe three tables and behind the hostess station, an ‘L’ shaped bar fills the rest of the room. The décor is a mix of upscale Goodwill and early garage sale interspersed with canvases from local artists. If you’ve come to eat, (why else would you be there) the host/hostess will escort you back outside through a door on the right. Here is a large covered main dining area that is open in summer, but enclosed with clear vinyl curtains in winter; portable heaters provide warmth.

The food that we expect at El Gato is not what you’d call rib sticking comfort food, but small dishes as you would find in a Spanish tapas bar, but with a southwest influence. It’s more of a tasting menu where you get an interesting burst of flavor combinations in one bite. As with a Chinese restaurant, it’s fun to pick out several items and share. One dish is not enough for a full meal, but the Queen and I fill up by sharing three items. It’s sort of like making a dinner out of a couple of appetizers. Plates range in price from $10-$13 each, so it’s not cheap. They offer a list of soft drinks along with the stocked bar.

Cajun Corn Dogs
One of the meals we enjoyed was their Cajun Corn Dogs. This consists of bacon wrapped tiger prawn fried in corn batter and a glaze of honey.

The next time you travel up Prescott way and you want to try something different, the Queen and I recommend you give El Gato Azul a try. We recommend it, even though Anne is now annoyed with me for letting The Blue Cat out of the bag.

Till then . . . jw