From the town with a thousand oaks to one with a thousand Jelly Bellies…nice!

Heading north on our way to Fairfield, CA  we took a few “we’ve got to stop here” stops. First place up was the small town of Gilroy, the undisputed “Garlic Capital of the World“.

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Although they also grow mass quantities of mushrooms here, and there are some boutique wine producers, this town is all about the garlic. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is an annual event held in July where thousands of people come to try every food imaginable (and those you couldn’t possibly imagine) with garlic in it…including garlic ice cream.

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We poked around the aisles in a shop called Garlic World where we saw (and sampled) pickled, peppered, pectined and pressed garlic in every conceivable food product including jams, popcorn, jerky and sauces. Not the place to go on your first date.

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Even all the McDonalds in this part of CA get in on the act by offering garlic french fries. Thick fries, drizzled with melted butter and drenched in garlic, what could be bad… besides your breath.

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Bart accosted a woman in the McD’s parking lot who was wearing a UCONN sweatshirt. She and her husband Bob have a daughter who goes to UCONN so of course Bart engaged in a lengthy conversation about his old Alma Mater. They couldn’t have been nicer and gave us all kinds of suggestions of places to stop on our way north.

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Leaving Gilroy and continuing our drive on Route 101, we stopped to explore the coastal town of Santa Barbara, nicknamed the “American Riviera”. The downtown area has a lot of public art including some awesome sculptures. Here’s Rorie playing hide and seek with a guy and his son. Bart said he had NO idea who she was.

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Santa Barbara’s downtown is hoppin’, has lots of diverse restaurants and shops, and is definitely a place we want to return to and explore on another DSTA tour.

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Love the Spanish architecture, courtyards and red tile roofs.

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Leaving Santa Barbara and winding along and through the mountains, we arrived in Fairfield – our “home” for the next few days. The town welcomed us with a huge banner and open arms.

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The DSTA Tour felt very welcomed in Fairfield!

The Town of Fairfield was founded in 1856 by boat captain Robert Waterman and named after his hometown of, where else…Fairfield, CT. It lies between San Francisco and Napa. A great place to stay if you want access to these great locations but don’t want to be in the middle of the busyness.

We passed this historic saloon while driving a backroad on our way into town and immediately pulled over. Built in 1902, this dive-bar, dance hall and community gathering spot is believed to also have been a brothel way back when. Locals also claim it’s haunted.

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Finally arriving at our home away from home, our gracious Airbnb super hosts Lerma and Elly had everything ready.

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We were thrilled to relax in this beautiful, spacious, private and sun filled in-law suite. It was our first time sleeping in a giant CA king-size bed and of course, Bart wants to buy one now.

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After a long day in the car, it was time to take a power walk through the neighborhood. Surrounded by mountains and parks, everywhere we went there was a beautiful vista to enjoy.

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After burning off some energy and calories, we needed to refuel and naturally it had to be with sugaaah. Fairfield just happens to be the headquarters of one of the most famous candies in the world…Jelly Bellys. It’s a fat free, gluten free fruit right?

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But first, think back to a time a few years ago (well, maybe, more than 30) when Ronald Reagan was President. Back then, when Bart was the CEO of the National Association of Towns and Townships, he brought a delegation of small-town mayors to the White House for some serious policy discussions. Bart (opposite the President…can you pick him out?) tried to steer the conversation toward an issue that was a high priority to local government leaders. The President, however, wanted to let folks in the Cabinet Room know he liked to mix different Jelly Bellys together to create new flavors. Serious stuff!

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We couldn’t find any “President Reagan flavors”, but we did find so many samples at the store that our bellies were jelly by the time we left. But, oh so worth it!

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The factory cafe serves a “healthy” Jelly Belly bacon fried onion ring burger shaped like the iconic candy. No we didn’t eat this, just drooled over someone else’s lunch.

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Not sure how the Jelly Belly factory arranged for this fruit colored rainbow to appear just as we were leaving.

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After consuming so many samples of candy, we needed a little something to wash them down with. Staying with the fruit theme, we stopped in for some heart-healthy wine tasting at Sonoma Harvest.

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Guiding us through Sonoma Harvest’s selections of wines, olive oils and other products was the knowledgeable ambassador, Lee. She really knows her stuff and loves her products. While Bart sampled the wines, Rorie tasted the olive oils, tapenades, mustards and fruit flavored vinegars. Delicious.

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Leaving the tasting tours and before turning in for the night, we took a spin through downtown Fairfield. The huge palm trees lining the main street through the town reminded us of Longboat Key, FL.

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Tomorrow the real tasting begins when we head up through the backroads to wine country…Napa.

It’s “wine o’clock” somewhere…The Tour heads to Sonoma and Napa towns

Our 70 mile drive north from Fairfield to our first stop Healdsburg, took us past the amazing Sears Point Tidal Restoration Project on San Pablo Bay. Pictures don’t do it justice, but what a great “habitat renewal” story. The recent and ongoing restoration of over 955 acres of tidal marsh provide a home for endangered and native species of the bay ecosystem.

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Our primary (we thought) destination for the day was Healdsburg, CA (pop. 11,254), a small town located in Sonoma County. We want to give a shout out to Bart’s Longboat Key, FL friend, neighbor and tennis partner Anthony Manifold, a wine expert and writer (http://grape-press.com). Mr. Manifold recommended we go to this wonderful town to experience “wine country”. And did we ever!

Welcome to wine-loving Healdsburg.

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Wine is big business in this area and the town is packed with tasting rooms and shops selling every kind of local wine imaginable. Wine bottles displayed on the sidewalks are both decorative and informational, letting you know the type of wine sold.

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After strolling through the wonderful downtown area filled with unusual shops (not a big box store in sight), restaurants and winery tasting rooms, we stopped for a quick snack at the Downtown Bakery and Creamery.

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It was tough to pass up these amazing desserts but we were strong.

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Fortified with food, we looked for one of the most highly recommended stops in Healdsburg, the Williamson Wine tasting room. 5 well-deserved stars on TripAdvisor.

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Owners Dawn (pictured here on the right) and her husband Bill Williamson came all the way from Australia 30 years ago to start a business that would “produce the best grapes and small batch wines possible”. Based on their huge fan base, we think they succeeded.

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Our  assigned “wine guide” and expert Kaleigh, led us through an introduction to the Williamson’s white and red wines paired with small bites that complimented the individual wines. Bart loved the wine, Rorie loved the interesting food pairings.

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After Bart tasted 5 different wines and food pairings offered during his “lesson”, we bought a fine bottle of the God’s nectar to tote 4,000 miles back to Longboat Key, FL.

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We continued our walk about town and saw The Blackbird Cafe and Soda Fountain, a cute, popular cafe lined with old fashioned candy and serving amazing gelato in unusual flavors like honey lavender and blackberry honey.

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Heading over to the Healdsburg Plaza, we noticed “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. It was a little jarring to see the Christmas decorations on the gazebo flanked by fruit laden orange trees. Not a snowflake in sight.

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The wine theme continued with casks lining the sidewalks advertising the Healdsburg Bar & Grill.

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Rorie thought this window sign was cute, especially the comment about water. Neither Bart or our son Brendan like H2O…

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So many temptations, so little time.

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Having had a wonderful walk throughout Healdsburg’s lovely downtown, Rorie and Bart decided to head out again – truly to parts unknown. They set their navigation preferences to back roads and let it decide where they’d end up. Surprise, surprise. The Tour-mobile ended up on country roads winding past more beautiful vineyards in the Napa Valley.

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The biggest surprise of all was when we ended up at the world famous Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena (pop. 5,947). Beringer Vineyards is said to be the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley, and is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Bart and Rorie “oohed and aahed” as they strolled the Vineyard’s spectacular grounds. This is the historic Rhine House.

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One of Beringers many beautiful tasting rooms and gift shops.

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What a wonderful day experiencing the bucolic sights and tastes of Sonoma and Napa area towns. Tomorrow your small town adventurers take on the big city of San Francisco.  Join us…

 

Beach boys, beach bunnies, beach bums & boogie boards abound in SoCal towns

After a great and sorely needed night of sleep in an amazing beachside condo (“Thank you” to Rorie’s brother Jeff and sister-in-law Pam, who let us use their fabulous place in Solano Beach, pop. 12,857).

The town is surrounded by vistas of rocky cliffs and endless ocean. Notice how many steps you need to go down to get to the beach. This is the view from our “backyard”.

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With the Pacific Ocean at our back door, shopping and restaurants at the front, and the gorgeous Fletcher Cove Community Park down the street, we couldn’t have found a better home base for our tour of SoCal beach communities. They even put out the welcome sign.

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Birds of Paradise taking flight outside our beach condo “roost”.

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Solano Beach’s Fletcher Cove Community Park sits high above the  Pacific Ocean. Parents…keep a close watch on your kids!

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Surfer dudes and dudettes enjoying some fun in the sun.

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Cool local restaurants are around every corner. Bart loved this hidden gem.

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Right down the road from Solano Beach is the seaside city of Del Mar (pop. approx. 4,311). It has fabulous beaches and a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle. It’s also one of only a few U.S. locations where the rare, endangered Torrey Pine trees grow.

Del Mar is also home to a world-famous thoroughbred racetrack. 

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When it opened in 1937, crooner and actor Bing Crosby was at the gate to personally greet the fans. He loved the ponies and his association with the racetrack brought it many celebrities during its early years. The races are named Bing Crosby Season.

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At the northern end of Del Mar, Scripps Bluff has amazing views of the San Diego coastline. Locals come here to to train by running up and down the endless steep wooden stairs from the beach to the Preserve. We were exhausted just watching them. It’s Mother Nature’s version of the Stairmaster.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea (approx. pop. 11,537) in Encinitas borders Solano Beach but has a completely different “vibe”. Cardiff Reef (“The Reef”) is a surfing hot spot producing waves that excite the pros and newbie surfers. They were out in force the day we were there, riding the waves.

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Continuing our ride North on the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 101) we stopped in the town of Carlsbad, a seaside resort city on a 7 mile stretch of the Pacific coastline. Spa-goers have flocked here since the 19th century when it’s mineral spring was discovered. Bart loved the idea of relaxing in soothing mineral water, Rorie…not so much.

Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa

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Carlsbad Village is jam packed with shops, galleries and restaurants. Our Visa card is starting to warp from all the use at these great stores.

There was no way we were going to pass by this “everything is chocolate” shop without going in.

Our coastal cruisin’ was a great way to explore the beach towns of Southern CA. Now it’s time to head north on the Pacific Coast Highway and explore what’s going on in small towns and vineyards. But first, the 405 Freeway. Oy.

 

 

 

 

The Tour takes a detour for a Thousand Oaks, CA family gathering

Leaving the southern CA beaches behind, we headed North for a break from backroads and a long overdue visit with family in Thousand Oaks.

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Hopping on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) again, we drove on some twisty narrow roads with no guardrails high above the rocky coast and through some pretty intimidating mountains. As we came down the mountains, we cruised through multitude of gorgeous beach communities where the sand is literally in your front yard and surfing is king. Although the beach communities all share the same ocean, Pacific Coast Highway location and reputation as surfing meccas, each town has it’s own personality and attractions. Here’s the rundown of our beach destinations.

Better hope you don’t get behind a “Sunday Driver” because there is no passing on the PCH. Gorgeous views but who wants to take their eye off the road to look?

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We left the PCH and jumped over to I-5, soon passing Camp Pendelton Marine Corps Base, which is located near the town of Oceanside. We’re proud of our military and know they train hard to be prepared for any eventuality. But while training, Oceanside must be a good place for some R & R.

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This is also where The Tour hit the 4,000 mile mark. 

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Bart and Rorie continued to sail along the highway ever mindful of the speed limit of course. We saw our first CA Highway Patrol (CHP) cop riding an impressive BMW. You gotta love the boots. If you watched the old TV show “Chips” starring Erik Estrada, you know these bike-riding highway police officers were hot (Rorie says). Reportedly, the CHP is going to be switching to Harleys soon.

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Thankfully, we didn’t see one of these.

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Our last stop before meeting up with family in Thousand Oaks was the resort town of Santa Monica. Famous for it’s iconic Pier where you’ll find the Pacific Park amusement park, the National Historic Landmark Looff Hippodrome Carousel, and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, there is so much to see and do without ever leaving the beach. But right next to the pier is the best attraction of all…Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym. 

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This is where we saw some amazing buildings barely perched on top of some seriously steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. It’s unfathomable how these homes just don’t slide down the mountain. Can you imagine living in a “glass house” precariously balanced on a sheer crumbling cliff in a state known for earthquakes? Talk about a view to die for!

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We’re here! Meet the Munsons (no, not the CT Chocolatiers and owners of Munsons Candy). We were welcomed to our hotel with open arms by Rorie’s sister Helaine and our brother-in-law Alan. What a great ending to a great drive. Family and Cowboy John’s award-winning BBQ…who could ask for anything more.

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Heading to the Munson homestead to break bread after a great nights sleep, we first drove by miles of fertile farmland. Unfortunately, we then put our lives at risk by taking the “shortcut” path through those treacherous mountains in the background, finally landing safely in gorgeous Thousand Oaks.

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Why is it that the minute you get together with your family, you revert back to behaving like a child? Rorie, is that YOU?

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Here’s our niece Brianna with her boyfriend Tom, and our nephew Derrick. Great fun and we were so happy to spend time with them. We all worked up an appetite in the park playing frisbee and kickball. We won’t tell you who won the kickball game but Rorie is hugging her winning teammate. You never outgrow that competitive spirit.

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After a wonderful visit and a heavenly home-cooked meal, it was time to continue north and explore some out of the way places on our way to Fairfield, CA. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

From the mountains, to the prairies, to the ocean, white with foam…

Day 16 of the Tour proved to be both exhilarating and exhausting. It was the last segment of our east-west, cross country journey. We left Arizona in the morning knowing that by the end of a long day on the road we would finally reach the Pacific Ocean.

The road outside Tucson took us to Gila Bend (pop. 1,922), where we were warned to be careful because it’s a major drug trafficking route. We stopped there for gas and quickly departed. Somebody should have warned us about the freaky high mountains too!

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We occasionally describe certain parts of the Country as “having no there, there”. Sentinel, AZ is one such place. Read the sign closely and you’ll get the picture.

Sadly, the one attraction in town that seemed to draw some visitors, The B-B Cafe, recently closed.

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The Imperial Sand Dunes near Yuma AZ are a magnet for off-road riders. It was amazing to see ATVs racing along this huge sandbox. Return of the Jedi was filmed here.

Continuing our westward journey, we landed in the tiny town of Dateland, Arizona (pop. 852). Founded in the early 1920’s as a water stop along the railroad lines, the town is located just north of the Mexico border between Yuma and Gila Bend in the Arizona desert.

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We stumbled onto the Dateland Travel Center, home of “the world famous” date milk shake. Its Medjool Date is also said to be world famous. We were greeted by Lee, who explained the different types of dates grown here. And don’t get us started on the samples Lee gave us to taste…delicious.

Bart was our very own taste tester.

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This is the AZ-CA border crossing. Looking for Medjool date thieves?

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Our day long journey to the West Coast ended in the welcoming town of Solana Beach, CA (pop. 13,326). We’ll roost in this beautiful spot a couple of days and enjoy some fun in the sun…SoCal style.

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The Discover Small Town America Tour has logged nearly 4,000 miles on its east-west, coast-to-coast quest to find amazing places and people off-the-beaten-path.

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Wow. Our first look at the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Spellbinding and not a “surfer dude” in sight. Yet…

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The West Coast’s rocky cliffs and magnificent surf are so different from the Gulf Coast of Florida, where the Tour began on November 5. Both scenic views are beautiful.

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Next up: Stayed tuned for our next road report on some cool SoCal beach towns – including Solano Beach – as the Tour continues exploring places along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway.

Wildcats, poutine, a gangster named Dillinger and Santa? Tucson has it all

Yup, we know Tucson isn’t a small town but…we wanted to get out of the car, stretch our legs, and do some sightseeing on foot. After visiting so many small towns in a relatively short period of time, The University of Arizona (UA) campus and Tucson’s bustling, historic downtown were the perfect places to take a relaxing stroll.

The University of Arizona (UA) is near downtown Tucson. “Old Main”, also known as UA’s School of Agriculture, was the first building constructed on the UA campus. Opened in 1891 with 32 students, it’s one of the oldest surviving structures in the western United States. The wide porches offered a cool place to relax during AZ’s hot summer. We loved the mix of old and new buildings on the campus.

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The UA Mall is rated one of the top 5 most beautiful college campus “squares” in the Country. We couldn’t agree more!

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UA’s campus features an amazing array of cactus…you can look but don’t touch.

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What is a “Wildcat” anyway? Apparently, it’s a bobcat and UA’s mascot named Wilbur.

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UA students seem to favor environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Not a car in sight.

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After a really long walk exploring the University of Arizona campus, we meandered into the artsy section of downtown Tucson. The aroma of french fries wafting onto the street compelled us to follow our noses and find the source of that heavenly smell…U.S. Fries.

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This place is a Tucson hot spot, specializing in something our son Brendan introduced us to last year, poutine. Poutine is an addictive combination of crispy, golden french fries and Wisconsin cheese curds smothered in a rich decadent gravy. It may sound like a weird mix, but we promise, once you try it you’ll be hooked. Not great for the waistline but oh so good. Go find some immediately!

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We loved the idea of this Tiny Town sign in such a big city like Tucson. Tiny Town is actually a very cool local art gallery.

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Arizona Party Bikes are a really unique way to see the city and do a local pub crawl. Riders power the bicycle pedals attached to their seat to get their beer and move the bus. Wonder who the designated driver was.

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As we wandered through the older downtown section of Tucson, we were impressed by all the vibrantly colored murals we saw. Local artists participating in the city’s Mural Program are creating a visually exciting environment.

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Another great mural depicting some of our favorite musical icons. Can you “name that tune?”

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The Hotel Congress built in 1919, is the last surviving historic hotel in downtown Tucson.

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A hotel fire in 1934 inadvertently resulted in the capture of the infamous gangster John Dillinger and his gang. They were staying on the 3rd floor of the hotel laying low after a series of bank robberies. Talk about bad karma.

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One of our favorite things to do when we visit different towns is to strike up conversations with people we meet along the way. We met this great hometown “boy” and his beautiful family at dinner and he was fun, friendly and full of suggestions about places to check out. He was treating his granddaughter, who went to college in town, to dinner out and they couldn’t have been nicer.

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This guy was fun too, but his ideas centered on reindeers and toys…even before Thanksgiving. Kinda weird.

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After our brief stay in AZ, it was time to head on to Southern California, the land of opportunity and movie stars.

 

The Tour heads to the Grand Canyon State…”Hey AZ: Got small towns?”

We woke up to “good news, bad news” weather. GOOD NEWS? The sun was shining and gale force winds had subsided. BAD NEWS? Check out these sub freezing temps. Brrr. We bundled up and headed out to the State of Arizona.

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First stop on this leg of the Tour was a place our friend and neighbors The Lakes told us about – Rudy’s County Store – just outside the City of Albuquerque. Can you say smokey, lean brisket for breakfast?

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Chris x 2, this rub’s for you!

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Nothing like BBQ-shaming

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Leaving Rudy’s, we continued our trek west. We passed the site of the annual international Balloon Fiesta, a nine-day event featuring over 500 balloons. Wow!

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Driving on, we traversed some stark but powerful scenery on Native American reservation land. We kept “oohing and aahing” over the landscape, finally just calling it the “Wow Wow West”.

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We couldn’t help but stop here in NM because it’s…

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This was where The Tour hit the 3,000 mile mark.

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Not far from Truth or Consequences (pop. 6,246) is the Chile Capital of the World – Hatch, NM (pop. 1,597).

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Sparky’s Restaurant is a local sensation and famous for their green chili burgers.

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It appears that Colonel Sanders might be trying to steal some chili trade secrets (see him hiding on the ledge?) Bet they’ll be introducing a bucket of KFC’s Chili Chicken soon.

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These figures line the street across from Sparkys. Why you might ask? We have absolutely no idea.

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Everywhere you look in Hatch are these gorgeous swags of dried red chili peppers. We were told to just put the chilis in a blender and then add the mix to anything for extra spice. Bart was in his nirvana!

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Our last stop in New Mexico was Lordsburg (pop. 3,379 people). The town is the final destination in Stagecoach, the 9th greatest Western film of all time according to the American Film Institute, starring John Wayne in his breakthrough role as the Ringo Kid.

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Leaving NM and crossing over into Arizona, we had to take a picture of this rest area. This is how Arizona does rest stops. You feel like you’re in a wild west outpost.

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Next stop: Tucson, AZ for a little sightseeing and a lot of R&R.

The Land of Enchantment. Check out Rorie & Bart’s eats, digs and discoveries.

Note from Bart & Rorie: OOPS! We meant NO disrespect to our friends in New Mexico, but we goofed and forgot to post this road report. Now, go back few days in time with us…

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Our first stop after leaving Texas and passing through the welcoming gates of New Mexico was the quirkiest travelers rest area we have ever been to. Notice how far the Russell family extends!

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Besides all the usual amenities, Russell’s Travel Center has an awesome retro-looking diner and a car museum. The museum was packed with gorgeous old cars and life-size replicas of Elvis and Betty Boop. A great find to break up a long drive.

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As we drove along I-40 we were blown away by the topography. Everywhere we looked were huge buttes, mesas and plateaus. Buttes are stand-alone hills that are the smallest of the 3 types of landforms and have steep, often vertical sides and a relatively flat top. Mesas are a medium size flat-topped formation that have steep cliffs, and a plateau is a really big flat-topped mountain. They’re all so majestic looking it’s really easy to confuse them. Bottom line–they’re all gorgeous.

Here’s your first test. Butte, mesa or plateau? You decide.

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Cruising down the road, we decided to explore the town of Tucumcari (pop. 5,400). Founded in 1901 as a construction camp for the railroad, it was originally called Six Shooter Siding because of all the gunfights. Probably not a great marketing tool when trying to attract additional settlers to town.

Entering the town, we’re pretty sure we were being greeted by a plateau.

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Tucumcari did however attract the producers of the hit show Rawhide starring a very young Clint Eastwood who played the role of Rowdy Yates, every girls’ heartthrob back in the day. Many of the show’s scenes were filmed here.

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Our rumbling stomaches sent us on the hunt for food and thankfully we found Watson’s BBQ (http://bit.ly/2fm7w4P). It has 5 star ratings on Trip Advisor, Yelp and Facebook. How could you not be drawn to a place with those ratings and signs like this!

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The Discover Small Town America Tour-mobile snags a prime parking space.

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Owners Stella and Jimmy Watson started serving BBQ out of their hardware store when the Great Recession began in 2008 to “just get by”. Now they estimate 80% of their income comes from their BBQ, and after eating an amazing lunch we can understand why.

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Trying to maintain some semblance of healthy eating, we figured putting the brisket (Bart) and pulled pork (Rorie) on top of a salad was the best way to go. Delectable, moist, smokey meat with a great dry rub was a hit. And because we ate such a healthy lunch, we couldn’t resist devouring the homemade hot, right-out-of-the-oven, apple cobbler with a side of vanilla ice cream that Jimmy Watson gave us to cleanse our palates. Jimmy and Stella Watson are great people, who provide great food and great service.

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We aren’t the only ones this BBQ hot-spot has attracted. Sports Illustrated did a photo shoot here (we doubt the models ate anything but lettuce) and at the Tucumcari Route 66 Blue Swallow Motel, and musician Alex Sterne shot a music video at Watson’s too. You can see it on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mH76vDHo1Y&feature=youtu.be). If you are anywhere near Tucumcari, New Mexico, be sure to make Watsons a destination and tell them Rorie and Bart sent you.

Continuing on, we spotted a sign for the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, NM (population 2,744) and naturally we had to investigate.

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Created out of a sink hole surrounded by red stone walls, this clear, vivid sapphire blue gem in the middle of a place that gets little rain is somewhat of a miracle. The Blue Hole is 81 feet deep and 60 feet wide with visibility of 100 feet and water temperature of a steady 62 degrees. It’s a mecca for scuba divers because of these crystalline waters. We couldn’t believe how clear the water was.

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After a full day of driving and exploring it was time to check in to our Airbnb refuge in the hills overlooking Santa Fe. With breathtaking views of the magnificent Sangre De Cristo Mountains, we have never stayed in a more beautiful place. Our private casita (guest house) is a traveler’s dream and our Super Host Sebastian could not be nicer or more accommodating.

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Soaring ceilings, contemporary styling, relaxing furniture and large windows looking out on a powerful mountainous landscape make it very hard to leave. If you’re ever thinking of coming to Santa Fe, this is absolutely the only place you’ll want to stay. Here’s a link to reach our Super Host: http://bit.ly/2go2w4K. Tell him folks from the Discover Small Town America Tour sent you.

The change to Mountain Time (another hour earlier) and our exciting day of discovery has done us in. Come along with us tomorrow as we explore historic Santa Fe.

The Windy City’s got nothing on Taos

We awoke extremely excited about our destination for the day…the legendary Taos, New Mexico. Our research indicated it’s known for historic adobe buildings like Taos Pueblo, a multistory adobe complex inhabited by Native Americans for centuries. So well preserved they look like they were just built to look old.

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We also learned Taos, a longtime artist colony, has many galleries and museums including the Harwood Museum of Art and the Taos Art Museum. Finally, we found out that American frontiersman and folk hero Kit Carson was buried there and Taos was home to the Kit Carson Museum. Another beautifully preserved adobe structure.

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Our excitement was quickly tempered by the weather report, which indicated we would be facing a once-a-year wind storm that forecasters described as “dangerous”. Oh boy.

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Our 75 mile journey to Taos would take us into northern New Mexico’s high desert and into an area surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There are two routes that will take you to Taos from Santa Fe – the Low Road and the High Road. The High Road takes you into the mountains for most of the trip. This didn’t seem prudent. We took the scenic Low Road, which follows the Rio Grand River for a good part of the journey, but eventually lands you on twisting mountain roads.

The Rio Grande River and the mountains in the background are breathtaking!

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The sun was out and early on we had a peaceful ride along this magnificent river. But the calm quickly changed to some highway anxiety as the wind picked up and tumbleweed started flying across the roads (think Gunsmoke, Wyatt Earp, Big Valley and other old westerns on TV).

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We motored on through remote river towns and started to make our steep climb into the mountains. Bart was the Tour’s chauffeur for the day and his grip on the steering wheel produced some serious white knuckles. We stopped about halfway to Taos at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitors Center in the tiny town of Pilar. It’s run by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

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The staff couldn’t have been nicer, and one knowledgeable woman who worked there highly recommended we cross the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. At 565 feet above the Rio Grande, it’s the seventh highest bridge in the United States. Now Rorie doesn’t like being on bridges on a good day, but can you imagine what it would have been like with 60 mph winds blowing? She informed them “she wouldn’t drive over the bridge even if she had a parachute strapped to her back”. Although the staff assured her it was safe, it wasn’t happening!

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We sucked it up and continued our dangerous mission…getting to Taos in one piece. The Tour arrived late morning and set off to explore the town.

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We strolled around town for a little while, but quickly figured out walking with our heads down to fight the crazy winds and rapidly dropping temps, was NOT the way to go. Back to the car we went.

It was lunchtime, we were hungry and nothing was going to keep us from enjoying local New Mexican fare. Being foodies, we had researched the local culinary landscape in advance and knew we had to go here…La Cueva.

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There’s a reason La Cueva is Yelp’s #1 restaurant in Taos. Neither its exterior facade nor its brilliantly lemon yellow interior were that reason. At this tiny little cafe, it’s all about the food. WOW.

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We started with some incredibly tasty homemade guacamole, chips and salsa.

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After a hearty lunch of shrimp enchiladas and the best tomato-based tortilla soup ever, along with some great conversation with fellow travelers seated near us, we headed back to Casa Russell in the mountains overlooking New Mexico’s Capital City. Our biggest regret of the day was being unable to connect with Kent Kobakoff, who Bart knew from back in his D.C. days. Hopefully we’ll have smooth sailing when we leave in the morning for our drive to the next stop on the DSTA Tour…Arizona.

Texas is way more than cowboys and Whataburgers. It has “art”…kinda

Readers’ Note: Because the Discover Small Town America Tour often experiences many amazing people and places in its quest to spotlight extraordinary small towns, our “Road Reports” can be a little long. Rather than having followers scroll way, way down to get the entire picture, we’ve added a “Continue reading >” link at the bottom of each post which will give you a lot more of the whole story. Enjoy!


After breakfast we packed up the Tour-mobile and headed into “Bomb City” to soak up some culture at the Amarillo Museum of Art. Amarillo is often referred to as Bomb City, USA because it is home to Pantex, America’s only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly factory.

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Located on the Amarillo College campus, but independent of AC, we of course wanted to see the Open Road and High Plains Highway photography exhibits of images taken on road trips throughout America. For us, it was definitely art imitating life.

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We were fortunate enough to meet the museum’s Security Guard and arts champion Pedro “Pistol Pete” Lopez.  He insisted on taking our picture. “Say cheese”.

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And we insisted on taking his.

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The photographs captured Americans’ fascination with the diversity, rawness and freedom found on the open road.

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On our way out of the museum we ran into some wild and crazy armadillos.

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It  was time to move on to see other forms of Texas “art”, AKA kitsch. First up – the famous Cadillac Ranch. Not really a ranch but rather an art installation/sculpture in a field on Route 66, Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 by some hippie artists from San Francisco who were part of an artistic group called the Ant Farm.

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When they say “art is in the eye of the beholder”, this tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin definitely tests that premise. Ten caddies are lined up by design evolution from 1949-1963, nose-down in the dirt with tail-fins exposed are spray-painted with day-glo paint by anyone with a creative design and a can of paint. Notice the empty spray cans on the ground.

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Just down the road, another Route 66 flash from the past for all you RVers.

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These Caddies escaped the fate of their Cadillac Ranch cousins.

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There’s a new sheriff in town, guarding the park. Known as the 2nd Amendment Cowboy, he’s a Texan reminder of the right to bear arms.

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Continuing west on the Tour we came to the abandoned Town of Glenrio, formerly Rock Island. Located on Route 66, this once vibrant ghost town sits on the Texas/New Mexico state line.

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During the 1920s Glenrio had a motel, grocery stores, service stations, cafes and a permanent population of 30 people (but lots of tourists). Interstate highways put Route 66 to death and with it many small towns along its path. We wanted to see the last remnants of the Mother Road before it disappeared completely. It was a sad ending for a vibrant life line to small town America.

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Escaping scary encounters with ghosts, we waved goodbye to the friendly state of Texas. The Tour continued cruising down the highway at a speed slightly above the 75 MPH limit (lead foot Rorie was driving so it was actually closer to 85) as we headed to our next destination…New Mexico.