5 - 9 March, 1998

The first 8 hours I spent in Albuquerque I experienced, in this order: sun and 65 degrees, 23 degrees and moderate snow (top 'o Sandia), light spring rain, clear with 1st quarter moon, and finally a high altitude thunderstorm. All friday evening and saturday was intermittant snow squalls and temps in the mid 30s.

Sandia Mtn After arriving and checking into my hotel, I took the Tramway up to the top of the Sandia Mountains, and was greeted with a stunning view of the city 5000 feet below. I had dinner at the High Finance restaurant while a snow squall blew through. This is the only restaurant during my stay in New Mexico that could not spare a menu for my collection. They took my address and promise to mail me one. We shall see...

I got on the tramway for the ride down in moderate snow. The first 5 minutes we are in a complete whiteout and can only see the cables trailing off into the snow. Then it changed to rain and stopped about halfway down. The city lights are spread across the vally and twinkle in the distance like amber stars. I returned to my hotel room shortly before a spectacular high plains thunderstorm. I turned off the lights, opened the window all the way, popped open a beer, pulled up a chair and enjoyed the light show for about a half hour.

Rt. 66 East into Albuquerque Friday morning was clear and cool. I woke early (Still running on Eastern Standard Time), and headed West on 66 and 40. It is my first experience in a landscape that is flat and treeless, but randomly studded with 10 thousand foot mountains and visibilities exceeding 100 miles. Drove about an hour on the interstate then pulled off onto the back roads into the mesas and mountains. Was surprised to find out in the middle of knowhere little hamlets with maybe a dozen or so small houses or trailers. What do they do for a living? I expect the roadrunner to come zooming around the next bend followed by a coyote wearing a napkin and brandishing a knife & fork... Head back to town for the start of the vendor session of the Fiery Foods Show at noon.

Firegirl does her thing...

What can I say? A huge convention center featuring over 250 vendors selling anything remotely having to do with Hot & Spicy foods. Got to meet a number of folks who I had gotten to know over the years on the mailing list. Wendy and Curtis from Purgatory Hot Sauces, Blair of Blairs Beyond death (And he produces his sauce about 10 miles from Exit109!),
Jim Campbell, Curt & Suzie, Dave Hirschoff , Firegirl and others... I am in Flaming heaven!

That evening I Dine at Bangkok Cafe, it is a very good meal, comparable to the better Thai restaurants I've been to. It is quite spicy and the portions are just huge! I am forced to wrap up the leftover Tom Yum Gai and Grilled Beef Salad. Not having a fridge in the room I place the leftovers outside on my windowsill as it is now in the mid 30s. The hotel, La Posada, is a renovated 1930s building with high ceilings beautifull woodwork, and good old 8 pane double sash windows that open all the way. During the evening the wind picks up and I can hear the plastic bag containing my leftovers fluttering.

Chip Hearn All of a sudden there is a loud whipping sound and then... silence. The next day I can see my food on the roof of the building next door, 8 floors down. Sigh... By this time a chronic case of levitating "Ring of Fire" is making itself evident. It will be 3 or 4 days before the nail marks in the thighs begin to recede... Sorry, I suppose that's a bit more info than you needed. :-)

Jim Campbell I attend the Festival again at 9am, and hang until they let the general public (Gringos!) in. It soon became too crowded so I jump in the rental and head to El Pinto for lunch. I have a Chicken Enchilada and Beef Burrito with both red and green sauce. Was fairly unremarkable. I then head south driving through intermittant sun and snow squalls, and even a moderate dust storm in a dry riverbed. It is quite windy and I have to dodge occasional tumbleweeds. For the first time I notice dirt roads that look to be driveways designated as numbered state routes! After poking around the flats around Siccoro I return to town.

Shuffling Cargo That evening about a dozen folks from the Chileheads list get together for dinner at Los Cuates, a popular Mexican restaurant not far from downtown. Folks from Jim's Mild to Wild Pepper Company offer to give a bunch of us a ride, and we wait as they shuffle the cargo around in the back of their Suburban (You Know You're A Chilehead If you share the back of a sport utility vehicle with 75 pounds of chipotle chiles). The food is good and the company is great! It was generally acknowleged that Jim Campbells "Bread" in conjunction with the buttons supplied by Curt & Suzie were the marketing hit of the whole show. Jim has been making this incendiary loaf for many years. It is made with copious amounts of Red Savina Habanero pepper and provides plenty of entertainment for those witnessing folks actually daring to trry the stuff. There was probably at least a 90% awareness level of the Bread among attendees of the show. All this for something that he was giving away! Hopefully the interview with the NY times will give him thge noteriety he deserves. They about busted a gut when they found out his day job was as a professional firefighter!

Times reporter: "Could we have your phone number in case we need to get in touch?"

Jim: "Well, My work number is 911..."

Curtis Epps On Sunday another couple of hours is spent at the festival, then I drive east on rt 40 and then north behind the Sandias on Rt 14 (The Turquoise Trail).

View off Rt 14Was really a beautiful drive! Past through a really neat little town called Madrid that might have been a ghost town, but now supported a large number of shops and galleries. After an hour and a half on the road I end up in Santa Fe. Had lunch at the Guadalupe Cafe, Green Chile Chicken Soup Gave me inspiration to come up with my own version using Chipotles instead of green chiles), Assorted appetizers: guacamole, salsa and chile con queso, Chicken Enchilada and a roast beef burrito with red and green chile sauce. The red chile sauce was unexpectantly pungent, the first place I had been (Other than the fiery foods show of course!) that was not afraid to use chiles in this robust a manner.

The atmosphere in Santa Fe was unexpected, it was in the mid 50s and sunny, and all the snow that had fallen over the previous days was melting. Where ever you went in the downtown area you could hear the sound of water dripping from the rooftop downspouts. Was most unusual for an area you tend to think of as mostly dry.

Ristras in Santa Fe On beginning my return to Albuquerque I can clearly see the Sandia Mountains next to town, 70 miles away. Distance is so apparent in this part of the country, when you can practically see your destination the entire duration of your trip. I can't imagine what it was like when the speed limit was 55mph, the average cruising speed is now 80. I covered over 500 miles in my 4 days in New Mexico.

Oh well, such was my adventures in the Sowthwest. I'll be posting photos of the Chileheads dinner and copies of menus to restaurants I went to in the next few weeks. This was definately a good time! The only problem was that by the time I was acclimated and ready to really spend some time, I had to come back to old Exit 109... Sigh...

=Mark's Place
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