Friday, October 23, 2015

The Trip to Albuquerque


As usual, any time I go on a marathon trip I save the final post to do a day-by-day, minute-by-minute detail of everything we did.  I'll be honest, this is more for my benefit.  Occasionally, months and years later I'll revisit this post and it will jog my memory of all the things I saw and experienced.

So this post will be fairly long but I guarantee there'll be some cool pictures involved.

The route we took to Albuquerque from Murray UT

Thursday October 15

I took half a day off from work on Thursday.  Our goal was to reach Green River, Utah by nightfall, which assuming no traffic was about 3 hours away.  You may ask why I didn't go further and the answer is pretty simple:  Besides my wife, I am traveling with my 83-year-old mother in law.  Her ability to sit for long distances in the backseat of a car just isn't there.  So we had to break up the trip into several manageable segments.

On Thursday, I rented a burnt Orange Hyundai Sante Fe.  I needed a large car on account that my mother-in-law was taking ALL of her luggage with her down there because she was leaving Albuquerque to go live with her other daughter.  To say that that Santa Fe was packed to the gills would be an understatement.

Either way, the Santa Fe was a pretty decent car.  It got good gas mileage and I put on over 1200 miles over the long weekend.  

The other side effect with traveling with my mother-in-law is that it necessitated hourly trips to any available bathroom.  So to say we reached any of our destinations in the amount of time it should've taken would be way incorrect.

Either way, we did hit the road at about 1pm and managed to dodge all the traffic around the point of the mountain (between Salt Lake County and Utah county).

Our first bathroom break was just past Spanish Fork.  This was one of the nicer stops and actually had a lot of historical information as well as a giant train there.  I don't normally get too excited about rest stops, but this one was interesting.

It was also at this point that the trip got interesting.  I had never traveled on Highway 6 before but it was super interesting.  There was plenty of canyons and twists and turns and scenic rock formations:

We were struck by the sheer beauty of the area as well as the remoteness.  Truly there is very little civilization between Utah county and Green River.

The area got more bleak the closer we got to Green River

Our destination for the night was the Super 8 Motel in Green River.  Upon checking in, we realized we had a couple of hours to kill.  We wound up visiting the Crystal Geyser and Lower Grey Canyon.  Who would've thought that such incredible things were to be found in a little tiny town!

After visiting those places we wound up eating at Tamarisk Restaurant.  From the looks of it, Tamarisk is probably the only sit-down place in the city (I think there were others however).  It was recommended by the motel check-in guy and we had a pretty good meal there.  I loved their salad bar and I got one trip to it, so I made sure it counted. I had tilapia with fries and I left feeling full, which always scores big points in my book.  We also just missed the Thursday night dinner crowd as the place was lined up out the door.

We returned to the motel and wound up crashing pretty early.  We liked the Super 8 and it was clean and relatively affordable.  It wasn't the Ritz-Carlton by any means, but it suited its purpose.  I actually slept pretty well too.

Friday October 16

I woke up fairly early and everyone else followed suit.  Shari and her mom take a LONG time to get ready in the morning -- on the order of 2+ hours.  So it gave me an opportunity to go for a short run.  Being that I had a marathon on Sunday I didn't want to kill myself.  You can see the photos of my run through Green River here.

The Super 8 has a breakfast buffet -- typical hotel stuff: cereal, waffles, toast, yogurt, etc.  I hit it pretty hard but I didn't stuff myself silly.  I definitely had a filling breakfast though.

A little after 10 we took off with Towaoc Colorado set as our destination.  I think we were the very last ones to leave the motel that morning.

We made good progress but had to make a pit stop at the Moab McDonalds.  For those that don't know, Moab is a big tourist destination for many coming to Utah.  There are a ton of national and state level parks there.  Everywhere you look, there is jaw-dropping red rock.  We made a stop at Wilson's Arch where I had the opportunity to do a bit of hiking.

Hopefully I can get some of the pictures we took of the Moab area but I think the good majority of them are on an iPad that I am not in possession of.

Either way, we arrived in Cortez Colorado by early afternoon.  We were too early to check into our hotel and I certainly didn't want to spend 3 hours at a casino pissing away money.  Shari and her mom ate at Arby's while I ate at a Burger King down the street.  We each talked to some of the locals and after checking a map, we went to Mesa Verde National Park.  You can see all the cool pictures I took here.

After touring the area, we went to our hotel, the Ute Mountain Casino, Hotel and Resort, which is on the southern outskirts of Cortez.  All 3 of us like buffets and gambling, so staying here was a pretty obvious choice:

We each got $10 for signing up for the player's club card and I got another $10 for staying the night.  I managed to neither win nor lose the entire time I was there.  And yes, I was playing, but I had a long weekend ahead of me and I didn't want to blow my bankroll in one sitting.  They had a pretty decent casino and like most tribal casinos, they didn't have any alcohol and serve yourself pop.  They also had the most delicious freshly made (and free) popcorn too.

Thank you Mr. Cashman!

It seemed like all the locals knew about the seafood buffet, as they had a 90 minute wait just to get into the restaurant.  Luckily I could snack on popcorn.  For $20, this buffet was a steal:

It was sort of funny as the guys who were in charge of dispensing the crab legs were keeping tabs on how many times I came up.  On the fourth time, they were like "Oh wow! 4 plates!"  Needless to say I was pretty embarrassed.  The rest of the buffet was so-so, but the crab legs were spot on!

I wound up trolling the casino for quite some time.  I hit the hay and had a fitful sleep.  It seems we had some people upstairs jumping on the floor and dropping luggage (or who knows what) on the floor.  Luckily they quieted down but for around 15 minutes after midnight they were noisy S.O.B.'s.

Saturday Oct 16

We woke up at a reasonable hour and while the women got ready, I went to the restaurant and had a nice, healthy breakfast.  I figured the restaurant would be a zoo.  There are no other restaurants at the casino and it isn't like there are any other food places right next door.  However, it was a ghost town and I wound up eating in pretty quick order.

Saturday would be our longest drive -- taking us from Towaoc Colorado to Albuquerque New Mexico.  We weren't in Colorado for very long and before long we came across Shiprock, New Mexico.  Shiprock is named after a mountain formation that looks like an old-fashioned sailing ship.  It is very distinguishable from a distance and in fact there seemed to be a few formations that resembled it:

Our first stop for the day was at the Sunray Casino in Farmington New Mexico. Casinos always have nice bathrooms and it would give everyone a break and a chance to get a soda:

I wound up winning about $3 there on a Cashman.  My mother in law lost $20 quickly, so we obviously "paid" for the bathroom.

New Mexico is a pretty desolate state.  There were only a handful of cities on our way down there.  Google Maps sent us through Farmington and Broomfield New Mexico.  There really wasn't a speedy highway there and it was consistently 45 mph.  I was very frustrated and at the same time reminded to keep my speed in check as they had signs all along the road that it was a "safety enforcement zone" and that fines would be doubled.

By the time we were heading south we were on roads that I should've been able to go 80 on, but the speed limit was curiously set at 70mph.  Ugh -- New Mexico needs to get with the times.  The scenery was moderately interesting and it seems like New Mexico has no shortage of casinos:

We arrived at the Isleta Hotel and Casino around 4pm and were able to check-in.  This hotel is absolutely stunning and they had a super large casino.  I managed to get my bib and bought a t-shirt I didn't need at the Duke City Marathon.  (You can read about my marathon / Expo experience here).

Glass elevator

I didn't spot my favorite slot machine there: Fu Dao Le but instead found my previous favorite: Leonidas.  Unfortunately, Leonidas wasn't kind to me at all and despite getting $25 in free play, I found that the Isleta Casino was super tight.  I got very little action and was quickly frustrated.  I wound up closing the night at about $100 down.  On the plus side, the casino did have serve yourself Coke-brand drinks which had the ability to pick just about any variety of Coke (diet, caffeine free, flavored, etc) that you could desire.

We wound up eating at the Tiwa restaurant.  I wound up getting a fish & chips dinner, which was a grease pit.  

I actually slept pretty well considering I had a marathon in the morning.

Sunday October 25

I got up at 4 in the morning and ran the Duke City Marathon, which you can read about here.

I didn't get back to the hotel until close to 1pm.  I cleaned up and managed to eat some cold pancakes that Shari had brought back to the room from earlier that morning.  It was so good though and hit the spot.

We went down to the casino where I drank some nectar of the gods (at least after a marathon): Coke and collected my mother in law.

We set out for the Old Towne part of Albuquerque.  They had waited around for me all morning and I felt sort of obligated to let them run around and shop.  Normally I can't stand these types of trips and as a guy I wouldn't suggest visiting Old Towne unless you like to trinket shop.  There are some neat old buildings there and some of the shops were mildly interesting, but overall this wasn't my place:

The Christmas shop

Old Catholic Church

Cannons that were buried here

After the ladies had done their shopping we hit up the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  This was just a short drive away and basically the museum offers a wide spectrum of historical and cultural artifacts from the Pueblo cultures that abound in the New Mexico area.  The three of us got in for about $14 and spent about an hour there.  It would've been cooler had we seen a live performance, but we were there an hour before closing and we pretty much had the place to ourselves:

We were all starving upon leaving the museum and needed a place to eat.  We tossed around a few ideas before I googled Mexican restaurants and came across Monroe's.  While not at all sounding Mexican, we took a chance after reading the good reviews.  I am happy to report this was quite a stumble-upon and we all enjoyed our food immensely.  The salsa was hot but not insanely hot and I think this was the best non-buffet restaurant we ate at the entire trip.

My mouth was on fire at this point.

We were all pretty tired upon leaving and my mother in law needed to be at the airport by 8:30 the next morning, so we pretty much called it a night.

Monday October 25

In the morning we all woke up fairly early and got my mother-in-law packed and ready to go to the airport.  I rode with them to the airport in the hotel shuttle and got Shari and her mom unloaded and at the check-in.  Albuquerque airport is the tiniest every ... I couldn't believe how small and tiny it was.

I wound up snacking for a while until Shari had me pick her up at the airport.  I had done some research and discovered that there was a casino buffet at the Santa Ana Star and they had a super cheap buffet.  It did mean we'd have to drive to the north side of Albuquerque. 

We signed up for the player's club card and each got about $25 in free play.  We jumped into the buffet and we each ate for a whopping $5:

The buffet was passable (how could it not be at that price) but I wouldn't been disappointed had I paid full price.  There wasn't a lot of premiums and the food needed some TLC.  The desserts were fantastic though.  We each pigged out pretty good and got our money's worth.

We wound up paying for the buffet.  They had a row of Fu Dao Le's that I dumped money into and got virtually nothing.  In fact, I probably would've been better off just opening my wallet and tossing my money on the ground.  The machines gave us very little play and very little action.  We tried a bunch of different machines too.  Incredibly frustrating and it seemed to be a trend in the tribal casinos.

We stayed way too long there.  I think we both wanted to make sure our food settled before leaving the closeness of a bathroom.  So in the long run, we really paid for our buffet.

After leaving the casino, we went to the Petroglyph National Monument, which you can read about here.  Despite having run a marathon the previous day, I felt incredibly good and wasn't having very much soreness.  I guess I am getting used to this marathon thing.

We got back to the hotel late in the afternoon and I decided I wanted to check out and use the pool.  They have a nice sauna (although the jets could be turned up a bit more):

After cleaning up we looked at some of the restaurants at the resort and weren't that impressed.  So we wound up driving to Mariscos Altamar Restaurant.  A friend of mine had recommended the restaurant to me and it was good.  Their salsa didn't have a lot of kick, but the food was well done and I left full:

My dinner

Shari's dinner

We wound up gambling a bit more.  I was still licking my wounds from my previous beatdowns but I sucked it up and put a twenty into Leonidas.  Today, Leonidas was very cool to me and I wound up winning a bit.  On a whim I stuck a twenty on another machine next to it and got some random bonus that triggered a LOT.  It was like every spin I was winning something.  Shari also hit paydirt on a Lightning Strike machine.  I think that will be her new favorite....  It was nice to wrap up the night on an upswing.

Tuesday October 20

Tuesday marked our last day.  We wound up packing up our now much lighter Santa Fe and decided to take Highway 40 west and taking the somewhat longer way back.  Google said it would take 10 minutes longer, but I hoped I would get to go a bit faster on a major interstate versus the other roads.  I-40 was pretty smooth sailing but they had some construction and heading north was like driving through molasses.  Ugh, New Mexico!

We reached Gallup around 11am and decided to see if the Firerock Casino had any food.  They had a small lunch bar that had absolutely no vegetarian food.  I had signed up for the player's club card and got $20 in free play (as did Shari).  Despite starving, we played it and wound up spending a good hour there.  I wound up turning my $20 into nearly $70 in profit.  I managed to get a very good run on Lucky Money Tree - which kicked out a ton of bonuses for me.  It was like I couldn't lose (well actually I did, but I stopped before I wound up in a negative)  Well worth the stop in my opinion.

The casino was right near Red Rock Park, which given another hour, I would've loved to have explored.  Instead I did get some pictures of the perimeter:

We wound up eating at Denny's.  It was quick and easy and actually pretty good.

The drive back home was pretty uneventful.  I was surprised I did as well as I did driving for nearly 10 hours.  We did break up the trip with various stops: gas in Towaoc, a pit stop in Moab and Subway in Wellington Utah.  

Here are some random photos from the journey:

Bathroom stop around Moab Utah

Bathroom stop around Moab Utah

Add caption

Rock formation somewhere in New Mexico

Sun setting along the canyon walls in Utah

Sun setting along the canyon walls in Utah

Sun setting along the canyon walls in Utah


This trip was so much fun.  I had never been to New Mexico before so seeing something entirely new was just awesome.  I'd love to go back and wouldn't hesitate to run there again if the opportunity presented itself.

I hope to get my hands on the photos on an iPad we brought along.  We got a lot of shots of the cliffs around Moab.  

Gambling wise this trip wasn't too much of a bust.  I did manage to make up a lot of my losses on Monday night and in Gallup.  However, my conclusion is that the tribal casinos are big on promotions to lure you in, but pay very little in return.  Maybe it was just my bad luck, but the casinos seemed very tight.

Despite a casino in just about every nook and cranny of the state, I don't think I'd want to live there.  I didn't see a large tech presence and I suspect the heat in the summer's get pretty intense.  I'd also have to check out the running scene, but I could make it work if I had to.

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