Monday, May 30, 2016

I can't travel to a new place in the U.S. and not see what kind of fun and odd things are on the side of the road!  During a trip to White Sands National Monument, I traveled the El Paso - Alamogordo - Las Cruces triangle and found some gems, thanks to advance research done on Roadside America (the best!).  I had actually done some research on the I-10 corridor before when I had considered a road trip from LA to Austin, so I was glad to finally make it to Dave's Pawn Shop...see the story below!

Grave of HAM the first Astrochimp, Alamogordo NM

In January 1961, Ham the chimpanzee was the first of 6 monkeys that "graduated" from a chimp space training program to be launched into space.  During his training, he learned how to do some simple tests while on his mission.  These tests resulted in scientists learning that similar tasks can be performed in space, though likely in a slower amount of time.  Ham survived his up and back in a day space trip, and was sent to live out his life at the National Zoo in D.C.   He now rests at the Alamogordo Space Museum.

World's Largest (fake) Pistachio, Alamogordo NM

Located at McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch on US 54, you can't miss this giant nut statue.  After taking your photos, make sure to head inside the gift store to taste some interesting flavors of pistachios and pistachio-based food products.

White Sands Missile Range

I didn't expect the missile museum to actually be located inside the military test base, so I was surprised to have to go through the extensive security screening, which included a quick background check and a complete inspection of my car (hood and trunk).  Once I passed the screening, the museum and missile graveyard are just up on your left.  White Sands is most notable as being the first test site for the nuclear bomb, though the "Trinity" site is not close to the museum's location.  It was also where the post-WWII continued development of the V-2, the world's first guided ballistic missile, occurred. The V-2 versions built in New Mexico were an expansion on a Nazi missile, the Vergeltungswaffe or Vengeance Weapon, that destroyed many allied targets and cities.  When many of the engineers that worked on the V-2 surrendered to the U.S. Army, including Wernher von Braun its inventor, a good portion came to America to continue their work using the 80 captured V-2s as a base.

Muffler Man, Las Cruces NM

I do love me a muffler man! Located at Big Daddy's Flea Market off a frontage road next to Rt 70.  Sadly, this man had his arms removed or stolen, but a clever handler hid it well with a big sign.

At the other end of the flea market parking lot, you can't mis the giant El Toro!

World's Largest Chili Pepper, Las Cruces NM

Well, I guess you know you're too popular when you have to build a wall around your 47 foot long fiberglass chili pepper and create an actual tourist attraction.  That or maybe there was a history of consistent damage.  Even if you can't get a clear photo of the big daddy pepper anymore, you can find his mini me on top of a light blue VW bug.

Pat Garrett's Grave, Las Cruces NM

When I was in junior high, I went through a period where I was obsessed with the Young Guns movie franchise, the sequel in particular.  In that movie, Emilio Estevez's Billy the Kid character had his long-time friendship with Pat Garrett dramatically change to where he was being hunted and was finally killed by the man in the end (or was he??).  The Garrett family has a plot in a cemetery in Las Cruces, and you can see Pat lived another 27 years after the 1881 death of his former frenemy.

Pancho Villa's Trigger Finger, El Paso TX

This stop was on my I-10 list of must-sees.  I walked into the shop too quickly to see that the mummified finger in a box was actually displayed in the front window.  The shop is full of the standard pawn shop items as well as some really weird preserved animal body parts, as well as mummified animals and an actual human (allegedly).  I'm not sure which came first, the finger or the other stuff, but the finger was pawned at the store in 2004 and has been there ever since.  Not for the squeamish!

1919 Gas Station, El Paso TX

I've seen a lot of vintage gas stations, but never a round one.  This station was a 2008 restoration.  It's on the route back to the airport, so it was a perfect last stop for the trip.

Posted on Monday, May 30, 2016 by Julie


Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm from Washington D.C., so I know my monuments, but here's the secret: White Sands is not a monument at all! Located a little over 15 miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico, White Sands National Monument is 275 square miles of white gypsum sand dunes.  It is a perfect place for photographers from sunrise to sunset because the large dunes complement the soft colors in the early and late skies; and during the typical mid-day bright light times that photographers tend to avoid, it's actually a great time to play with dramatic shadows, curves, and sand ripple lines.

When you turn into the national park, the ranger station is located to your right.  Make sure to grab some water there if you forgot to bring a bottle.  There is nothing but picnic tables and restrooms for facilities inside the park.  Also, if you wanted to sled down the dunes, you can pick up a rental there. After you stop at the ranger station, get ready for a 10-15 minute drive to get to the big dunes.  I found that I spent most of my time on the left half of the loop drive, near the back country camping area parking.  The dunes were bigger over there, but you sacrifice getting a yucca plant for the foreground. The yuccas tend to be mostly located before you hit the loop. Timing a trip for the yucca bloom is tricky, so that may be a moot observation.

The park has varying opening hours throughout the year, so check the NPS website.  If you find that sunrise and sunset times fall at or within the open times, there is an option to get a permit to enter the park 1 hour early or leave the park 1 hour after closing.  To get this permit, you will have to stop at the ranger entry gate before the park drive (where you show your annual NPS pass or buy a day pass).  Some quick paperwork and a cash payment ($50 for each hour), and you're in.  I would suggest calling the park before your trip and making sure that a permit is available/a ranger will be there to let you in on your preferred day(s).  Winter months are better bets to not have to pick up a permit because of the later sunrise and earlier sunset times.  The photo below was taken of a sunset within normal hours.  I did have to pack up quickly to make it out of the park in time, though.  Winter months are also better for temperatures.  It can get very hot in the summer.  The gypsum, unlike other sands, tends to stay cooler though because it tends to better retain moisture.  One more note on timing, the less busy times also means less footprints in the sand.

Wind at White Sands can be your friend and your enemy.  A decent wind will help to quickly erase footprints and leave you with some pristine dunes to shoot.  A decent wind will also help maintain the neat ripples in the sand.  Of course, wind also messes with sharpness of plants and edges, especially with the softer morning and evening light where you have to slow down shutter speeds to get more light to the sensor (or bump up ISO, but then you deal with noise).  Where the sand is more moist, the "frozen" sand patterns are incredible.  The photo below is one of my favorites I shot, and the proceeding photo is of a gorgeous fan pattern.  If you are planning a trip to the park for photography reasons, I would suggest giving yourself at least two days to accommodate for weather, wind, and sunrise/sunset quality.  I found the park rangers were very helpful when it came to permits, even calling me on their way home to check to see if I wanted to come back early again the next day.  The best way to get to White Sands, if not doing a regional road trip, is to fly into El Paso, Texas and drive the hour and a half north. Alamogordo is the closest lodging available.  Check out my next post for some fun oddball sites to visit in the area!  

Posted on Sunday, May 29, 2016 by Julie


Saturday, May 28, 2016

I went on a Broadway BINGE this Spring, and of course it included going to see Hamilton again, for a third time!  It's the best show on Broadway right now and probably since RENT in the 1990s.  The media loves to say how hard it is to get tickets to see the show, but it's really not hard if you plan in advance and don't try to get one a week before.  Granted, I bought this ticket for this night about 9 months prior, but just recently the Hamilton producers cracked down on ticket scalping agencies and did a purge of the inventory of tickets that violated Ticketmaster's ticket limits.  Around 7pm on a Wednesday night, on Twitter and Facebook, it was announced that a new block of tickets (the reclaimed scalper tickets) for shows November 2016 - January 2017 were being released at 9pm.  Unlike an Adele concert, the new block of tickets were swept up within an hour instead of a minute, so you had time to look at different dates and seating locations.  My point is tickets can happen at face value if you "wait for it, wait for it" - oh man, quoting the show now.  Bottom line, this show is worth any wait, so go and get them!  I suspect the February 2017 and beyond block will go on sale soon.

On the train ride up to the city, the Broadway binge started out perfectly because I had some free Amtrak reading material on the aforementioned topic - Mr. Miranda's Hamilton.  That show wasn't the only reason I was excited to head back north to the Great White Way.  I've been anticipating the opening of Sara Bareilles' new musical, Waitress, since the release of her preview album with Jason Mraz.

Based on the film of the same title, starring Keri Russell, the Waitress experience starts as soon as you walk in the door.  They claim that an actual pie is baking somewhere in the lobby.  It definitely smells good, and not too strong or off putting like a Yankee Candle Company candle or plug in scent, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out where the smell started and how they would allow an operational oven inside a historic theater.  If only I could let mysteries remain mysteries!  The pie theme did not stop there.  At the concession stands, the were selling little pies in jars!

Walking into the theater, besides the image of a lattice top of a cherry pie being printed on the stage curtain, the side of the stage had two large towers of spinning pie displays, like a diner would have.  Obviously a lot of thought went into the design of this production.

The show was outstanding, and all of the actors were impressive.  It's hard not to fall for Drew Gehling as the OB/GYN doctor, but the show stealer is Christopher Fitzgerald as Ogie, the nerdy customer who wins the heart of one of the waitresses.

I also caught the Roundabout Theater revival of "She Loves Me" starring Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel, and Jane Krakowski.  This is your old school, Broadway romance musical style show.  Cute for sure!  "She Loves Me" is the inspiration for the movie "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan -- two pen pals who have fallen for each other and don't realize they are adversaries in real life.

To round out the binge, I saw an off-Broadway production of "The Robber Bridegroom" with Stephen Pasquale that was too cheesy to enjoy.  I also suffered 3 hours and 45 minutes watching Jessica Lange and cast mates slowly inch their way through the script for "A Long Day's Journey Into Night."  I had high expectations for that play, but I'm not sure if it was the writing, the melodramatic acting, or both that had me itching in my seat to leave, only to be stuck in the middle of the row overpowered by manners.

Even with the two misses, I still think that it was a good spring show binge.  I also did a lot of exploring in the city and found Fishs Eddy in the Flatiron District that had some fun kitchen and serving ware, including these Hamilton Musical-inspired shot glasses - "I am not throwing away my shot!" (more quoting)

My other big find for the trip was so gorgeous and so tasty, I had to go back again the next night.  I HAD TO! Amorino - on 8th Avenue in the Theater District or at 3 other locations.  Gelato flowers, people!!!

Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2016 by Julie


Friday, May 27, 2016

It wasn't that long ago when it was easy to get tickets to see late night shows in NYC.  There was Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where you knew around the time to call in to reserve tickets 6 weeks before a show.  Then The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report had their own systems for ticket distribution that, once you figured out, were pretty straight forward.  Now, there's no more Stewart or Report, and to see Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, you have to watch social media for the release date, then compete on when released to get a spot on the waiting list for your preferred date.  Not a reservation list with a confirmed date, a waiting list!  And the spot on the waiting list?  Yeah, who knows where you are in the queue because it is the opposite of transparent.  I waited until the week of my requested date to be told I was turned down.  Of course, they said I could wait in line all day for a cancellation ticket that may never happen - which in theory should go to the people who were on the waiting list in the first place.  Ugh! Anyway, thankfully there is the beam of light now in NYC that is the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The ticketing process was similar to his old show on Comedy Central.  If there is availability, you can easily read about the process and find dates and times on the show's ticketing website.  If you are a huge fan and want to be in the lower audience in the front few rows, I would suggest lining up under or near the Late Show marquee around noon for the 2pm distribution.  Once the staff distributes numbered papers indicating your places in line, you are free to leave the theater to wander around and get food before returning at the designated time.  When you are back in line, the staff will have you go through security and then line up, again, inside one of two rooms.  The wait in that line could be up to 60-90 minutes depending on what's going on with the show.  The day we were there, Stephen was taping a special intro segment, so our wait was on the long side.

The show can take more than the expected hour to film.  Trust me, it's worth the extra time.  There was some pretty fantastic stuff that was cut from the final aired broadcast because it was not suitable for a wide audience.  Stephen Colbert is a master at conversation and wit, and sometimes the conversations get cut for time or, in the case I'm referring to, content.  Before the show, Stephen will come out and do a short Q&A, so bring your good questions!  He is every bit as hilarious and charming in person as you would expect.

Alas, if you aren't able to get tickets for the date and time you prefer, there is another option to look for Late Night with Seth Meyers tickets, so long as you do it a few weeks in advance and not the week of your trip.  LNSM also uses the 1iota ticketing website, but I was able to get off the waitlist and get a reservation.  Of course, it was the same time and date as Colbert, and you know which one I chose in the end!

Posted on Friday, May 27, 2016 by Julie

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