Setting out from Tombstone, I still had about 500 miles to cover before I reached Santa Fe. The weather was chilly and the skies were murky, the kind of skies you get just before a rain or wind storm. I had my Tombstone wanted posters for my son and a couple other souvenirs packed in the back. With the taste of fresh honey still on my tongue from the roadside stand, I set out, with my Waze set for the hotel in Santa Fe.
I took I-10 and this time, the desert was alive all around. There is nothing quite like the deserts of the Southwest when they are in bloom. Even now, before the blossoms were on the desert, the smell was fresh and clean. Interesting clumps of rock and a watercolor landscape kept my mind occupied as I wound through convoys of trucks and cars with Texas and New Mexico plates. The occasional warning from my app told me to slow down for police, which had been sighted up ahead.
The road took me back to Deming, and then to Hatch, where we hadn’t had time to stop the day before. I pulled in to a local grocery store and asked the lady at the cash register if she had any recommendations for places to eat.
“What kind of food do you want?”
“Anything with green chile,” I said.
“Well, you are in the right place!” she and the other cashier laughed. They recommended a couple different places for Mexican food, but a diner called Sparky’s was at the top of their list. The green chile I am used to in New Mexico is the basis of all New Mexican cuisine. From posole to smothered burritos and everything in between. I hadn’t really tried it on traditional “American” food, but considering all the Mexican restaurants were closed on a Saturday in Hatch, NM, Sparky’s it was!
Sparky’s looked more like a pawnshop or a pop culture graveyard from the main drag. It touts itself as a BBQ joint, and the scent of smoldering hardwoods out back is enough to make your mouth water. I found a spot, walked in and scanned the menu. When I say Hatch is the green chile capital of the world, I am not exaggerating. The menu featured all things green chile, from burger toppings to green chile shakes and green chile lemonade. Which featured honest to goodness chunks of green chile floating around in your drink.
The line was long, and I wasn’t feeling as adventurous as I should have. It had been hours on the road and I thought I would stick with a burger and fries with a soda, rather than fill up on a lemonade that would either do my insides irreparable damage, or just be something gimmicky that wasn’t going to quench my thirst. And I needed the caffeine.
I took pictures of the inside of the place, just because it had to be seen to believed. My food arrived and two 1/3 lb ground beef patties covered in melted cheese and topped with hot chunks of fire roasted green chile peppers and a side of steak fries did not disappoint. And there I was, taking pictures of it all with my stupid camera phone like some Instagram dork.
I can honestly say, this was the best cheeseburger I have ever eaten in my life.
Sparky’s is a BBQ joint, as well as being the most highly recommended place in Hatch by local grocery store ladies. The Yelp! reviews also go nuts over the place as well. You can tell that most of the clientele are locals, which is always a good sign. Next to the soda machines, there is a hot vat of barbecue sauce made from their own recipe. As with all things Hatch, NM, it also contained the manna of the gods: green chile. Just the right amount of spice and sweet. The waitress asked me if I liked it, and seemed surprised when I told her I could probably drink an entire glass of it if they let me. It was just that good. Delicious on my steak fries too!
I was now too full and the diner was too busy to get a to-go cup of green chile lemonade, but I promised myself I would be back one day to try it. I set out across the desert again and night was falling. My full stomach was demanding a nap in spite of the two Cokes I had drunk. I started calling friend, just to keep some company on the road. To keep my mouth moving so I could be alert. The long, straight stretch of interstate to Albuquerque and Santa Fe beyond felt that much longer with my second full day of driving.
I chatted with my long lost friend Conni, catching up with all things home-townish, which she had missed since betraying Colorado and moving to Dallas-Ft. Worth. In spite of her shortcomings and obvious flaws of character for making such bad decisions, she kept me awake and we swapped stories for about an hour. I flew through Albuquerque without having a pizza flung on my roof or buying a pork pie hat. (Hi, Conni! 😉 )
Since Conni had to go buy a giant hat or watch a Chad Prather video or shoot J.R. Ewing or something, I had a few other friends I phoned to keep me awake. They were either eating, not picking up, or busy. It was just me and the reflectors of the delineator posts, winking at me until I rolled into Santa Fe.
The hotel wasn’t as nice as the one in Tucson, but I got a heck of a deal on Booking.com for an off-season place to stay. $49 for the night. The only sign of it being dubious was the inch long coke nails on the pinky fingers of the desk clerk. Other than that, the place was clean and quiet, though further from the Plaza than I had expected.
I unpacked my things and decided to visit the Plaza. It had been nearly five years since I had been here, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Lots of memories. Good and bad.
More to come…