Back in Texas but still on Mountain Time, we're taking a much-needed R&R night at a proper hotel, the Camino Real in downtown El Paso. We got up early this morning in Alamogordo to catch the sunrise at the White Sands national monument...and then promptly went back to bed for a little more sleep. It turns out the sun comes up very early indeed on the eastern edge of a time zone. We didn't get to the park until around 8:00, which was still early enough that it was very chilly out on the dunes.
There's not a ton to see, but what there is is worth the trip. The sand is, as you can probably imagine, marvelous to look at and to feel against your feet. The strange thing was how the whole area smelled faintly of vanilla or something very much like it. It was the smell that dryer sheets try to impart to clothes but never properly achieve. There are only two things to watch out for: Rattlesnakes and missile strikes. There are some rattlesnakes out there, and, since this area is also a missile testing site, you may be diverted from the park due to missile testing.
After the sands, we headed back to the north end of town to see McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch, home of the worlds largest pistachio! It was exactly the sort of roadside attraction we hoped to see more of. Did we get t-shirts, post cards, refrigerator magnets, and, of course, pistachio's? How could we not?
Apparently, these nuts only grow in California and in one tiny stretch of land just north of Alamogordo in New Mexico. I have no clue if these were especially good pistachios, but that's not the point. The staff working there seemed to be having a good time, the tourists were enjoying it, and even the children seemed to, at the very least, be tolerant of their parents' weird choices in entertainment. If you're in the Alamogordo area, do take the time to check this out. Be aware, there: There are two pistachio orchards. McGinn's is the one you want. To make it even more complicated, there are two McGinn's shops. Eschew the one on Highway 82 as it is an inferior outpost, and hit the much larger on on Highways 54/70.
From there, we turned south and headed to El Paso and made it just in time for lunch. We stopped off at a Target for some reprovisioning and then checked the various food review sites to see where we should have lunch. As luck would have it, one of the top picks was in the same parking lot: Taco Tote. Taco Tote is a Juarez-based chain that has made its way into the U.S., but not to where we live, which is a darned shame. Taco Tote would take over most towns I've visited in a matter of months if they were to expand.
We both ate far more than we intended to, so we checked into our hotel a little early for a nap. I don't remember who told me that the Camino Real was the best value in hotels, but whoever they were, I owe them. Or rather, I owe Nicole since she sussed this one out on her own. We're in a giant room, a little old, but very clean and comfortable, and we're paying $80 for a night which seems criminally low.
Come sundown, we were still full, so we decided to wander around downtown a little bit. San Jacinto Plaza is a lovely public space, the kind of thing that serves no purpose beyond making the city prettier and more pleasant to be in. We got to see a street food festival, some little shops, and after a gallon or so of coffee to help my digestion, we were finally ready for some dinner.
We didn't want to get back in the car, so we picked Tabla, a hipster-ish tapas by way of northern Mexico joint a couple of blocks from the hotel. The only thing that was traditional was the classical guitar player (who was excellent): We tried a baked goat cheese plate, a pear salad, pork pinchos, a mushroom tart, and the paella. They were all good, but the pinchos were, for me, the standout. I'd go back, but I'd probably skip the paella, which was unusually heavy on octopus tentacle. The tentacle was well grilled and tasty, but it turns out I can only eat so much octopus.
Come to think of it, I may never eat again.