Woke up, swam, ate…somehow, this feeling of deja vu

We loaded up and got on Cerillios headed south — a.k.a. Highway 14. This is a very cool little road with lots of great scenery and some small mountain towns with some art shops (don’t know as I’d call them galleries) along the road. We turned right onto Highway 536, drove about a mile and a half, and ended up at Tinkertown.

Now, maybe it’s just my childhood. Vacation meant driving from our farm in the Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, to Rapid City. We were allowed to stop in one of three places:

  1. Al’s Oasis.
  2. Wall Drug.
  3. That one place with all the prairie dogs.

We might stop at the Badlands every once in a while, but that was a destination in and of itself. And in Rapid City, we would hit up every damn tourist stop we could get hold of, from the dinosaur park to Storybook Island.

I’ve always loved tourist stops. My all-time favorite has been The House on the Rock. But Tinkertown is quite nice, too. A guy named Ross Ward built a house almost entirely from bottles, taking care to select all shades, from dusky browns to shimmering sea-greens. Then he filled it with a lot of stuff, including his brother’s (I think) boat, after it had sailed around the world for ten years. This theme of some guy just up and building some weird house and filling it up with stuff seems to resonate with me. Maybe that’s why I like our house so much.

Anyway, after Tinkertown, we drove down Highway 14 to Albuquerque and followed the signs to the Bio Park. For the same price that it takes to get into the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, we bought combo passes to the zoo, aquarium, botanic garden…

Amaaaaazing.

Now, the whole train setup is bad. You get on the zoo train, which takes you to the place where you need to get on the Bio Park train, but you can’t get off on that stop. Can’t. No, really, can’t. Why, I have no idea. But you can’t.

The guide recommended we go over to the aquarium and work our way back to the zoo, because the Bio Park train stops 45 minutes before the zoo closes. Whoever organizes these trains must be related to those creeps from The Castle. Nevertheless.

So we rode the zoo train. Pretty cool, pretty cool. Then we walked the exact same route over to the Bio Park train, passing by the gigantor McDonald’s-style jungle gym and promising to return later. The train to the rest of the park goes under highways (tunnels!) and past a fishin‘ hole. Again with the trains: you drive past your stop, go on for another five minutes, circle around, and come back to your stop, where, finally, you may disembark.

I didn’t mind so much; the extended route meant we got to go past the place they’re building the Japanese garden. They’re pretty far along, but I can’t wait to see it in a more-or-less finished form.

The aquarium was fun, but I don’t remember much of it…because after that we went into the Botanic Garden. The first thing you come across is the Children’s Fantasy Garden. The outside, complete with a giant, ivy-covered dragon, reminded me almost painfully of Storybook Island. The inside had the same feel, with a slightly different theme: instead of gigantic storybook characters, it was gigantic plants and animals. Very Alice-in-Wonderlandy. Highlights include a maze made out of anthills, a giant garden with a hole-through-the-redwood-style carrot, a sandpit filled with enormous worms…

We decided we had to take a break for food at an almost ridiculous time and ate at the Shark Reef Cafe, which lived up to its name: an entire wall was filled with an aquarium, complete with a shark with hillbilly teeth and a giant sea turtle, as well as numerous fish and a sunken riverboat. Why a riverboat? I don’t know; it looked cool. Also, there was real food to eat: something of a rarity when it comes to food at a zoo.

We went back to the botanic garden, where we played hide and seek (they didn’t forget to add a huge grassy area with no “keep off the grass” signs), wandered around while I played Georgia O’Keefe with some cool calla lilies inside a split glass pyramid, discovered frogs in the bog, and commiserated that the butterfly pavilion wouldn’t be open until the end of May.

We almost didn’t want to go back to the zoo, but go back to the zoo we did. Ray played and played on the gym, only stopping when I kicked her out due to rain (which stopped five minutes later, but I wouldn’t let her go back in). We watched the sea lions chase after their fish lunch, scoped out the polar bear and decided the waterfall was smooth enough to use for a water slide, and…were exhausted.

We left when they kicked us out and would go back in a heartbeat.

The drive out of Albuquerque was…difficult. Traffic had backed up on the one road I located that looked like it connected to the Interstate–the one that led straight through Old Town. Several people had recommended we stop there, but driving through, it looked like…well, boring. Shops, bars (one notable one where the street was completely lined with bikers), more shops…meh.

Ray slept from the time we got out of the zoo until Santa Fe.

We ended up eating at this teppan Japanese place on Cerillios called Osaka. The chefs at the table across from ours was a lot of fun–and Hispanic-looking. The one at our table wasn’t nearly as exciting, but executed the flaming onion volcano with much more skill. [Insert clapping here.] I kept expecting them to face off, Iron Chef style, but you know, that just never happens in real restaurants. Oh, sigh.

Swam some more…

I dreamed about gardens all night long.