Meanwhile, back at the ranch…


The latest issue of the Rocky Mountain Land Library newsletter is out. I’m grateful to the staff for selecting one of my photos for the banner image. This shot was taken during my October visit to the ranch. You may have noticed that many of the photos I’ve posted on social media over the past several weeks have a South Park, Colorado tag. All of those images are from the Buffalo Peaks Ranch, future home of the RMLL. It’s a beautiful parcel of land in a mesmerizing corner of the West; the scenery and the silence are stunning.

Though I was only there for a single afternoon, this place really got its hooks in me. I hope to stay longer on future visits to the ranch, and I hope those trips will become more frequent. I’m especially keen on spending some time there in the dark of night; I was excited to learn that one of the buildings will house an astronomy library and a small observatory.

I am also very happy to announce that my book collection will one day reside at the RMLL. That provision is going to be added to my will now that my offer to donate the books has been graciously accepted.

Download your copy of the newsletter by visiting www.landlibrary.org .
Click the “Land Library Newsletters” tab at the top of the page, then select the “Winter 2015/2016 Newsletter” link. Also, be sure to read the articles and watch the videos that appeared in the media this year. I hope many of you will follow and support this project.

Do It Again

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Christmas Day, 1994. This is the photo that started it all. Over the next several years and several thousand miles, I would accumulate 53 such pictures…48 states, the District of Columbia and four Canadian provinces (I’ve been to a fifth province, but was unable to find an “Ontario” sign). Years later, for reasons unknown, I had grown to loathe photographs of this car with the top in the up position. It just didn’t look right to me. I realized that, going forward, I didn’t want to shoot another photo of the Pontiac unless the top was down. And, I decided to replace the 43 inferior images with some new top-down shots.

Looking over the collection, it was clear that I would need several years to accomplish this overhaul; of the 53 original photos, 43 would need to be redone. In those 43 scenes, the top was up due to rain, snow, bitter cold, oppressive heat, or simply due to the fact that, back then, I didn’t care. A lot of miles will have to be covered in order to get the pictures I want, but I’m certainly not complaining…I’m happy with any excuse to tour the continent yet again. During October’s long journey, I was able to cross seven more states off of the reshoot list. Let’s start with Texas…

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This border crossing has changed a little over the last 21 years…the old buildings in the distance have been razed, a rusty trash barrel has been placed in front of the stone Texas monument (considering the large amount of garbage on the side of the road, it appears that no one is actually using the barrel), the New Mexico portion of the highway has been widened to four lanes, vehicle traffic has increased substantially (oil service trucks heading down the ranch roads) and, sadly, this cool vintage right-of-way marker has been removed. On the day I arrived, a trucker decided to use this spot to park and take a nap. I wasn’t too keen on the revised scenery, so, for my updated Texas photo, I opted for a different arrangement…

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One thing that all of the old photos have in common is that they were shot in front of state line signs. It was during the first of the reshoots that I realized there was a better solution: small-town post offices. Shooting at the state line was usually problematic. Border signs are rarely posted along minor roads; they’re reserved for highways. In addition to the hazard of the increased traffic on these highways, it was often difficult to park near the signs due to the presence of guardrails, bridges, ditches or simply due to the complete absence of a shoulder, meaning that some percentage of my vehicle was parked on or near the travel lane. At the post office, however, parking is usually a breeze, especially after hours, and the town and state names are both identified. Plus, each state has many cool post offices to choose from…

Tie Siding, Wyoming…

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Pep, New Mexico…

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Kenton, Oklahoma…

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Manter, Kansas…

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Salisbury, Missouri…

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In Colorado, I was enjoying a Sunday drive through scenic Pleasant Valley with my friend Sarah when we spied this tiny post office across the street from a wayward cow. All of my state photos up to this point (with the exception of New York) have been self-portraits. But on this day, I had an excellent photographer riding in my passenger seat…

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So I asked Sarah to take my official Colorado portrait…

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Fifteen of the old photos have now been redone, giving me a total of 25 acceptable images. You can view the whole collection through this link to an album in my Google Photos account.

28 states and provinces remain on the reshoot list. Then, of course, I still have to visit Alaska and all of eastern and northern Canada. One step at a time.

Make Mine Brisket

Carl visits Kansas City

I’m going to begin this sandwich review with two short rants that could be posted separately, but as I’m sure I’ll never get around to doing that, and as they are on point, I’ll include them here…

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1) Grease & Fat = Flavor

Why do people cook bacon until it is so dry and brittle that it would shatter if you dropped it onto your plate? Would you do the same with a New York strip or a rib-eye? I certainly hope not. I guess it’s that fear that has endured for so many decades, passed down from one generation to the next…that fear that one bite of even slightly undercooked bacon means certain death. Truth is, trichinosis has not been a threat in domestic pork for quite some time. Even the USDA chimed in a few years ago, acknowledging that most people are overcooking their pork products.

When you cook away all of that wonderful fat and grease, you’re left with nothing but a desiccated, flavorless waste of perfectly good pig. When I cook bacon, it’s still golden brown and thoroughly cooked, but it’s also flexible, chewy and well lubricated…pure pleasure for the palate. And for the record, don’t think of putting my bacon on paper towels to drain; I want that grease. I like my bacon the way I like my barbecue…moist, tender and literally dripping with flavor.

2) Lose the Sauce

BBQ sauce is a distraction. It’s great for dipping french fries, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s all it’s good for. If you’re a skilled smoker, why would you want all of your hard work buried under a layer of sauce? Even the mildest sauce is going to overpower the subtle flavors of your ‘cue.  Now, if you’re a barbecue novice serving poorly smoked meat, poor quality meat or meat that’s dry and flavorless, by all means, pour it on…what better way to hide those flaws than to drown them in glorified ketchup. Just don’t expect me to sample your wares.

Great barbecue stands on its own. The wood you use, your smoking technique, your choice of spices for the rub, the quality of the meat you select…all of that shines through in the finished product, in every savory drop of the meat’s own delicious juices. If you insist on showing off your memaw’s secret BBQ sauce, please be kind enough to serve it on the side.

Thank you. Now, on to the sandwich…

In the waning days of my October journey, I was looking over my atlas, selecting unexplored two-lane highways for the drive back home. My best options were going to bring me close to Kansas City. Hmmm…Kansas City. Barbecue. I had never been there, other than blowing through on I-70 a couple of times when I was a kid. A proper visit was long overdue. After all, the words “Carl” and “brisket” have been inextricably linked ever since I first signed on to the internet in 1998; being this close to a BBQ mecca, I knew it would be a disservice to the community if I didn’t stop and see what all the fuss is about.

Knowing nothing at all about dining choices in the City of Fountains, I ran a Google search for the best brisket sandwich in KC. Within a long list of results was an article that spoke favorably of a place called McGonigle’s. I then found several glowing reviews of their barbecue written by satisfied customers. What sealed the deal is the fact that McGonigle’s is a market, not a restaurant. In my experience, barbecue that is cooked and served in a parking lot is superior to the indoor-dining variety…

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Sliced brisket is the standard in this country…slices that, for my taste, are almost always too thick and waaaay too dry. I’ve asked several barbecue purveyors if there is a name for the style of brisket I prefer, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus…some called it “chopped,” some call it “shredded,” others refer to it as “loose.” I describe it as “juicy, tender and falling apart.” Whenever I visit a BBQ joint for the first time, I always ask how they serve their brisket before ordering. It’s usually sliced, and I’ll usually order it anyway, as it’s my favorite sandwich. But if their description sounds particularly unappetizing, I’ll go with my backup plan and order pulled pork or ribs (as long as they’re not pre-sauced). Every so often, though, I’ll get lucky and find someone who serves that wonderfully moist and tender brisket that I love, and those are the places I’ll go out of my way to visit again and again.

At McGonigle’s, one goes inside the market to order and pay, and then picks up the food out at the trailer. Of course, I had to stop at the trailer first to check out the brisket situation (from the reviews I read online, I had high hopes that they were serving my kind of sandwich). Two very nice guys, Robert and Malcolm, were working the lot on that Monday afternoon. I approached the window and asked Robert if the brisket was sliced. He explained that while it starts out thinly sliced, it’s quite tender and breaks up into smaller pieces of various shapes and sizes. Sensing victory, I told him of my disdain for dry, sliced brisket and my love of fat and grease. At this point Robert’s face lit up, and with a mirthful smile, he said, “Oh, I think we can hook you up there.”

Jackpot. I raced inside to place my order, which was ready and waiting by the time I got back to the trailer. It was a beautiful sight…a generous pile of succulent beef with great color, great texture and the proper amount of fat, all floating in a sea of tasty golden lubrication a good half-inch deep. Sauce was offered (thank you), and I declined. I grabbed a fork and plenty of napkins and made for the nearest picnic table.

October’s ubiquitous yellowjackets insisted on sharing my meal, but they couldn’t stop me from savoring every delicious bite. The brisket was perfectly tender and moist, the flavor an excellent balance of smoke, spices and sweetness, yet all quite subtle, allowing the meat’s natural taste to join the party. As I soaked up the last drop of grease with my last chunk of bun, I was aware of an urge to start looking for apartments in the neighborhood.

Best brisket sandwich I’ve ever had? Easily. Are there better ones out there? Could be, and I’m certainly keen on trying others, wherever I may find them. But McGonigle’s has set the bar very high, and I’ll always stop there anytime I pass near Kansas City.

Though it was pure luck and I didn’t realize it until after the fact, I couldn’t be happier that I ate this sandwich exactly 50 years to the day since the great Jack McDuff recorded his epic tune “Hot Barbeque” (currently my ringtone).

Enjoy every sandwich.

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