Monday, March 31, 2014

The Hot Dog, a love story

As you can tell from the post, what follows is food porn and our vegan and vegetarian friends will probably want to stop reading right now. It's such a shame though. If you only knew what you were missing!

The hotdog is a noble and misunderstood culinary creation. Exceptional examples are worth seeking out. Although in my youth I was a mustard and hotdog traditionalist (the classic ball park), in later years I discovered a broader hotdog world that included:

The chilli cheese sauce covered version known in eastern PA as a "Greeker" or at the Vienna Inn in VA as a "Vienna Dog". Basic boiled dog with a house chili sauce sprinkled with cheese and onion. Add extra mustard if your hangover is particularly bad or it's past 2am.

The Chicago Dog, where they are fearless in their addition of toppings and looks count for almost as much as taste.

As we've travelled the country over the past two years, I've become fond of the locally made natural casing hotdog. It's the dog that snaps in your mouth when you bite into it delivering a flood of juicy hotdoggity flavor directly to the appropriate taste glands.

It's now time to announce a new King of Hotdog Universe. All rise and hail the Sonoran Hotdog. Created in Tucson, AZ, the Sonoran Dog starts as a beef frank. gets wrapped in bacon, and is then grilled along with other bacon-wrapped franks until the bacon flavor integrates into the dog and lean chewy pieces of bacon fuse onto the outside of the frank giving a nice textural contrast to the juicey frank within. The finished frank is then placed in a soft, oversized Mexican bun and topped with chopped tomatoes, pinto beans, onions, a line of yellow mustard, hot green jalapeno sauce, and an artistic squiggle mayonnaise. Being a hotdog and mustard kind of guy, I was sceptical about the mayo, but much to my amazement, the combo really works! In fact, delete any one of the rainbow coalition of ingredients and the entire harmony of the Sonoran Dog collapses.

But the Sonoran is never complete without its sidekick the roasted guero pepper. It's a pepper a little bigger than a jalapeno, just about as hot, and much more yellow than green. The Sonoran is the only hotdog in the frank universe that has such an intense symbiotic relationship with a side dish.
There seem to be hundreds of locations in Tucson where you can try a Sonoran Dog. I've gone the extra mile and have identified the two best (you're welcome).

El Guero Canelo
5201 S. 12th Ave.
The original place that put the Sonoran Dog on the map.

BK Carne Asada and Hotdogs
5118 S. 12th Ave.
Hotdogs are the feature here, but the carne asada and salsa bar are also the best in Tucson.

On the Don't Bother, Save Yourself the Time list:
El Manantial Tacos Y Hotdogs
Park Ave. and 36th St.
This is a mobile food truck that seems to be permanently located in this lot and is frequently mentioned as a must stop on the Sonoran hotdog circuit. Don't bother. The location and quality of the dog are way overrated.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mt. Wrightson

Mt. Wrightson has been staring us down since we first came into our boondocking spot near Patagonia in the Coronado National Forest. It's not the tallest peak in AZ, but at 9,453 feet it dominates the southern AZ landscape.

We thought it was time to check out the hike up to the top out of Madera Canyon. It's a 13.2 mile round trip hike with a combined elevation change of 8,600 feet (4,300 each way). Going up through a Ponderosa pine forest was nice after four months in the mostly treeless southwest desert. Even though we were in a pine forest, there was always a plant or two that would pop up to remind us we were still in the desert.

As we climbed we came eye to eye with the observatories on the adjacent mountain.

The craggy ridgeline that was our objective before climbing to the summit came into view but always seemed closer than it really was.

About halfway up the view opened up to the north and the alluvial plain spreading out to Green Valley and the old open pit copper mines in the distance.

The ice cold water of Bellows Spring about 3/4 of the way up was a nice refreshing treat.

Who says it doesn't snow in southern AZ not far from the Mexican border?

Finally above the observatories.

It was a hazy day. The views were spectacular, and the pictures don't do it justice. We couldn't tell if the haze was from dust, smoke from a fire somewhere, Tucson air pollution, or something else.

The walk downhill seemed much longer than the climb up. By the end of the day it felt good to have the peak of Mt. Wrightson in the rearview mirror.

Hikes like these do several things for me. They make me wish I was 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter. They also make us more and more thankful that we were able to retire at 47 instead of in our late 50's or early 60's. There's nothing that says hikes like these can't be enjoyable in your 60's, but I'm fairly confident that they won't be as easy 10-15 years from now as they are today!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

They Really do Believe We Won't Notice

Our natural defense mechanism as human beings is to deny reality. "These sorts of things happen to other people, not to us."

It’s this same defense mechanism that leads people to ignore the obvious fiscal realities of their home country despite overwhelming objective evidence. After all, debt-fueled collapse happens to other countries, not to us.

We go our entire lives being told that our country is different. We’re special.
We have televised ‘experts’ going on TV explaining why our debts and deficits don’t matter, and Nobel Prize-winning pseduoscientists (hello Paul Krugman) complaining that our debts and deficits aren’t big enough. But deep down you know the truth.

In the Land of the Free, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its 2013 Financial Report of the United States Government

This is the government’s best attempt at an honest accounting of its books, and even though they use a different accounting system that gives them special advantages, the picture is still remarkably bleak.

We all know that the US government has racked up a substantial debt; as of this morning, total outstanding public debt is $17.526 trillion.

But it’s not all about the debt. Debt is not necessarily evil… and it’s important to look at the situation qualitatively in addition to quantitatively. Let’s drop a few zeros and consider this in terms of personal finance.

Assume you had $1.75 million in total debt. That sounds like a lot to most people, but if you had $3 million in liquid assets to offset the debt, plus $500,000 in annual income to pay interest, living expenses, and just about any contingency that could come your way, you’d be in great shape. It would be even better if that $1.75 million in debt financed a lucrative real estate or business investment which was generating a 25% cash-on-cash return for you.

But that’s not the case for the US government.

Despite the Obama administration touting a budget deficit of “only” $680 billion in 2013, the GAO’s more accurate accounting shows a total government cost of $3.8 trillion on total revenue of $2.8 trillion.

In other words, the administration wasn’t exactly honest with the American people...the deficit was more like $1 trillion, not $680 billion. 

But it gets worse.

The GAO added up ALL the US government’s assets in 2013. Aircraft carriers. The highway system. Land. Cash and financial assets. The total is $2.97 trillion.
The liabilities, on the other hand, total $19.88 trillion. This includes the official public debt, plus all sorts of IOUs and loan guarantees.

This means the net EQUITY of the US government is minus $16.9 trillion.

Moreover, the US government’s cash position is a mere $206 billion… roughly 1.1% of its public debt. This isn’t enough to cover net interest payments for the next year.

Unlike a savvy investor who borrows cheap money to purchase productive assets, the US government borrows money to pay interest and fool the population into believing we can spend without consequences for literally everything because everything is too sacred to be cut.

We have been able to create this financial doomsday machine because the US is in the enviable position of being the world's reserve currency and the basis upon which almost all petroleum transactions are cleared.

Our actions over the past 40 years have put us in jeopardy of losing this position.

Quantitatively AND qualitatively, the data point to an inevitable conclusion: despite all the propaganda and "official" government falsehoods, this is NOT a risk free environment.

Understanding these trends and consequences is absolutely critical to your long-term financial survival.

UPDATE 3/21/14: It appears that Russia and China could be close to signing a natural gas supply deal as early as May. Add to this bilateral trade denominated in either Rubles, Renminbi or gold, include Iran, Iraq, India, and soon the Saudis (China's largest foreign source of crude), and we could be waving goodbye to the petrodollar much sooner than anyone is reporting in the mainstream news.

UPDATE 4/2/14: I was wrong. Russian and China didn't wait until May to sign this deal. It was done today. The U.S. Dollar is becomming more and more irrelevant each day at an accelerating pace. Our government is already scrambling to try to find ways to kill the deal.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Alone again, naturally

Except for a brief stint in Las Vegas for the holidays, we've been boondocking in different locations all winter and haven't stayed at a campground. Because we've chosen to attend some popular events like the RV show at Quartzsite and the Fireworks Festival at Lake Havasu, we've found ourselves in the company of other RV'ers the entire winter.

The downside to this is we've had to put up with generators running at most hours of the day and campsites where we might only be ten feet or so from another rig. Even at Mittry Lake, in Yuma, AZ, where we were at least a quarter mile from our nearest neighbor, that neighbor had a loud and annoying generator we could hear loud and clear. That tends to ruin the boondocking experience for us.

So after 12 days at the Casino Del Sol in Tucson hiking, eating, and catching up with a friend, we decided it was time to get back out into the public lands where there are no neighbors, no road noise, and uninterrupted views.

We're camped now in the Coronado National Forest outside of Patagonia, AZ. All we can see are a few lights from the town at night. The forest road we're perched way above has almost zero traffic, and there are no man-made objects to obscure our 360 degree views.

Ahhh beautiful solitude. Tonight we grill Idaho elk steaks and drink Napa Valley merlot.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Arizona Desert from a Different Perspective

We've been hanging out near Salome, AZ with a good-sized contingent of Way North Idahoans. Since we bought our boondocking site up north of Bonners Ferry, ID, it's been fun to hear all the stories they tell of parents and grandparents who homesteaded the region. We've been feasting on wild game (especially elk) at pot luck, dutch oven dinners, fishing Alamo Lake, hitting the farmers markets and thrift stores, and exploring the AZ desert wilderness in a way that's new to us.

There's nothing like a dutch oven pot luck meal

But Jake prefers the minnows.

Most of the people from Idaho who come down here in the winter have been exploring the wilderness areas of this region for decades. They go back up into the mountains for quail hunting, fishing, rock hounding, finding old mining camps, and to just enjoy the scenery. We've always been limited in our explorations by how far we could drive into a 4WD road and then how far we could hike in a day (no more than 15 miles). Well, everyone down here has a 4WD quad ATV of some kind, and that means much more accessibility to the backcountry.

As boondockers looking for quiet, we've always been leery of the weekend ATV'ers who show up near our campsite, unload their noisy vehicles, and race through the desert. So we were sceptical when the gang said we had to borrow one of their quads and join them in a backcountry jaunt.

Unlike the usual weekend ATV crowd, our group was an early rising, look for a seldom used area kind of group. In our full day excursion, we didn't see any other groups of any kind. That was unexpected, but part was being able to experience far more terrain and carry a wider array of gear than we ever could before. After about 15 miles, we arrived at a junction in the canyon where we had lunch. Instead of the usual fruit and nuts, we started a small fire in an existing fire ring and grilled some brats. That along with the ice cold drinks and smoked oysters, set us up for the three mile one way hike up a desert wash that was still alive with spring water.

The site was once busy with mining activities 100 years ago.

 It's always fun to find water in the desert. This old dam was probably built before WWII to provide water to the mining camps. It has filled in with sand, but still had spring water filtering through it and into the canyon.

We found this endangered desert tortois in one of the washes. It was about 14" long and must be pretty rare because it was the first of it's kind that anyone in our group had ever seen outside of a zoo. 

There are old mines and veins of minerals everywhere out here.

 Magnesium vein.

We found a bat cave up one wash that had big powder blue/gray bats flying around inside it. There weren't any other footprints besides ours inside.
 There was a fortune in guano fertilizer inside!

This was a great experience. We were able to access an area that couldn't be reached by jeep, mountain bike, or day hike and wasn't in any guide book. We were able to get in a nice six mile hike in a remote, historic area. We were able to enjoy a nice lunch and cold beverages. We were able to explore some old mines and see an endangered desert animal that is almost never seen outside of a zoo. We were the only group out in a wild and remote part of the desert. Overall, I don't think we've ever been able to pack so much into one day. We definitely need to alter our view of outdoor exploration.

And just for our buddy Boonie, who is our favorite intellectual RV fulltimer blogger, some postcard pictures of the ridiculous sunsets we have every night.