Monday, October 20, 2014

Grand Canyon North Rim, Utah Pink Sand, and a “Grilled Cheese Sandwich.”

I’ll tell you a little secret.  I was actually weirdly ambivalent about this trip.  I’d already crossed Arizona on these roads, what, 4?, 6 times this summer?  Ho hum, said the spoiled motorcycle tourer.  Truth be told, I really rather would have taken Li’l Burro to investigate the magical land of the best morel hunting I might ever see.  I could have taken him north, instead of the Ducati, and passed by the hunting grounds on my way home, but he’s not really made for 400 miles days.  And the Ducati is definitely not made for the many miles of rough road leading to the hunt.  But I had agreed to this group ride, and missed meeting these riders in Colorado back in June, so with little fanfare, I lashed the Euro-Sport Jumbo Hauler* to the back of the Ducati, and set off into the Southern Arizona… fog?  Yes! Fog!  It’s an awful shame that misdirected the Finger Visor Wiper Three Pack I ordered** after my rainy return from Utah.  One of those would have been handy.

Anyway, I digress.

Oh, the magic of motorcycle camping! The wheels needed go ‘round only a time or two, before this trip that was barely on my radar became real!  And good!  Arrival in Arizona’s  Painted Desert - land of brilliant pink, green, and blue – was glorious.  The mild weather – 80 at most! - was a completely new experience for me.  And did I stop to capture those watercolors on SD card?  No. And did I replace the Go Pro camera mount that broke last month, so lazy I could preserve all the wondrous scenes passing by me without the terrible task of actually stopping my motorcycle?  No. Because – remember? – this trip was barely on my radar.  And spoiled little I had said to myself, “Blah, blah, been there, done that, don’t need no GoPro.”  Instead, right about now, I’d kick myself and be forced to dig around for an archival photo that doesn’t show what I’d like it to show and includes the wrong motorcycle, in order to insert it here as a poor substitute.  To be fair, this is quite close to where we camped our first night, so that's something.

Glen Canyon NRA Antelope Point Area (6)

I wasn’t even planning on writing about this trip, having not yet written about my first trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, nor the ride during which I actually met the Potato Ranch Riders.  But there are certain things that this conscientious investigative journalist believes the world simply must know.  This, dear readers, is the North Rim Lodge’s,*** with its "breathtaking views and great food,” “Coconino County Grilled Cheese: Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Sliced Tomato, Fresh Basil on Toasted Zero Carbohydrate Bread.”

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge Coconino County Grilled Cheese

I kid you not.  I was served tepid, most decidedly not melted, nor grilled, nor toasted cheese, surrounded by remarkably soggy for-all-the-world-looks-like-Wonder Bread.  And see how beautifully it was presented! The bill?  $12.94.  I am not a food-sender-backer, but this travesty really made the idea a distinct possibility. (I didn't.)  As far as I can tell, they made it a day in advance, stuck it in the walk-in refrigerator, and, upon my order, took it out to oh-so-slightly scorch it in the microwave without actually warming the cheese or removing any of the soggy moisture from the bread.  Had I been Bill, our waiter, I would have absolutely refused this from the line cook who handed it to me.  No. Try again.

Although I was suspicious about the zero carbohydrate bread, and requested that my bread have as many carbohydrates as possible, ordering high calorie items like grilled cheese sandwiches and bacon cheeseburgers was part of my very important Thermo-Regulation Plan B.  (Plan A entails the use of my heated vest, which stubbornly remained in-op for the duration of this trip.  And let me tell you, riding in 45 degree weather without one is not cozy.)

The Lodge did have unquestionably spectacular views. And even a Li’l Burro of its own!

Brighty of the Grand Canyon
"Brighty," maker of the Bright Angel Trail. For real!

But enough about my North Rim Lodge lunch. Sandwich not withstanding, this little October tour thoroughly shamed me and my blasé projections with its fantastic-ness.  Silly me.

Grand Canyon North Rim (1)

Grand Canyon North Rim (4)

Grand Canyon North Rim (3)

Did you notice that bit of fall color in the last photo? Oh yes, it was autumn on the North Rim and I rode that bright red Ducati with amazement under a veritable confetti of fluttering of orange and yellow leaves.  And I condemned myself once again for not having the Go Pro camera to record that unforgettable experience.

We found more childlike magic when leaping and bouncing down the slopes of the pinky, peachy, salmony - color varies by the time of day - sand dunes of Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  I got to know my new friends better over dinner and drinks at our campsite, as we admired each others' motorcycles and camping gear, shared stories of rides past, and dreamed of rides in the future.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (3)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (1)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (2)

The Potato Ranch Riders and I parted ways the next morning, and I soon slammed into the crushing reality of wind that so often whips across and through the mountains, plateaus, and valleys of the desert west.  But though the rattling and smashing of the wind brought to mind thoughts of a major structural failure of my vehicle****, it could not blow away the fullness in my heart for these skilled riders, who had so warmly welcomed me into their fold.   I do truly love touring by myself, but it seems group riding, at least with this group, now holds a place in my heart, too.

I wasn’t equipped to travel to the morel fields on my way back south, but I couldn’t help stepping just a teensy bit off the asphalt path on the way home.  This little guy doesn't seem to know it's way past porcini season!*****

Consolation Porcini Clint's Well Area
Good job, my little Italian Princess!  Porcini Trifolata: That's fancy talk for sautéed in butter, put on some crackers, and savored with a nice glass of wine as soon as I got home.

That night, I hid from the wind in Oak Creek Canyon. Soon thereafter, I hid from the Columbus Day crowds by wandering around this closed campground. (I camped legally, in a open campground, in case you're wondering. Wandering about the closed one seemed allowed.)

Oak Creek Canyon is probably, at this very moment, glorious with fall color.  Never enough time...

As it turns out, not all was lost on the morel front.   Look what was waiting for me at home!

San Juan Fire Morels 001
The writer of the Arizona Mushroom Forum took pity on me and generously shared his loot.  Here, I'm turning them into ravioli.

Notable Fact: I do believe this was the fourth (at least) consecutive break-down-free Ducati camping trip this summer/fall.  This could be an exciting new trend!  By my count: This trip, Hell and Back Again, Southward Migration 2014, and the August 2014 Mushroom Foray.

There's really not much you need to know in order to make a proper grilled cheese sandwich.  I'll list a few important points here, just in case the cook staff of the North Rim Lodge wants to take a look.
  • Use a heavy pan, if you have one, use your favorite bread (preferably with both gluten and carbohydrates), and - this is key - butter the outside of the bread, not the inside of the pan.  I'd tell you to butter it generously and to make sure you are, indeed, actually using real butter, but you already know that, right?   As long as the butter is soft enough to spread without tearing up the bread, that's fine. If you want, melt it and brush it on. Either way, just butter the bread, not the pan. 
  • Use any cheese you like ("processed cheese product" does not count).  If you want to get serious about distributing the cheese evenly on the bread, grate it rather than slice it.  Do realize that younger cheese melts a bit more nicely than super aged cheese. But super aged cheese tastes better. So best to find something in the middle, but if you do everything else right, it won't matter, really.  Gruyere, Swiss, Cheddar, Brie, a bit of goat cheese, a crumble of Bleu, or a sprinkle of Parmesan or Asiago mixed in, oh my!
  • Now, grill your creation (technically, you're sautéing it, not grilling it, but whatever) slowly, slowly, on both sides, so that the cheese turns into that gooey meltiness you're craving just at the same time the bread becomes crisp and golden. There. Perfect, right?  Crrrrrunch! Ooooze...
  • If you want to get fancy, you could season your butter (garlic? mustard? smoked chiles?), use a mix of cheeses (Four Cheese Grilled Cheese, anyone?), pulse the cheeses quickly with a splash of white wine (Bonjour, Fondue Sandwich!), add things like bacon, ham, salami, avocado, tomato, onions, chives... but not too much or too many! Yes, you could do these things, but you absolutely will love your sandwich even if you don't, for the simple fact that it's buttery, cheesy, and hot, and crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside.

*Typing that cracks me up.
**And didn’t offer to resend them to the correct address!  I’m not sold on that brand of customer service.
***The North Rim Lodge, in addition to falsely advertising this selection as a grilled cheese sandwich, has a problem with the correct usage of apostrophes, as indicated in its list of main menu items, headed “Specialty Entrée’s.”  Sorry, that was catty, and perhaps unnecessary, but I couldn’t help it.  Oh yes, and they had a hilariously fancy description of their Budweiser on tap, too.
****Okay, so I doubt my bike would blow apart, but the wind is so rattling, so powerful, it sort of feels like it could.  
*****I didn't included my usual mushroom hunting disclaimer this time, but you can see it at the bottom of this post.

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