The true flavor of the Southwest

I can swish vino around in my mouth, pretend to talk grapes and vintages and get just loaded enough to schmooze through most conversations. Still, I’ve honestly never really been cut from wine-tasting cloth. The combination of fermented grapes and rich buttery foods usually backfires. Then I’m back where I belong, too loaded to schmooze and comfortably talking story at the end of the bar. Regardless, duty calls from time to time.

Not long ago, I found myself sniffing merlot and pretending not to drink too much at one of Durango’s more prominent wine tastings. Early in the evening, I was greeted by a pleasant surprise.

The food spread was lavish, featuring culinary masterpieces from Durango’s top establishments. As we picked our way through, pretending not to eat too much, the punchline hit.

There in the middle of the table, rubbing elbows with elegant cuts of sushi, exotic cheeses and large strawberries dipped in chocolate, was the single biggest pile of Chicken McNuggets I’ve ever seen. The pre-pressed bits of poultry numbered in the hundreds, and each one was fried to a crispy, golden brown, pushing the odor of America’s favorite fry-bin throughout the room. Honey mustard, barbeque and sweet & sour sat in glass dishes begging tasters to have a dip. Samplers of Orange Jubilee Mad Dog to wash the little gut-bombs down seemed to be the only thing missing from the picture.

I’m proud to say that over the next few hours, I managed to resist that platter of carefully constructed chicken parts. I’m also proud to say that I spent more than a little time watching the great experiment in motion. As the chardonnay and syrah dropped, the nuggets began to mysteriously disappear. Barbeque seemed to be the flavor of choice for patrons who went from turned up noses to full mouths as the evening, and drunkenness, progressed. In the end, barely a 20-piece remained, and many of the lucid smiles betrayed a McDonaldsland sheen. Grimace, Ronald, the Hamburgler and the rest of the gang would have been proud. And I hate to admit it, but I was also proud – proud to be living in Durango, where somehow pressed poultry and pinot can go down in the same mouthful.

There are still pristine, high-mountain hamlets out there. Places that most dream of but believe to be long gone. My wife, Rachael, and I passed several of them up when we chose Durango for a more roundabout reason. It may sound odd, but we wanted something that had already been fractured, a place where heartbreak would not be a guarantee. We’re still reeling from watching Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone take over one of our hometowns, and Tom Skerritt, Newt Gingrinch and Michael Keaton assume control of another. Not surprisingly, Hollywood moves in and a place’s soul hits the road.

So Durango, with its twin strips, its uranium mill tailings and its collection of fast food, hotel and gasoline franchises was and is our happy home. Luckily, Durango remains almost perfectly celebrity proof. The Brinkleys, Lucases and Dan Quayles of the world don’t go in for McNuggets and merlot. Even America’s true white collar won’t touch that combination.

Still, some locals seem to be missing this key feature of our hometown. Lately, “high-end,” “exclusive,” “private” and “luxury” are all words that seem to be popping up on billboards and in advertisements. Shabby little Durango seems to be courting the upper classes. The point hits hardest when locals start getting passed over.

Try as you might, you can’t turn a public-access golf course into a private-only facility without some uproar. You don’t replace a youth hostel with exclusive penthouse condos without creating some unrest. And you will not easily convert a public access hot springs into a private spa and hotel.

As we discovered all those years ago, what you see is still what you get in Durango. You can dress this town up and take it out. It can pretend to know what it’s doing and even schmooze with the white-glove crowd. But like it or not, there will always be a McNugget hiding in the local mix.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows