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Desert Companion

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Chicodos

Road Food: I’ll have the ostrich burrito, please

Many road-trippers enjoy the reliability of chain restaurants or brand-name burger bars. But when you let your spirit of adventure win out, you rarely regret it. I’ve never regretted choosing a “mystery sandwich” or an ostrich burrito over a Big Mac or a Grand Slam. Here are a few tips for enjoying local grub on the road.

Go local for breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon are rarely cooked badly, and you’re likely to share a hometown restaurant with local Kiwanians or friendly regulars. Grab a local paper, do some innocent eavesdropping or chat with your waitress, and you’ll find out far more about the place than any guidebook will tell you. I once stopped for breakfast at the Countryside Family Restaurant in Carlock, Ill. Before I’d finished my toast, I learned that the town had two cemeteries — one for Democrats and one for Republicans. In addition, the diner itself was run by a community nonprofit founded to save it when its owners decided to shut it down.

Brave a sketchy-looking bar. When it’s time for a cold brew, don’t be too put off by a tavern that looks a little rough around the edges. That dive is somebody’s “local,” and chances are you’ll be treated well as a visitor. In Virginia City, I discovered Fly’s, a subterranean tavern at the end of a narrow stairway in a building that had probably been serving booze since the glory days of the Comstock. It was at Fly’s that I learned about a “local’s pour” (think “three fingers”) and the colorful history of Jessi Winchester, who gained notoriety as Virginia City’s representative in the Mrs. Nevada beauty pageant — while she was also working at the Mustang Ranch.

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Ask locals. Sometimes you’ll discover a gastronomic wonder where you least expect one. Such a place was the Manzanita Restaurant in the tiny hamlet of Cornville, Ariz., when I was directed there by a Verde Valley native a decade and a half ago. My companions and I were greeted by the chef and treated to a world-class dinner.

Seize the opportunity. Eateries and taverns come and go, so resist thinking “next time.” If I hadn’t paused near the Homestead Bridge in Pittsburgh when I had the chance, I would have missed enjoying a “mystery sandwich” at Chiodo’s, a bar festooned with mementos of its 56-year history of serving beer and grub to steel workers. What’s in a “mystery sandwich?” Now that Chiodo’s is closed, a mystery it will remain.

Stay flexible. You never know when an unusual dining experience might present itself. I was overnighting in Gila Bend, Ariz. when I struck up a conversation with a local. Somehow, our conversation resulted in an invitation to an ostrich ranch the next morning. If I’d been too rigid in my views about what constitutes a good breakfast, I never would have tasted an ostrich egg breakfast burrito. I got to meet a few ostriches, too. — Mark Sedenquist

Anniversary NarrowsAnniversary Narrows

A spring! A mine! A slot canyon! At mile marker 16 of Lake Mead’s Northshore Road is a rough dirt detour ending at Lovell Wash. Hikers head upstream past a tiny spring with just enough water to get their shoes wet, stroll through an old mining area, and finish in the 500-yard-long Anniversary Narrows. Carved by floods and reshaped with every rain, the twisting gorge is only arms’-width in places. Level: Easy. — Alan Gegax

All downhill from here

Come out to Las Vegas and hit the … slopes? You bet. Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort celebrates its 50th year this season, and is finally poised to become a bona fide, year-round destination for locals and tourists alike. Purchased in 2003 by Powdr Corp., which also owns Park City, the resort has benefited from major new investment. Most notably, the resort recently quadrupled its snow-making capacity, earning it one of the nation’s longest ski seasons in 2011-12. For novice skiers, LVSSR will have a brand-new quad chairlift this season on Rabbit Peak, the resort’s bunny slope. Future plans include expansion to 10 lifts and 50 runs.

Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort

And the improvements don’t stop on the slopes. Parched skiers can grab a drink in the Bristlecone Lounge or refuel at the newly-remodeled Bighorn Grill (try the chili). Expanded indoor/outdoor seating offers a great view of “The Strip” terrain park. But the real treasure of Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort is what’s unimproved: The backcountry skiing remains some of the best in the region. Experts can blast through piles of powder in The Bowl, or tear through the trees in Slot Alley. (Info: skilasvegas.com) — AG

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