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Published: February 2nd 2016
Those who have read my blog, Wichita KS – Much More Than Cowboys and Cattle Drives
, already know about the computer gremlins that haunted me near the end of 2015 and can skip to the next paragraph. For those new to my blog, welcome. A long story made short found all my MS Word blog files and my accompanying picture files deleted, so this blog is atypical of my standard product. It is brief and concise and is without pictures. My apologies, but regardless of the unadorned nature, I hope to provide potential travelers with some useful information that might make their trip more fulfilling. Thanks for reading, and please examine some of my pre-September 2015 blogs for a more representative sample of my work.
I headed west on I-40 after departing the Fort Amarillo RV Park & Resort in Amarillo TX with the El Rancho RV & Mobile Home Park in Albuquerque NM as my next destination. I visited Albuquerque a few times when I lived in Silver City NM in the southwest corner of the state; however, the drive is 5-1/2 hours so my ex and I didn’t just make the drive for a two-day weekend getaway. Las Cruces NM (2 hours) or Tucson AZ (3 hours) was a much more likely two-day destination, and Santa Fe (7 hours) was a more likely long weekend target. Actually, I had seen very few attractions in Albuquerque but had learned early in my travel planning that I would be in or passing through Albuquerque in the same general time frame as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
. I tweaked my schedule accordingly.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the grand poohbah of events in New Mexico, is televised live on all the television stations and has been described as the most photographed event on earth. Indeed, the celebration is so engrained in New Mexico culture that “Fiesta” translates in Newmexicoese as “The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.” If one is talking about some other fiesta, a clarifying term or phrase is generally required. I have been to Fiesta twice – once with my ex-wife (strictly a stroke of luck when we were in town for business) and once with my sister when she came to visit us in Silver City and I took her on a week-long foray through the southwest that culminated with Fiesta. Both my ex and my sister admonished me that this had better be worth a 4 AM wake-up call. Both agreed that it was.
Fiesta begins the first FULL weekend in October and continues for nine consecutive days. With over 500 balloons each year, it is arguably the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world. From its modest beginnings in 1972 with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot, Balloon Fiesta has grown to include multiple events with launching from the custom-designed, 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. To give my readers some perspective, Balloon Fiesta Park’s launch field
is 78 acres – that’s the equivalent of 54 football fields! Indeed, crowds for some events exceed 100,000 people. Each year Fiesta teams up with sponsors to help guests avoid traffic congestion and parking frustration by offering incentives to park their vehicles at one of several remote locations and then ride a bus to Balloon Fiesta Park. I have used this service, and it works extremely well
Two major factors have lead to the phenomenal popularity of Fiesta. First, guests can walk around the field and amongst the balloons being prepared for launch. They become part of the action. Second, Albuquerque has become known in the ballooning community for a phenomenon now known as “The Albuquerque Box.” Albuquerque’s cool October morning temperatures result in a set of predictable wind patterns coming through the surrounding mountains that can be exploited to help predictably navigate the balloons. At low elevations the winds tend to come from the north (northerly) but at higher elevations, they tend to be southerly. By using “The (Vertical) Box," balloonists can use the winds to navigate: they ascend slightly from the launch field and move south, they ascend more and move north, they descend and move south, etc., etc. They can land back in the launch field after the first box or can repeat the box ad infinitum (or until their fuel is exhausted). During events involving on-field targets, such as the "Key Grab" where pilots attempt to grab prizes from atop tall, flexible poles, it's not uncommon to see the same balloon make 5 or 6 passes at the targets by working "The Box" to keep returning to the field.
Those who follow my blog know I am a sucker for hot air ballooning events. Those who know me understand that my infatuation was born of an anniversary gift given to each other by my first wife and me. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is worthy of timing your trip through or to Albuquerque to coincide with the week-long event.
I had been planning to make a stop in Albuquerque to see a childhood friend who has landed there later in life. Go figure – two kids from the same town of 750 people in Illinois ending up in New Mexico. We got together for lunch, and she showed me a couple of sites including the house she and her husband, a professor at the University of New Mexico, had recently purchased but have yet to occupy. I had seen her in 2012 when we both attended the 50-year anniversary reunion of our grade school’s eighth grade graduating class. We had a nice day together.
Another day I made a stop at the Turquoise Museum
. At the time of my visit, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that photography was allowed in the store area but was not allowed in the museum. Now that my photos have all vanished, I guess the restriction is irrelevant. The museum is nice but, in my opinion, overpriced except to those who are turquoise enthusiasts or those with a strong interest in geology.
The final attraction I visited during this stop in Albuquerque was the Sandia Peak Tramway
. After riding the tram to the summit, I took the discounted ride down the other side of the mountain on the ski lift (How does one descend a mountain on a ski lift?) to enjoy some additional glimpses of the fall foliage. Then I rode the lift back to the top and the tram back to the bottom. All that took about 50 percent more time than the wait in line to a) purchase the tram ticket and b) to actually board the tram for the journey – i.e., the wait was extensive but a) I’m retired and b) I love people-watching! Most visitors will not have the wait I experienced since numerous Fiesta attendees were on hand during the break in the ballooning activities and the fall colors had beckoned many of the locals. At the end of the day, the tram was worth the wait and the cost.
I had a nice week in Albuquerque, but that probably would be a bit much for the average tourist. There is a lot to do that I elected to forego because of Fiesta. I do hope to someday stop in Santa Fe to visit the capitol and enjoy that quaint city and will probably be back in Albuquerque to visit with my friend, to see their new home and to attend ??? Fiesta as I am returning to Phoenix metro for the winter.
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