Written by MattF on 08 May, 2009
We took this trip to Albuquerque for our 9th Anniversary to see and do some things that we normally would not have. To start our Anniversary day celebration we scheduled a balloon ride through the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort with Rainbow Riders. It cost about…Read More
We took this trip to Albuquerque for our 9th Anniversary to see and do some things that we normally would not have. To start our Anniversary day celebration we scheduled a balloon ride through the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort with Rainbow Riders. It cost about $400.00 for the two of us, but the experience was well worth the money. Rainbow Riders comes to the hotel and picks you up at 6:30AM to take you out to a field in the middle of a suburb of Albuquerque. There were 2 or 3 companies and a number of private ballooners out there, all getting ready for balloon flights. This was one of the best moments of the experience in my opinion because you are out there with 8 to 10 balloons being filled and readied, with all the colorful balloons, the noise, the excitement, and the new morning sun.They instruct you up front on what to expect, and after you sign your liability waivers, they tell you that there are two types of landings. One is like an elevator ride down to the ground - when there's no wind, the other is a bumpy, bouncy, touchdown that is a little rougher - when the wind blows. They fit about 6 to 8 people in the gondola, which is quite sturdy and roomy. The flight lift off is just like an elevator, smooth and airy. They actually kind of "fly" you around the city and over the Rio Grande for about a little over an hour at different altitudes using the wind to navigate. As you can imagine - they really don't have alot of control on where your going. It is really a quiet and smooth ride and the views are stupendous!The landing was exciting. Remember, if there's wind - you get the bumpy, bouncy landing! This actually was not as bad as you might think. You crouch down and hold on to the ropes in the gondola as the basket hits and bounces until you come to a stop. No one gets hurt (at least none of us did) and the adenaline kick was a lot of fun. After helping to load the balloon, we all headed back to the landing zone for pastries, Mimosas and souvenier hats. After breakfast at the launch site, they take you back to your hotel. Rainbow Riders was great! Their people were friendly and knowledgable. We highly recommend the ride and the Rainbow Riders! Close
Written by SeenThat on 25 Oct, 2008
With slightly more than half a million inhabitants, Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico and one of fastest growing cities in the USA. Founded in 1706, it was named after Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duke of Alburquerque and Viceroy of New…Read More
With slightly more than half a million inhabitants, Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico and one of fastest growing cities in the USA. Founded in 1706, it was named after Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duke of Alburquerque and Viceroy of New Spain from 1653 to 1660 by the by the provincial governor Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes. In the nineteenth century, Amtrak decided to place there its main station in New Mexico and transformed the city into the biggest one in the state. An Anglo-American railroad stationmaster, who was unable to pronounce the name, dropped the first "r" in "Alburquerque" and again the city's destiny became linked to Amtrak.Despite its important location and size, Albuquerque is overshadowed by nearby Santa Fe, the state's capital and its main tourism attraction. Being relatively low (at 4989 ft as compared with the 7000 of Santa Fe) means less natural attractions are available to the visitor; as per cultural ones, the Pueblo Revival style in which Santa Fe is constructed steals the show in New Mexico. Yet, Albuquerque is worth a short visit.The nearby Sandia Mountain is a constant reminder of the city's importance: the Sandia National Laboratories are there, other security related sites are here as well. As in all of New Mexico, Spanish and Spanish names abound. Albuquerque Biological ParkThis park includes the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Botanic Garden, the Rio Grande Zoo, and Tingley Beach; it is located southwest of downtown at 903 Tenth Street SW. Combo tickets can be bought at the main entrance. The weirdest exhibits are the polar bears, seals and sea lion; probably these are the highest specimens of their species in the whole world.Albuquerque AquariumThe aquarium is on 2601 Central Avenue NW and features freshwater fish from the Rio Grande and saltwater species from the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond fish, the collection includes jellyfish, seahorses, sea turtles, rays, Koi fish, a Gulf shrimp fishing boat, and an eel tunnel. Other displays include plants from desert and Mediterranean zones, a farm and a butterfly garden.Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon MuseumThis museum is at 9201 Balloon Museum Dr. NE, next to the grounds of the Balloon Fiesta, and is the perfect solution for those arriving off the balloons festival season. It contains exhibits related to Albuquerque’s balloon festival; admission is free on Sunday’s mornings. Indian Pueblo Cultural CenterThe 19 Pueblos of New Mexico operate a cultural center on 2401 12th Street NW. "Pueblo" is a Spanish word meaning "village," it denotes the original population of the area being sedentary, unlike in other locations of North America.The museum includes a collection of artifacts of the pueblos, an art gallery and a photographs archive.National Hispanic Cultural CenterThis center displays items dedicated to the life of the Spanish settlers prior the annexing of New Mexico by the USA; it is located on 1701 4th St SW. Sandia Peak TramwayLocated on the northeast corner of the city, the tramway runs from a lower terminus in the northeast heights to the top of 10400-foot Sandia Peak; it is one of the longest aerial tramways in the world. The ride takes fifteen minutes, and can be enjoyed from 9 AM onwards; the trip costs $17.50 for a round trip and offers awesome views of the surroundings.Old TownWithout any doubt, the main attraction in town is the Old Town, where the city was founded; it is located east of Rio Grande Boulevard, between Central Avenue and Mountain Road. Despite its humble size, the area is charming, offering a good display of adobe 18th century architecture and narrow brick paths. Nowadays it is the home of souvenirs shops, jewelries and restaurants. The San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in Albuquerque, is located there.MuseumsAlbuquerque includes a surprising number of museums; most of them are near each other on Mountain Road, or near downtown. The main ones are:* Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, at 2000 Mountain Rd. NW. Guided walking tours of Old Town and the historic Casa San Ysidro are operated from here.* The American International Rattlesnake Museum, at 202 San Felipe St, displays a large collection of these reptiles.* Turquoise Museum, 2107 Central Ave NW, displays exhibits of this rock, which is widely used for the local souvenirs industry. * The University of New Mexico, on Central Avenue, includes the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, the Meteorite and Geology Museums, and the University Art Museum. These three museums are free.* ¡Explora! Science Center and Children's Museum, 1701 Mountain Road NW, is considered one of the best such establishments in the USA, teaching science, technology, and art. * New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain Road, displays a bit of everything, from dinosaurs to a planetarium.* National Atomic Museum, 1905 Mountain Road NW, includes replicas of the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Japan, and acts as a reminder of the war horrors and atrocities. Close
Albuquerque is the main travel hub in New Mexico; despite its being connected by road, railway and air to all the main destinations in the area that does not sum up to much. On the paper, the Sunport is an international airport; in reality, it…Read More
Albuquerque is the main travel hub in New Mexico; despite its being connected by road, railway and air to all the main destinations in the area that does not sum up to much. On the paper, the Sunport is an international airport; in reality, it is hard to find flights to cities beyond the adjacent states. It is Amtrak’s main stop in the state; but only the Southwest Chief crosses the city. Even crossing to nearby Mexico is mainly done through El Paso, in Texas. Thus, understanding the counted available options is important.CarTwo interstate highways cross Albuquerque, the I-40 runs from east to west, while the I-25 from north to south, the last connects the city with Santa Fe and is by far the most important road in the state. The intersection where both highways meet is called the "Big I."A point stated in almost every street sign in town is that Central Avenue is part of the historic Route 66. The avenue is the principal east-west street and is just south of the "Big I," running parallel to I-40. New Mexico University is on that avenue and delimits downtown to the east.PlaneAlbuquerque International Sunport is the major airport in New Mexico, providing mainly flights to the main cities in adjacent states; I have not seen announces of international flights departing or arriving at the Sunport. Due to the security related industries in the surroundings, this airport features the highest security level I have witnessed, including ion mass spectrometry detectors and L-3 machines capable of viewing and picturing a body covered with clothes. The last – by far the ugliest human rights violation the common traveler encounters while visiting the USA – is apparently not yet in use. Thus it is recommended to arrive as early as possible, though the truth is that I came to the conclusion that while within the USA, Amtrak is the friendliest option for travelers. The airport can be accessed from downtown from the Alvarado Transport center, where Greyhound and Amtrak have their terminals. Bus 50 makes the way for $1; take into account that buses leave only every twenty minutes and that the trip lasts roughly thirty minutes. The airport is slightly above the city and offers awesome views of the city and its surroundings; Sandia Mountain is clear visible from there.Amtrak and GreyhoundAlbuquerque is a major refueling stop for Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which connects Chicago with Los Angeles, and Albuquerque with Santa Fe. The station is near downtown at the Alvarado Transportation Center, at 214 First Street SW.The westbound train to Los Angeles arrives daily at 3:55 PM and departs at 4:45 PM, while the train to Chicago arrives at 12:12 PM and departs at 12:55 PM. The facilities at the station include toilets and a restaurant.The New Mexico Rail Runner Express train connects Albuquerque to communities north and south along the Rio Grande, and is planned to reach Santa Fe in 2009, solving thus the commuters’ problem. Santa Fe being a very expensive city, many people opt for working there while living in cheaper Albuquerque.Greyhound serves adjacent settlements as well as Denver, CO and El Paso, TX; however, the service run at odd hours and the buses are old and uncomfortable.The ABQ RIDE city buses charge a flat $1 fare (25 cents for transfers) and have their destination clearly stated; most routes leave from the Alvarado Transportation Center. The buses include sophisticated cameras inside as well as a camera attached to the front window, which watches the streets. Big brother buses.The Rapid Ride is an express bus service with two routes; the Red Line (766) runs along Central Avenue, from Uptown to the Westside, stopping only at the major destinations along the way, while the Blue Line (790) connects the University of New Mexico with the Cottonwood Mall area.-This covers the main transport options; since after all Albuquerque is a rather small town, the existing grid is sensible and allows a comfortable tour of the main attractions. Close
Written by SeenThat on 24 Oct, 2008
Amtrak's Southwest ChiefAmtrak's Southwest Chief connects Chicago with Los Angeles, passing in the way through Kansas City, Topeka, Dodge City, Raton, Lamy (Santa Fe), Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Santa Fe - AlbuquerqueBy the end of the nineteenth century a dramatic event shaped the future of Santa…Read More
Amtrak's Southwest ChiefAmtrak's Southwest Chief connects Chicago with Los Angeles, passing in the way through Kansas City, Topeka, Dodge City, Raton, Lamy (Santa Fe), Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Santa Fe - AlbuquerqueBy the end of the nineteenth century a dramatic event shaped the future of Santa Fe; Amtrak decided to skip the city in favor of Albuquerque. Consequently, the last became the largest city in the state, while Santa Fe kept its status as the state's capital. Currently a direct railway - called the Rail Runner - is being constructed between Santa Fe and Albuquerque - the first Amtrak station south of Lamy-Santa Fe. Being a major Amtrak stop, thus trains passing trough Albuquerque stop for refueling and uploading food, thus the breaks there tend to be lengthy.In an attempt to counterbalance Amtrak's decision, early in the twentieth century it was decided to create a tourism industry by building Santa Fe mainly of adobe in the Pueblo Revival style. The hamlet of Lamy - roughly eighteen miles southwest of Santa Fe - houses the nearest Amtrak station to the capital; from there, the Santa Fe Southern Railway brings passengers and cargo to the city. Lamy was the name of Santa Fe's first bishop; the quarry from where the stones for the cathedral were taken is next to the Amtrak's station. This time I joined the Amtrak's Southwest Chief in Lamy and left it in Albuquerque. As per the travel conditions, the short trip lasts between a hour and ninety minutes, thus instead of finding a seat in a couch car, I loitered the whole trip at the lounge car.PracticalitiesAs of late October 2008, the trip costs $16; though the additional cost from Santa Fe to Lamy should be added. Amtrak operates shuttles between them, but since the last adds $20 to the cost, the trip is not recommended, unless - of course - you are writing an IgoUgo review. As of the same date, there is no public transport from Santa Fe to Lamy.The CarsAmtrak cars have two levels, the entry one is often dedicated to boarding the car, hand-luggage storage, some couch seats and toilets, while the upper levels host the couch, sleeping, and dining areas. The lounge car is usually located between the dining one and the first couch car.The Lounge CarAfter having traveled extensively in Chinese trains, the American ones offered an interesting and complementing experience. There is no doubt that the Chinese one are more modern, faster and often more sumptuous; however, those failed to provide a lounge car.In comparison to other cars, the lounge one offers a slightly different arrangement. Its upper level offers an attractive sitting area while the lower one hosts a snacks bar, a cozy sitting area with proper tables and toilets much larger than the ones in other cars. A point to keep in mind is that the upper level has air conditioners, while the lower one is cozy and warm; that is of special relevance after the sun is gone, when the train becomes a training camp for Arctic conditions.The Upper LevelConnecting the dining car with the couch ones, the upper level of the lounge car is the perfect place for sightseeing while enjoying a coffee and a snack. At its ends are television sets, though I have never seen them working. Not that it matters since the seats are arranged perpendicular to it and facing large windows covering much of the walls and ceiling; ignoring the moving landscape is impossible. Small tables are on the sides of some of the low chairs; they fit for drinks and small snacks, anything more substantial should be consumed in the lower deck The Lower LevelIn Chinese trains I enjoyed very much the free hot water offered at the samovars located by the cars' ends (the other end featured the toilets). Boarding a train with a tumbler or a cup and a large stock of coffees and teas ensured pleasant trips, where I stayed hot and happy in the freezing Chinese winters. Not surprisingly, American trains do not feature samovars.The snacks' bar is the local version, and how its name hints, it is much larger than the Chinese counterpart. This is the economic version of the dining car, offering drinks, snacks and small meals. All the heating is done using microwave ovens, thus sandwiches and similar products end up chewy and rather spoiled.Electric OutletsElectric outlets can be found on both levels of the lounge car and allow recharging gadgets. However, they often do not work properly. If trying to use the one on the upper level, take note that it is not allowed to leave the cable across the central passage.The AnnouncementsThe way between Lamy and Albuquerque crosses several Pueblos - indigenous settlements of the high desert. The word is Spanish for "village" and denotes the fact that the indigenous people in the area lived in settlements andwere not nomads.One of the attendants kept informing us of the sights along the way through the speakers system; this happens only along interesting stretches of the trip, and as a matter of fact this is the last such stretch until Los Angeles. I have witnessed this several times by now, the event always provides entertaining moments:"The church would be facing this way," the conductor proclaimed, apparently unaware we couldn't see her hands. She giggled when she caught herself, but did not gave us the correct direction.The FoodFood is available in the dining car and in the lounge; at the lounge car it is in the form of a snack bar at its bottom level. Unlike most of America, the prices here include taxes and are rounded, saving thus the need to deal with dimes, nickels and pennies. A coffee in a paper cup costs $1.75, the complete menu is presented in one of the pictures added to this entry. However, the choice of foods includes just comfort and fast foods and the service is patchy with often breaks; a sign on the counter announces the time it will re-open.The ViewsThe second half of October in New Mexico's high desert is beyond the frost date, hence despite the days being hot, the nights are freezing. Thus, the vegetation offers a rather timid display with the greens fading into yellow. Low grass fills the space between scattered bushes and tree, while "mesas" (table-shaped rock formations) provide interesting views. Next to Albuquerque, the Sandia (Watermelon in Spanish) Mountain is especially beautiful. Close
Written by BawBaw on 25 Nov, 2004
A working slogan for hot-air ballooning might well be summed up as "Work Hard, Fly High, and Party Hearty." Certainly, that’s how many, if not most balloonists approach their sport. And the party begins early in the day -- immediately after the balloon has been…Read More
A working slogan for hot-air ballooning might well be summed up as "Work Hard, Fly High, and Party Hearty." Certainly, that’s how many, if not most balloonists approach their sport. And the party begins early in the day -- immediately after the balloon has been safely landed and packed. That means that alcohol rarely touches the lips of balloonists (or least those who are not designated drivers) before the hour of 9am -- a bit less shocking when you consider that by that time, most crew members have been up and about for five hours. After an impromptu toast (usually beer) to the balloon’s safe landing, the crew gathers itself into the hands of its designated drivers and returns to the launch field, where the serious partying occurs. Consequently, Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta can fairly be described as a 10-day-long tailgate party.
To their credit, balloonists take the word fiesta back to its roots and turn the world’s largest annual balloon rally into a festival of merrymaking. The tradition of fun is so high that, in addition to the official calendar of events, many balloon crews have developed their own rituals. Our crew, for example, proclaimed a series of theme days for which all and sundry were encouraged to dress to type: Celtic Day with plaids, kilts, and bagpipes; Hawaiian Day with floral-patterned shirts, sarongs, and leis; Mardi Gras Day with beads and masks; and Pirate Day with eye patches, three-cornered hats, and plastic rapiers. Coolish weather is not considered an impediment to wearing, say, a sarong. Layers of warmer clothes beneath more colorful outer garments are key to the art of the workaround, with unneeded layers being discarded as the desert sun warms the air.
The most sacred ritual for the launch field party is that of initiating "newbies" -- welcoming those who have just completed their first balloon flight. The rite begins when either the pilot or the crew chief recounts a brief history of ballooning’s origin and pops open a bottle of champagne, while the young and agile (or sometimes those who merely wish they were!) on the crew position themselves to catch the cork and thus ensure that the next landing will be soft. In the absence of an initiate, the ceremonial popping of the champagne cork will almost certainly find another focus -- someone’s birthday, a personal goal achieved, or happy news of any sort that can be shared and celebrated.
During the distribution of the champagne, the newbie is instructed to kneel on a rug, hands to the side. The new balloonist is then told to take the rim of the cup between clinched teeth and tip the head back to imbibe the bubbly -- without spilling any, of course. Meanwhile, other crew members circle behind the newbie -- the better to douse the initiate with water, more champagne, beer, or all three -- at Fiesta on a cool October morning, and this all amounts to a wet, cold baptism filled with laughter and fun. A toast to flying with fair winds follows, or rather accompanies, the dousing. Finally, the new balloonist is "pinned," a ceremony surrounded with great mystery and replete with many variations (most pilots keep a supply of pins representing their balloons -- the better for pinning, trading, advertising, and just plain giving away); thus is one welcomed ritualistically into the larger company of balloonists.
As with any good party, food, drink, and music are essential. Our adopted crew’s party provisions tended to appear on a potluck basis. Loose networking within the crew and between crews who party together also produces easy pop-up canopies for shelter against the sun, folding camp chairs for basic seating comfort, and camp tables as needed. Individual crew members also have a habit of finding special roles for themselves that they fulfill each year. Within our adopted crew, one member (our son-in-law, as it happens) selects music for each year’s festivities, two sisters coordinate to prepare Jell-O shooters for at least one day of merrymaking, the pilot stashes away several bottles of champagne (for ritual purposes only, of course), and yet another member brings a steady supply of edibles to ensure that food, as well as drink, is in ready supply.
Balloonists have found some ingenious ways to accommodate those needs they regard as most dear. A married couple within our crew provides margaritas made fresh-to-order in a gasoline-powered tailgater blender. One crew we encountered launches a flea-market search each year for a comfy sofa to include as part of their ballooning gear. The sofa is stowed in their chase van and brought out to provide a touch of class and comfort during the launch field party. Another crew with loose ties to our own brings along large pop-up canopies for substantial shelter, generators to power small refrigerators, and a literal menu of sandwiches, finger foods, and beverages -- some of which are even healthy!
Social networking between crews makes for parties that are simultaneously small and intimate, as well as large and widespread. The ballooning community itself is small, and regular participants are generally known to one another, with hospitality between crews occurring routinely. Thus, the launch field party is the perfect venue for discussing all manner of serious issues -- who’s selling a balloon or related equipment, who’s in the market to make a purchase, who may need extra hands at the next day’s launch, what practical matters need to be resolved before next month’s rally, where to get the best deal on a particular type of gear to be purchased, what major sponsor may be looking to lease another balloon, and so on and so forth.
In the past, a launch field party might continue until late afternoon or, if no evening events were scheduled, into early evening. In this day of heightened security, partygoers are expected to vacate the field by 2pm. Revelers can then remove themselves to another location, or they can go to home to practice yet another time-honored tradition, the afternoon nap -- or, as we say in the Southwest, the siesta. Thus is it that ballooning runs the gamut from fiesta tosiesta. Ritual, after all, demands its full course.
Written by BawBaw on 31 Oct, 2004
May the winds welcome you with softness.May the sun bless you with his warm hands. May you fly so high and so wellThat God joins you in laughterAnd sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth. —The Balloonist PrayerDespite the discouragement offered by…Read More
May the winds welcome you with softness.May the sun bless you with his warm hands. May you fly so high and so wellThat God joins you in laughterAnd sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth. —The Balloonist Prayer
Despite the discouragement offered by too many mediocre experiences on commercial airliners, part of my psyche still regards flight as a very special form of magic. So when the crew of the balloon Enchanted selected Himself and Yours Truly to be the gondola passengers for the flight of Wednesday, October 6 (my birthday), it was no small gift—not for us and not for the crew.
The gondola of a standard balloon is relatively small, typically holding only three or four people, one of whom is always the pilot. Most sport balloons average only one flight per day—and then only when weather and winds permit. Even given the 10-day span of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, only a handful of passengers will actually be flown by any one balloon. Selecting us to fly quite literally meant that two other members of the crew—that is, members with frankly a stronger claim to the opportunity—would likely not have the chance.
A typical balloon flight begins with the pilot’s briefing to passengers. Our pilot, after many years of experience, has reduced his briefing to three key points:(1) No matter what happens, stay in the gondola until the pilot instructs you that it’s safe to climb out. (2) Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep both eyes open for anything that might interfere with either the balloon’s flight or its landing—including power lines, radio towers, other nearby balloons—and tell the pilot, even if you think he’s already aware of what you see.(3) Follow any and all instructions from the pilot without question or delay.
As a passenger, it’s comforting to remember that balloon pilots are accomplished aviators with training and skills that meet rigorous standards established by the Federal Aviation Administration. A pilot must be able to handle emergencies as well as routine activities, and his expertise constitutes a passenger’s most effective guarantee of safety.
With all these practical matters in mind, the magic begins. Taking flight in a balloon is literally to float on the arms of the wind. Because the craft is carried with and by the wind, the only discernable sense of motion is provided by your balloon’s movement over the landscape below and by other balloons adrift nearby. Being suspended in air inside a wicker gondola feels a bit like standing still at the center of a 360-degree panoramic projection. The higher the balloon ascends, the more profound the illusion.
The world beneath the gondola is a patchwork of patchworks. First comes the launch, with its focus on friends and crew waving and shouting encouragement. Very quickly, the launch field diminishes into a green rectangle, colorfully dotted with other balloons preparing to fly. As the balloon moves higher and is caught by the wind, the field recedes into a far larger pattern. In Albuquerque at Fiesta time, that pattern includes the sharp, straight lines of streets and highways against the desert landscape, the tiled and graveled roofs of residential neighborhoods, the pavements and flattened commercial rooftops of shopping areas, and the green-brown shards of parks scattered throughout the city.
The view finally enlarges to include spectacular views of the Rio Grande Valley, with the river occasionally sparkling through the early-autumn tints of cottonwood groves along its banks, the rugged outlines of the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges to the east, and the softer, warmer contours of the West Mesa, with its long-dormant volcanoes.
And during a Mass Ascension event at Fiesta, the view roundabout also includes hundreds of other balloons of all colors and many shapes—all drifting with a current of air or darting under their pilots’ direction to higher or lower currents. During our flight, the special shapes who were our neighbors included Airabelle, the flying cow; Little Angel and Little Devil, two brand new balloons based in Brazil; Azul, the blue monster; Smokey the Bear, who made the national news on the last day of Fiesta by snagging a communications tower; and an oversized American flag, sighted off in the distance and viewed against the backdrop of the Sandias.
A good pilot wants a smooth voyage and generally provides passengers with information about what to expect throughout the flight. Our pilot showed us how the propane burner is used to increase elevation, shared bits and pieces of his technical knowledge, discussed the rules of courteous flying to encourage safety awareness, and told us well in advance where and when he planned to land.
Himself and I have ascended and landed twice in a balloon, and the two experiences have been very different—that difference being best defined by the landing. Our first flight in 2002, with the same pilot, ended in a soft hop of the gondola against the desert floor, with lots of helping hands to assist us in climbing back out to Mother Earth.
The second time around, our pilot was given a last-minute signal from an official spotter at his chosen landing site, effectively being asked to re-ascend. The pilot tried to comply, but he was simply too committed to the planned landing and would have been unable to clear a nearby fence. In a split second, he chose to land rather than risk the possibility of being snagged on barbed wire while trying to clear the fence. The slight delay meant that our gondola drug across the ground for about 50 yards before coming to rest against the fence.
We had a rough and exciting few seconds, but our pilot’s skill meant that neither the passengers nor the balloon were damaged. I ended up tumbled in the floor of the basket, under Himself’s long legs. Though the gondola hit the fence, the pilot retained enough control to ensure that the envelope itself cleared the barbed wire. As with our first, less eventful landing, we were again quickly surrounded by the chase crew, who walked the balloon back from the fence and helped us out of the basket. We were a tad rattled, but safe.
As an encore to this experience, we all joined forces to pack the balloon, load it onto the chase vehicle, and head back to the launch field for the post-ascension party. We had a joyous flight to celebrate—and more reason than usual to be grateful for a safe landing. It was indeed a very special birthday.
Written by BawBaw on 12 Oct, 2004
Every hot-air balloon requires a crew to assist the pilot during launch and recovery activities. Most conventional "round" balloons need five to seven people to manage this process efficiently. Special shape balloons, which tend to be more complex, often require much larger crews,…Read More
Every hot-air balloon requires a crew to assist the pilot during launch and recovery activities. Most conventional "round" balloons need five to seven people to manage this process efficiently. Special shape balloons, which tend to be more complex, often require much larger crews, whereas a single-seat "hopper" may need only the pilot and one other crewmember to manage operations on the ground.
For novices, crewing is the gateway into active ballooning. During Fiesta 2004, we quite literally took advantage of family relationships to attach ourselves to the crew of the Enchanted, a balloon owned and piloted by Harold Connell of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our duties were relatively light as our experience was limited, but when push came to shove, we were expected to dive in to do whatever was necessary to help stand the balloon before launch, to chase and recover the balloon at its landing site, and to re-pack the balloon in preparation for its next flight.
Within the hierarchy of a balloon crew, key personnel consist of the pilot and the crew chief, in that order. Balloons are aircraft governed by local, national, and international regulations, and their pilots are licensed aviators who must complete a course of training specified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Crew chiefs are senior crewmembers who generally have in-depth experience with ballooning. Given the nature of ballooning with its inherent risks, it is vital that novice volunteers be willing to take instructions from senior crewmembers. Although rank is not generally obvious within a balloon crew, a volunteer’s unwillingness to respond to instructions or to share the workload as requested will ensure a short career in ballooning.
At Fiesta, out-of-town pilots often depend on support from local volunteers for the simple reason that bringing along their usual crew would raise the cost of participation. New Mexico in general and Albuquerque in particular boast a large ballooning community, and many experienced local crewmembers volunteer to help visiting pilots on either a full- or part-time basis throughout the rally. Recruiting for a crew occurs on both an informal and a formal basis, which means that onlookers suddenly bitten by the ballooning bug can volunteer their services through the Balloon Fiesta website, by telephone at 505/821-1000, or in person at a booth maintained on the south end of Balloon Fiesta Park.
Typical crew tasks for standing the balloon include manning the fan used for the cold stage of inflation, holding open the throat of the balloon to facilitate inflation, and anchoring the crown line at the top of the balloon envelope while inflation is in progress. During Fiesta, crowd control is often added to the task roster. Onlookers are encouraged to wander the launch field, but they are asked not to interfere with the work of balloon crews or to touch the envelopes with their bare hands. (Gloved hands are OK, but bare hands will leave behind natural oils and residues that can damage the fabric of a balloon's envelope.)
Once launch has occurred, the crew's key tasks shift to spotting and chasing the balloon until it returns to earth, which typically entails hopping into the back of a pickup truck and dashing off in whatever direction the balloon has taken. I have to admit that, especially at my age, speeding through the streets in the back of a pickup has its charms, despite the toll exacted in aching joints. Communication between the pilot and the chase crew is facilitated these days with cell phones, though radios and walkie-talkies are also still in use. Having a driver or passenger-seat navigator with intimate knowledge of local highways and byways is crucial to a successful balloon chase, which is why finding a local volunteer to participate in the chase is often a highly placed item on the Fiesta wish list of out-of-town balloonists.
Recovering the balloon from its landing site is often the most challenging responsibility of the crew. Despite the skill of the pilot, balloons often set down in inconvenient places. At Fiesta 2004, our crew had to lift the Enchanted over a fence topped with barbed wire, then walk it through a field of desert brush to set it down in an area less likely to damage the envelope. That meant coordinating with and responding promptly to the verbal instructions of the pilot. I found myself hanging onto the towline and pushing though chest-high tumbleweeds. Once a suitable location was found, the pilot pulled the crown line to deflate the balloon, and the chase crew proceeded to lay out and re-pack the envelope. With recovery complete, the crew loaded the balloon into the chase vehicle and piled in for the return trip to the launch field, which, of course, was where the post-flight party began!
Written by Peregrine on 25 Jul, 2000
Imagine the sky painted with hundreds and hundreds of hot air balloons. I suspect the sight has been responsible for its share of fender-benders as morning commuters are busy looking skyward. Even after 20 years, every fall I gawk as Balloon Fiesta shows…Read More
Imagine the sky painted with hundreds and hundreds of hot air balloons. I suspect the sight has been responsible for its share of fender-benders as morning commuters are busy looking skyward. Even after 20 years, every fall I gawk as Balloon Fiesta shows its colors for a 9-day hot air party. This year’s dates are 7-15 October.
Best way to catch the action, which begins about six in the morning, is to hop a shuttle to the Balloon Park. With a million plus spectators, the traffic is something you do not want to experience, trust me. By noon, when the weather has warmed and the winds pick up, the balloons are packed away until the next day. But for those few hours the Balloon Park is a carnival of sights and sounds. Crowds and vendors jostle for space with the balloon crews trying to find a place to lay out a colorful nylon envelope that can be as tall as a five-story building.
The size of these balloons up-close is awesome. Lying on the ground, they remind me of cartoon characters, flattened by some mishap. Then, they begin to move and sway, filled again with life as the burners breathe hot air into them. Its also surprising how many people are needed to make this magic happen. Crews to fly it and chase crews to follow its airborne progress and retrieve the flight crew at the end of the day.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, they have what they call the Mass Ascension, a must see. Hundreds of balloons (this year they expect 1000) rise into the air more or less at the same time. Other “must see” events are the Balloon Glow, a much more sedate gathering at night to watch the balloons light up like giant Chinese lanterns; and, my personal favorite, the Special Shapes Rodeo, when the beer bottles, running shoes, piggy banks, dragons and castles rise into the air.
Take a ride, if you can afford it. Rides have gotten pretty pricey, $125 and up for an hour. But for a one-time shot, it’s worth it. It’s hard to describe the experience. There you are in a tiny gondola with this huge bag of hot air suspended above you, then the ground just begins to recede. No warning, no sound, no wind. Its like being transported to another dimension. Control, however, is limited and you are at the mercy of the prevailing air currents. After a glorious ride over Albuquerque and the Rio Grande, our magic balloon landed in the city dump.
Written by Peregrine on 14 Mar, 2002
Of all the bits and pieces of the Open Space, this is my favorite. Wedged into a wide valley, the vegetation here is more diverse than in some of the other areas of the Foothills.
This area was once part of a Spanish land…Read More
Of all the bits and pieces of the Open Space, this is my favorite. Wedged into a wide valley, the vegetation here is more diverse than in some of the other areas of the Foothills.
This area was once part of a Spanish land grant given to one Diego Montoya. It included all the land from the top of the Sandias to the Rio Grande, a considerable chunk of property. In 1716, 35,084 acres of this land were given to Elena Gallegos. While it was unusual for a woman to inherit a land grant, the reasons Elena was given the land was, unfortunately, not recorded for posterity.
Besides the cottonwoods, chamisa, and various wildflowers, you will find yucca, cholla, bear grass, Apache plume, and dozens of other native plants. If you know where to look, there is evidence of early Indian habitation here, and huts of the shepherds who once used this area for summer grazing. Elena is also a little more civilized than the other Foothills areas in that it has restrooms, covered picnic areas with grills and tables, and a short, self-guided nature walk.
In the spring and fall, you can usually find a carpet of wildflowers in blues and yellows and magenta and white, all laid out beneath the incredibly blue sky New Mexico is noted for. On a clear day (which is most of the time) you can see Mount Taylor, a rather dramatic volcano sitting on the horizon, as well as the west mesa volcanoes just above the escarpment. Down the middle of the valley, the verdant strip of the Rio Grande meanders through the city, and the Sandias rise another 5000 feet above you.
The self-guided nature walk covers a circular path of about a mile over fairly level ground. You can borrow a copy of the Nature Trail Guide at the entrance to the park (you will also have to pay for parking, but its only $1.00 during the week and $2.00 on the weekends). Depending on how slowly you walk or how interested you are in what there is to see, the walk takes an hour or so. At the halfway point, there is a wooden blind overlooking a small pond. At dawn and dusk you can see wildlife here, though during the middle of the day or when there is a school group of loudly enthusiastic kids going through, you probably won’t see much.
A shorter, paved version of the self-guided tour is wheelchair accessible and ends at the pond, though you will have to retrace your steps to get back to your car. The descriptive signs are well worth a look – they are made of beautiful hand-painted tiles.
If you are out for real exercise, head due east from the trailhead at Elena and you will hook up with the Pino Trail which takes you steadily upward through conifer forests to the Crest 5000 feet above the city. However, be aware that backcountry hiking requires a permit from the Sandia Ranger Department.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day (more or less) hikes and evening talks are offered at Elena. I would recommend both. The Sunday Morning Hikes range from wildflower identification, nature photography, birdwatching and archaeology to a talks on the medicinal attributes of the plants along the path. The guides, each an expert in his or her field, will take you on a two-hour or so stroll into the hinterlands and the groups are usually small enough so you can hear what is being said. Just show up, most hikes are free, though a few guides have started charging a nominal fee.
The Saturday evening talks, also free, are held the at the outdoor amphitheater near the trailhead and speakers range from storytellers to astronomers to Hawk Watch representatives and their feathered friends. Bring a jacket and something soft to sit on. It gets cool at night, even in summer, and those benches are hard.
If you are going to be in town and are interested in the guided hikes or evening talks, you can contact the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division for specifics.
Since just about every major road heading east from Tramway Boulevard ends at a trailhead in the Foothills, its one of the most easily accessed open areas in the city. On the weekends, the trails can be a bit crowded, especially with mountain bikers…Read More
Since just about every major road heading east from Tramway Boulevard ends at a trailhead in the Foothills, its one of the most easily accessed open areas in the city. On the weekends, the trails can be a bit crowded, especially with mountain bikers who don’t seem to understand the word “yield” on those steep, narrow paths.
This strip of land is maintained by the City and primarily keeps the subdivisions from encroaching any further into the Cibola National Forest and the Sandia Mountain Wilderness and the area runs, more or less, from I-40 on the south to the Sandia Tram on the north.
From any trailhead, just pick a path and go. Most trails are open to hikers, walkers, runners, and mountain bikers. Some, especially further into the wilderness areas, are designated as horseback riding trails. While the Open Space is quite tame and the trails well maintained, the further east you hike into Forest and Wilderness land, the higher and wilder the terrain becomes, and the better the views. Since this end of town is already several hundred feet than the Rio Grande Valley, even a short walk into the Open Space gives you a spectacular view of the city.
If you want to climb up a small “mountain” one of the more popular ones is the “U” hill at the end of Copper Avenue and, believe me, the view from the top is worth the climb. You can still see a few of the white painted rocks that originally formed the “U” (for University of New Mexico) on the south side of the hill, and you can almost always see people climbing around on the hill. This area was also a favorite place for local runner John Baker (subject of “The Shining Season” – both book and movie) to train before he died of cancer.
There are a couple of waterfalls you can hike back into and in the spring there is actually water in them. The rest of the year they are a tumble of boulders you can climb up and there are plenty of places to settle in for a picnic. One of the waterfalls is a half-mile or so beyond the saddle at the end of Copper. At the top of the waterfall, is a small pond where deer come to drink.
Even with weekend traffic – foot and bike – the hills are crowded with wildlife. I’ve seen coyotes, mule deer, quail, red-tailed hawks, roadrunners, piñon jays, cotton tailed rabbits, jack rabbits, numerous small song birds and, in the last 20 years, one snake, fortunately non-poisonous. I have yet to encounter the cougars and bears that live in the high country, though I did have one of the latter visit my back yard this past summer.
There are small parking areas at most trailheads, or you can park on the street.