Weekend in Albuquerque, NM // International Balloon Festival // October 11-13, 2013
This was the first official weekend trip we took together as a married couple. Before this, we had been on our 2 week long honeymoon, followed by our 3-day trip moving from Iowa to Arizona. After a month and a half of staying around the greater Tucson area and settling in, we were ready for another adventure. The International Balloon Festival was something Curtis heard about before, and we decided that it was one of those things we just HAD to attend while we were living relatively close. It was about 6.5 hours from Tucson to Albuquerque, but that was nothing to us – we’d already had plenty of long drives in our 2-month old marriage, the longest being 17 hours. (Plus, living 26 hours away from the place we’d always known as “home” puts everything into perspective – 6.5 hours is nothing 🙂 )
We left on a Friday afternoon after Curtis got out of school. We had purchased tickets online to attend the early morning balloon take-off on Saturday morning, and more tickets on Saturday evening to see the nightly balloon glow. We had looked at hotels a little, but saw that everything was looking pretty full, so we decided we’d camp in a park East of ABQ. (At that time, it was still warm and gorgeous in AZ, we didn’t even think about the fact that it was farther North…) And lastly (most importantly) we printed off TONS of letterbox clues for the drives and our time in ABQ. We were dreaming big, hoping for at least 50 boxes that weekend. Dorks. 😉
We got on the road headed East at about 3 on Friday afternoon. Like I mentioned before, we were 6.5 hours away, so we could easily arrive, set up our tent and be snuggled up in our sleeping bags by 10, right? Not a chance! We stopped for so many rest stop letterboxes – and boxes on the side of the interstate. Those, while being great carves, were not my favorite – I’m such a nervous passenger haha. We stopped in Texas Canyon, AZ; Lordsburg, Deming, and Hatch NM and had successful finds, but once it grew dark we had trouble finding landmarks and finally decided to just push through to the campsite. We arrived well past 11 that night, and set up our tent in the dark…as fast as we could before we FROZE our fingers off. I was not prepared for that!
I remember not being able to sleep well at all. My sleeping bag wasn’t meant for temps that low. Luckily, we were waking up at 4 so that we could be where we needed to be early for the balloon take-off, so I didn’t have to lie there too long and wait for the night to be over. (It didn’t help that this was before we invested in the air mattress 😉 ) Once back in the truck, we cranked up the heat and made our way into ABQ for the day.
Obviously, the International Balloon Festival is a very popular event, and with it being the last weekend for the year, we knew to expect crowds and crowds of people. We were very thankful for the well-implemented bus system that worked to take people from different spots in the city to the festival so we didn’t have to mess with heavy traffic. We parked at a mall and got on a bus, and were at the festival grounds by 5 or 5:30 – before the sun came up. It was still VERY cold.
We wandered around as people were arriving and the balloons were starting to be inflated. I don’t do well when I’m just freezing outside, so we sought shelter, and thank God there was some – the Albuquerque Balloon Museum, right there on the festival grounds! We went inside and wandered through the exhibits, warming ourselves up and learning everything you’d want to know about balloons.
As the sun began to rise, so did the balloons! We went out on the museum patio to watch the balloons pop up one at a time and get higher and higher into the morning sky. They say the Balloon Festival is the most photographed event in the world, and we certainly did our part to keep it that way. I had a camera and Curtis had his iPad, and together we clicked away at all the pretty balloons and the sunrise. (It made selecting pictures for this post VERY difficult – not because they were all good, but because there were just TOO. MANY. PICTURES.)
Obviously, this was the most hot air balloons we’ve ever seen at one time, but we learned later that because of high winds, this was only a fraction of what it could be during the event. It already seemed pretty packed out in the field, so I couldn’t imagine what it’d look like with more!
After most of the balloons had taken off, Curtis and I went back and boarded a bus to go back to our truck. There were other things going on at the festival, but since the balloons were the main event that we came to see, we decided to spend the day exploring ABQ through letterboxing until the balloon glow that night. We had been to Albuquerque together before – twice, actually, during the Mexico mission trips we took as high schoolers. Thanks to that, we already knew exactly what we wanted to eat: cinnamon rolls and breakfast burritos at the Frontier restaurant! Ahh, the cinnamon rolls – Rest, my beating heart. After that, we drove around to different locations, mostly around the University, where we found boxes and enjoyed strolling around the campus.
Around mid-afternoon, we hopped back on the bus to return to the festival grounds. It was a little early for the glow obviously, so we wandered around and checked out what else was there. The wood carvings caught our attention the most! The balloons started arriving and we enjoyed watching the process from getting the big balloons out of their trailers, filling them up, and finally lifting up into the air. There were so many, and all so unique and colorful!
The creepiest balloon by far was the Ronald McDonald one. (Pictured above, bottom left) Up close, his face was just weird, but as we walked away we would occasionally look back to see him glowing with hatred against us. It was just funny how no matter how far away we wandered, he was still there – always there – watching. I have sooo many pictures of him!
Anyway, when we had seen our share of glowing balloons, we headed back to the bus for our last ride back to the car. We drove back to the campsite and were able to sleep so much better…not because it was warmer, but because we were exhausted after a long day and a sleepless night before!
We still awoke pretty early the next morning so we could get an early start for our long drive home. Yes, the drive was still only 6.5 hours…but we knew we’d take much more time than that. We began with a nearby hike in Tijeras, NM and found a box or two, then began heading in the general direction where we wanted to be. We decided to take a different route, first going West into Arizona, then making our way South to Tucson. We fully intended to take the entire day to drive home.
Other stops throughout the day included the Continental Divide along I-40 (which proved to be much more scenic than the one around Lordsburg, NM off of the I-10!), Cedar Crest, Gallup, and Grants, NM. What should have taken us 2 hours to drive into AZ took us half the morning. Once in Arizona, we headed South on highway 191 to Springerville, then took 260 to 60, 60 West to Globe, and finally 77/79 back to Tucson. This was in no way, shape, or form the most direct route, but we didn’t care – Curtis didn’t have to be back at school until Monday at 10, why restrict ourselves?! (Ahh, the good old days with so much freedom! haha!) We stopped at Lyman’s Lake State Park and Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ for boxes – to both plant and find.
We loved being able to find fall colors that we were missing so much in the White Mountains in Apache County. We watched the sun go down by a lake after finding 2 last boxes, then decided to press on till home…which was still several hours away! We got to drive through the beautifully scenic Salt Canyon by night, which proves to be less scenic in the dark, and finally arrived home around 11 that night. I seem to recall Curtis asking if we could grab some boxes around 10:30pm in Oracle, AZ (about 45 minutes from home) but I may be mistaken, we weren’t that crazy…right?
And that was us, 2.5 months married, crazy for each other and figuring out that we were also crazy for adventures. While we remember those days with fond memories, we are always looking forward to the new memories we get to make – especially since we’ve gotten so much smarter about traveling and have perfected the art of the spontaneous road trip! 🙂