Jemez Nat'l Forest and Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Trip Start Nov 22, 2007
Trip End Dec 01, 2008

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Friday, October 10, 2008

Jemez National Forest and Albuquerque-October 6-11, 2008
We left Fish Lake and headed for the annual International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. On the way we drove the scenic route through the Jemez Mountains and national forest in northwestern New Mexico. What a beautiful ride! We camped for a couple nights at the Juniper Campground in the national forest. The Jemez Mountains are part of the mountains that surround a caldera basin. A caldera is essentially a volcano that blew its top many thousands of years ago, leaving a large basin surrounded by rough peaks. This makes for some beautiful country, with many peaks and canyons, and very interesting mineral and rock formations. Natural hot springs also are typical of a caldera area (parts of Yellowstone also exist in a caldera). We stopped at a place called Soda Rock just outside of the town of Jemez on the way up the mountains. This roadside attraction features a unique mineral formation and hot spring. It kind of looks like a cave that was formed from the inside out. A different day we hiked to a natural hot spring. The water was about 95 degrees! We sat in the springs and looked out over the forest and valley below. What a great experience!
After a couple days we made our way down from the mountains to Albuquerque. We left at 5 am to try to get there for the morning ascension of the balloons. The sun rose as we drove toward the city. As we reached the outskirts of Albuquerque, we were greeted by these wonderful spots of color rising in the distance-the morning mass ascension of the balloons! Cars were pulled over on the interstate to watch as the balloons from the fiesta were filled with hot air and rising up to fill the skies over the city. A really neat experience! We stopped and got some great pictures! It was amazing how many different colors and shapes there were.
Albuquerque is a neat city, and there is a lot to do there. We went to the balloon fiesta on Thursday, and stayed for the evening events, which included the "Glo-deo." The Glo-deo is when all the balloons are inflated and, after the sun sets, they all light up their fires simultaneously so that the balloons glow. The night ended with a great fireworks display. It was a lot of fun. We were very lucky in the timing of our arrival. This year, they had some really poor weather conditions. The first weekend had cool temperatures and rains and wind, which inhibited the ascensions. We arrived the Wednesday before the last weekend, and saw the ascension and went to the fiesta on Thursday--the two best days of the celebration. In fact, they ended up cancelling some of the events before and after due to weather, and on Friday, disaster struck as one of the balloons crashed into power lines and on balloonist was killed. That was really tragic. We had just seen the balloon that crashed the day before.
Albuquerque is surrounded by the Sandia Mountains, and there is a tramway that will take you to the top of Sandia Peak, one of the highest peaks in the range. Unfortunately, due to the fiesta, the waiting time to take the tram was about 3 hours. We opted, instead, to take the scenic drive up to Sandia Peak and to hike up to the overlook. The road winds up through the Cibola National Forest, and at the top, there is a great view of the city n one direction, and other smaller towns on the scenic byway in the other. On the way down, we stopped at a place called Tinkertown. This is a place where a man just started collecting all kinds of antiques and memorabilia and has put together a museum with historical exhibits. He spent most of his life making art from trash, and creating miniature towns and various mechanical things. Tinkertown has an old wooden sailboat on exhibit, along with the history of the boats travels as it circumnavigated the entire globe. There are carnival exhibits, old west models, bits and pieces of history from all over. The level of detail was amazing. Tinkertown was quite a sight and clearly a labor of love.
We spent another day in old town Albuquerque and checked out the small shops and galleries. One shop in particular was really interesting-it was a kaleidoscope shop. Nothing but kaleidoscopes, ranging in price from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars! Oh, but they were neat! We ended up spending about an hour in that store just looking at all the different kinds of scopes, and we bought a moderately priced one. We had lunch in a great restaurant, the High Noon Saloon. Bob and I are both good cooks, and are somewhat of food snobs. Not that we have expensive taste, but it is amazing how much you can pay for a mediocre meal in so many places. But this place ranks as one of our all time favorites on this trip! We met the owners and chatted with them, getting some of the history of the place and letting them know how much we enjoyed the food.
We also had a surprise when we emerged from the Winnie in a parking lot in Old Town. There, right in from of us was a pretty large gopher snake! We included a picture of that too!
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