More hot air than some governments

Trip Start Nov 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 23, 2006

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Forsaking the Armani suits and Blahnk shoes of Union Square we began
my hunt for the perfect cowboy boot. We flew to Houston, left
immediately, in the middle of the night, and dashed across state to
San Antonio (that's another story). Having been in California for a
demonstration of the most advanced flight we were heading for
Albuquerque, New Mexico for a show of the most simple - the biggest
hot air balloon festival in the world.

Because we are geekchildren we were disappointed that Roswell was too
far off our route to visit. So we detoured out to the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array Telescope. Talk about cool.
It was barren, isolated and windswept - you could hide almost
anything out here including little green men. Ranks of massive
satellite dishes sat on War of the Worlds gantries all turning in
whirring, grinding unison like mechanised triffids. The wind made an
other worldly sound through the supports like an off frequency
crystal set. Like a surprising number of places in America, the VLA
has a strange familiarity about it, having played bit parts in so
many seen but unremembered movies.

We were embarrassingly late arriving in Albuquerque to meet Mike and
Cheryl Garcia, another globalfreeloaders couple who generously opened
their home to us, feed us and surrendered control of their computer.
They plied us with margaritas and fajitas and, as balloon festival
veterans sitting it out this year, information. We were joined for
dinner by their adorable chow, Pixie, and Mike's Mexican milk snake,
Indie. (On our last night we joined Indie for dinner as he chowed
down on two defrosted mice).

Next morning, in a daze, we headed for the field at 5:00am. Ten to
twenty thousand people attend the festival and we wanted to beat the
traffic - didn't work. Dawn patrol, to test wind and conditions,
lifted off at 6:15am as we arrived - ten multi-coloured glowing
spheres floating off into a violet dawn, twinkling as they adjusted
their fill.

The mass ascension sees 750 balloons lift off in just one hour.
Spectators are able to wander the field amid the gigantic jewel-like
gum bubbles slowly inflating. Then, like lemmings, first one, then a
dozen, then massed balloons, they begin their ascent - stripes,
stars, spots, spirals, faces, carousels, logos all drifting off with
the breeze. It's like being an ant in a topsy turvy rainbow
rainstorm. Aerodynamics has nothing to do with it - a cow floated
calmly by followed by a pirate in a rum barrel and a matched pair of
bumblebees, a pig, an elephant and a Wells Fargo stagecoach. By
9:00am it's all over, everyone is off the field but you are still
seeing diminishing coloured specks floating before your eyes and
following the push of the wind.

The following day, rising at 4:30am, we volunteered as chase crew on
the Texan balloon, Purple Hayze. It takes a crew, the crew chief and
pilot to lay out, cold fill and inflate the balloon. It takes any
number of people clinging to the gondola (often with your feet off
the ground) to stop it taking off until the zebra-striped marshal OKs
launch and the pilot gives the propane burners full throttle. Then
everyone else piles into the chase van and tries to (1)
identify "our" balloon from the several hundred in the air, (2)
follow that balloon's cross-country route by road, (3) not break any
road rules, one way street rules or run red lights while watching the
balloon, driving and map reading, (4) remain calm and co-operative
while trying to find landmarks and suggested routes only the pilot
(in the balloon) can see. Purple Hayze came to rest in a new
subdivision. We came to rest there too several minutes later having
attempted approaches from three different directions - we had finally
crashed a road closed sign and gone cross country. On landing the
balloon had bounced five times and rolled down a bank depositing the
passengers in a shrub. We laid out, rolled up and repacked the
balloon in a cactus patch - apparently Craig had had tidier
landings. Around us, as we enjoyed an adult beverage, balloons were
settling to earth and quietly deflating like wilting flowers. The
subdivision began to look like a family living room on Christmas

Our balloon crewing adventure being over by 10:30am we headed north
to the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in the Santo Domingo
Pueblo (an Indian reservation). Over centuries the rocks in this
area have eroded to form teepee shapes (some with mushroom tops)
clinging to the hill sides. The cliffs are caramel and vanilla
layered and overhang to form narrow, scramble through canyons.
Natural caves have formed which, at times, have been Native American
dwellings. The native pines grow in difficult spaces, growing
naturally like contrived bonsai, with gnarled trunks and contorted
roots. After days in vehicles, planes, cities and crowds it was
wonderful to stretch our legs among some wilderness - taking care to
make enough noise to keep some of thee wilderness (rattlesnakes and
bull snakes) at bay.

So, that was New Mexico, brief, bright and generous.

Sign #5: Money doesn't buy happiness but it will buy marshmallows,
which are kinda the same thing.
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