Santa Fe and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

After only two days home, we were off again. This time in the travel trailer, without Mouse, we headed to Santa Fe for a quick couple of days, spending time with our friends, Ed and Joe.

On our first night together, Ed, Joe, Bill and I went to Puerto Peñasco, a restaurant on Rodeo Rd in Santa Fe, not the town in northern Mexico. They had the usual Mexican fare, with one notable exception. They had several discadas on the menu. First, the word discada refers to the disc shaped round blades on a plow. The dish discada is grilled on a slightly concaved, round metal pan over an open flame. It is a mixed meat dish, with steak, chicken, bacon and shrimp being popular choices. Aromatics, such as onion, garlic and peppers are added for flavor. The hot cooking surface, mounted on a stand is the serving plate.

With warm tortillas, this is a simple but delicious dish. If you see it on a menu sometime, try it.

The next night, the four of us joined Lucky, a friend of Ed and Joe, at Bistro 315 on Old Santa Fe Trail. This was a little stroll down memory lane for me. When we moved to Santa Fe, I worked at Camelot World Travel, which was across the parking lot from 315. Camelot Travel was owned by Betty Garrett and was located in Garrett’s Desert Inn. Both Betty and her husband are gone now, but the motel is still called Garrett’s Desert Inn and the space that was the travel agency is now a bar. We walked through and took a quick picture.

I am standing exactly where my desk was.

315 Bistro was started by owner, Louis Moskow in 1995, just before we moved to Santa Fe. Back then he was a hot new chef on the scene. Today he is one of the pillars of the Santa Fe culinary scene.

Dinner was fun. Lucky, who Bill and I met on our last trip to Santa Fe, is a charming and gracious lady, who is quite a conversationalist. Of course the fact that all wines were half priced that night may have contributed to the fun.

After our short stay in Santa Fe, we made the quick trip down La Bajada to Albuquerque. La Bajada, which means “the descent,” is the name for the steep change in elevation as you drop from Santa Fe’s 7199 feet to Albuquerque’s 5312. Of course, the name is very Santa Fe centric, because from Albuquerque’s point of view, it would be El Ascenso. The primary purpose of this trip was to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We had signed up to join a group from RainbowRV to attend this highly sought after event. During the time that we lived in Santa Fe, we never went to the festival, so we were excited at the prospect of going without having to deal the traffic problems associated with the event. The RV group organizers avoided that by choosing the VIP RV Lot, which has a private entrance away from all the craziness of general parking. The VIP lot, in addition to the private drive entrance, also has a private entry gate into the park and fantastic views of the launch field. But, beyond that, there is nothing VIP about it, no hookups, no trees, no grass and only port a potties. It is just a very conveniently located parking lot.

Each day, there are morning and evening events. First up is dawn patrol. A few of the balloons go up to check out conditions, particularly wind speed and direction.

Some mornings a select number of balloons launch and other days the special shapes balloons get in the act. Our first morning the Dawn Patrol balloons were inflated for pictures, but did not launch due to wind conditions aloft.

But that evening we were treated to our first views of the special shaped balloons. Some are so large, you wonder how they can carry enough gas to get and keep them up.

After the balloon activities are complete, there is a nightly fireworks show. We determined the best viewpoint for these is on the roof of our trailer. I am very careful going up and down that ladder.

Friday morning brought very cool (cold to us Palm Springs boys) conditions with light winds, a perfect day for ballooning.

Bill and I both enjoy watching the balloons, but neither of us are too keen on actually taking a ride. As I watched one of the ride balloons try to ascend, it only confirmed my reluctance.

On weekends, after dawn patrol, the most anticipated event, The Mass Ascension, is held. In this event, all the balloons participating in the festival ascend into the New Mexico skies. It takes a about an hour and a half for all to launch. Yesterday the wind phenomenon known as the Albuquerque Box was very visible. In the box, the winds at lower elevations are blowing one direction, usually south, and then at upper elevations blowing the exact opposite direction. This effect allows the balloons to takeoff heading, in this case, south and then after a time return to the original launch site.

During the festival, it is difficult to land back on the festival grounds, because of the crowded conditions, so balloons land all over town. One did land on the lawn of the Balloon Museum, right next to our VIP RV lot.

The time between the morning activities and the evening is quiet. One can go down to the festival grounds and shop for souvenirs, taste the various New Mexico food offerings, or one can go on a bike ride. On Friday, Bill and I rode to Old Town Albuquerque for lunch. This short 26 mile roundtrip was principally along the Paseo de Bosque Trail, which runs along the Rio Grande from Rio Rancho to Central Avenue.

Then yesterday morning, after the ascension, I went on a slightly longer, 42 mile loop around Albuquerque, riding through, among other places, my Alma Mater, The University of New Mexico. Most of the ride was on mixed-use trails along Albuquerque’s river, diversion channels and acequias. Although, I did have some street bike lanes, traffic was light and I felt comfortable.

Last night, we enjoyed another evening balloon glow, capped off with fireworks. This morning, we are packing getting ready to head home. Tonight we will split the drive by staying in Flagstaff and then home early afternoon on Monday.

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