Sunday, November 28, 2010

Even more balloons!

I've been told by someone that my New Mexico posts have been too far between and drawn out. I do agree! Our weekends have recently been packed in with something else other than blogging, that of which will be revealed shortly. And no, for the last time, I'm NOT pregnant! Sheesh!!

The next day, still full from an excellent dinner the night before, we rolled out of bed; Blake to the shower and me to lay there and ponder early morning thoughts, which mostly consisted of how am I going to eat breakfast if I'm still digesting dinner? Once again, we were on the road with a bit of time to spare, and arrived at our VIP parking for the Gondola Club. If you go to the Balloon Fiesta you should spend more and do the Gondola Club, especially if you're only going to do this once in your lifetime! We did, and it was worth every penny! A golf cart was ready and waiting for us in the parking lot, and they shuttled us to the front gate of the Club. After checking in, we could pick seats, which we found towards the front of the club area for the best pics. The air was crisp this morning; the tables covered in ice and the grass in frost. Kay & Robert, a couple our parents' age from Phoenix, invited us to share their table.

We looked out across the field to the north, and noticed that the crews had begun inflating their balloons much earlier than they had yesterday; it's morning-glow time!!

(Not really sure what the deal is with the reflections just above the balloons... no; they're not UFOs. My apologies!!)

Up, up and away!

This morning the weather was cool and calm; just the kind of morning any balloon pilot would dream of. Wave after wave of balloons lifted off, and more crews and trucks still poured in to the field. Every step of the ballooning process was under way: arrive, unpack, inflate, take off.

Our field location was the best!! The wind pushed the balloons right over our heads, making for some killer shots:

Every now and then I look back to the south to get a "group shot":

Here's my second favorite balloon of the day:

And my favorite:

It's the one in the middle with the swirlies on it; the crew wore matching tie-dyed t-shirts!

As the saying goes, "time flies when you're having fun", and sure enough, for the most part, they were done. Some crews got to the field way late and the weather was too warm to fly. They tried to get their balloons up but they just fizzled. I would have loved to see the Sushi Chef take off! We packed up our stuff, flagged down a golf cart and directed our driver to the vending shops across the field. From there we walked through a tent full of vendors boasting anything & everything balloon-related: Christmas ornaments, sweatshirts, framed photographs, jewelry, etc. and even things not balloon-related, like Christmas ornaments, sweatshirts, framed photographs and jewelry. We walked the entire length of the field, looking for souvenirs and possibly Christmas gifts. Lots of places were selling hats, sweaters, blankets and other cold-weather goods. I was tempted, but I refrained. Unfortunately. We returned to the Club on foot and by the time we arrived we were exhausted and sweaty and thirsty. Our driver took us back to the car where we made phone calls to family and sat around, deciding what to do with ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. We drove around Albuquerque for a bit before deciding to head up to Sandia Peak, the highest "mountain" in the region. I put it in quotes because I laugh: 10,000 feet ain't a mountain!! Great views of the city, though:

Looking to the south, at Albuquerque

Now looking out east, on the other side of the peak

Driving around the city and up to the peak and back down again took about 4 hours; just long enough to make it back to the Balloon Field for the second part of our day. By this time the wind picked up, just enough to make us nervous about the balloon glow scheduled for that night.

We made it in to the Club again, meeting up with Kay & Robert again. Our catered dinner was delicious: Green Chile Scalloped Potatoes, Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup, rolls, salads, our choice of meat, and a scrumptious dessert table. I helped myself to a slice of the Double Chocolate Cake. With the additional open bar and live band, Blake & I were set for the night, regardless of the meteorological outcome. :-)

Sure enough, few crews showed up for the evening session; the wind had increased even more and this was the unfortunate result:

Just a handful of balloons had decided to make an appearance. I appreciated their desire to not let a crowd down, but I got bored quickly, so I went to capture the incredibly red sunset.

After an hour of minimal balloon-lighting, the organizers decided to switch to the fireworks. And since fireworks don't generally show up on cameras very well, I'll only share one with you.

Overall, the display was lovely; the canisters were set up pretty close to us so it was more fun to watch the fireworks go off, rather than look in the sky.

By the end of the night, we were cold and windblown; when the fireworks ended we hightailed it to our cars. I missed the curb to a sidewalk, my ankle turned, and I went down. Hard. And in slow motion. Crap- the camera! Was the first thing I thought of, as I was carrying the camera and its bag. I laid there on the ground for a few seconds, wondering what happened! I didn't move until I saw a volunteer running toward me and Blake asking if I was okay. Nothing was broken or damaged; the heel of my hand was a bit raw and my knee got scuffed up. I still have a red mark there today. It made memories, if nothing else!

Like the night before, we crashed when we returned to our hotel and slept quite soundly until late the next morning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Mexico Part III - The Balloons!!

Friday morning our alarm woke us at 4. Blake headed for the shower and I laid like a slug in bed. Whose idea was this??!! I demanded silently. What crazy psycho gets up at this ungodly hour just to sit in a cold camp chair and freeze their butt off anyway??

We do, apparently. You only live once, I told myself as I rolled out from under the covers, bleary-eyed from the hotel room lights. So kill me now. Once I woke up, I flew around the room, throwing on clothes and doing something presentable with my hair. Thank God for laser eye surgery; no contact lenses to push into Sandman eyes.

We were on the road in a half hour; Blake drove as I gazed out into the inky blackness. I admired the lightning storm to the south until I remembered: we were headed south. Then I started to worry. I got up this early to see balloons and I'd better see balloons!! I'm a night owl! This is going to suck if there are no balloons!!!

We arrived at our bus stop with enough time to buy a cup of coffee from the stand that was set up. Note to self: Don't buy a cup of coffee and get on a bus with it, especially when you have a tote bag, a camera backpack and two heavy folding camp chairs you have chosen to take with you. And on top of all that, try not to be the last people on the bus; you have to sit in the wayyyy back. Picture if you will: Blake with his coffee, the camera bag and a camp chair. He has to walk to the very back of the school bus, with the bag and the chair banging each adult, who, along with their appropriate spouse and/or child, is stuffed into a seat meant for a 5th grader. Now imagine what it was like for each of those adults to get smacked by that camp chair, plus maybe a dribble or two from hot coffee. Now imagine having to endure it twice, since I had the tote bag, the other camp chair and my own hot cup of coffee.

Yeah. Not fun. My sincerest apologies to all our bus mates. I hope those coffee stains have washed out!!

The sky was still dark when we approached the balloon field and de-bussed. The vending booths, however, were lit up like a landing strip. We plodded along the field, choosing a spot to put our chairs up and settle in to wait for the balloon teams. Having finished our coffees on the bus, I went out in search of food for us. Green Chile Breakfast Burritos stood out to me and they were cheaper than anything else I found in my short walk! And they were good! And hot and satisfying!

The "Landing Strip" and predawn clouds and crazy people

Notice the tiny little lights in the sky? Balloon officials sent up weather balloons to check the wind speed. The officials were also concerned about the thunderstorms earlier in the morning as well, and they sent those up to see if it was safe for pilots to take off. As it turned out, they told us via loudspeaker that the "Special Shapes Rodeo" was canceled due to wind, but pilots could fly at their discretion.

Here we have the official Balloon Fiesta balloon and the American Flag balloon for the National Anthem. See how hard the wind is blowing?

At first, I stayed with Blake and our stuff and took pictures, but then I really don't know what happened. My feet carried me away and I wandered off, drawn by the bright colors like everyone else. Sorry, Honey!! I got some great shots, though!

Hmmm... Who could this be?

That would be the friendliest gargoyle I've seen!

Ever wonder who would create a "Dead Cat" balloon? Yeah. Me neither!

Adorable Noah's Ark balloon!

The official name of this balloon: Shroom With a View

That would be a saguaro cactus. One of my favorites!

Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's Superman! No, it's a plane!

Any guesses??

This balloon was quite possibly the tallest one there. So awesome! They had set up all the way down on the opposite end of the field, naturally, so the walk to get there was a lovely brisk one. On the side of the balloon there is a yellow patch that reads: "Built to commemorate 100 years of powered flight and to remember the great courage of the fallen. Challenger: 1/28/1986 Columbia: 2/01/2003". What an honor it was to see this balloon up close!

Can't forget the Champagne Bottle...

Before we knew it, most of the balloons had either flown away or were taken down and bundled up, and folks were packing up. When ballooning, you can't really fly in the middle of the day; hot air balloon + air warmed by the sun = no fun at all. We walked around a little bit with all our crap that we brought before we had enough of the heat and baggage. Down to the bus we waddled. Boarding wasn't as big of an issue the second time around as we knew what to do this time! Unloading our stuff into the trunk of the car was an excellent feeling, as was driving back to SF. We reviewed our pictures as we lay collapsed on our bed and then crashed, sleeping until dinner. We ventured out to find the Blue Corn Cafe this time, and enjoyed another delicious New Mexican dinner with, you guessed it, green chili. After a brief walk around the Plaza, we drove home and hit the hay early, ready to begin the torture all over again the next morning.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Mexico Part II - Santa Fe

Santa Fe was the prettiest town we were in, in my opinion. I don't know why; it seemed cleaner than all the other towns in NM that we visited.

I loved the character of Santa Fe; the red-pink adobe walls and turquoise trim, and the unique wood fences (called Coyote Fences) that surrounded the majority of the houses there. Others had adobe walls too. So original to Santa Fe and so gorgeous.

This pic is NOT mine. Just FYI. Pretty, though, huh?

The day we got in we ventured out of our hotel room for dinner and ate at Horseman's Haven. Not much in the way of atmosphere, but the food was awesome. Blake had the Carne Adobada burrito, smothered in hot green chile. For those of you who do not know my husband, he's the BIGGEST fan of hot foods. Anything that makes him cry- he can't get enough of it. "I don't cry!" He always retorts. "My eyes run. And so does my nose. Noses don't cry!" This particular chile made his entire face cry-I mean run. He said it was the best green chile he's ever had. I ordered just a regular chicken burrito, smothered in the much milder green chile! Everything was delicious but my lack of sleep was catching up with me so when we returned to the hotel I crashed.

The next day, we took it easy in the morning. I wasn't super hungry but we ate breakfast anyway, eager to partake in anything green chile and not wanting to miss any of it! Tecolote Cafe was our restaurant of choice this morning; we'd heard of it on the Food Network on Guy Fieri's show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. He visited there and said the green chile was some of the best around, so we took his word for it! We both had breakfast burritos smothered in both red & green chile (called "Christmas"-style down there). Now, neither Blake nor I are big fans of red chile as a general rule, but this was just fabulous! It had a lot more flavor than any other red chile we had previously. After breakfast, we decided to check out the Plaza. The Plaza is the touristy part of Santa Fe, where art galleries, shops and restaurants abound.

We wandered around a bit and then got into the historic details. Here's a picture of the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the U.S.; dating back to around 1610.

Right around the corner (convenient, huh?) was the Oldest House, or so they say. There's some controversy surrounding this title, as they say it was built in 1646. I think people were building houses much earlier than 1646 but I'm not a historian. :)

Just up the street is Loretto Chapel. This catholic church boasts an all-wood, double helix spiral staircase that winds up to the choir loft. The catholics think that St. Joseph heard their please and built it for them. It's said to be a miraculous staircase, as no nails or glue was used and no central support is present to hold it up, and the technology used to create it (built in the 1860's) was beyond its years.

Looking towards the front

The staircase is located at the rear of the church.

Also, the stained glass windows were just as beautiful! This shot's for you, Mom!

Finding beauty in small things...

Blake was starting to get ansy. We were spending too much time in this chapel and he wanted to get down to Albuquerque to find out where we were supposed to go to catch the bus for the Ballon Fiesta, so we weren't getting lost in the morning and missing said bus. Back to the car we walked, and off we went. Albuquerque is only about 40-50 miles south of Santa Fe; not a bad drive at all. After we found our future destinations we putzed around Albuquerque for a bit. We decided to visit a winery. We went equipped with a full list of wineries, and it's a shame that we only hit one. (More on that later, as we had a good excuse). Casa Rondena Winery ended up being the closest to our current location. Here's what we drove into:
Pretty sweet, ain't it? Did we just get transported to Sonoma Valley or what? Here we are in the tasting room:

We sampled about 8 different wines and headed out to the veranda to enjoy our selection. We befriended another couple from Bailey, Colo and shot the breeze with them for about an hour. Glenn is an actual photographer, so when conversation waned he whipped out his camera and went for a walk. Good idea, I thought, and did the same:

Hello; I'm at a winery, right?

Neat door - love that handle!

We spent a bit more time here than we realized (wine seems to attribute to that) and felt that we should be on the road. Not to worry; we had stopped drinking wine an hour prior! We asked one of the employees where a good place to eat was, promptly got lost, and found the highway. We'll just head back to Santa Fe! Much easier! We couldn't decide on a place to eat so we just got something at the hotel's restaurant. Nothing to write about; no green chile or anything exciting! Besides, we didn't want to fill up too much; we had to get up at 4 am.

For BALLOONS!!!! That's the next post! Stay tuned... and since I'm such a tease...