Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Back on the road again! Almost there, only 2 more days to go!
We took the I-10 out of Albuquerque and East for a while until we reached the 285 which we followed to Vaughn and all the way south to Roswell.
Not much out there but wide open planes ..... 
..... although .... that's what they thought in the little town of Roswell, that we finally arrived at, also, and we all know what happened there ....
(that is to say .... what REALLY happened ...?)
We tried to find the Bottomless Lakes State Campground in Roswel but got lost (ha ... there you go ...) so we pulled in a small private campground, the Trailer Village Campground, just outside town and snatched up the last available spot!
It was Sunday and all the shops in town were closed, which was a little eery (like something out of the Twilight Zone, how appropriate) but the museum was open and it was actually a really fun one!
Admission was very reasonable, only $5 pp, it's small and doesn't have anything truly authentic of course, but it was chock full of first hand accounts, news articles and different perspectives (both sides equally) on the 1947 Roswell UFO incident and a little about crop circles and 'other' alien phenomenons.  
And off course there were the cheesy but fun displays to take pics around aliens and crafts.
The town is all decked out in alien stuff:


In the only other store open that day (a consignment antique mall, I love those!) I managed to snatch up a great pair of black (Alan Post) cowboy boots for $38. My first of such boots, and my ticket into Texas, since I've heard they don't let you in if you ain't have 'm! ;-)
The next day we drove to Carlsbad where we did our last Walmart 'run' to stock up on groceries for about 2 months (!) and than onto Carlsbad.
We'd still harbored some hope that the National Parks might have opened up but they hadn't so we had to pass on the Carlsbad Caverns National Park too. Darn!!
                         So than finally, without much ado, there we were!
                                                    In Texas!
Route 62, that we were on, took us alongside the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Again, we couldn't get inside but in this case we got a pretty good feel of it since it's right next to the road!

It's a beautiful rugged mountain park and it houses the tallest point in Texas, the Guadalupe Peak at 8748".

In Van Horn we managed to get at an excellent spot off to the side at a truck stop on the I-10 that crosses Route 54 here.
Merlin just loves truck stops and we really have to keep an eye on him since he likes nothing better than to inspect the undersides of the big trucks that are parked there. We don't want to imagine what will happen if one drives off with him underneath it!
From Van Horn we took the 90 south with the rugged Sierra Vieja on our right, and at Marfa (cute little desert town) the 67 to Presidio, which brought us right to the Mexican border.
There we took the 'scenic Farm Road', the 170 ,which basically follows the Rio Grande and skirts the Big Bend Ranch State Park  on your left and Mexico on your right, all the way to Lajitas.
There WAS a sign that warned about a steep hill coming up but I think we both sort of tried to ignore it.
Well, that was a mistake, although James keeps insisting that he thought it was a lot of fun!
This picture is taken from the Big Hill
The hill, simply known here by the locals as the 'Big Hill', has a 15% grade (!!!!!!) and let's just say that it took about 5 years of my life!
Believe me, you DON'T wanna do this (and I mean the going-down part specifically) with a 40' RV behind you!
But like I said, James thought it was 'fun' and I guess we'll be back here in the future to 'do' this again without the trailer.
For about 50 miles this road meanders through canyons, flats, along cliffs, and around massive lava flows as you are shown the true majesty of the Rio Grande.
And than, after about 50 miles, we reached Lajitas, our final destination!
We made our way to the Maverick Ranch RV Park and were warmly welcomed by Terry, a fellow 'volunteer', after which we walked the grounds to find a spot and get our bearings.
We picked a beautiful site at the far end of the park with a ton of space on one side of us that will stay 'open' since it's not a site and with a beautiful view of Lajitas landmark, 'Lajitas Mesa', right in front of us.
A couple of hours later we were pretty much settled in, just in time for 'happy hour'. 
So here we are. 'Home sweet home' again. 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We arrived in Albuquerque early in the morning, since it was a very short drive from Santa Fe, which was nice because you beat the rush of people coming in at the end of the day.
We'd been a little worried about availability but that proved to be totally needless! All luxury and VIP sites are usually booked up months in advance but the dry camping lot, basically a parking lot, can hold around 800 people and there was plenty of space left.
They still charge you $30 for this dry lot by the way!

It's not pretty but it was actually much better than we had anticipated.
We'd read about it being hot, noisy, dirty or muddy and full of goatheads but first of all it turned out to be rather cool for the time of the year and second, because we're so long, we got a special 'site' alongside the back fence with ample free space on each side of us and a nice overview of the lot all the way to the launch field and Albuquerque in the distance!
We were sitting on fairly level, dry asphalt, there wasn't a goathead to be found and because we were a little away and above it all it was pretty quiet too!
We even set up our lounge chairs and got some sun tan!
That afternoon we took the bikes and visited the Balloon Museum (a 5 min. drive towards the other site of the lot). It's a really neat place that gives you a good overview of the history of hot air balloons and has great replicas of early balloons on display.
I had no idea ballooning started in France, people had ballooned around the world, that there were hot air balloon bombs sent from Japan to the US during WWII  and the first passengers of a hot air balloon were a sheep and 2 birds! 
Around 5 pm we took the free shuttle service (old school buses that start to drive around the lot around the time the gates open and that you can flag down anywhere you are) to the launch field since we had bought tickets for that evenings 'session' ($8 p.p/per session).
Since the inflating of the balloons for the evening show usually doesn't take place until sunset, when the wind dies down, we had lots of time to 'hit' the concession stands on 'main street' (and no way to avoid it either).
I had read that there would be food establishments offering things like yummy burritos, cinnamon rolls, and hot chocolates. What I did not expect were the like ONE HUNDRED (estimate) food vendors lined up all throughout the Balloon Fiesta park.
When the wind died down everybody started to unpack the balloons and James jumped in to lend a crew a helping hand.
One of the coolest things about the balloon fiesta is just how close you can get to the action.
Usually with these huge events, you are sitting in the stands far away from all of the action but at the balloon fiesta you can walk right up to the balloons as they are filling them and you are only 20 feet away when they launch.
There is constant action all around you and you're welcome to pitch in if you want!
Never have bursts of gas been so exciting :-)
(It got pretty hot there for a moment, it blew his hat off!)

This was James' Balloon, the 'Little Pirate'
We thought for a while that the balloons were going to ascend. ( silly because it's dark out, how would they see where to land!?).
This evening's show was called the 'Special Shape Glowdeo' and featured any balloon that was not the 'standard shape' balloon.

Although they don't lift they count down every few minutes & do a glow show which is just magical! All hot air balloons lighting up or "twinkling" all at the same time. Really beautiful.
 At around 8 pm, after all the balloons were packed up again, (surprisingly fast!) it was time for the 'AfterGlow Fireworks Show', which was AMAZING. Truly one of the best shows I've seen in a long time!
Saturday morning we left the RV pretty early, this time we used the bikes, it was still dark at 5.30 am. It sure was nice not to have to get up as early as 3 or 4 am as some people have to do to beat the traffic to get here!
I wouldn't advice to wake up at 3:30 am to get the first shuttle to the Fiesta if you don't have to because there's really nothing going on in the balloon field that early!
Usually the first activity in the field is maybe 45 minutes before sunrise (or sunset for that matter) because that's the time the winds are the lightest.
My lips were so cold I could barely crack a smile!

Another reason not to is also that it is freezing cold!  
We were REALLY glad we heeded the advice of websites to dress in layers. We wore our winter coats, hats, and gloves and thick socks and we were glad we did but it was still painfully cold.
Weather permitting, balloons begin to launch at about 7:15 AM on mass ascension days, led by a balloon (the black one this time)
flying the American flag to the strains of The Star Spangled Banner. 
Then the Mass Ascension went up with the sun peaking over the mountains...awesome!
If you like colorful scenes and majestic shows in the sky, this has to be one of them. I couldn't stop snapping pictures as each balloon started going off the ground. At one point there were probably over hundreds of balloons in the sky at once. It was so amazing.
During mass ascensions, balloons launch in two waves. Launch directors, also known as zebras because of their black-and-white-striped outfits, serve as traffic cops, coordinating the launch so balloons leave the field in a safe and coordinated manner.
It was pretty crowded but still was really easy to maneuver.
Unfortunately the winds started to pick up about half an hour into the ascension and after the first wave had gone up they cancelled the second one. Too bad, but at least we'd seen about 100 of them go up and it was all pretty magical ...seeing so many balloons blow up right in front of you and lift up in the air ... such a beautiful site to see!

In between all the balloon excitement we took a shuttle to the Old Town area of Albequerque. After Taos, Santa Fe and this one I think I now have seen enough native pottery, silver and turquoise jewelry and Native Indian tapestry to last me for a while.
The San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793.
They're beautiful, colorful places though.
I l just love the adobe and all the red peppers hanging everywhere and just look at that wedding picture! The food is excellent too ;-)

Perhaps the most essential ingredient for any New Mexico recipe is the famous chile, or chili pepper that grows in 2,000 different varieties.  
These dried New Mexico chiles are dried red Anaheim-type and New Mexico-style chile peppers. Available in both hot and mild forms, they are typically rehydrated, then pureed with liquid, and used to make chile sauces and spicy stews. The heat typically ranges from 2 (mild variety) to 4 (hot variety) out of 10 on the chile heat scale.
The next morning was the last day of the Balloon Fiesta, celebrated by a Farewell Mass Ascension at 7 am.
The weather couldn't have been more perfect. NO wind what so ever and (probably because of that) much, much better temperatures!
We grabbed a bowl of cereal and climbed on the truck  just before sunset to have the best view of this awesome spectacle! We'd decided to stay at the RV for this asencion since we'd all ready been 'up close and personal' the day before.
This time ALL balloons could launch and although some had all ready left for other events it was a sight to see!
The colors, the shapes, the floating ...  there's a quite peacefulness to the launch of a balloon and when you multiply this by hundreds  the results are powerful, breath-taking and unforgettable.

 We even had some landing in the parking lot!

How about these cute special shapes!

What an awesome event! We had a blast!
(can you tell?)