2016 Albuquerque Balloon Festival

It October and we are loading up for another adventure.   This month was are going to New Mexico to meet up with family and friends and see the Albuquerque Balloon Festival.  A couple of years ago we had the great pleasure to take Hershey to the balloon festival as a surprise and we were able to bring a family who we are friends with along with us.   That trip was absolutely great.  All of agreed that if we were ever to do the balloon festival again we really need campers so that we could park right there next to the balloon field rather than get up at 3:00 in the morning to battle traffic.   Well a few months later, our dear friends moved out of state. 😦   But they bought a camper :-).   We just needed to get one :-(.  Well this past summer we finally did get our camper :-).   The emotional swings of the last few sentences have been just to much.  I think I need to take a break for a bit, Phew….

Ok, I am back.   Well the Mamas got together and remembered that discussion that we had, the last time we were in Albuquerque and they started to plan and it was soon decided that we would meet-up at the balloon festival this year.  The parents were excited, but we tried to hold off on telling the children, lest something come up.

The schedule was set, we decided that we would drive out on the 5th, spend a day with some of Mama’s family, then go meet our friends at the balloon festival on the Friday the 7th and we would stay there with them until Sunday and then we would part ways and drive back home.

Despite our efforts, we had our normal chaotic last minute packing of the camper, though I think we did do a little better than we have in the past.  We decided to bring our Beagle with us.  Turns out that idea was a mistake.   Camping, no problem, she can go with us everywhere, going to an event like the balloon festival isn’t happening again.  She had to stay in the camper whenever we went anywhere and she just howled and whined the whole time.   There were to many noises and to many people…  She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t pee, she wouldn’t poop, it was awesome fun.

Anyway, we finally told the children where we were going and they were super excited.  We got pretty much everything loaded the night before and were actually able to get out the door and on the road by 7:00 in the morning.   It was a pretty pleasant drive up through Payson and Hollbrook.  There was a little construction on the way up to Payson and at one point we were reduced to one lane and having to follow a pilot vehicle.   Despite my best efforts to give the traffic cones a wide berth I managed to clip one with one of the jack legs.  It left a black smudge mark but otherwise didn’t do any damage.  We made a pitstop and refueled in Payson.  That climb out of the valley does a number on the gas millage

Between Heber and Hollbrook I decided to try and take advantage of the cruise control.  Bad idea!  That is reserved for interstate driving only.  If you have ever been on AZ-377, you know it is a two-lane highway with no extra room.  The pavement ends at the white line.  There is a farm of some sort about halfway between Heber and Hollbrook.  It is on the east side of the road and has a row of trees setback a ways.   We were a few miles south of there and the road rises and turns to the left right at the peak of the rise.  Well we hit that turn on cruise control and it caught everybody’s attention.  We weren’t in danger of rolling over or anything but it was a very uncomfortable turn.  So, no more cruise control on one two lane highways.

We made it to Hollbrook and had another pit stop and top the tank off again (I am pretty sure we could have made it on what we had left, but we are still learning and I figure it is just best to keep the tank full whenever we stop).  Mama took over and made the run from Hollbrook to Gallup while I took a nap, I usually don’t get much sleep the night before a trip.  We were originally planning on having lunch at the rest-stop on the Arizona side of the boarder but we missed the exit on the account of a line of tracker trailer trucks.  So we pressed on and stop just on the west side of Gallup. We found a spot to pullover right at the bottom of the exit ramp.  It was an old abandon gas-station.   It was windy as the high country always seems to be and rocked the camper around as we ate lunch.   I took our Lucy out for a walk and was looking at the inside of the gas station.  It looked like a scene straight out of a movie after a tornado goes through.   There was insulation and duct work hanging from the ceiling, shelves turned over and food strewn all about.  It was rather a little weird to think that somebody would just close up shop and leave just about everything there.  Back in the camper we were on our way again.  We made one more stop in Sky City.  While I was pumping gas, the gentleman across the island noticed the t-shirt I was wearing that had the name of my work on it.   His nephew works there and so we talked while I waited for the family to come back from the restrooms.  Then we made the final push into Albuquerque and to Mama’s parent’s house.  Things definitely take longer with the camper, but Mama and I were pretty happy with the time we made.  We pulled into Grandma and Grandpa’s about 3:00 in the afternoon.

The children were excited to show Grandma and Grandpa our new camper.   We had barely made it to their door when we were turning around and headed back out to the camper.  I unlocked the door and Hershey and Marshmallow pretty much handled the tour from there.  After the grand tour we went in and visited.  Grandpa let me put the camper in the drive way for the night so that everything was level and we could plug the refrigerator in for the night.  The next day Hershey and Marshmallow took turns challenging Grandpa at checkers.  Mama and I escaped for a few minutes to load up the camper with groceries to get us through our trip.  About mid-afternoon we loaded up and said goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa.  Our friends were getting in range so we decided that it was time to go by the campground, figure things out and then wait at the staging area.   It was a good thing we went early.  Apparently there are two parking lots for the park where we planned to meet our friends.  The road signs lead you to the smaller of the two parking lots.  We barely had enough room to turn around, not sure what our friends would have done with their Excursion and 30 foot trailer.  It turns out the other parking lot would have required a u-turn to get into, again not an option for our friends.   So we just headed over to the campground and waited for them just inside the entrance.  The campground has rally style parking and they park you as you arrive, so if we wanted to be next to our friends we had to wait.   Unfortunately they got a flat tire and had to make another stop.  So we ended up waiting a little while.  While we waited, RV after RV pulled up without reservations.  We heard the attendant say that they were extremely busy this year and that they had already filled the overflow lot by the cemetery.  So they were turning away all walk ups.   Glad we all made reservations and didn’t get turned away or end up by the cemetery.

The Balloon Festival


Our friends finally arrived.  I had been watching the mirror and I pulled out and lined up behind them as we made our way to the check-in booth.   Check-in was a breeze then the other dad and I went found the pilot who was going to show us to our spot so that he knew there was two of us and we wanted spots next to each other.   Back in the trucks and off we went following the pilot in his little golf cart.    They ended up parking us across the road from each other near an exit.  Which really wasn’t that cool, because both families have little people who wanted to play with each other.   While our friends got a standard lot because they had a travel trailer, we did not.  They were running out of room, and since we have a truck camper they stuck us in a miniature spot with the most awesome view in the world.

Yep, right up against the fence of the cemetery.   Now I wasn’t creeped out by this at all, Mamma, I think might have been a little bit…  I just found it very disrespectful.  On the other sides of the cemetery they had put up a tarp like barrier around the fence and put a road between the fence and the nearest line of campers.   Us, no, they put me about 3 feet from an open fence.  Where was I supposed to hook up and cook?  The dog…   Kept wanting to go through the fence and chase critters.   While we had a great time, I did not appreciate where they chose to park us.

While looking over the cemetery Marshmallow and I thought that this was a reasonable explanation on how many people dehydrate here  (I think it was). — Hershey

Anyway, back to the important stuff.   We both setup camp fast so that we could make it over to see the special shapes glow that evening.   We got over to the Balloon Fiesta a little before sunset.  The children banned together and started going to each of the balloon crews that were on the field collecting trading cards (like baseball cards).  We parents followed behind.

Before long the sun was setting and balloons were starting to go up.   For all except Hershey it was a cool start to our time together.   Unfortunately, Hershey was caught off guard I think.  She loves hot air balloons, but it was very busy this year and the field was packed with people.  There was also a pretty good breeze starting to pickup as the sun went down and the balloons were moving around.   Throw in that it was dark, she had no good reference point for the horizon, and they were popping off the burns all around us and she got a little overwhelmed.  Hershey has a hard time with lots of stimuli and that pushed her over the edge.  I tried getting her out of the crowd, but she was just beyond overwhelmed at that point.  So she and Mamma headed back to the camper to start dinner and see if they could watch from a distance.    Fear not though, this Daddy can be very determined.  I spent the rest of our days at the balloon festival working with my little girl trying to find a way for her to enjoy her balloons and I do believe we succeeded.  I will let her weigh in on that in a little bit.

Marshmallow and I and our friends retreated to an elevated part of the field and watch the balloons from there for a while.  As I said, it was a bit breezy that evening so most of the balloons came down early.  We stayed to watch the laser and fireworks shows both of which were really great.  It had been a long day on the road for our friends, so we all headed back to our campers to get some dinner and get tucked in for the night.

Special Shapes

We woke up excited the next morning!  This morning is one of our most favorite events of the balloon festival, it is the special shapes launch.  These balloons aren’t your average tear drop shaped balloons, these guys come in all shapes and sizes, and some of them are absolutely huge!  This morning also marks the first morning that I appreciate having our camper.   We didn’t have to get up at 3:00 in the morning and get our the door at 3:30 to go sit in traffic for two and half hours waiting to get to the balloon field.   Nope, we woke up about 5:00 and took our time getting dressed and having breakfast.  Once everybody was ready, we walked across the street to the balloon festival.

The weather was really nice, actually, I think we had a slight delay because it was to nice, there was no wind…   As we hit the balloon grounds the children took off and started running from balloon crew to balloon crew collecting trading cards.   Another one of their favorite activities.

As day break came, the fans started up, followed by the roar of hot burners and slowly, one by one the field became populated with chickens, pigs, penguins, bears, bumble bees, alligators, and almost every other kind of animal that you can think of.

Some of our favorites are:

  • The Cop and Robber
  • The Penguins
  • Yoda and Darth Vader
  • The Butterfly
  • Lovebirds
  • Flying Pig
  • Fire Hydrant
  • Bimbo the Bear

After the balloons all launched and the children had seen just about everything we retired back to our campers and the children got to play together and get caught up.   The mom’s setup some chairs out side so that they could do their own catching up and us dads went on a field trip to get some groceries, some parts for our friends camper, and some more balloon festival tickets for the next day.   All in all it was a nice afternoon.


Calm Before The Storm

The next morning was scheduled to be the mass ascension where several hundred balloon all lift off together.   We were once again up early, Mama was checking the weather and texting our friends.   Rain was scheduled for later in the morning, but we had a green flag so we got the little ones up, had some breakfast, piled out of the camper, round the heard of children and we were off for another morning of balloons.

As we got to the field and the children started with the card collecting.  I waited for the dawn patrol to launch.  The dawn patrol are a set of more experienced balloon pilots who launch just before first light to check out the winds and give a situation report to all the other pilots on the ground.   It was then that I noticed that we had a yellow flag.  But the skies were clear and there was no fog.   So I started listening to the radios and the pilots.  Apparently, there wasn’t enough wind!   Anybody who has ever been to Albuquerque know that is a rare thing indeed.   So the sun came up and everybody milled about waiting for the winds to pickup.

After a while we decided to break and go get something to eat.  We got all the kids donuts and our adults had some wonderful breakfast burritos with fresh Hatch chilies.   Then we returned to the sea of people out on the field.  And what should we stumble upon?  Some folks from a galaxy far, far away.   Fortunately, despite the fearsome reputation of some, they seemed eager to be friendly.  Perhaps, because that with all the blaster bolts in the world, they were still out numbered and stood no chance?   I  don’t know…   Marshmallow however recognized some of these guys and was sure to get pictures with everyone.

While all this was going on Hershey and Mama had wandered off to go meet Grandma, Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin to do a little birthday shopping in the gift stores.  Finally the winds picked up a little and a bunch of balloons got up to everyone’s delight.   Unfortunately, that late morning rain was also beginning to make its way over to us.   A lot of pilots decided to risk it and launch, while some others stayed on the ground.   Our friends and their boys went off to watch the balloons launch as well as Marshmallow and our family.   Hershey and our friends girls stayed with me.   Hershey was trusting me to help her from getting overwhelmed by all the sensory input and still get to enjoy her beloved balloons and the other girls were happy to stay with us.

So they sat checked out their cards they collected and watch the balloons from the side.  Before long our the rest of our friends were back and they decided they were going to head back to the camper as the rain was closing in and the balloons that remained were starting to come down quickly.

Hershey got a little brave as the crowd and the balloons started to thin a little, so we started to walk toward some of our favorites.   Darth Vader, Yoda, and the Penguins.  They also started to come down just as we were getting near.   Yoda came down first.   Then the Penguins.   There weren’t many people around and the crew needed help getting their balloon put away before it got wet.   Plus the crew was super nice, a lot the balloon crews don’t let you touch the balloons because people aren’t careful.  But Marshmallow got to help gather the balloon, squeeze all the air out, tie it up and put it back in the bag.   I took some pictures and barked at people who decided that it would be quicker to try and step over the balloon as they made for the exit.  (I am in the aviation industry, and nothing irritates me more than people who don’t respect how delicate aircraft are).  Just as they started tying the balloon the rest of our family returned and Marshmallow was able to get in on a little of the action.

Then it was time to say goodbye Grandma and everybody and make a break for it as the rain was now here.   There were massive lines some twenty people wide and jammed together like they were on a Korean subway.  We had to cut perpendicular through about 4 of those lines.   So I took point and told my family to stay close and just waded in.  My physical size, and grouchy face can usually make a hole through a crowd petty easy, but with people packed as tight as they were even I had hard time, but I wasn’t doing to bad.  A mama had heard me give my warning to my family to stay close and she and her daughter were thankful to be following in my wake as well.

We eventually plowed our way through the crowds and were headed towards our exit, which was thankfully, hardly busy at all, so we walked as fast as we could as the skies started to open up on us.  At first a drizzle, then turning into a pretty good down pour.   That walk never seemed so long.   As we finally made it out on to the main street, and with about 1/8 of a mile left to go, thunder and lightning started to smash down to the ground and it was close!  So me hurried as fast we could and finally made it back to the camper.  We were all drenched, so we changed and hung everything in the shower.   Then we turned on the heater for a little bit and played legos.


Hershey relaxing and reading a book.

The storm rolled through quickly which was a good thing.   We were supposed to meet our family for lunch and I was not intending to pull up stakes to do so (not sure what RV rally people would have said about a truck camper, but you aren’t supposed to move your RV once they have you parked).   So I once the storm cleared I went out and got us unhooked and off we went for lunch.

We met at a little Italian dinner and had lunch with Grandma, Grandpa, and the childrens’ Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin.   I dropped the family off and drove around for a while looking for a parking spot.   It isn’t always easy to park our beast of a truck.  I tried backing into a space, but our tail and trailer hook extension hung out past the end of the spot and completely blocked the sidewalk.  So much so that the hitch was almost in the street.  I ended up having to park down at the far end of the little plaza, cross ways, across a bunch of spots.  Normally, i don’t have a problem with that when I can park out in Timbuktu, but there was no Timbuktu to be had.  Lunch was great and it was nice to get caught up with everybody.  Eventually it was time for everybody to go home.

So we piled back into the truck and returned to thankfully find out camper where we left it.   I was a little nervous about backing under it because we were on uneven ground.   But I was able to get it on the first try, best backing under attempt yet (it helps so much when the you don’t have to deal with the sun, or harsh shadows).

The children went out with our friend’s children and they attempted to fly their kites as evening drew near.   As blustery as it was you would not have thought it would have been that difficult to get a kite up.   The children were stubborn and tried hard for a long time, even us dads gave it a go, but it was really hard to get above the canyon of RVs and all the turbulence they were causing.  We would just get them up and think we were safe and some eddy would come along and take the kite right to the ground.

Stormy Night, Bimbo the Bear Greets Us In The Morning

Eventually it was time to retire for the night and it was quiet in our camper.  Tired and sad that our time in Albuquerque was done and that we would have to leave our friends and family and head for home in the morning.  Sleep came quickly for the little one, which was good as a pretty intense storm swept through during the night.  Everybody slept except me.  I discovered we had a leak!  Sigh…

If you don’t have an RV, but are thinking about getting one.  I love it, we love it, it is our home away from home.  But be fore warned, there is always something that needs to be fixed, always…   In this case it appears the manufacturer forgot to put in two screws on the the roof of the slide out.  And it had rained so hard and been so windy that the rain got under our slide out topper and up to those screw holes, and down along the inside wall and into the storage compartment…  Ugh…  But it is a simple fix that I can take care of when we get home.

It was cold in the morning.   We all got up and the children went out to play and maybe see one or two more balloons while we got things packed and ready to go.  I also assessed the damage.  It was pretty minor and it looks like it may have leaked a little in the past.  The wallpaper(?) was bubbled a little but other than that I just had to dry things.

The children returned in short order to announce that the balloons had launched and were coming our way.  So we and our friends all went out to look.   It was crazy there were several balloons that we veritably skimming over the tops of the campers.   I am pretty sure that I or the other dad could have climbed up on the roof of a camper and jumped aboard one if we had wanted to.   Next think we know there are some balloons setting down in a field right in the middle of our camp ground.

We all raced out to try to help hold the balloons down and keep them from dragging across the field as they pilots radioed their chase crews and waited for them to arrive.  We ended up catching three balloons and put away one balloon.  Catching the balloons got all the children and us adults pretty excited and helped break the glum mood.   It made for a great end of trip.   We ended up leaving a couple of hours later than expected, but it was well worth it.  Our ride home was pretty uneventful.

Okay, final note, as I was looking at pictures I realized I skipped a whole day of our trip.  This is what happens when you write the blog article 6 months after the fact.   So here are bunch of random pictures to close out this post with.



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