Hot Air on a Cold Morning

The first time I went up in a hot air balloon it was something I had really wanted to do after several years of attending Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta. On the mornings we watched the mass ascensions I would stand on the field gazing upwards in awe at the hundreds of balloons rising together in various stages of launch, filling the sky with beautiful shapes and colors. What must it be like, I thought, to be a passenger in a balloon that was part of that crowd?

There is only one company that is allowed to take paid passengers from the fiesta launch field during the week of the fiesta. With that kind of monopoly their prices were outrageous but I was more than willing to pay for the experience. I feel that I got my money’s worth and I was satisfied that having the memory of my experience would keep me from feeling the need to repeat the adventure.

Then last month my friend, Marji, shared the news that she had purchased a ticket for a balloon ride from Fly Albuquerque and, never having been in a hot air balloon, she was very excited. I knew that they launched from a field close to our apartments so I offered to go there with her on the day of her flight and take pictures. As the time drew closer and she began to talk more about it she suggested that maybe I could buy a ticket, too, and be a passenger instead of just taking pictures from the ground. It seemed like a terrific idea so I bought my ticket. Lee agreed to come with us the morning of the launch and do the picture-taking duty.

The night before our scheduled flight Fly Albuquerque called with the news that an approaching storm system would make it too windy to launch and we would have to reschedule. We picked another day a week later but then the same thing happened. The third time is a charm, though, and yesterday we finally got to go up.

It was a chilly 21 degrees at 5:45 am in the pre-dawn dark when we had to assemble with our group. Warm welcomes, an air of excitement and the blast of flames from the hot air jets inflating the balloon all helped. Just before it was time to load passengers we were told that in order to add extra weight and balance the load another passenger would be needed. Rather than have one of the ground crew reassigned Lee was told that he could have a free flight if he agreed to be a passenger. How can you pass up that kind of a deal?

After we landed Lee lent some muscle to the process of packing and loading the balloon so he wouldn’t feel too guilty about his free ride!

I thoroughly enjoyed the first balloon ride I had because being part of a mass ascension is a unique experience in itself. But if you are looking for a good company to fly with here in Albuquerque I highly recommend Fly Albuquerque. Their owner/pilot is a special lady and the whole crew is a terrific group of people. They are a small business, unlike the giant monopoly that runs Balloon Fiesta. Give them your support if you possibly can.

Another RAV4 Adventure

After an unusually wet week of weather, the skies finally cleared today. We took the opportunity to head for a hiking spot that we knew would take us over one of those rough roads perfectly suited for letting the RAV4 show off its capabilities. It didn’t disappoint us.

Even in the best of conditions, we never took the Corolla on the road into San Lorenzo Canyon. The first time we went there 8 years ago, we were with our friend, Sue, who had a car capable of handling the road. The only other time we were there was on a field trip sponsored by Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. We carpooled from the refuge and didn’t have to drive our vehicle into the canyon.

The last 2 or 3 miles of the road into the canyon requires driving in the stream bed that is the outflow from the canyon. That outflow can be quite significant, as evidenced by the sand and gravel that has built up over the years. The challenge in the dry season is to not get stuck in the sand, whereas on a day like today, after a week of rain, our challenge was driving over ruts and through a sea of mud. Fortunately, there is a solid base of gravel under the mud, but, nevertheless it isn’t a road suitable for a sedan.

We had decided to do the same hike today that we had done 8 years ago. At that time we relied on Sue and her GPS device to lead the way. The hike is an off trail hike in BLM land that would be very difficult to follow without a GPS track. An app on my phone gives us the capability to download and follow a GPS track. With just a couple of small mistakes we were able to keep on track. We didn’t drive as far into the canyon today as we had the time before and that increased the hiking distance. The hike was close to 6 miles total, just right for enjoying another gorgeous fall day in New Mexico.

After hiking in the canyon for about a mile we climbed up the side of the canyon to find an old dirt road. For several miles we looped through the arroyos and over the ridges to some good views of the surrounding mountains.