October 10 Thursday
Keep in mind that in addition to all the extras we enjoyed at the Fiesta, every single morning we were enthralled anew with the excitement of the Dawn Patrol, the early morning glow, and the balloons rising gently as the sun rose over the Sandia Mountains.
Thursday was an especially beautiful day, with the “Special Shapes Rodeo” event. We were on the field by 6am, along with 90,000 or so other people, on a morning that wasn’t quite as cold as predicted, but still chilly.
The morning air is absolutely electric with all the excitement, and we enjoyed hot chocolate and some yummy donuts while waiting for the show to begin. No need to go overboard with those huge breakfast burritos again.
Wandering around the field as the balloons begin to fill is fascinating.We loved watching them up close, hearing the whoosh of the burners, and the excitement of the pilots as they prepare to fly. Sadly, this was the second morning of our visit that the weather didn’t cooperate and there was too much wind for the balloons to lift. Still, they were filled and standing in the field, blowing around and sometimes even “kissing”. It was a great experience and we didn’t mind that the balloons didn’t take off so we could enjoy them up close.
We returned to the tent in time for a hot breakfast with plenty of time to board the Red Bus at 11 AM for the trip west to the famous El Pinto Restaurant and the Acoma Pueblo.
The grounds of El Pinto are beautiful. What was once a working ranch is now a huge restaurant capable of seating several hundred people at once. We had a buffet lunch with lots of choices. There were some rellenos and enchiladas that make my mouth water as I remember those flavors of New Mexico.
We spent time relaxing in the shady patio after lunch before we once again boarded the bus for the 90 minute ride west along I-40 toward the Acoma Pueblo. There are many pueblos in the Albuquerque area; some quite lovely, some a bit touristy, and some completely inaccessible except on feast days.
The Acoma Pueblo is off the beaten track several miles south of the highway surrounded by colorful canyons and mesas. The Pueblo is actually located high on a mesa although the village where most people actually live is on the flatland at the base of the historic pueblo.
We stopped at the visitor center and boarded a shuttle that took us up the hill for a tour of the Pueblo. It was almost completely empty except for a few Indians (don’t forget New Mexico Native Americans like to be called Indians) peddling their arts. The pottery was gorgeous with beautiful detailed designs filled with meanings about the earth, the rain, and the clouds. Not being a collector with buckets of money, I opted for a very small flat pot made by an artist who talked about living down below in “town” but coming up to his studio to work. He liked the quietness of the place with no electricity or running water.
We were surprised to see cars tucked into small spots on the crooked dirt roads and a few TV antennas poking up from the adobe walls. In spite of the incongruity of some of the modern day intrusions, the pueblo felt quiet and beautifully ancient.
Once back at the visitor center, I perused the maps of the routes of the people who native historians say came from Chaco to settle at Acoma. Once again, the thought that the Anasazi disappeared was discounted as a construct of the white man historians. The Pueblo people call them their ancestors and claim that they are directly descended from the Anasazi.
October 11 Friday
We had another quiet morning accompanied by the balloons rising over the MoHo. We had arranged to meet with Mary Ann and Gail in the afternoon for a visit and a meal. When Mary Ann asked what we might be interesting in doing I said without hesitation, “Something without people!” We met at their lovely home and they took us on a drive up the Turquoise Trail to the back side of the summit of the mountain we had visited before by tram. What a gorgeous drive!
They then took us to a back road on the east side of the mountains,where we found a sweet little walking trail that gave us beautiful skies, silence, and the fragrance of a pinyon and ponderosa forest. After waiting patiently in the MoHo for many days while we left with our group, Mattie loved being out walking as much as we did.
Dinner was at their home with a delicious curried vegetable soup and bread. They gifted us with a lovely good luck chili ristra and sent us on our way early enough to beat the night traffic to the balloon field. We so enjoyed the quiet time and the wonderful break from the busy-ness of our time with Adventure Caravans.
October 12 and 13, Saturday and Sunday
The last day of the Fiesta passed in a blur without much to mark it as any different as the previous days. We saw the dawn glow, the Mass Ascension, had breakfast in the tent, and spent the rest of the day cleaning and packing the MoHo preparing for our exit from the field the following morning.
We enjoyed the farewell dinner in the tent with our fellow travelers, exchanged photos and addresses with Laura and Elsie, and said goodbye to other folks we had met during the ten days at the Fiesta.
We knew that we had to be off the field by 10 AM and had no reservations or plans for where we might spend the night on Sunday. We decided to return to the beautiful Sandia Resort and Casino and take advantage of the open free parking in the huge lot overlooking the Rio Grande Valley.
I wanted very much to return to the incredibly good buffet that we had enjoyed there during the previous week. A quiet day, a delicious afternoon supper, and a short time with the slots was just enough. Watching the full moon rise that night over the mountains was spectacular. By Monday morning we were ready to roll in earnest.
We headed north toward Farmington knowing we could easily camp at the Homestead RV Park even without a reservation. We had visited Chaco Culture in 2014 and knew that the road west included 21 miles of rough dirt road to reach the park. Still, knowing we probably wouldn’t return to New Mexico any time soon, we decided to park the MoHo at the highway and venture west in the Tracker.
There is no easy description of that road that covers the intensity of the washboards and the ruts. Somewhere way out there, a crazy racket emanated from the underpinnings of the Tracker and we thought maybe we might be stranded. After a bit it subsided, never to go completely away. The brakes were doing goofy things but lucky for us, they held up until we got back to Grants Pass.
Chaco was as wonderful as we remembered and while we didn’t hike the same paths we enjoyed the visitor center and drove the scenic loop route among the ruins. It was good to be there again even though it was only for a short afternoon.
Our night at Homestead was uneventful and our goal the next day was to reach Capitol Reef National Park and possibly boondock just west of Fruita where we had seen a group of people boondocked on our way south two weeks previously.
We took our time along Highway 95, enthralled with the canyons, the river, the cliffs, and stopped for a short visit to Natural Bridges National Monument just off Highway 95. We drove the loop, admired the arches from above, and I remembered my hikes into the depths of those canyons many years before. The trails were icy and the air was cold so I didn’t mind skipping the hikes that we didn’t have time to do.
Our goal was to get home as quickly as possible since the snows were threatening to close the roads on our route over the Sierra Nevada mountains north of Reno. As we approached the eastern boundary of Capitol Reef, I saw several rigs parked at the Fremont River Crossing that leads to Cathedral Valley. It only took a minute for us to decide to try to boondock there and sure enough there was plenty of room for us in spite of the half dozen or so rigs scattered about near the crossing.
Once again the night was gorgeous with clear skies, a beautiful moon and intense quiet. The next morning we left early and followed the same route west that we had taken on our way to Albuquerque, traveling through Utah and Nevada on highway 50, camping again at the Border RV Park. On our return route, we knew that we didn’t have to settle for WalMart in Fallon, Nevada and chose to park at the Texaco in Fallon.
What we didn’t know until I went into the store to be sure it was ok to park was that the station belonged to the local tribes,and if we hadn’t checked in the tribal police would have made us move. There were only a couple of other rigs in the lot that came and went during the night and I was grateful I didn’t have to worry about being bothered by someone banging on our door.
The next morning we checked the weather, saw that the snow was holding off for another few hours, and made a fast beeline for Susanville. We crossed the mountains on Highway 44 and Highway 89 and then we headed north on I-5 near Mt Shasta. We arrived home just a few hours before the snows came to the mountains behind us.
Whew. Even as I review the photos, after three weeks out and ten days having a wonderful time in Albuquerque, the 4 day trip home is still a bit of a blur in my mind. Anyone who has read this blog for long will no doubt recognize that horse running to the barn way we have of going home after a trip. It was a truly wonderful trip, a great experience, and we were so very happy to be home again and settle in for the fall.