I am writing this blog about the rest of our week in Albuquerque a bit late, on a quiet Thanksgiving morning at Sunset House in Grants Pass. It has been more than six weeks since we returned from New Mexico, and writing from photos and notes leaves a bit to be desired. This post is a labor of love, with maybe a bit more labor than love, as I attempt to recreate the whirlwind of activities that filled the rest of our week in New Mexico.
Adventure Caravans made sure that we didn’t have any complaints about too much down time. Each day was booked solid with interesting activities, some more than others. As I look back, and read my notes, reviewing the photos to jog my memory, I can see why I have avoided writing this post. So much and so fast, and crunched into a very few days is a lot to put together.
I know better, I know that cryptic notes don’t do the job and I need to actually write the blog as things are happening. I wouldn’t exactly call this current post a “place holder”, but essentially it is a journal for me to keep things in order, to remember what we did in that busy week after our first breathtaking Balloon Fiesta initiation.
We rose at dawn each morning to watch the dawn patrol, the breathtaking mass ascensions, and see the balloons light up with the rising sun over the Sandia Mountains. A bit of breakfast in the tent, and by 9 or 10, as the balloons returned to the field and the skies emptied, we were on our red bus heading somewhere. With 150 people to keep entertained, Adventure Caravans had their work cut out. There were three busses, and we had the same bus each day. If there is anything I would say about this trip that wasn’t my favorite part, it was the number of people in the group. It was just much too big for us. I get it, there is no way that a small group would work in this situation, and I have to give the company great credit for managing all of us as well as they did.
On Monday morning, the 7th, we woke up feeling a bit worn from all the weekend excitement. The sewage pump truck arrived early and with little fanfare sucked out all the contents of our tanks. We appreciated the convenience of having two free pump-outs during our time at the fiesta, especially since it is nearly impossible to leave the camping area in a rig to go find a dump during the ten days of the show.
By 9 we had finished our breakfast at home and lined up for our first bus excursion. Sometimes when we are traveling with a group, I am having to deal with trying to get a forward seat due to my tendency to get carsick. When we filled out our forms for Adventure Caravans, they had a space for “motion sickness” which I checked. Instead of having to wait in line and fight for a forward seat, those of us who had the problem were given special passes and had the same seats throughout the rally. Such an amazing and simple thing and I appreciated it so very much.
We rode just a few miles toward the center of Albuquerque to visit the Turquoise Museum. The Turquoise Castle was built as a private residence by an eccentric and very wealthy Albuquerque businesswoman in 2008. It was purchase by the family and officially opened as the Turquoise Museum in 2019. The word “family” in the previous sentence has a link, because tracking the history of the Zachary and Lowry extended families including 5 generations who founded the museum is complicated. Prior to the move to the “castle”, the museum was in much smaller venue. Currently there is more than 8,000 square feet of museum space filled to bursting with some of the world’s rarest and most collectible pieces of turquoise and turquoise jewelry.
The educational exhibits include information about the mining, science and grading of turquoise, in addition to lapidary techniques, turquoise imitations and the purported mystical qualities of the stone. One bit of information that stood out is the fact that only “natural turquoise” is real. Real turquoise can be anything at all. It is easy to be duped into buying something that isn’t natural even if it is called “real”.
The castle itself was fascinating, done in the European style of a great castle, filled with antiques, stained glass windows, a gorgeous spiral staircase, and 127 crystal chandeliers. Hard to imagine that such opulence was only built in 2008!
As we left the main showrooms of the museum, we were funneled into a very tiny commercial area with turquoise for sale. It was really a disservice to the museum people and to us because we had only a few minutes to get back to the bus and no time at all to peruse the fabulous turquoise items that were displayed. The museum is near downtown and is definitely worth much more time than we were given.
Feeling a bit sad about our truncated visit to the museum, we once again boarded the red bus for the short trip to Old Town. Like many historic towns in New Mexico, Old Town Albuquerque is built around a plaza. There are restaurants and shops, and a bandstand in the center of the square.
Mo and I visited Old Town on our first MoHo cross country trip in 2007, and had delightful memories of a Christmas time supper at the charming Church Street Cafe, located in a house that was built during the founding of Albuquerque sometime after 1706. This would make Casa de Ruiz the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the state of New Mexico.
We thought that going to the café first while the bus loads of tourists wandered around the square would ensure a quick lunch and we could explore afterward. We were seated almost immediately, and our charming waiter encouraged us to order immediately, before the crowds arrived. We did so, enjoyed our drinks, and waited, and waited, and waited. The charming waiter was running around like crazy, and when I finally asked what happened to our meal, he was a bit short, saying, “I will deliver it when I get it!”. A few minutes later, he humbly offered us a free cocktail, since he realized he had forgotten to place our order.
We kept our sense of humor, especially after the amazing meal arrived, including “traditional” chile rellenos for me, accompanied by the lightest empanadas I ever tasted. By the time we left the restaurant, the crowds were huge and the wait lines were very long.
After lunch we listened to the mariachi music in the plaza for a time before wandering around the block enjoying the window displays. This photo feels much like how I felt in Old Town, overloaded with touristy displays and too many people. Unlike the Turquoise Museum where we felt entirely too rushed, we felt as though there was too much free time in Old Town and no place that we cared to explore among all the shops and tourists.
Once again the group piled into the buses and we were taken just a short way north of town to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. There was a store, some interesting exhibits, and some dancing, but nothing that I would consider spectacular.
The dancing wasn’t specific to the Pueblo tribes, which seemed a bit strange to me. Some of the art was beautiful, and I especially enjoyed the play of light and shadow on this mural on one of the exterior walls.
At the end of the performance, they encouraged everyone to join in the Friendship Dance, another somewhat generic dance that we see often at Native American gatherings, not specific to the Pueblo tribes. Our new friends Elsie and Laura enjoyed the dancing. Elsie and Laura are friends from Southern California who often travel together. They were parked just a couple of spots from us at the camping area and we enjoyed their company during the rally.
October 8 Sandia Peak
We woke to cloudy skies in the west and predictions of rain for later in the day. Thankfully the predictions were wrong, and the rains never interfered with our trip to the top of Sandia Peak via the Sandia Tramway.
We were glad to be with a tour group when we arrived at 9am on Tuesday morning. It was a popular destination that morning during the Balloon Festival and the lines were hours long. People were waiting three hours for tickets, and as we stood in our line to board, we heard that all tickets for the day had been sold out. Instead of the long wait, within an hour we were in a cable car heading to the top of the mountain, from 6500 feet to more than 10,000 feet in elevation in just 15 spectacular minutes.
We spent quite a bit of time trying to pick out the Fiesta grounds far to the west. None of the binoculars scattered around the platforms were pointed in the direction we needed.
The ride to the top is gorgeous. We were lucky that the predicted rain never came. We didn’t have a lot of time at the summit, and the only restaurant was extremely busy with a long wait. It was much more fun to wander around and look at the gorgeous views.
With beautiful trails extending in all directions from the peak, it looked like a wonderful place for fall hiking, but the short visit limited any hiking and we only managed to walk around a bit before we had to leave. We were warned to be sure to get on the right tram going back down because if we weren’t there when the bus left, we were on our own. I think we had about 45 minutes at the top before going back down.
I did think that perhaps I could manage to write about our entire Albuquerque week in one blog post, but that was much too optimistic. Up next, The Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe, visiting the Acoma Pueblo, and meeting with good friends who live in Albuquerque.
I will leave you with a shot of the beautiful night “glow”, where all the the balloons are filled and raised and lit up in time with the music blaring from huge speakers. The video is on SmugMug, but I actually have no clue how to embed it properly here.