Join Date: Sep 2011
Sunday was just about perfect.
Many of our FROGs awoke early, hopeful that the last scheduled event of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta would be able to go on. In the pre-dawn darkness we felt crisp, cool air. The sky was crystal clear, with many stars still visible and not a cloud to be seen. There was a light breeze.
Since we had a 9:00 tour scheduled, most of us stayed right in the campground area, although a few caught the shuttle down to the launch field. Those who stayed generally started showing up with cups of coffee, only to be met by Krispy Kreme donuts.
As we settled in, we started to come to a great realization. The breeze was in our faces! Checking out some nearby flags confirmed it. At least near ground level, the wind was coming directly in our direction from the launch field!
Shortly before dawn, still in the early morning darkness, the “dawn patrol” was launched. Twelve balloons, granted special FAA permission to fly before sunrise, rose from the field. With a special light hanging from the basket, each balloon glowed in the pre-dawn darkness as its pilot did a burn to heat the air in the envelope to maintain or gain altitude.
Best of all, the balloons came directly toward us and passed almost directly over our heads. Anticipation grew.
Then shortly before sunrise, it began. First a few, then more, then wave after wave of brilliantly colored balloons rose over the horizon. Once again the favorable wind brought the fleet directly toward us. The numbers grew from a few, to dozens, and then to hundreds.
Then, the fun turned to magic. Many of the pilots decided that an open area just a couple of hundred feet from us would make a perfect landing area. Suddenly, nearly a hundred of the balloons were settling in to land, and many of the FROGs hopped into action. Several of us pitched in and helped to stabilize baskets as the pilots “ripped out” the top of their envelopes to release some of the heated air that provides lift.
One balloonist landed in the driveway right behind Youroo’s trailer. He and Cindy, an experienced balloon crew member, helped to stabilize the basket as the pilot dropped off a couple of passengers and picked up others, then did a burn to reheat the air in the envelope and lift off again. As another experienced crew member, I helped to stabilize a couple of baskets, and then manned the “crown line” of one balloon to ensure that the envelope dropped in the right direction as the pilot “ripped out” the top and vented the hot air.
The finale of the Balloon Fiesta turned out to be perfect. Everyone was ecstatic at how things had turned out.
And the day was just beginning.
Shortly before 9:00 our bus arrived for our second day of tours in and around Albuquerque. After winding our way through the countryside near Albuquerque to avoid Fiesta traffic, including passing five volcano cones, we were off to Acoma, the “Pueblo in the Sky.”
Acoma Pueblo is built atop a 367 foot tall standstone bluff about 60 miles west of Albuquerque. It is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America, having been occupied since 1150 A.D. In a community consisting of stucco and adobe buildings with neither electricity nor running water, residents create extraordinary jewelry and pottery, practice their ancient religious and cultural ceremonies, and provide educational tours of their village.
On a two-hour guided walking tour through the rocky and sandy streets of the pueblo afforded a chance to learn about the history and culture of the community, to visit with some of the artisans and other residents, and to see and purchase locally produced art and food. (Try the fry breads, and if you like spicy food, the tamales are killer!)
On the way back to the city, our guide, Robin, filled in a lot more information about the history of the area, explained more about the culture of the Acoma Pueblo and others, and fielded a broad range of questions from the group. Everyone seemed absolutely fascinated by what we had seen and learned.
On our return to Albuquerque, we stopped by the Old Town section of the city. This area includes the 17th-century Iglesia de San Felipe de Neri (St. Phillip Neri Church), shops, restaurants, and more. The beautiful central plaza was hosting music by mariachi and other musical styles. A special treat was an opportunity to meet three of the original Navajo Code Talkers, a group of Navajo members of the U.S. Army during World War II. Serving primarily in the Pacific Theater, and using the Navajo language as a basis, the Code Talkers were able to provide military intelligence through a code that the Japanese were never able to break. It was a great pleasure and honor to be able to meet these gentlemen and to purchase a book to help raise funds for their foundation for World War II veterans.
While in Old Town, there were also opportunities for a brief walking tour with Robin, for lunch or shopping, or just for relaxing and enjoying the music and the atmosphere of the neighborhood.
As our last event before returning to the campground, we took a brief driving tour of a section of Historic Route 66, including many of the historic hotels and diners, theaters, and more. One of the buildings we saw was the first office of a young business that established its first corporate headquarters in Albuquerque. Unable to get a loan locally to help expand operations, the owners moved the business to the West Coast, where Microsoft continues to thrive.
Finally, our scheduled activities were over. Small groups gathered to share memories from the past twelve days. Plans were laid to get together for future events. Addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses were exchanged. As the sun faded, we took a few moments to gaze at the Sandia Mountains, so named because the brilliant red glow of the mountains in the setting sun reminded the Spanish conquistadors of sandia, or watermelon.
Soon, chairs were arranged in a circle. Wine, cheese, crackers, and other snacks began to arrive. More memories of the trip were shared. People talked about families, past trips, and future plans. People learned amazing facts about one another.
(Earlier in the week, the evening before the tornado warning in Holbrook, Cindy and I went out to dinner with two other couples. It turns out that one of the husbands gave a young Buzz Aldrin a ticket for illegally hauling a catamaran across a beach many years ago, and is now a member of the same Rotary chapter as Aldrin. The other helped to design special cameras and film for NASA, and developed all of the photos from four Apollo missions, including Apollo XI, which carried Buzz Aldrin on the first manned mission to land on the moon. It’s a large universe, but a small world.)
This morning it was over. Everyone closed up, hooked up, and prepared to roll out. Some will return home, others will continue on great adventures. A few headed north to Santa Fe. Cindy and I stopped there briefly to see the famous “miracle staircase” in the Loretto Chapel. Tonight we’re at a truck stop just east of Santa Rosa, NM. (I know how to show a girl a good time!) We’ll make a stop on the way home to drop in on a FROG gathering in Gore, OK, where we’ll stay two nights and go out for dinner.
Then it’s back to Middlebury. There’s a lot waiting for us there. Plans are underway for next month’s Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston. We’re working on trips to Florida, a return to the Cherry Blossom Festival, and a dual celebration of freedom at Niagara Falls. There’s a lot to do for the FROG Rally in Goshen, which will be even bigger and better than this year’s. The Black Hills are in the plans, and we still have to get to Texas and the West Coast, where there are large concentrations of Forest River owners. We’re getting a lot of volunteers to host local events and need to get those underway.
In the meantime, we’ll be working on setting up more benefits for our members. We look forward to hearing from you with tales of your own outings and suggestions for others. And we’d love to have you join us at future FROG events.
Until then, we wish you safe travels and great adventures.