Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with a Baby + Western New Mexico - a 3 day itinerary
My mom lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico whose annual Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world. 2017's Balloon Fiesta coincided with a four day weekend for Jimmy and my friend Linh's Birthday. So we scheduled a trip and decided to explore some parts of Western New Mexico as well.
Day 1 - Balloon Fiesta
A trip to Balloon Fiesta requires a very early start. We woke up at 3:45 AM, so we could catch a 4:30 shuttle from the Coronado Mall. Balloon Fiesta attracts an annual attendance of about 800,000 people (Albuquerque's population is about 500,000), and despite our early arrival there were already thousands who had arrived before us. Still we had plenty of time to get some coffee and breakfast burritos before the first event which was the laser show.
Since it was pitch black, the laser show mainly served the purpose of lighting the way towards the dawn patrol. The dawn patrol is a group of about 10 balloons that head up before the rest to test the weather conditions. The most spectacular part of the dawn patrol is when the balloons glow as a result of the pilot igniting the burner.
As the sun starts coming up, the mass ascension begins with all the rest of the balloons inflating and taking off. There were nearly 600 balloons and so they are all squished together as they start inflating. From my perspective there didn't seem to be much order to how this took place, and occasionally a guy with a rope would just miss clothes-lining us as he was trying to get the balloon upright. There seemed to be no place that was off limits for spectators which was awesome. The balloons would ascend so close to us that we could literally jump up and touch the baskets as they were taking off.
Once a bunch of balloons were in the air, it was fun spotting all the fun shapes.
It was such a spectacular event, and you must put it in your plans if you are in New Mexico in October. Just make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes. I was not prepared for how cold it was going to be before the sun came up. I ended up buying a blanket and wished I had worn a couple extra pair of socks.
After the Balloon Fiesta we visited my friends Linh and Alex at their new house, and then my mom had a party at her house. We were so exhausted by the end of the day.
Day 2 - El Malpais, Ice Cave, and El Morro
After breakfast at my mom's house, we made our way to El Malpais National Monument which was only a little more than an hour away. We started at the Sandstone Bluffs which offered a great view of the ancient lava flow below. There were also some cool slot canyons and rock formations to scramble around.
We then drove a little further south to La Ventana Arch which is one of New Mexico's largest arches. It was only about a half mile round trip hike to the arch.
From there we drove for about another half hour to Grants for lunch at the Kiva Cafe. New Mexico has such distinctive cuisine, so we always try to load up on Indian Tacos, red and green chili, and sopapillas while we can.
Then we drove about another 15 minutes to the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano. These are privately owned and so there is a $15 entrance fee which allows you access to both. We started with the half mile hike to see the volcano eruption from about 10,000 years ago. The interpretive trail included lots of fun facts on the hike up.
We hiked back the way we we came and from there it was a quarter mile to the ice cave.
The shape of the cave traps frigid air while the lava serves as an insulator. As a result, the temperature never rises above 31 degrees Fahrenheit even in the summer.
We hiked back the way we came, and then we drove to El Morro National Monument which was about another 30 minutes west. We got there about an hour before they closed at 5, so we only had time to hike the 1/2 mile Inscription Trail. The first thing on the walk is an oasis which was visited by all sorts of travelers back in the day.
The next part of the trail includes all the inscriptions of travelers from back in the day.
Next we backtracked east to the Ancient Ways Cafe to get some food to take back to the Cimarron Rose B&B which was our home for the night. Our suite was beautifully decorated and every detail was attended to including fresh flowers and a chocolate cake to welcome us.
Day 3 - Zuni Pueblo and Chinese Lantern Festival
Our breakfast didn't come until 9 AM, so we got a little later start than we had anticipated. We first drove to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, but by the time we had gotten there, their tour group was full. So we took a quick peek at the wolves and then drove about another hour west to Zuni Pueblo. We booked the Middle Earth Walking Tour and then got some Indian Tacos at the gas station next door while we waited for the tour to begin. Our tour guide had been an archaeologist for nearly 30 years and was very active in Zuni religious ceremonies. So he was very knowledgeable, but for some reason none of us found the tour to be very engaging.
On a previous trip, we had visited Acoma Pueblo which is also in this area and in my opinion far more interesting. Acoma Pueblo is situated on top of a mesa and to this day has no running water or electricity. Most people don't live in the ancient Pueblo full time but come back for festivities. We went during the Governor's Feast which meant that the Pueblo was full of people and artisans in a very festive atmosphere. During the festivities, people stand on the roof tops and throw down lots of Little Debbie cakes and other assorted junk food that people collect in laundry baskets. You could easily visit Acoma on your way back to Albuquerque from Ramah or just for a day trip from Albuquerque.
We drove straight back to Albuquerque from Zuni which took a little over two hours. Later in the evening, we met up with my friend Linh for the Chinese Lantern Festival which was taking place at the state Fairgrounds.
The lanterns were quite impressive and they had a performance with dancing, acrobatics, and a mask magician man.
The only thing that was not impressive was the food. You definitely need to eat beforehand if you visit the Chinese Lantern festival. Overall though it was a lovely way to end our long weekend in Albuquerque.
Flight: $963 for two tickets from D.C. Balloon Fiesta is a pricy time to travel to New Mexico, especially during Columbus Day Weekend. I'm glad we did this while Lewis is still a lap infant.
Lodging: $0 As moms do, my mom refused our money for our Bed and Breakfast stay.
Food: $140. We tried to treat my parents, but they fed us a lot too.
Activities: $140. This included the Ice Cave admission, Zuni tour, and Chinese Lantern Festival tickets for everyone. My mom bought us all our balloon Fiesta tickets.