Oh, how much I loved New Mexico! The mesas, the history, the Spanish/Mexican and Native American influences, the friendly people… I would go back there to live if I could.
We were fortunate enough to arrive in Albuquerque in time to attend the annual International Balloon Fiesta, a festival so big it has its own dedicated field, Balloon Fiesta Park, which also includes a balloon museum. What’s really amazing is that more than 500 hot-air balloons participate every year! We decided to see it during an evening session, one of the two held each day of the festival. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong for the balloons to fly at that time, and only about 10 of them were inflated before it became clear that we wouldn’t see any in the sky. We were disappointed, but were glad to have been there at least, to see what it was all about. And the few remaining, mostly successful sessions afterwards (aided by the balloonists’ “box” wind, often present in this particular park) were televised locally.
My favourite part of Albuquerque, aside from the Balloon Fiesta, was the Old Town, which featured several museums, shops, and restaurants housed in adobe-style buildings, with a town square in the middle bordered by San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church. The town, not far from the Rio Grande, was Albuquerque’s first neighbourhood, established by Spanish settlers in 1706. There was lots to see, including turquoise jewellery and fine Pueblo pottery, which are popular items in New Mexico, and books about New Mexico’s “haunted” past. Eric and I didn’t get to see as much as we wanted to there (the boys were pretty restless that day), but we certainly got a good taste of Burqueño (Albuquerquean) culture.
(On our way back to our little cabin at the KOA, not too far from downtown, we passed by the University of New Mexico, where it just so happened that Gary Johnson, presidential candidate and former governor of New Mexico, was speaking. When we passed by the ralliers holding pro-Johnson placards, I started talking about vote-splitting, and how that could give Trump the win (still unfathomable at the time). This caught Fisher and Milo’s attention because, while travelling through the U.S., they had become quite interested in (and opinionated about!) the American election. I think all the drama around – and the perpetual exposure to – the election had something to do with it. But the fact that vote-splitting could be a point of family discussion is quite remarkable, and goes to show that you never know what kids will be interested in, even at a young age.)
On the east side of Albuquerque lie the rugged Sandia Mountains. In Eric’s quest to ride every tram or gondola we come across (though he missed out on the gondola in Mammoth Lakes), he took the trip up to the western face of Sandia Peak, to a height of 10,378 feet, on the tram. The tram, or “bi-cable double reversible aerial passenger tramway”, is an engineering marvel, as the weight of the downhill tramcar helps pull the uphill tramcar to the top. The views on the way up were stunning, as was the panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley once he reached the top.
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After Albuquerque we went to Roswell, just for the hell of it. The alien theme was definitely present, but the town itself was more understated than expected. The kids were a little uncomfortable with going to the (only) UFO museum, so we checked out the Roswell Museum and Art Center instead. It had all kinds of beautiful art pieces, largely modern, and the museum was dedicated to New Mexican history as well as the work of Robert H. Goddard, a rocket scientist who conducted experiments in Roswell during the 30s.
Roswell was our last stay in New Mexico, but we didn’t leave the state before visiting Carlsbad Caverns, a National Park in the Chihuahuan Desert that takes you underground to walk through caverns of varying sizes. Milo was too nervous to go down, but Eric and Fisher took the elevator, which was the much quicker alternative to the natural entrance, to the Big Room, from where they walked the 1.5 kilometre, circular trail. Some of the features included the Bottomless Pit (very deep), the Giant Dome, the Rock of Ages, and the Chandelier Room. They had only intended to do part of the walk, but in the end decided to do the entire thing, as the sights were so spectacular.
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After the Caverns we said “Adios!” to New Mexico (I know we’ll meet again!) and headed into Texas…