This is the last destination stop on our 2019 road trip! It is hard to believe that we left Atlanta, GA nine months ago. It has been an absolutely amazing trip and ending it at the balloon fiesta is a great way to celebrate it.
We arrived in Albuquerque on Thursday, October 3rd, a couple days before the balloons were to fly. Charlie is a balloon pilot and wanted time to catch up with his balloonist friends. We did not bring our balloon, since we have been on the road for 9 months.
On Saturday morning the dawn patrol balloons took flight. They are the first balloons to take off each day. It is really neat to see them. Their flames light up the sky, as it is still dark when they launch.
The remaining 500 balloons on the field prepared for their flight and then fog rolled in, which resulted in a cancellation of the morning’s flight.
The weather Saturday evening was perfect for the Balloon Glow and fireworks.
On Sunday, Charlie and I were extremely fortunate as his friend, Daryl, gave us a ride in his balloon. It was a beautiful flight.
After our fantastic flight we met up with Charlie’s sister, her husband and friend at a local restaurant. It was great seeing them, as it had been years. Back on the field we met up with friends and enjoyed another great balloon glow with fireworks.
Immediately following the fireworks the winds picked up, as a front was moving in. It was very windy most of the night. By morning though the winds had settled down over the field and the balloons took flight. Charlie joined Daryl’s chase team. A chase team helps put up the balloon, follows it during flight until it lands and then helps pack it back up. While he was chasing Daryl he saw another balloon crash and burn. He, and the team, drove quickly to the damaged balloon and found no pilot or passenger in the vicinity. Charlie saw a line of fire going back for quite a ways. He ran ½ a mile through the desert, trying to find them and went another ½ mile in an off-road vehicle that picked him up. Eventually, they got word that the pilot and passenger had been found. They both had non life-threatening injuries.
The winds in Albuquerque can be very tricky for balloonists. The Sandia Mountains frequently shield the balloon field from high winds. However, once you get away from this protection, out in the desert, the winds can increase significantly. Charlie was clocking Daryl’s balloon at 19 mph over the desert. He can only assume that the balloonist that crashed was also going nearly as fast. The balloon that crashed hit the ground very hard. When it did, the pilot fell out, leaving the passenger and balloon to take flight. When it hit the ground again the passenger got out (either fell or jumped). Thank goodness he/she did as the next time the balloon came down it ignited due to ruptured gas hoses. There were a number of other hard landings and minor injuries that day.
Fortunately, the winds died down in the afternoon, allowing the America’s Challenge Gas Balloons to begin filling with hydrogen. The America’s Challenge is a gas balloon distance race that lasts for days.
Once the balloons are filled with hydrogen that is all of the available lift they will have for their flight. In order to control how high the balloons go they release ballast, which is sand contained in bags, tied to the outside of the basket. If they want to go higher they throw out a scoop or two of sand. When they are ready to land they release a small amount of hydrogen. Running out of sand is like running out of fuel.
In the evening we met up with friends Karen and Gary. We hadn’t seen them for nearly a year, when we last visited them in Hilton Head. We enjoyed a great dinner, while catching up, at the nearby Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen.
On Tuesday, our final day at the balloon fiesta, we were blessed with beautiful weather. It was the best flight for the balloonists so far.
Below is a gallery of pictures from the fiesta. I hope you enjoy them. Click on the first one to enlarge and start a slideshow.
Later in the afternoon we packed up and drove to the other side of the Sandia Mountains, to visit with our friends Debbie and Terri. We enjoyed great food and lots of wine with them. We had seen them in Palm Springs near the beginning of our road trip, back in February. It was neat to see them now, at the end of our trip.
In the morning we hit the road at 7am and drove 10 hours / 560 miles, to the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort just east of Oklahoma City. They have free overnight RV parking, with power. It was a long drive, as we had to endure strong crosswinds for a couple of hours. Winds were nearly 30 mph at various points. Just west of the city were nasty storms with hail the size of golf balls. We were very nervous that these storms would reach us, but we were very fortunate that they moved north and dissipated.
The next day (yesterday) we drove 12 hours / 730 miles and made it to Cookeville, TN. We could not find any campgrounds with availability in or near Nashville. Hence, the long day. We overnighted in a Walmart parking lot in Cookeville, which was terrible. Turns out it is a major hang-out place for teens/young adults. There were at least 20 carloads of them very close to the RVs. At times they raced their cars in the parking lot. Of course they only raced the ones with very loud exhausts! This went on until after 2am. Back on the road today before 6:30am. We are on the homestretch!!! Our 9 month trip has come to an end. We arrive back at our motorcoach resort today; Mountain Falls Luxury Motorcoach Resort in Lake Toxaway, NC.
I hope you have enjoyed the blog posts from our 2019 Road trip.
Until next time……
Where we camped in Albuquerque:
We camped just above the balloon field, in the VIP East Lot. The location of the lot was great. We had a bird’s eye view of the field and balloons in flight.
We enjoyed a dinner at the El Pinto Restaurant. It is very close to the balloon field, and is a favorite for both locals and balloonists. We went to this restaurant on a previous trip and really enjoyed it. The wait to get a table was over an hour so we snatched up a couple of seats at the bar. The food and drinks were excellent.
We enjoyed a lunch at The Range Café in Bernalillo. It was very good. In addition to great Southwestern food, they have a bakery and gift shop.
Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen is not far from the balloon field, and was great. We have one in Atlanta and always enjoy it.