Tag Archives: Albuquerque NM

My Amazing Balloon Adventure

023The day of my much-delayed balloon flight began long before dawn. The weather appeared calm and clear as I made the 40 minute trek to our Rainbow Ryder check-in point. Prospective passengers signed waivers and mingled in the warehouse, as we waited for everyone to arrive and preparations to be completed.

Around 7 am, our assigned pilot (ours was Kris) rounded us up and we loaded into vans, heading to a nearby park which was to be our launch site for the morning. Kris gave us a preliminary briefing and the balloons were set up for launch. It was really going to happen this time! Woo-hoo!!!

The Rainbow Ryder crew prepped 5 balloons for launch. Ours was one of the larger ones, with room for 12 passengers. After my Balloon Fiesta experience, I felt practically like an expert as I watched the crew cold-inflate the balloon. Then Kyle began to carefully blast hot air into the balloon envelope to complete the inflation process. Once the balloon was fully inflated and the gondola was lightly bobbing, we quickly clambered in. A few adjustments, the crew cast off the lines, and we were away!

I expected the ascent to feel like an elevator, but it was like riding a soap bubble. The rise felt so gentle, almost imperceptible, only the rapidly shrinking ground indicated the rate of ascent. The winds were light as we drifted slowly toward the Rio Grande Valley. We could see the other balloons rising and floating around us. As we approached the frost-tinged trees lining the river, Kris piloted so closely that we actually brushed their tops. As we approached the river, he allowed the balloon to dip down and skim the water’s surface before gently rising again over the opposite bank.  Wheeeee!

Then, Kris poured on the heat and we began to rise, higher and higher, until we were the highest balloon in the sky. We drifted over the city, watching as the sun rose higher over the mountain range. The ride was quiet, punctuated only by giggly conversation and the periodic warm WHOOSH of the propane burner overhead. There was very little apparent wind, since we were drifting with it. I was torn between just soaking up the experience and taking numerous snapshots in an attempt to capture it. I think I had a silly grin pasted on my face for the entire trip. It was fantastic!

All too soon, it was time to look for a landing spot. Kris had stayed in contact with our chase crew for the entire ride, so they were not far behind us. As we descended toward the mesa, the winds were higher than before. We flew quickly toward an open lot in a housing development under construction. We assumed the instructed landing position – standing facing forward, knees bent, gripping rope handholds. As we approached the landing spot, we  narrowly missed a light pole, then the corner of a house and then bumped onto the ground! The 12 mph wind pulled us forward, dragging the gondola on its edge while the ground crew raced to grab lines and stabilize the rig as the balloon deflated. Just as the balloon envelope sank to the ground, the gondola slooowly tipped over onto its side. Touchdown! Check out the drag marks!

Laughing, we crawled out of the gondola and watched as the ground crew began to gather up the (now deflated) balloon. A few minutes later they jumped into action again as a second balloon landed not far from us. (That gondola tipped over too). That IS considered a normal landing, and isn’t unusual in higher winds. The crew called it a “sporty” landing!

137The crew set up a table offering champagne, orange juice and cran-apple juice. I enjoyed a post-ride mimosa as we all toasted a successful journey. Kris, our intrepid pilot, presented each of with a lovely commemorative flight certificate. Before too long, the balloon rig was packed and loaded, and we all piled back into the van for the 20 minute ride back to the office. A spread of beverages and packaged snacks were available to nosh on, which was a nice final touch.

The ride was just magical – everything I hoped for and more! I’ll leave you with an Irish Balloonist prayer:

The winds have welcomed you with softness
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in laughter
And set you gently back again
Into the loving arms of Mother Earth

Just magical.

Balloon Museum and Petroglyph National Monument

I find ancient rock drawings endlessly fascinating. We’ve explored a number of places in the southwest that host collections of petroglyphs including Three Rivers Petroglyph site, Valley of Fire State Park, and fascinating newspaper rock outside of Moab. The latest is located just outside of the city of Albuquerque – Petroglyph National Monument.

008Although the petroglyphs have been there for 600 years, Petroglyph National Monument is a very young Monument. It wasn’t until 1990, with Albuquerque development encroaching on all sides, that the National Monument was officially designated. The park has a small visitor center and several trails, 3 for viewing petroglyphs. Unfortunately, the bubbly basaltic stone matrix in this area doesn’t seem to highlight the distinctive designs as well as other places I’ve visited.

One of the great mysteries is the meaning of the petroglyphs. In this visitor center’s film, a contemporary Native American postulated that the signs were tribal markings, left to document their passage as they migrated seasonally. Kind of a “the Mighty Ducks were here” message. That’s a good a guess as any!

001We also visited the International Balloon Museum, located beside the Balloon Fiesta field. The field looked very much different from the previous Balloon Fiesta week! The deserted field was being irrigated, and the white tents were open and vacant. We had received free admission tickets from Rainbow Ryders, so took advantage of that fact to see what the museum had to offer.

The museum described the history of ballooning and different types of balloons and equipment developed over the years. A fascinating exhibit detailed the Swedish doomed Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897. Three men set out to cross the polar ice via balloon, but crashed after only 2 days. Inadequately prepared for the conditions, they attempted for months to trek to safety, unsuccessfully. The fate of the expedition was unknown until their bodies were discovered 33 years later.  Even now, mystery surrounds their final cause of death.

The museum also describes different kinds of ballooning including “around the world” expeditions and high-altitude ballooning. It even showed video and artifacts from the 2012 Red Bull Stratos jump – during which an Austrian skydiver jumped out of a balloon at 24 miles of altitude! In the process he broke 3 world records:  highest manned balloon flight (127,851 ft.), highest altitude jump, AND he became the first human in history to break the sound barrier without any form of engine power. That is a whole ‘nother level of crazy!

I also enjoyed the museum’s “4D” balloon ride movie, especially since I still haven’t taken my scheduled hot air balloon ride! It was supposed to have occurred during last week’s Balloon Fiesta, but was scrubbed due to weather. I rescheduled for this week and again, high winds forced rescheduling. I am now slated to go up on our very last day in town, so hopefully the weather will cooperate!

I will let you know.