We’ve made the turn to the east and are almost like horses headed for home. Aiming for an October 20th landing back at the ranch, we still have time for some planned and unplanned stops.
The Albuquerque Balloon Festival has long been on the wish list
and the timing this year lined up perfectly.
We made reservations long in advance for an RV site in the lot close to the main festival grounds. This was possibly the tightest camping experience we’ve ever had, up very close and personal with 1000 other rigs. There was just enough room (with a few spare inches, to deploy the awning and you could hear the folks next door when they yawned!
The up side … proximity to the main event, which ran from about 4:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night, each day.
The first morning, we got up at 4:30, to catch the shuttle bus over to the launch field. In the early morning, the main attraction is the event called ‘morning glow’, where the sky is still pitch dark, and the balloons light up with the flame from their large propane burners.
When they lift up, they look like giant fireflies floating above. The balloons stay aloft until there is enough light to see the landing site.
After morning glow, there is a mass ascension where hundreds of balloons take off in a semi coordinated fashion, occupying the sky all at once. It is a sight to behold.
The first morning ascension we went to included many special character balloons. Note the size of the balloon relative to the basket carrying the pilot and passenger(s).
These were Kris favoritee:
During the course of the week long festival, there are piloting, skill and speed competitions, ‘special shape’ rodeos, and other demonstrations.
The annual balloon festival began in 1972, and has grown to be the largest balloon festival in the world. They limit the number of balloons to 600. There are about 100,000 visitors DAILY at the event, approximately 1 million in the week. One special draw for this festival is that observers can walk freely through the launch field, up close and personal to the ballooning experience.
We could watch a balloon team unpack, unfold, gear up, inflate and launch from just a few feet away. Sometimes the balloon team asks for help in holding grounding lines.
Watching the process after dark was also interesting.
The balloons are monstrous (about 100 feet tall).
Part of the reason for the success of the Fiesta are the chilly morning temperatures in October and the ‘Albuquerque box’. The box is a predictable wind pattern that is exploited to navigate the balloons.
At low elevations the winds tend to be northerly, and at higher elevations they tend to be southerly. Balloonists use these winds to navigate in a vertical box: they ascend slightly from the launch park, move south, ascend further, move north, descend, and repeat the box or land back in the launch park or quite nearby.
After sunset, there is a 'Glodeo', where balloons inflate, and light up, but don’t fly.
Before the sun sets, the inflated balloons pick up the warm sky colors from the setting Arizona sun. It's just beautiful
One of our days there, the mass ascension was glorious,
but the winds were faint, and the balloons had trouble landing in ‘proper’ places.
Many came down in the nearby RV grounds. Tom stood on the top of our rig to watch the errant landings.
This is our rig in the foreground on the right.
The food was really good .... unhealthy, but good.
There were fireworks and laserlight shows in the evening.
We love it when when a planned travel stop lives up to expectations!
We did manage to duck into downtown historic Albequerque for an afternoon.
Moving east, we take in quite a few quirky Route 66 stops (to be described in the next, and final post).
Tom wanted to go to Hannibal, Missouri, to do the Tom Sawyer thing, so off to Hannibal we went. Hannibal is a quiet town of 18,000 located on the Mississippi river, Hannibal is the boyhood home of Mark Twain (Sam Clemens).
We toured the Mark Twain boyhood home and Museum. When we told them that the real Tom Sawyer was visiting, we got to meet the director of the museum. He was very gracious, treating us like visiting dignitaries.
Mark Twain had a challenging life. He was one of seven children. Four died in childhood. Twains father died when Twain was 11 years old. For financial reasons, Twain left school, permanently, in fifth grade to work full time as a printer's apprentice. He later worked as a Mississippi riverboat pilot, then moved to Virginia City, Nevada, to work as a miner on the Comstock Load. He returned to the East coast, married, fathered 4 children, and wrote the 'Adventures of Tom Sawyer' at the age of 41, followed by 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'.
The museum is a worthy stop, and look who couldn't resist fence painting,
just like he did, age 2, at his boyhood home.
Continuing East, we went to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. It was a terrific, inspirational, and very relevant site considering today’s political climate.
We often hear people say that politics is nastier today than it has ever been. Well … there is a whole room in the Lincoln museum devoted to the political cartoons and associated commentary around Lincoln’s presidency.
Things were very nasty back then too, and … they also picked on
his family. Some things never change.
There is a re-creation of his boyhood cabin,
and a re-creation of the night at Ford's Theater.
The only photograph of Lincoln lying in state was discovered in files in 1952. It was thought that all negatives and prints of Lincoln lying in state had been destroyed, at the request of Mrs. Lincoln.
There are numerous Lincoln quotes posted on the gallery walls of the museum ... a wonderful reminder of his intellect and dedication to preserving this union.
Next stop ... Arnold, Md.
Next (and last) Post on this trip: Historic Route 66
More Balloon festival pics for those who haven't had enough: