“Woohoo, another state on the books!” I yell as we cross the border from Texas into New Mexico via Interstate 40. It’s a first for me in the ‘Land of Enchantment’ and that’s not the only cause we have for celebration. We have several spectacular things to be shouting about. We have timed our visit perfectly to cross off one of my longest standing bucket list items! But let’s start at the beginning.
The sky is bursting with gray robust clouds but it has yet to sprinkle on our parade. We are highly anticipating this part of our trip for two reasons: my husband is visiting with family he has not seen in twenty years and we are attending the largest balloon festival in the world.
You would be hootin’ and hollerin’ too!
We exit the interstate immediately after passing the “Welcome to New Mexico” sign to pick up information at the Visitor Center. The woman behind the desk is friendly and points out the free coffee in the corner of the room.
“I like New Mexico already,” my husband says with a smile.
After selecting an overabundance of pamphlets – not sure if I mentioned this before but I have a teeny problem when it comes to collecting travel literature – we get back in the car to drive to our first New Mexico Route 66 town.
We arrive in Tucumcari midmorning and are disappointed our day-traveling has us missing out on the neon world prevalent at night on Route 66. Driving down Main Street, we notice the old signs used to lure in weary travelers back in its heyday. One thing missing from our trip is the excitement of not knowing what’s next or how far we will go. With a set schedule and having to be back in the Midwest in two and half months, we found ourselves booking ahead and preplanning. I cannot wait for the day when we just get in our car and go, stopping at whatever place catches our eye.
Which brings me to the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari. If we didn’t preplan our trip, I would have made this beautifully restored motel an overnight stay. The vintage motel is so dang cool it has made it on the National Registers of Historic Places.
Next on our agenda for the day is the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, one of the most popular diving spots in the United States and a Route 66 recreation stop. It is an 81-foot deep, big round clear blue swimming hole. I can’t imagine pioneers coming across this blue gem in the middle of the desert, they probably thought it was a mirage!
Read HERE to start at the beginning of our Route 66 Adventure!
From Santa Rosa we went north as a side trip off Route 66 up to the ski town of Taos and the historic state capital of Santa Fe. We spent a few days exploring New Mexico’s northwest region. The state is a mix of stunning scenery but with a level of disorganization and messiness as well. We are in the middle of a gorgeous scenic drive with unbeatable views on one side with what appears to be a junk yard on the other – old rusted cars, farming equipment and garbage. It is an odd combination.
Taos is enjoyable, but Santa Fe was exceptional. I’ll fill you in on that part of the trip another time since we are focusing on Route 66.
And now the time has come for the BIG event! We make our way back to Albuquerque via Route 66. The first highlight on our way is the Singing Road.
If you are planning to visit on your road trip, make a note that it is difficult to find. You’d hardly notice it if you weren’t specifically looking for the singing road. If you are in the area or driving Route 66, it’s worth the turnaround!
Click HERE for location via Google Maps
We arrive in the city a few days before the International Balloon Fiesta so we could spend time with family. I can’t help being anxious for the event, it has been on my bucket list for years and I am way too excited. The Balloon Fiesta, which takes place every October, began as a small affair in 1972 and has become the world’s largest ballooning event and the largest annual international event held in the United States. People come from all over the world to attend.
The events of the day at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta are broken up in two sessions: morning and evening. You buy tickets per session and pay for parking for each. We were told by family, we had to experience at least a Mass Ascension and a Balloon Glow so we attended Saturday morning and Sunday evening of the first weekend.
Saturday morning, we wake up at 4:30 AM before the sun rises to get to the park for the Mass Ascension. The 78-acre Balloon Fiesta Park is a large open field and visitors walk among the balloons as pilots get ready to launch. It is day one of the Fiesta and we wait about 45 minutes to park, but once we are in the gates it goes smooth. The Mass Ascension of hundreds of balloons happens at dawn and is an unforgettable sight. The balloons blast the sky with bursts of bright colors of all different shapes and sizes. It is everything I imagined it would be and more.
The Balloon Glow is another magical event; the balloons stay on the ground and once nightfall arrives they light ’em up in spectacular displays. An announcer countdowns from ten and either yells, “all burn” or “flicker.” The roar of the burners, the heat from the flame, and the excitement of the viewers take over the field. It is an experience like none other.
Our final night at the Balloon Fiesta ended with a laser light show and fireworks display.
We weren’t done with Albuquerque yet! We read that one of the must-do activities in the city is the Sandia Peak Tramway.
“The tram stretches from the northeast edge of the city to the crestline of the Sandia Mountains and has the world’s third longest single span. It is the longest aerial tram in the United States.”
Since the Balloon Fiesta was going on we figured the lines would be long so we debated going. Then we found out you can drive up to Sandia Crest! We saved the money from the tram, avoided long lines, took a gorgeous scenic drive, and hiked a little once we arrived at the top.
The crest is one mile above Albuquerque and two miles above sea level so the views are marvelous. The tram is south of the area, behind the Visitor Center is a short hike that takes you to a viewpoint where you can see the line. Here you can choose to hike all the way down to it or turn around. The Scenic Byway was a fantastic way to see the views but not have to spend the money on the tram.
Sadly our time in Albuquerque is over, it’s time to say goodbye to our family and get back on the road. Wait until you see what we have planned for in Arizona though. It’s a doozy!
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