Awesome Albuquerque

October 6, 2012 — Saturday

The locals and airports know it as ABQ, another of America’s undersung cities.

But Albuquerque has good stuff:  an excellent university, a lift up the Sandia Mountains for great views and skiing, a Pueblo Cultural Center with good overview of all the New Mexico pueblos, lots of Rt. 66–and the biggest air balloon festival worldwide.

Steve and I couldn’t believe our dumb luck that our schedule coincided with the opening day of Albuquerque’s famed Balloon Fiesta.  On opening day, the big event is “mass ascension” when hundreds of balloons lift off making the sky look like it’s full of colorful Easter eggs.  Ascension begins at 7am, and recommendations are to arrive by 5:30am because of the heavy traffic and crowds.  We got up in the dark and were almost out the door when local TV said the morning ascension was cancelled due to heavy wind.  Steve was bummed because he would be flying back to Tucson mid-afternoon.

Enter Margaret, long-time gal pal from Atlanta who arrived mid-morning.  We consoled ourselves with a good lunch at the Rt. 66 Diner, where the waitresses pop around as though they’re wearing wire coils under their shoes.  Fun surroundings, especially two long shelves filled with every Pez container under the sun.  On the way out we saw a couple with a gargantuan ice cream banana split a bit smaller than a soccer ball.  The couple was Scott & Jeannie Radford from Columbus, Ohio who had come to Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta after a stay in Florida.  They said they’ve been coming to Albuquerque for years, and they make it a point to stop at the 66 Diner for something like that banana split, a bargain at $5 for its size.  I think it could have made 4-5 people quite happy.

We headed downtown for a look at ABQ’s art deco buildings, especially the 1927 Kimo Theatre.  This is a wow theatre, mixing and showcasing the rich Southwestern heritage of native, cowboy, Spanish Mission and Art Deco styles.  The theatre’s literal meaning is mountain lion and it truly reigns as “king of its kind.”

Too soon it was time to take Steve to the airport.  We had the nicest week together.

No time to be sad though, because Margaret and I were headed to the Balloon Fiesta’s Glow Night, when the balloons are fired up, lit from within, and stand tall for folks like us to ooh and ah over.  Ooh and ah we did.  TV, photos and internet don’t come close to showing the magic.  Everywhere you look, some balloon or a bunch of them are being inflated, about to stand, are standing, and all of it looks fabulous.  The balloons are a wild mix of colors, patterns, recognizable figures and beloved characters.  The variety seems endless.  Toss in a couple of football fields filled with vendors, food concessions, the occasional beer garden, a moving throng of families, young lovers and folks of all ages, and it’s the biggest, bestest, beautifulest fiesta ever.  As if all the above weren’t enough, they capped it with a solid half hour of spectacular fireworks.  This time, too much was so right.

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