If you’ve never been to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, it is something to add to your list. I’d been about 30 years ago when I was in my early twenties and living in Albuquerque, but went again this last month with my wife, oldest daughter and our Unity RV. My first experience was memorable, but nothing compared to this time!
The Balloon Fiesta is a yearly festival of hot air balloons that takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during early October. The Balloon Fiesta is a nine-day event, and has over 500 balloons each year. The event is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.
For us RV’ers they offer many camp site options and after spending a few days there and seeing the layout, balloons…. and chaos, I have to say, this is the method I’d recommend to anyone thinking about going there. My reason for saying this is because the RV areas are situated right near the balloon fiesta park. Many visitors attend the event on a daily basis for the morning launch and nightly glow and fireworks. This influx and out flux of visitors creates lots of vehicle traffic, something the RV goers don’t have to deal with. The RV areas offer shuttle buses that get priority into and out of the launch area. And if you don’t want to take the shuttle, the furthest RV area is less than a mile walking distance from the entry. They also offer a ‘bike valet’ area if you prefer to ride your bike, where you can check your bike into a secure area.
For the RV’s they offer various options… some closer that are situated above the launch area and allow you to view the balloons filling and launching directly from the launch field. Some of these areas also offer hook-ups for 30amp and city water, while others only offer dry camping. Being that the event occurs in October, the New Mexico weather is already getting cool. We had a couple morning in the low 40’s Fahrenheit, with most days in the mid 70’s. This was the first time we’ve had to use our heat pump and/or furnace (we’ve only had our Unity a few months). They do allow you to run your generator, but have a quiet time from 10pm till 8am of no generator use. This wasn’t an issue for us. I ran the generator right before quiet time to fully charge the house batteries and that held us over till morning time… allowing enough charge for lights and even watching some TV. During the day, I’d open the roof vents with the fans going while we were gone… the solar roof panels kept the house batteries charged as well. For extended periods they do offer services for waste and water for a fee.
During the mid-day, the balloon field is inactive for the most part. They do have some concerts happening, which you can pay for reserved seating close to the stage or just bring your blankets and own chairs to hangout and relax on the grass. They also have vendor tents and exhibits… everything from local Artisans to wood carving exhibits with a chain saw. Of course… there are food booths scattered through the main drag. During the morning, I would suggest you carry in your own coffee and breakfast food, unless you like standing in long lines! The nights at the fiesta can be pretty exciting also. Each night consist of a balloon glow and ends with a laser light and fireworks show. The fireworks show is quite impressive and much longer than we expected. A few times we thought it was over and then they’d go for another round.
During our stay, we walked to the front of the RV area and used the Uber app on our phone. The Uber driver picked us up right in front of the RV parking area. They do offer an ‘Uber Tent Area’, but we found out the event was charging an extra fee to the passengers to use that area. Our Uber drivers were happy to pick us up and drop us off where ever we asked them to. Using Uber we visited Old Town Albuquerque. Yes… it’s a tourist area, but offers some nice historical significance of Albuquerque and great shops and restaurants. My suggestion to anyone that goes there is to go to Church Street Café. It looks tiny from the outside but is huge. They have a great patio area in the back, which most people don’t realize is there. They do New Mexican breakfast items all day as well as other authentic New Mexican dishes. Best of all… their prices are very reasonable and don’t skimp on quality or quantity of food! My other suggestion for food or drinks is the downtown or Nob Hill area. We’ve been to a few breweries downtown and a few restaurants in the Nob Hill area. On this particular trip we went to Matanza Beer Kitchen in Nob Hill. They offer over 100 beers on tap, many from New Mexico breweries… and some incredible food too!
My suggestions if you decide you want to put this on your list, is to allow a few days there. The reason I say this is because you never know what the weather is going to give you. If the winds are too strong or there is lightning in the area, they could potentially cancel a balloon launch or night glow. They do their best to accommodate the balloonist and visitors… and may delay some events, but will cancel if they absolutely have to. If you want to visit other areas of New Mexico while you’re there, Santa Fe is a must! It’s only located about 50 miles north of Albuquerque and has a lot of history and culture to keep you occupied for days! There is also the tram to Sandia Peak in Albuquerque which offers a nice restaurant at the top overlooking Albuquerque or some great day hiking. Along with those, there are some very nice Pueblos all within an hour or two from Albuquerque. If you’re a cyclist, there are some paved trails right from the fiesta area which will take you to some great areas for extended rides. One other suggestion are some of the local wineries. Our favorite is Casa Rondena Winery, only 6 miles from the fiesta.
I could go on about all the great things about New Mexico… this is easily my favorite state, though I’m a little biased since I lived there and eventually plan to go back.
The Libero is the perfect size for our RV lifestyle. Retired and residing along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Loveland, Colorado, enabled us many opportunities for camping trips to nearby national parks and forests. In the winter, we enjoy taking the Libero south for several weeks in neighboring New Mexico and Arizona. We particularly enjoy camping in the Arizona State Parks.
For many years we had passed by Las Vegas, New Mexico – about 65 miles east of Santa Fe on I-25 – without ever having explored the area. This time we decided to make the visit. We camped at Storrie Lake, a New Mexico state park just outside of town, which has beautiful electric sites overlooking the lake for $14. The next morning, before jumping back on the I-25, we decided to follow the signs to the historic district. The old town square is a well preserved town, and was a point on the Santa Fe Trail. As we explored the town we noticed a door marked “Absaroka County Sheriff” which seemed odd. After a quick Google search we learned we were at one of the filming locations for the TV series “Longmire” for scenes of fictional downtown Durant, Wyoming.
We stopped at Pecos National Historic Site located in the hills just outside Santa Fe. This site is quite historic – from the large ancient pueblo community, the Spanish conquest and mission church, to the pioneers of the Santa Fe Trail. It’s certainly worth the visit if you’re in the area.
The following day we visited Acoma Pueblo, located approximately 60 miles west of Albuquerque, and we were fortunate to be in the area on a feast day. The community was celebrating the inauguration of the Pueblo Governor with reverent dances, songs and festivities. We boarded one of the shuttle vans from the Visitors Center and Museum and toured the Mesa and Pueblo village. An exciting “feeding the people” ceremony had just begun where relatives of the Governor were throwing food into the crowd. The plaza is surrounded by multi-story pueblo houses and on top of their roofs were crowds of people watching the festivities. If you catch food, it is considered a blessing. At first we thought we should hang back from the ceremony, that was until we began being hit by various food items in all directions, and so up went our hands and we started catching blessings! What a sight this was; airborne items flying all over the plaza, to the roof top crowds, and to all of us sitting or standing around on the streets. A nice lady gave us a plastic bag in which to put our goodies of Cracker Jack’s, cheese crackers, cookies, Pringles, candy, and fruit, all of which we enjoyed for the next week of our trip. 30 males in the Governor’s family and 30 female relatives of his wife followed down the street in procession behind the couple, accompanied by dancers in costume and various drum singers. The village was filled with drums, ecstatic sounds of laughter and excitement, and we marvelled at how lucky we were to have been in Pueblo during this celebration.
After an afternoon drive through El Malpais National Monument, we continued on to Show Low, Arizona, and spent the night at Fool Hollow Lake State Park. As we were entering the area, we opted for a route just off the main road which led us through a lovely area of ponds, grassy verges and campsites in the tall pine woods. We found a great campsite featuring level pads with electric hook-ups, picnic tables, grills, and well lit full service bathroom facilities with free showers! It was such a peaceful place, and in the evening the stars were out in their glory reminding us of why we love the Western skies.
Apache Junction, Arizona, was the next stop on our journey, and for a few days we camped at Lost Dutchman State Park in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains. We made the most of each day spending much of our time outside, enjoying the warm temperatures, walking the well-maintained hiking trails. We enjoyed spending the evenings preparing and eating dinner to the backdrop of absolutely awesome sunsets, and not ready to go inside, the night sky beckoned us once again for moonlit walks to the base of the mountain. We noticed that many of the campers had rope lights spread out under their rigs. This could just not be a case of everyone turning mid-winter festive, could it? The nice docents working in the park office educated us to the notion that “pack rats” (also known as wood rats) could be dissuaded from invading the engines of parked vehicles when lit up at night just by the application of lights. OK, but we still liked the idea of a festive community!
Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona, was our final destination and in all of our past winter trips in our Libero, we make a point to stop here. Just minutes from nearby shopping in Oro Valley, once inside the campground you feel like you are far from civilization. If you enjoy hiking, there are miles of trails to explore!
After covering over 25,000 miles with our Libero, my husband and I are pleased with our purchase. We have found we have more than enough storage for several week trips. With the optional rear power sectional, we have found it most comfortable to keep the sofa in its bed position, with an added memory foam mattress on top. Every time we head out for an adventure, someone stops us to ask us about our RV… it’s a real head-turner!