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.
My wife and I recently purchased a 2016 Leisure Unity CB… our first ever experience of owning a recreational vehicle. Now… we’ve didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to purchase one (though almost), but had been poking around at the idea for a couple of years. We initially looked at small tear drop style pull-behinds and migrated our way to larger 5th wheels. After much thought about our active lifestyle, we decided an all in one vehicle with easy maneuverability would most likely work best for us.
One day I called our local Leisure Van dealer just to inquire if they happen to have a corner bed unit we could look at. The salesman I spoke with said they just had one delivered via order that the owner wasn’t able to take delivery of. We headed to the dealership the next day “just to look”. Well… the salesman gave us an offer we just couldn’t ignore… and after considering our expenses, long term goals and excitement about new possibilities we made the decision to purchase. We totally lucked out though! We had done pretty extensive internet research on Leisure Vans, the company & products and had watched quite a few of the videos, including one posted by a couple that did a factory tour. The attention to detail and manufacturing process completely sold me on what a great, quality product Leisure Vans creates.
We made arrangements to pick up our new Unity on Saturday. From the dealership, we planned to go straight to a local state park and spend the remaining weekend learning how to operate the RV’s systems. This is where our first challenge began… figuring out which equipment would be necessary to help with the RV experience. We did quite a bit of research on the internet and even read the online manuals for our Unity before we picked it up. From there, we made an Excel list separating the essentials and options and prioritizing items we would need immediately and items that could wait.
Of course, essential items comprised mostly of exterior setup products, leveling blocks, water hoses, and anything associated to dump tank processes. I evaluated many different options; everything from self-made to purchased and ready to use. One item I was a little leery of (based on mixed reviews) was the use of plastic leveling blocks. But, after two trips, I’ve been completely happy with the choice I’ve made.
One of the other items that I put some more extensive research into was a propane grill. I didn’t want to be hindered by having to purchase and transport separate propane bottles and wanted to be able to make full use of the quick-connect propane hookup that is included on the Leisure Vans. Many of the RV specific grills are more expensive than basic bottled propane grills. The problem is that the bottled propane grills come with a regulator, which is not necessary or wanted when connecting to the Unity’s propane tank. After some searching I purchased Cabela’s propane grill, which comes with a regulated valve which I ditched, and then purchased a separate not regulated valve and quick-connect hose off of Amazon.com. The system works great!
To complement our RV living, we looked at various accessories that take minimal space, help eliminate rattle and help with general organization. We’ve since found a small collapsible table that supports the grill, a small foldable step stool to assist with the awning and various accessories.
Some final accessories we’ve found helpful are android phone apps for locating RV related conveniences. Everything from dump stations, free boon-docking locations, various RV site ratings, and even a bubble level application. I also found a checklist application with RV specific lists that can be completely configured to your individual needs within the app itself or via Excel.
Android App Recommendations:
I’m currently researching various options for transporting our bikes. We have both road and mountain bikes that we’d like to transport during many of our adventures. I’ve seen some that offer full enclosure and some that provides minimal protection. I’m looking for something that provides a very secure system with protection, but ease of use. Based on what I envision, I may have to modify something that can be purchased. But for now, placing the bikes inside while moving (though not ideal) is completing the task.
We are looking forward to many more trips in our RV and currently have plans to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and make a weeklong trip to Jamestown New York and the Niagara area of Canada.