Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and Nearby Activities

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The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is an annual event that occurs in Albuquerque, New Mexico for around 9 days each October. It is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world and is also the most photographed event on earth. Around 750 hot air balloons head toward the skies in a week full of anticipation and events. I had a few days off early last month and was researching a new state to visit along with fun activities within the area. I had never heard of the Balloon Fiesta, but somehow stumbled upon it in my internet searches. My boyfriend/favorite travel buddy had overlapping days off so we decided to head to ABQ Airport on our travel passes for a few days. We had planned on spending the first afternoon exploring, since it wasn’t possible to arrive on the first day before the festival began.

One of our many travel bucket lists includes a list of the “50 Weirdest Things in Each State,” which I posted awhile back. New Mexico’s “weirdest thing” happens to be in Albuquerque, at Tinkertown Museum.

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Tinkertown Museum contains the collection of Ross Ward, who took over 40 years to carve and create the pieces in the museum that you see today. Tinkertown consists of several rooms of miniature wood-carved scenes, animations, and antiques. The admission price is only a few dollars and you can walk through the museum in less than an hour, but it is an interesting little stop if you are in the area. It is easy to be impressed while pondering the amount of time and energy that Ross Ward must have put in to his “hobby” of hand-made creations.

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After that, we stopped along a hiking trail for about a half hour and then drove to the top of a peak for some excellent views of the fall foliage. We checked in to our hotel, rested a bit, then headed to dinner for a nice Mexican meal at Taco Sal (featured on Breaking Bad, apparently). The next morning we were up early and ready to see some balloons (I think that I was bit more excited than Brett…). Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very cooperative, and the “red flag” was posted upon arrival to the park, indicating that conditions were not ideal for the balloonists to send their balloons into the air. The flag had changed to yellow, and as we anxiously walked alongside the vendors to kill time,  we overheard conversations stating that the balloonists may not feel comfortable launching the balloons that day. I do not deal well with disappointment, and was getting pretty bummed that my plan had failed for our fun getaway, while Brett tried to maintain a positive outlook. We had other activities planned, but I really wanted to see those darn balloons. After killing some more time, we heard cheers from the distance and realized that the green flag had been erected and that balloonists were now scrambling to get their balloons ready for take-off!

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The first balloon carried the U.S. flag and was accompanied by the National Anthem.

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Flags of all colors headed toward the sky and eventually some of the popular “shape” balloons followed. My favorite was the shark balloon, of course.

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We ate some spicy, but delicious, chile pepper nachos (yum) before we left and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up before embarking on the next part of our day. We headed to “Old Town” where I felt it was necessary for me to visit the Rattlesnake Museum, the largest collection of live rattlesnakes in the world.

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Brett was a good sport and it was a worthwhile stop that resulted in a new pair of lizard earrings and a rattlesnake t-shirt for myself (I chatted with the owner for a bit as we discussed our backgrounds in herpetology — he’s a very cool guy). We walked around the plaza, had a quick snack, then headed to Sandia Peak, the world’s longest aerial tramway!

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The ride had some amazing views and the views from the very top were even more spectacular, especially with some of the fall colors.

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We had made dinner reservations at the restaurant at the top (which also allowed us a discount on our tramway tickets), but I was disappointed to hear that all of the tables with views (the whole point of eating up there, since the prices were ridiculously marked up and reviews suggested that the food was mediocre for the cost) were occupied or reserved (which I found odd considering many were empty, though I guess I understand if people had previously requested those). I was bummed and felt that the hostess had an attitude, so we left out of principle. I let Brett choose our dinner spot and he selected P.F. Chang’s (he’s pretty easy to please), so we dined there and then I wanted to try out a local brewery, since I hadn’t been to one in awhile. After that, we headed back to our hotel for some sleep before an early morning flight the next day. Overall, we packed a lot of record-worthy activities (largest hot air balloon festival, longest aerial tramway, largest collection of live rattlesnakes, and “weirdest thing” in NM) into our schedule for just a short 2-day trip and we had a great time!