Adventure in ABQ…Green Chili, Balloon Fiesta, and the World’s Longest Tram

I don’t even know where to start. Our adventure in Albuquerque began well before we ever crossed the Colorado/New Mexico border. After Kristin and I piled our gear in my Outback Thursday afternoon in Denver’s southern suburbs, we joined the masses in traffic. Denver is the only city I know where rush hour seems to be finished by 5:30 instead of beginning.

Torrential rains didn’t help matters either as we skidded along the pavement more than once. I suppose the best way to start and end a good, old-fashioned road trip is with a song of the day. When I took a year long road trip across the USA, I always posted a song of the day, and this trek reminded me a bit of those days. Sometimes I wish I still had my Eurovan. So in honor of awesome road trips, my songs of the day is “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye.


Our long dark, wet drive was going to land us in Albuquerque late at night, so with no hurry to get to the Days Inn, a last-minute hotel reservation, we stopped in Trinidad for dinner at Bella Luna Pizzeria for wood fire pizza. We stuck out in the small town and got a few stares from the locals, but I have to say our server, Marybeth, was fantastic. She explained, “My nephew asked me if I was pregnant, and I said, no, it’s all that pizza and beer!” She steered us in the right direction to order the right size pier

The Days Inn in Albuquerque

If we were to judge Days Inn on Central Avenue on our first impression, we may not have set foot in the room. Upon arrival, a police officer hung out in his car across the street, the office door was locked, and the desk clerk with no sense of urgency eventually strolled to the bullet proof glass window and asked if we had a reservation. After responding yes, I expected him to let two innocent girls into the lobby and out of the cold night air. Not so. He replied, “just a minute” and disappeared for a while as he searched for our reservation that he couldn’t find. Lucky for us, his mother came out and told him to let us in!

After I exchanged my credit card for plastic room keys and asked a question about the balloon fiesta that they couldn’t answer, the mother handed us the remote controls to the televisions. That was a new experience. Definitely sketch! I looked at Kristin and apologized in advance of climbing the stairs to our second story room. Much to our surprise, each queen bed had four pillows, the bathroom was remodeled with granite, and we had a refrigerator and microwave…all for $76 a night. And, frankly it turned out to be a perfect location for the weekend. I’d actually stay there again!

Culinary Tour of Albuquerque

Friday morning’s original plan called for hiking 10 miles to the top of Sandia Crest and riding the tram down, however, the weather had a different idea for us. The mountain range was engulfed in clouds, and the sky to the east was pitch black most of the day. Instead, we made up our own culinary tour. First, we crossed the street and tried out The Grove, a restaurant I read about on a Travel &Leisure tweet. It is known for its burrito with green chili which didn’t disappoint. My sinuses cleared instantly! From what I understand, it is also a stop for Breaking Bad actors.

Old Town Albuquerque

From downtown Albuquerque, we traveled on to Old Town, a historic area founded in 1906, which was home to plazas surrounded by adobe buildings full of shops, restaurants, and churches. We window shopped, looked at the typical southwestern pottery and art, and stopped in at the Candy Lady who makes the blue rock candy which resembles crystal meth on Breaking Bad.

Lunch in Old Town

Soon it was lunchtime and we had already scoped out our spot, Quesadilla Grille, situated on a patio off the main plaza and home to the best street taco in town according to its sign. I might have to agree. My chicken tacos were delicious, and Kristin’s were tasty too. She washed her tacos down with Marble Brewery’s Double White IPA which won the best IPA in the country at the Great American Beer Festival just last week! The good news for us was that the brewery was just 3/4 of a mile from our hotel, so after we visited the Rattlesnake Museum, guess what made our next stop on the list!?!

Rattlesnake Museum

So who can pass up a rattlesnake museum with only a $5 entry fee. Little did I know how many different types of rattle snakes there were, WOW! And believe it or not, snakes live longer in captivity, so I suppose I can’t even feel sorry for them being enclosed in an aquarium. The museum also housed some tortoises and a snapping turtle and provided countless statistics about snakes that I never knew.

Drinks in Albuquerque

After a short break at the hotel and a stop at Marble Brewery, our culinary tour continued at Hotel Parq Central’s Apothecary Lounge. This hotel was conveniently located just down the street from the Days Inn, and I’m guessing by its fanciness, it is where the Breaking Bad actors might stay. The Apothecary Lounge is the hotel’s rooftop restaurant which offers a splendid view of the sunset when the weather is better than what we experienced. We enjoyed a nice olive plate with our cocktails as the storm clouds rolled by.

Dinner in Albuquerque

From here, we moved onto Nob Hill, just further east on Central Ave (also Route 66). We felt like we had eaten enough New Mexican for the day, so chose Thai food. Thai Cuisine II was packed with locals and supported a healthy take out business. We scored a ten on meals today and are looking forward to a fun day at the Balloon Fiesta tomorrow. Lucky for us, we never planned to see the balloons on Friday as they weren’t flying with all the weather.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Saturday, we arose at 4:30 am and arrived at the Cliff’s Park N Ride just 5 miles north of our hotel on I-25 by 5:15. The parking lot was filled with school buses, lined up and ready to cart us off to the launch field for the bargain price of $12 for the morning session. By 5:45, we were settled in the dark on the edge of the field waiting on the dawn patrol. The dawn patrol goes out first to determine whether the mass ascension may take place. A green flag is raised if the mass ascension is “a go”. There was hardly a gust of wind and the temperature was simply divine this early morning, so all the balloons launched.

IMG_6636 orange

As the sun rose, ballooners laid out their balloons and filled them with gas. The first one to launch carried the American Flag. Slowly, more and more filled the sky and steadily drifted away from us. I was surprised we could stand in the middle of the chaos. We stood so close to one team, Air Rocky Top, that they gave us their trading card. They came all the way from New York.

I was like a kid in the candy store watching the different colors and shapes raise up from the ground. I was trying to decide which balloon was my favorite, but I’m not sure I could decide. I loved the shapes, but some of the regular balloons really light up. I enjoyed being in the thick of it. At times, we were encircled by launching balloons. I think it would have also been interesting to stand on the raised pathway at the north end of the field to look down at the masses as the balloons passed overhead.

Hundreds of balloons launched within a few hours. I thought all of them would, so I was surprised to find a few remained anchored when we wandered off to check out the wood carving competition with chainsaws. After strolling by the variety of food and trinket vendors, we waited in the long line for the park n’ ride. We could have stayed all day for the music fest that took place in between the morning and afternoon sessions, but that would have been some day.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Glow

Instead, we took short afternoon nap, investigated downtown, watched some college ball at the Library Bar, revisited Marble Brewery and made our way back to the park for the glow that was to begin at 5:45. I don’t think it was necessary to arrive at the park n’ ride at 4:30 for this event, especially because none of the balloonists began the static glow at 5:45. I’m not sure why they would, given it wasn’t dark.

I was looking forward to seeing all the balloons anchored down and glowing in the 300+ acre field, but a storm was brewing in the west. By the time some of the balloonists got their balloons up, they were getting blown over by the gusty winds. We decided the glow was going to be a bust and headed to the bus line…an excellent choice. I felt sorry for the families that planned to stay for the fireworks at 8pm as we made it beneath the cover of the tents just before the downpour!

Quite a few folks got drenched while our timing and luck seemed to continue all weekend. The storm was brief and the fireworks show did go on, but we were already headed back to the hotel and preparing to go to the Route 66 Casino to see Kristin’s brother who happened to be traveling through. What a coincidence! We threw a $20 at the slots expecting to lose it. I came home with $20.94. What a good day!

Sandia Peak Aerial Tram

Our luck continued Sunday morning. We planned on riding the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram on our way out of town for our final tourist attraction in Albuquerque. It was another good choice as the mass ascension didn’t take place due to wind. I’m glad I didn’t get up at 4:30am to see a failed launch! Instead, we made sure to arrive at the tram site by 8:30…BRILLIANT! We were the last to join the 9am tram ride 2.7 miles up the mountain, and by the time we left the line was out the door and down to the parking lot.

The world’s longest aerial tram rises from 6,550 feet to 10,378 feet in about 15 minutes. During that time, the tram operator provides a variety of information about the rock formations and history of the area. At the top of the mountain there are a few trails to choose from, though we hadn’t planned to hike. It’s a good thing as it was rather windy. After a short time at the summit to enjoy the lovely views, we took the tram back down and waved good-bye to Albuquerque.

Thanks to the crummy weather and being a neophyte, I could return to the balloon festival without feeling like it was a repeat trip. I generally don’t go to the same place twice as there are so many places to experience. But I could get in a hike, shoot for sunset drinks at the Apothecary Lounge again, and ask the ballooners a few more questions about their lifestyle. At the same time, there are many other places in the world to see, so I’m completely content with checking this off my bucket list too, as I got to see the mass ascension which was my main purpose of going! Next stop…Big D…looking forward to seeing my fellow Texans in the days to come. ETB

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