Last year I skipped the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. I was in New Mexico, at Bluewater State Park, but hadn’t made camping reservations with the Lazy Daze group, so skipped the area. When it was over I went to Elephant Butte State Park, where I camped with Christine and Andy, then to Caballo Lake State Park, and had a great time with CB, Randy, Tish, Carol, Myrna, Laurie and Christine. (Really, it’s Chris, “Vermont Chris” as we call her, but I will call her Christine to differentiate from Chris of my recent posts.) Last year they had all spent a couple of weeks at Sandia Casino and Resort watching the balloons for free! The casino lets RV’ers camp there and it’s on a hill not far from the balloon park, so they could see the balloons from there. After hearing what a great time they had, I made it part of my travel plans.
Anyway, I got to the casino late in the afternoon on October 1st, after having my scooter service done in Santa Fe. I wanted to get there well ahead of the Fiesta start date of Oct. 5th, since I had heard the place fills up and wanted to be able to get a spot near my friends. Carol and Christine were already there when I arrived and I was able to get a spot nearby. A security truck was making patrols through the parking lot, registering rigs and passing out a welcome letter. I got my window sticker and info on services at the casino and hotel. They really treat RV’ers well at Sandia. Of course, they rely on a certain percentage of the visitors leaving some of their cash in the casino, so it’s a win-win.
Right away I met Pat and Buddy, friends that Carol had made there last year. Super fantastic folks. We all made plans to go to the buffet for lunch the next day. It’s $5 on Wednesdays for seniors (anyone over 50) with a casino player’s card, so I made sure to get my card right away. And what a fantastic buffet they have. Wow! We all loved it.
I was able to get the scooter unloaded off of the carrier by myself. Making progress with that. Gravity is my friend, so it’s easier to get it down than loading it up, but my goal is to be able to load and unload by myself. Anyway, we all hung out and visited for a few days, ran errands, etc. I wish I had been able to take a picture of all of the rigs parked at Sandia. There must have been a few hundred. It was PACKED!
On Saturday the 5th I woke around 3:00 AM when I started hearing helicopters overhead. I looked out the hatch above my bed, but didn’t see anything. Eventually I got up a little before dawn to see the balloons going up. The helicopters and small planes would fly around every morning during Fiesta. I got used to it and it didn’t wake me up later on. There were so many balloons, I couldn’t believe how many there were.
The arroyo (in the photo above) between the golf course and our parking lot was a great spot for playing with the dogs. We weren’t allowed on the golf course, but at about 6:00 PM Christine and I would take Riley and her dog Edna down to the arroyo and let them chase balls and run off some energy. We had a morning walk area on the other side of the parking lot to a natural area were the dogs could sniff and wander. Sandia was a nice area for dogs, and there were lots of other dogs for Riley to meet. He loves making new friends!
I hadn’t made reservations with the Lazy Daze group, but when we were camped at Abiquiu with John and Linda (organizer for the group at BF), she mentioned there were a couple of unexpected cancellations and might be spaces available if I wanted to come over for a couple of days. The Lazy Daze group was at the Balloon Fiesta Park RV camping site, down close to where the balloons take off. So, I arranged to move over for Wednesday-Friday. There weren’t any balloons on Thursday morning due to weather. I woke Friday late, about 7AM, and opened the hatch above my bed to see the balloons all over above our site. I quickly got dressed and headed out with my camera.
There was something about the weather that morning and the balloons were coming back down very quickly. Especially the large special shape balloons. Some of them were landing very close to us.
I ended up staying an extra day, until Saturday. On Friday evening I went with Jimbo, Kathy and her brother to the “Glowdeo”. Just after sunset the balloons stay on the ground, the pilots fire up the gas and they light up. Very cool, but it was too dark already to get good pictures. Jimbo got better pictures earlier in the week.
On Saturday morning I got up early, early, like 5:00 AM early. I wanted to go to the field to wander amongst the balloons as they are inflated and take off. What a sight! It was cool being down in the middle of several balloons being filled with hot air, and all the people down there doing the same thing. I could not believe how many people were there. It wasn’t even light yet and there were masses of people. Tons of people had made a real effort to be vertical well before dawn. Amazing. It was nice to be able to walk to the field. The traffic on the way to the park was terrible!
The take-off coordinators are called Zebras, since they wear black and white outfits. Their job is to coordinate the departures and control the crowds. They clear a cone-shaped area, based on wind direction, where the balloon is expected to travel as it rises. Some of these folks are dressed more elaborately than others. I tried to get a picture of this guy with a zebra shirt, zebra jacket and large zebra hat. He was the best dressed. Zebras move fast and this was the best picture I was able to get:
I also visited the midway, which was huge. Lots of food and stuff for sale, which I didn’t need, but I got an official 2013 Balloon Fiesta pin.
Later that day I turtled up and moved back to Sandia, stopping at the Giant Conoco station on Alameda that has a free dump station. Things were winding down at the casino. A lot of RVs had headed out already. It was a lot less packed than the prior weekend. All of my friends were still there, but were each leaving within the next few days. I was planning to stay a while more, since I had an appointment on Thursday at an Albuquerque Ford shop, Statkus Engines. I was having an alignment problem and Statkus is known to be a good shop. Over the next few days I got some shopping and errands done (stocked up at Trader Joe’s) and finally did some gambling in the casino. I didn’t hit big, but turned the $25 free-play money they give into $25 in my pocket. It was super windy one day and that evening we had a weird super-glowy sunset. Like something out of an alien movie.