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Hot Air Balloons and Veterans Home

October 13, 2013

New Mexico – Saturday, October 5

My plan for the morning was to get to the hot air balloon park a little before 7:15 which was the scheduled time of the “mass ascension” of all the balloons. I had heard about the big international balloon festival in New Mexico, and never expected to be able to see it – I was feeling pretty lucky I was in New Mexico the week it was taking place! I had checked out the location yesterday because I wanted to know where I was going when it was crowded, and my motel was only 6-7 miles away. I figured if I got up at 4:45 and gave myself a couple hours to go 6-7 miles, I should be there in plenty of time. In reality, I almost didn’t make it. The traffic was incredibly congested and it was only inching along. I made a split second decision to take an earlier exit since I had discovered New Mexico often has roads that parallel the highway. And that move paid off for a couple miles and then I got in the long parking lines. The parking lot I was directed to was a long ways away from the balloon park, but luckily it was a cold morning, and there was a bit of a delay in the balloons taking off while they got properly warmed up. There was also a line to buy tickets, but finally I was there, and I wasn’t sure what to expect other than seeing a lot of balloons. There were literally hundreds of hot air balloons, all positioned right next to each other before lift-off, and we could get as close to them as we wanted as long as we didn’t interfere with their work, and got out of the way when they were ready to lift off. Many of the balloons were partially inflated, and there were constant whooshing noises as the balloon pilots kept heating the air inside the balloons with their open flames. Some of the fabric used in the construction of hot air balloons is fire-resistant, but it seemed there was a lot of powerful open flame around a lot of nylon!

Some of the balloons were totally deflated and spread out on their sides with the gondola basket also on its side. Other balloons were in the process of being inflated and that takes several people to hold open the mouth of the balloon. When the balloons are being inflated, most groups use something like a large fan to blow in hot air, and once the balloon is mostly inflated and getting ready for take-off, they use the propane tanks in the gondola. The balloons were all tethered to the ground with ropes. And when the ropes were released, they soared off pretty quickly right overhead. The balloon field was so huge, the crowds didn’t seem bad once we were inside. It was such a colorful spectacle – and fun to watch them all get inflated and then go gliding off – all in the same direction. There were specialty shaped balloons (bees, hummingbird, clock, lighthouse, stork, stagecoach, Darth Vader etc) and from comments I heard around me, people recognized old favorites, and commented on the new balloons.

It was fascinating to watch all the color, and movement, and I have never ever seen so many hot air balloons all at once. After a couple hours, the majority of the balloons were gone, and the chase crews had left to go retrieve them, and the excitement was over until the late afternoon lift-off. There were all kinds of food tents and souvenir tents and some people were just going to hang out all day. I got a Pueblo Breakfast Burrito, made with Indian frybread – delicious! I got about 4 miles of walking in, with the long walk to and from a distant parking lot, and up and down the whole balloon field. I made the mistake of not remembering which gate I used when I bought my admission ticket, and that created some extra walking, but I eventually found the van. It was still kind of chilly out, and I got Tula out for a walk before heading south.

Since I couldn’t visit any national parks; I figured I would head out to see other parts of the state. I was going to aim for the city of Las Cruces, and I made numerous stops along the way. The first was in Socorro and Tula and I took a short walk around the central town plaza and saw another old mission church. I continued on to the town of Elephant Butte, which was on the edge of an unexpected lake in the desert, and there was a marina and lots of people out in boats. The lake looked out of place in brown desert country – I’m used to seeing more of a green shoreline!

From there we went to the town of Truth and Consequences – which used to be called Hot Springs. In 1950 when the host of the TV game show called Truth or Consequences announced they would air their program from the first town to change its name to Truth or Consequences, Hot Springs won the honor, and the host returned every May for the next 50 years. Tula and I walked a mile and a half all around town, and there were quite a few old hotels from back in the days when they were spa motels and people would visit to soak in the springs to cure all sorts of ailments. From there I found a veterans memorial park that one of my aunts had told me about, and I really enjoyed the stop. There were memorials for all the conflicts the USA has been involved in, and a half-size Vietnam Memorial Wall. There was also a military museum on the grounds, but it was closed since it was evening. When I drove to the memorial, I noticed the Veterans Home right next door, and because I enjoyed the memorial park, it seemed fitting to make a donation to the Veteran’s Home. It was Saturday evening though, and no one answered the phone, and of course the doors were locked. So I just decided to mail in the donation with a note.

From there I drove down to Las Cruces for the night – only about 30 miles from the Mexican border.

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