Daytripper

Ballooning is an Albuquerque thing. It’s precisely burqueno and in my 3 years here, I’ve avoided it like the plague. The whole notion of walking around looking at balloons amidst a bunch of screaming kids just never really appealed to me. Well, it turns out, I was wrong about balloon fiesta, way wrong.
This year through some friends of friends, I’m crewing for Paul Clinton on Daytripper. He’s been flying in Albuquerque for about 25 years. Through him I’m learning “that ballooning is like sailing, only in 3 dimensions.” I’m also learning about the peculiarities of hot air ballooning at 5,000 feet surrounded by mountain ranges and Indian reservations.

So on a chilly morning, I’m listening to Pink Floyd’s Animals (recall the album cover and that reference almost makes sense) and having awaking dream about curling up in a stack of warm pancakes as I speed past IHOP on the way to the interstate. Basically, the way it works, is that if you’re willing to show up at 5 am, you can lift things and take direction, you can be on a balloon crew. Once the balloon is loaded on the trailer with the fan and the basket we wind our way up Edith toward Balloon Fiesta Park.

Dawn Patrol


I’ve been out with them a couple of times now, chasing the balloon in a truck kicking up dust on the mesa west of town and also driving a not quite fully refurbished prison van to dead end on a cul de sac and then begging a homeowner to cut through their house and yard to get to the ditch and catch the balloon. Getting to the landing is key, so is keeping your cool while negotiating balloon fiesta spectator traffic and looking out for other out of town balloon crews. This part of balloon crew is very important. Once the pilot lands, he needs more weight on the basket to keep it from lifting off the ground again and to get tilted toward the ground so he can let the air vent out of the balloon. Once the balloon is on the ground it has to be carefully packed away, because, hey, you don’t want to deal with a mess the next time your stumbling in the dark at balloon o’clock (usually about 5 am). Once the envelope (fancy name for balloon part) and basket (duh, it’s the basket part) are on the trailer, its time to start drinking beer.
Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you get to drink it from a vintage firetruck/chase vehicle called the gentle stripper. Other times you sip it from a can as you watch the balloons come in for competition. Other than my actual balloon ride, the competition drop was my favorite part of my virgin fiesta. Basically balloons fly in to the field and try to drop bean bags on an X on the ground, or for the really big money, put a ring on a pole that’s about 15 feet tall. Because Albuquerque’s balloon fiesta is the biggest Ballooning Rally in the world, you get really top notch competitors.
Much like sailing, everyone who intends to fly, meets at a pilot’s briefing. Once the weather conditions and rules are sorted out at this meeting, the competition pilots start to calculate the best place to launch from in order to hit the targets. Strategy, local knowledge and a bit of luck all weigh in to this equation about equally.
On this exceptionally brisk October morning, we had the first two going for us. Paul knew exactly where he wanted to launch from, but unfortunately we had a mechanical, um situation, one of the uprights that holds the burner above the basket had broken the day before and was lodged so far down in the slot where it sits that the spare upright would not go in.

Despite brainstorming and resourceful attempts at removing the piece, it looked like the day was going to be a wash.
I never thought I’d say I was glad to not get a ride, but sitting on the infield with a beer, watching the pros come in to the targets was the non-flying highlight of the week. It’s a really cool sport with some really, really talented pilots and the wind conditions were right for several of them to make multiple attempts on the targets. From my novice observations, the wind conditions were such that the north south wind “dumping” from Santa Fe sped the contestants right to the targets, then they’d rise up and catch a south-north current to head back up and give it another go. It looked like they were using an elevator and a conveyor belt. Very cool.

Competion Drop

All the while we were trying to fix the upright situation the special shapes were taking to the air. I got a lot of cool pictures of special shapes.

Special shapes!

Finally on the final Sunday of fiesta, after 3 weekends of 5 am wakeups, I got my ride. It was a perfect day for flying and everyone was inflating on the field for a huge, sunny mass ascension.

Mass Ascension

We waited until the tail end of the ascension and sailed right up over the field. Balloons directly ahead of us to the south dotted the sunny skyline in a perfect Albuquerque moment.

But all good things must come to an end and just as smoothly as we had ascended, we started to head toward a field to land.

Floating


We came in smoothly, softly and slowly right over the top of the Noah’s Ark balloon, still inflated on side. The fine folks from the Smokey the Bear were right there in the field to help us, and by 9 am we were all packed up and enjoying a growler of IPA. Once we got back to the field it was time to enjoy a gorgeous New Mexico day with some more beer and elk summer sausage, another great fiesta in the books.

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Autumnal

Fall is a great time to be alive in New Mexico. The smell of pinon fires mingling with the scent of roasting green chiles on the cool air means one thing, it’s beer festival season. Marble Brewery’s intimate Septemberfest, delivers the goods from regional microbreweries around the state. Then there’s the New Mexico Brew Fest, at the Villa Hispana. I’ve never attended this one, but I see it’s got a nice line up of big commercial breweries (Odell, New Belgium, ect.) as well as some non-New Mexico neighborhood breweries, like Ska Brewing out of Durango.

Another festival that’s not to be missed is Telluride Blues and Brews. Generally known for big name headliners this festival also has a really great line up of Colorado beers from breweries big and small. I drank a lot of good beer when I went last year, even as it snowed on the valley in late September.

This year, in a brilliant move, Il Vicino Canteen kept things closer to home, cracking open the beers they planned to take to the mother of all beer festivals, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver on October 11-13. I felt like it was Christmas in September as I sipped their Chocolate Cherry Stout, which an innovative competitor in the Fruit Beer category at GABF this year.

Of course GABF is sold out, who doesn’t want to drink beer in 70 categories from 580 of the nation’s best breweries, but if you’ve got a New Mexico server’s license, hit up your local pub and see if you can join their team to head north and volunteer.

No tribute to fall in New Mexico could be complete without mentioning Dixon’s Apple Orchard. I feel extremely lucky as a new Burquena to have been treated to this fall tradition before it was too late. As a girl from New England who grew up picking apples with my classmates in the crisp Connecticut air, I was thoroughly impressed with Dixon’s delicious champagne apples. Sadly, my first visit to this wonderful orchard would be my last. The orchard was badly burned in the fires of 2011 and will not be producing a harvest this year.

New Mexico may not be New England, with throngs of tourists inundating small towns to stare at the leaves and gawk at covered bridges (I’m looking at you Kent, Conn!) but we do have aspens. The glorious golden trees can be seen just about anywhere you go above 8,000 feet. There’s something alpine and soothing about the sound of aspen leaves blowing in the fall breeze.

Travertine Falls

IMG_2268 by ewhughes1
IMG_2268, a photo by ewhughes1 on Flickr.

While TLC advises that you don’t go chasing waterfalls, if you hike up to Travertine Falls, you ‘re gonna find one. The waterfall is about a mile up the trail and the shady creek bed runs about another mile up the trail. The spring is a great place to stash some beer in the stream to savor on the way back.
The waterfall flows even in the peak summer months and the route is well shaded and has lots of mud for puppies to play in. The Travertine Falls trail connects with Bart’s, Crest and Faulty Trails, so it’s a nice start/finish to some of the longer, steeper classic Sandia hikes a good choose-your-own adventure for varying degrees of difficulty and mileage. The trailhead is kind of tricky to get to off the Tijeras /Rt.14 exit access road (exit for 333, not 14 where the ramp splits!) but its close proximity to town and shaded sections make it an excellent after-work hike.

Faulty Trail

Faulty Trail by ewhughes1
Faulty Trail, a photo by ewhughes1 on Flickr.

Even though we’re enjoying a robust monsoon season this year, in July and August it’s important to pick trails that provide ample shade. Last weekend I hiked lower Faulty Trail and found it quite comfortable. There was a lot to like about it actually. The drive is short enough, just north of the Doc Long Picnic area on the road up to the crest that I could make it out here on a weeknight and it’s well shaded and little traveled so the dogs were able to get out and really romp.
This trail has some decent steep beneath the pine trees at the beginning (are there any hikes around here that don’t?!) and then evens out along an oak-lined ridge with some pretty good views to the north. It’s a good workout hike on a decently maintained trail. In my trail running days this one would certainly be in heavy rotation on my training log.
There’s some good scree about for keeping your ankles awake and alert. I think this would be a great training hike if I were trying to log some practice miles with a new backpack or boots in anticipation of hiking a bigger hill like Wheeler Peak or some of his neighbors to the north in Colorado.
Something about this hike really tired the dogs out too. Dixie and her companions, Cooper and Daisy had all about had it an hour or so in. It was a sweet shady day hike that left me feeling like I had accomplished something at the end. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Angel’s Landing, Zion

Sizing up the Angel’s Landing summit from the Trail below.

The Angel’s Landing Hike at Zion National Park is one of the most terrific hikes I’ve ever done. When I say terrific I don’t mean it so much as, as in great, but terrific as in the root of the word “terror.” This classic Zion hike covers 1400 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles to the absolute top one of the most distinguished peaks in the park.
The first 2 miles are on a wide, paved path that snakes up from the Virgin River. This part of the ascent offers views of the river valley stretching the length of the park. It’s a great first hike upon arriving at Zion to get your bearings in the canyon, from up here you can see everything from the Temple of Sinawava to the Visitors Center at the western end of the park.
Even if you’re not up for the strenuous hike to Scout’s Landing and the white-knuckle ascent to the ridge, do hike far enough to check out the lovely WPA-era stone work on the trail, and Refrigerator Canyon.

View from Refrigerator Canyon.


Named for its chilly environment, Refrigerator Canyon offers a cool, green shady respite from the blazing sunshine encountered at the beginning and end of this hike.
After the cooling confines of the canyon, the steep takes hold again on the Walter’s Wiggles section of the hike. It’s a terraced set of switchbacks that lead to Scout landing. This spot on the trail, named for the engineer who designed it, is always good for a fun photo op.

Serious WPA engineering at Walter’s Wiggles.


Past Walter’s Wiggles, things get serious. There’s a sign or two warning about the steep ledges and harrowing ascent that lies ahead. I have to say, in this day and age of padded playgrounds I’m somewhat shocked at how dangerous, unsupervised and harrowing the final half mile ascent to Angel’s Landing is. For most of the half mile… which took us about an hour to climb, there’s about 18” of rock ledge and a chain bolted to the ledge wall. What’s really scary is that this popular hike gets crowded on a summer weekend. Someone else’s hesitation, misstep or sweaty slippery sunscreen hands could send a whole group over the edge. All that said, once you get to the top, you know why it’s called Angel’s Landing.

View from the top.

The cliffs of Zion that towered over your arrival in the park now cower like foothills in the distance. Kick back, relax and enjoy this summit, because the downclimb back is just as challenging, and the swift descent down those 1400 feet of gain is anything but easy on knees. But when you’re at the bottom waiting for the shuttle and gazing up to the peaks, you’ll always have the memory of what it’s like to look out from Angel’s Landing.

Hump Day Hike Night #1: The Waterfall

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On Wednesday nights I do a local hike. This is the first of the series “Hump Day Hikes.” For the first of the series I chose one of the most centrally located and easy hikes in Albuquerque. Looking at the map http://www.cabq.gov/openspace/pdf/embudito.pdf its the lower part of the Embudo Trail, but generally locals call it “the waterfall hike”at the end of Indian School Rd. Getting to the trail head is easy like sunday morning, you just drive to the end of Indian School Road, pass through the gates and there it is.
One of the things that amazes me about hiking in town, is how few people I see. Whether it’s the Bosque on Saturday morning, or the foothills on a weekday night, you have to wonder, with so much natural beauty around us, what the hell are people doing instead of getting outside and enjoying it? Anyway, fewer people means more solitude, so I’m not complaining.
The hike starts through the canyon on a wide gravel path. It goes up at a good grade with no protection from the sun. It’s deceptively flat looking, but it’s not. There are some forks in the trail to wander about the canyon, but just head straight back, through two fence gates and before you know it the dry arroyo turns to shady creekbed. The well marked path wanders back a bit further to more running water, willows and some rock scrambling. For a weeknight hike I usually turn around at the waterfall, or sit on the rocks and drink a beer, enjoying the sound of the creek , the interesting rock formations and the blue blue sky.

Beirut, The Band

One of the people I was talking to about this show, actually asked me if I was going to Lebanon on Friday night. No, just Santa Fe. I’m surprised these guys don’t have more of a following around here being hometown heroes from Santa Fe. I mean, they’re all over NPR and Pitchfork, oh well.
I didn’t go to Lebanon to see them, I went to Santa Fe, to the convention center. Despite a 30-minute walk through the pouring rain, the venue was breathtaking and the show was excellent.

Simple gypsy decorations of blinking christmas lights were perfect under the gorgeous beams and nuevo light fixtures. The band mainly stuck to songs off their critically acclaimed new album Rip Tide. They showed a mastery of the intricate gypsy rhythms and the tracks translated well to the live show. There were a few of the older, more rambling chaotic Eastern-European tracks , but they were just sparing enough not to clutter the beautiful simplicity of Rip Tide. I think the lack of more rollicking horn tunes, was also due in part to frontman Zach Condon being admittedly short of breath from the altitude on his first set. It was a great evening, in a great space, I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to catch a show up there. The acoustics are top notch and the architectural features are splendid.