New Mexico – Balloons & Caves & Sand. Oh my!

International Balloon Fiesta

New Mexico surprised me, in the best possible way. I’ll admit, my expectations were low coming in, but there were so many interesting things to see and do. This state has rocketed into my Top 5 Favorite US States and I’m already planning a return visit.

The Main Event…Balloons!

The inspiration for this trip was the 2015 International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Its an internationally known grand spectacular of hot air balloons. Every year hundreds (maybe thousands! Its hard to count them all) of Balloons, their pilots, and their groupies swarm to New Mexico for a week of all things ballooning. In addition to the balloons, there is also live music, fair style foods, and a shopping/marketplace area. An unofficial (meaning its not listed on the site but everyone seems to know about it and do it) event is kite flying during the day. Everyone from kids with simple drug store kites, to adults with masterful flying art pieces hauls out their kites during the day to fill the sky with color. It makes sense of course, part of the reason this location is chosen for the hot air balloons is because of the perfect wind conditions. Which also happen to be perfect for Kite flying.

In the mornings there will be hundreds of balloons lifting off around the same time. What was surprising, and very cool, for me to discover is that you can walk right out on the field and get next to the balloons. I would have thought the “launch area” is roped off with guards like at an airport, but instead you can wander right out next to the balloons. Its very cool to stand in the middle of the field and feel the heat from the burners and the rush of air as they start to lift off. These are impressive and complicated machines. The balloon pilots are generous with their time and the ones I spoke to had great stories to tell about ballooning and what had led them here.

My favorite part was the “Night Time Glow”. The balloons can’t fly at night for safety reasons, but they still put on a shiny show. After the evening concert the Balloons inflate and light up, creating a field full of giant Christmas lights. They twinkle and glow (hence the clever name) and I couldn’t help but just stand there with my mouth open. The night ends with a firework show. Its really the most amount of lights, in all shapes and sizes, you will ever see.

One thing to note, the second day I was there was rainy and windy so none of the balloons were able to lift off. Weather cant be controlled so make sure that you plan for at least two days at the event just in case something happens.

Roswell – Land of…not much.

Unfortunately Roswell turned to be not very interesting. I didn’t find much worth doing here and ended up spending most of my time in the local Denny’s. Not a single UFO or Alien to be found, and I looked carefully. I did get to see this lovely sunset though.

The decent into the deepest depths of the earth…Carlsbad Caverns

As we were descending down the deepest elevator I’ve ever been in, a daunting 750 feet down, our Park Ranger told us the story of the discovery of Carlsbad Caverns. The year was 1898, our hero Jim White is a 16 year old boy. Now, this 16 year old boy was much like any 16 year old you would have met in our time. So just picture any teenager you know. He was out exploring one day, tasked with the job of searching out stray cattle. In the distance he noticed a plume of black smoke rising above the ground and so he goes to investigate. As he gets closer he realizes that the smoke is actually thousands of bats flying out of a giant cavern in the ground. Now most people, most adults certainly would have proceeded with great caution from this point on. But our hero is a teenager, and a male one at that. With him at the time he had rope, fence wire, and a hatchet. In a Macgyver move, before there was such a thing, he made himself a ladder out of wire and branches, and then descended a total of 70 feet to the first ledge, to go explore this cave. Think about that. 70 feet down into pitch black with only a homemade ladder. In this first trip he got lost and ran out of oil for his lamp. He made it back though and considered the event a grand adventure. He came back many times after that first visit, once even spending three whole days underground. Though after the first time he became very responsible and left a trail of string so that the could find his way back to the entrance.

The tour I was on calls back to the time of Jim White. The Left Hand Tunnel of the cave of devoid of electrical lighting. You explore with only a candle, held in a wooden lantern, much as Jim would have done. The ranger has a flashlight for emergencies and point out unique formations, but for the most part you see the cave exactly as he must have. Dark, seemingly endless, with only a few feet in front of you visible from the candlelight.

It was just very cool and just a little bit scary. Being a fantasy fan, I couldn’t help but feel like I was part of a Fellowship, exploring the Mines of Moria and waiting for a dragon to appear. Places like this don’t seem real to me.Its like something out of a novel or a video game. But its real. And that my friends, is incredible.

This system of caves is enormous, and easily apparent why its worthy of being one of our National Parks. The 3D-Map below shows just one section of the cave system. The portion that I spent my day exploring is that little section in the upper right. And that took 3 hours. It would probably take you at least a week of dedicated time here to see all the tunnels and take all the tours. That’s what we in the gaming industry call “replayability”. Meaning, you will want to come back, explore more, and do this all again.

Exploring the very end of the world…White Sands

I was already on an Adventurer’s high from Carlsbad when I made my way to White Sands. It was a dark and stormy day in New Mexico. The rain prevented me from doing alot of hiking around, but the trade off was that I had the whole place to myself.

Its easy looking around to think that you have reached the very end of the world. All you can see is white, especially on a day like this where the sky was dark and stormy. Its very sci-fi.

White Sands, is a sea of dunes in the middle of the New Mexico desert. The dunes are made of gypsum sand, its actually the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, but here is why that is interesting. Gypsum Sand is white.  The tone will vary from beige to pure white based on lighting, and in my case rain, but if you hold the dry sand up close it looks to be the same color as table salt. For reference, here is my white rental car surrounded by a sea of white sand. I’m not skilled enough with words to describe it and make it seem as interesting as it actually is. It sounds like its just a big field of sand, which it is, and you might think, why should I go to New Mexico to look at sand? Well, because its very cool white sand!

The Bad Bits

In my three days in New Mexico I spent a total of 15.5 hours in the car, driving over 1100 miles. This was not ideal. I jumped on a cheap plane flight as soon as I saw one (which was good), but it was purchased before I had finalized all my activity plans for the weekend (this was bad). Instead of starting in the lower parts of New Mexico and working my way up. I stayed in Albuquerque and drove back and forth all over the State to visit what I wanted to. In the end, I got to see everything I wanted so it worked out, it just could have been planned far more efficiently. It was way too much driving.

Also, I got a speeding ticket. So much time on the roads, it was bound to happen right? That one ticket became a bit of a hassle for the next few months because, the New Mexico court system is a terrible mess. Long story short, my ticket got lost for a few months, causing me to fear a suspended license, before it reappeared. All fees have been paid now and I am totally legal.

The Extra Bits

Bonus Photo! If you are ever near Albuquerque, check out Tia Betty Blue’s. One of the best breakfasts I have every had!


icon_balloon01 All Around New Mexico – The Quest Includes Balloons & Caves & Sand. Oh my!

icon_state_NM01New State – First time in New Mexico

icon_nationalpark01 First Visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

icon_hiking01Longest (and Deepest) Elevator Ride – 750 Ft!


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