Albuquerque is known for transportation of a very specific kind–hot air balloons! We have all seen those pictures of hundreds of colorful, unique, fabulous hot air balloons floating through the air with desert plains, rocks of every size and shape, and formidable mountains hovering in the not so far distance. Well, that is one mode of transportation we did not explore in ABQ over the past few days, but I do know now why it is such a popular pastime. Our pedicab tour guide (we will get to him soon) told us ballooning is popular here because the air patterns move in a square, so that once the balloon rises and begins its wanderings, it is pretty much assured that the balloon will find its way back close to where it took off–kind of a weird boomerang effect. Now I don’t know if this has been scientifically proven but it sounds reasonable to me, especially since ABQers would be chasing balloons all over the place trying to sort them out if there wasn’t some kind of rhyme or reason for the multitude of balloons that fly here frequently. In the many years we have lived in VA, I have only seen one hot air balloon float over our house. In ABQ, it is a common occurrence; in fact, when the balloon festivals are ongoing, you can see hundreds at one time. I think it would be great fun to come back to see that!
So, OK, we didn’t do the balloon thing, but we did hit almost every other mode of transportation that I can think of. But let me back up—our last few days in ABQ were centered mainly around taking the coach to the repair shop in the morning and bringing her home at night. Poor Baby! She has been through a lot! So although I had a long wish list of things to do in ABQ, we had to do what would work time-wise each day.
On our first day we drove in from Santa Fe and went directly to the repair facility down the street from our campground. We left Baby there to be “assessed,” then parts were ordered and we had to take her over for repairs as parts came in. So on Day One, we headed to Old Town ABQ for a pedicab tour of Old Town. We were tired and not totally energetic after driving in from Santa Fe and then doing the repair shop shuffle, so being driven around looking at stuff for a little while sounded like a good plan. At the last minute I called Mike, our driver, and asked if we could move our tour up by almost an hour, since we had arrived a lot faster than expected. He said of course–he would just be 30 seconds–and sure enough about 20 seconds later he rounded the corner of the Plaza in his canopied pedicab.
The next hour or so was a low-key combination of the history of ABQ, especially as it was in the old original section now known as Old Town, with a sprinkling of humor thrown in, as well as some special insights into why the world is as it is. And as part of the tour Mike pointed out all the places that would give discounts if we mentioned we had taken his tour. Old Town itself was a lovely lady, with many of the same families from the founding families still in possession of their family homes. Shopping wasn’t bad (especially with my pedicab discounts), and lunch in a hacienda-style restaurant finished off a long morning just in time for the call to come pick up Baby for the day.
After settling Baby in for the night at the campground, we headed to Sandia Peak Tramway for dinner. I have to say that dinner was good, but the sunset over ABQ was one of the most memorable sunsets in my immediate (and that’s about all I can remember!) memory. It took my breath away, especially as the sunset changed minute by minute so I would have to hop up from my dinner and take my camera over to the balcony for another shot.
We got to the Tramway so late we decided to come back the next night to take the ride to the top–at one time the longest tram ride in the world at 2.6 miles up over the rocky peaks. Now they believe there is a longer one in Eastern Europe.
The next morning, after dropping Baby off at her RV doctor, we headed west to see the Acoma Pueblo, called Sky City on the signs leading us there. The Pueblo, or village, sits on top of a 365 foot mesa, about 60 miles west of Albuquerque. Not until modern times was there a road leading up the mesa; all travelers had to walk up a very steep and rocky path to reach the village. Due to its isolation, the Pueblo was sheltered from invaders for more than 1200 years. Founded in the thirteenth century, the Acoma Pueblo (one of 19 different tribes in New Mexico) is the earliest of the continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
You can read those words but it doesn’t hit home what that really means until you visit this community. No water on the mesa, no plumbing, no electricity–they have to do everything as it has always been done–the very hard, painstaking way. Whether it was hauling water and supplies up the steep and torturous path, caring for crops and animals, discouraging warring tribes or Spaniards from approaching their hideaway, or the lure of leaving the hard life behind–it had to be done with no modern conveniences or outside support.
The drive to see the Acoma Pueblo was amazing in itself. Once the historical land of the Acoma Pueblo totaled about 5 million acres; now only 10 per cent is in the hands of the Acoma community. Still, as we stood atop the mesa talking with our resident tour guide, we could turn in a circle and look for miles in every direction. She said that everything we were looking at was Acoma land, about 850,000 acres.
Once we arrived, we first went to the Acoma visitor center and signed up for a tour. Our shuttle bus took us up a very steep hill to the top of the mesa. The tour guide explained that there was no road until a movie production team filming a movie up there (a John Wayne film called “African Sunset”) asked for permission to build one when they realized they would have to haul their equipment up the steep rocky foot path that was the only means of access at that time. Since then the community has improved the road to accommodate the school buses picking up the school children.
The village itself made me feel like I had stepped back in time. Gusts of sand blew in my eyes, camera, hair, clothes and shoes. Even my Indian fry bread Bob and I tried (delicious!) tasted a little sandy after a while. But the feeling of the place was like another planet–I could not fathom such a place ever existing in the United States. But it was also deliciously mystical and peaceful.
We returned to ABQ after a long, dusty day at the Acoma Pueblo. I have to say that after that experience I will never forget the Acoma. Hardy, mystical souls who truly understand the pull of home. And sand–lots of sand.
We picked up Baby and settled her in for the night and headed back to the Sandia Tramway. Once on the tram, I began to wonder if this was such a good idea. Bob looked a little green and I tried to focus on taking pictures and not worry about how old the tram is, how far down to the ground (piles of rocks) we were–and then as we neared the top at 10,000 plus feet, the wind began to blow rather fiercely shaking the tram around so that it slammed into the side of the nest it was aiming for.
In a nutshell, here’s our ride up:
And here’s Bob, happy he is still alive (me too!) after reaching the top and stepping onto solid ground:
After having a nice dinner at the top in the High Finance restaurant, we faced what I knew I was dreading—the trip down:
Finally to the ground we go. Slowly. I was so happy to see those little yellow flowers growing out of the rocks. Bob looked pretty happy to be near the ground again too. And back at the campsite, Baby had never looked so good!
Well, today we think is our last day in ABQ so we dropped Baby off (again!) and headed to the New Mexico Native American Cultural Center to learn about all 19 Native American tribes in New Mexico.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit each of the pueblos in person–maybe next time! But the museum gave us a great understanding of the challenges each of the Pueblos have faced and how their individual lives were affected. So much history and so little time to learn just a little of it!
We then ate lunch in the Cultural Center restaurant. Huge portions so we donated some of our leftovers to the folks at the table next to us. And they ate it!
That’s all for tonight! Hopefully we will be ensconced in our campsite in Arizona by this time tomorrow. We are watching the forest fires however, just in case our route crosses over their path.
Hope everyone is doing well. Happy trails, family and friends!