I’m sold on Santa Fe. This hidden gem is just one more reason why I love the Southwest: It’s full of surprises.
Like most people, New Mexico was never on my radar. We owe a HUGE thanks to our parents for letting us share in their ‘discovery’ weekend and introducing us to a place that I can only describe as having the best of two of our worlds. The mountains, abundant sunshine and hearty vegetation – very Arizona. The mild (yet not freezing!) temps, the pines, birch and grass – so Midwest.
The trip was planned to perfection. (I can’t take an ounce of credit… which may explain why everything went so smoothly.) We timed it so that in addition to exploring and indulging in the amenities at Las Campanas, we would be able to take in the world’s largest balloon festival and head into the mountains to see all the aspen trees turning bright yellow.
The balloon festival happens over the course of nine days every October… which means, its frequent enough that anyone has the opportunity to do this at least once in their lives. I kid you not when I say, it’s one of the coolest things we’ve done – ever. It’s worth every bit of the early morning wake up (4 am) to see the very first balloons float up and glow in the black sky, followed by more than 500 balloons as the sun rises. And different to what I expected, we weren’t confined to the sidelines watching from a distance – we were free to wander amongst the balloons as they prepare to fly.
Incredible, right?! We had no problem filling the three hours in which this all happened. Me, I was just the wacky girl in the white hat with a camera stuck to my face. I could not get enough. And when I discovered that the zoom lens could bring me into the pilots’ world…
Is that you, Chicago?! (Sadly it wasn’t. No money to represent!) For anyone that’s curious how the morning progresses and what to expect – here’s a really quick breakdown:
Arrive well before the sun is up. There’s plenty of hot coffee, breakfast burritos and the odd burst of techno music here and there to keep you awake. The first balloons (aka ‘Dawn Patrol’) go up to check things out and test the wind patterns, while the other grounded balloons begin firing up.
As the sun begins to rise, Balloon Fiesta Park is littered with hundreds of balloons beginning to inflate. I’m no expert here, but the inflation process seems straightforward: The basket and burner are laid on their sides, the balloon itself (which at this point resembles one of those huge parachutes we had in gym class as kids) is arranged flat on the grass, a big fan is brought in to pump air into it, and once inflated enough, the burner’s flame is blasted into the opening to build pressure to allow it to lift off.
As the first few dozen balloons took flight, we thought the scene was as good as it was going to get – and we were more than satisfied with that. Boy, were we wrong. This process continued on for 2 hours with balloons taking off seemingly every minute. By the time we had blue, cloudless skies, we were surrounded by colorful globes.
The fiesta dies down around 9 am, when the majority of the balloons have lifted off. One last look for four very happy campers who went back in search of our beds.
As if that wasn’t enough color, Santa Fe had more to offer:
The Santa Fe Ski Basin was just a short drive from our home base at Las Campanas and the perfect spot to take in these beauties. A paved road with multiple lookouts led us all the way to the top where one of the ski lifts was running to take its very patient patrons further up the slopes. Very cool concept but…. we were not so patient. We weren’t having the three hours it was taking to go up and back. The lookouts were where it was at!
One last look at the landscape to which I KNOW we will return…
Thank you again to our parents for a truly spectacular weekend!