Lake Powell and Page, AZ (Including Antelope Canyon)

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico >Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

Our first stop in Page, AZ was Upper Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon, and you have probably seen gorgeous pictures of the beams of sunlight gleaming down in Antelope Canyon.

Sunlight beam in Upper Antelope Canyon | Page, Arizone

Like many other aspects of our Southwest USA road trip, visiting Antelope Canyon required a Navajo guide. I had read reviews of Upper Antelope Canyon before we left, and they were all pretty much the same … Beautiful, but WAY TOO CROWDED.

Oh well, I thought. It is too stunning to miss. And while, yes, it was stunning, our experience overall was a disappointment. First, the stunning part!

Upper Antelope Canyon Upper Antelope Canyon Upper Antelope Canyon Tour Upper Antelope Canyon - Crowds Upper Antelope Canyon Upper Antelope Canyon Upper Antelope Canyon

As you can see from the photos, it was very crowded, especially in the more narrow areas of the canyon. There was virtually no time to stop and take decent photographs because the guide had to rush in every group, so the next group wouldn’t catch up. (That never worked, all of the groups were bumping in to each other). Because all of the groups were so close to each other, all you heard were guides trying to shout over one another. So, it definitely wasn’t a peaceful experience! Then, when you reached the end of the canyon, you had to walk straight back through the canyon without stopping, so not to intrude on any of the other groups, and so you wouldn’t miss your designated truck back to the parking lot.

It was forty bucks per person to enter Antelope Canyon. $80 for two people to experience the canyon for less than one hour. I’m glad we saw Upper Antelope Canyon, but I really question the pricing, especially considering the tour duration and the fact that we felt like herded cattle.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Later that afternoon, we visited Lower Antelope Canyon. It’s kind of like Upper Antelope Canyon’s less famous sibling.

Walking through Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ

It doesn’t get the same sun beam lights like Upper Antelope Canyon, so apparently people must think it is less beautiful.  I, for one, thought it was MUCH more beautiful that Upper Antelope Canyon (perhaps because we had practically the entire place to ourselves). Plus, it was half the price, at $20 per person.

Entrance fees to Lower Antelope Canyon

So, can you spot the entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon in this photograph?

Entrance to lower antelope canyon

No? How about if Ken stands just inside the entrance?

Ken standing in entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon did require a bit more physical ability. After seeing the first few sets of steep metal stairs, I was starting to worry we might have another Fiery Furnance incident on our hands. But, thanks to the handrails at most of the steps, my klutziness stayed at bay.

Metal stairs in Lower Antelope Canyon Steps in Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon got EXTREMELY narrow in certain points. Luckily neither of us is claustrophobic, but wow, it was a tight squeeze at certain points.

Narrow walls in Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon

We enjoyed walking around Lower Antelope Canyon for probably two hours, and we barely encountered anybody else! (I should point out that we had a “photography permit,” which allowed us to wander by ourselves. Otherwise you need to stick with the guide.)

Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon

Anyway, I highly recommend Lower Antelope Canyon. You do need to take caution there though.  There are all these net ladders around the top of the canyon, necessary in case of an emergency.  There was a tragedy at Lower Antelope Canyon in the late 1990s. A flash flood hit the canyon, killing 11 tourists. The guide told us the story before we entered the canyon, and explained that alarms would sound if rain was approaching, at which point, we should haul ass to the exit. In case you couldn’t make it to the exit, the net ladders would be dropped so you could climb out. Scary stuff, but very unlikely to happen without warning again.

Lake Powell Boat Tour

The Lake Powell area is great for houseboaters. Or, like us, you can just take a boat tour! Lake Powell is an entirely man made lake, created by the nearby Glen Canyon Dam.

Tour Boat area at Lake Powell Houseboats on Lake Powell

Our boat tour took us to many scenic areas on the lake!

Views from Lake Powell tour boat Views from Lake Powell tour boat Views from Lake Powell tour boat Views from Lake Powell tour boat

We even got to see some kayakers and water skiers.

Kayaking on Lake Powell Jet skiing on Lake Powell

Glen Canyon Dam

Next up, we went on a tour of the Glen Canyon Dam, offered by the National Park Service.

Glen Canyon Dam Tour Glen Canyon Dam Tour Glen Canyon Dam Tour Glen Canyon Dam Tour

The bridge that runs parallen to the dam was stunning.

Bridge at Glen Canyon Dam

Some old heavy equipment is on display on top of the dam, so that visitors can look at it closeup. If I recall correctly, the yellow machine was used to pour concrete.

Glen Canyon Dam Tour Glen Canyon Dam Tour

And we got to see where the magic happens – the huge generators.

Generators at Glen Canyon Dam

Sunset on Lake Powell

One evening, we drove around the lake during sunset. So beautiful!

Sunset at Lake Powell Sunset at Lake Powell Sunset at Lake Powell Sunset at Lake Powell

 

Horseshoe Bend

To end our time in Lake Powell, we made a quick stop at Horseshoe Bend. It was a quick and easy hike to the bend, and the sign gave some ominous warnings.

Warning sign at Horseshoe Bend Trail to Horseshoe Bend

Then we arrived at the bend! I never quite got the money shot at Horseshoe Bend, because that would’ve required getting too close to the edge for my liking. But, you can check out what it “should” look like here.

Horseshoe Bend Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ

As you can see, there were plenty of folks willing to go to the edge!

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That’s it! We were on our way to the Grand Canyon!


Monument Valley – Southwest USA Road Trip (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico >Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

This post covers our fourth stop, Monument Valley!

Following our time in Moab, Utah, we drove south to Monument Valley. We had booked a room at one of the two hotels available, called TheView. And my GOODNESS did it live up to its name!

The drive from Moab to Monument Valley was spectacular. In fact, it is the same route, U.S. Highway 163, that is the set for many films. (It’s where Forrest Gump ended his three year run!)

Viewing Monument Valley from Road View of Monument Valley from the Highway

Once we arrived, we settled into our hotel, and enjoyed the stunning views from our hotel balcony.

View of Monument Valley from our Hotel Room at The View Hotel
We walked around the grounds, and ate at the hotel (I really don’t think there were any restaurants within a reasonable driving distance other than the hotel.)

So, I think this is a good time to bring up an odd observation from our Southwest USA Road Trip: A complete lack of Americans. Seriously, no joke. After Albuquerque, the vast majority of folks we encountered were Germans, followed by some Brits. You’d think we were in Germany for all the German language we heard on the trip. Americans weren’t a majority again until the Grand Canyon.

While we were standing in line waiting for a table for dinner at TheView, an older British couple was standing behind us. In her cute British accent, the woman asked us, “Excuse me, are you AMERICANS??” We replied with a chuckle, and a “Yep! Definitely!” She said, “Can you tell us where are all the OTHER Americans? We’ve been in this region touring for more than a week, and all we’ve seen are Germans and other Brits!” We were all like, “Yep! Concur! And we have no idea!”

We speculated on a couple of reasons … Like the fact that it was October and most kids were in school. But that wouldn’t explain why Americans with no children or grown children weren’t traveling. And we also speculated that these were such remote areas for Americans to reach. Really, we were just grasping for reasons, but had no idea why there were hardly any Americans in the area.

On our next stop, the Lake Powell / Page, AZ area (which I’ll talk about in the next post in this series), a Navajo guide said that 70% of their business comes from non-Americans. We were flabbergasted.

Anyway, end the odd observation story.

As the evening progressed, dark clouds started rolling in. It was October, and our guide in Canyon de Chelly had mentioned that this area had not had any rain since July. Yikes! And we were about to be there for the first rain in three months!.

Ken on TheView hotel grounds TheView Hotel in Monument Valley

I just really hoped that the weather would clear up by the morning, because the sunrise in Monument Valley was supposed to be spectacularly beautiful.  

Around 3:30 in the morning, Ken and I were both awakened (woken up?) by tremendous thunder outside. I was having trouble falling back asleep, and decided to see what I could capture with my camera. After fumbling with my tripod in the middle of the night and taking about 150 uselessly black photographs, I managed to capture these shots.

Lightning Storm in Monument Valley Lightning strikes in Monument Valley Storms and Lightning in Monument Valley, Utah

The storms moved through the area, and we managed to fall back asleep (although not after I walked full force into our closed sliding glass balcony door. I had forgotten that I closed it while I was outside in an attempt to not disturb Ken).

So, we didn’t capture sunrise because it was still quite cloudy. But I was totally okay with that. What we got to capture instead were incredibly moody shots of Monument Valley, which I assume are a rarer shot that the ubiquitous sunrise shots!

Cloudy Sunrise in Monument Valley - View from TheView Hotel Room Cloudy Sunrise in Monument Valley - View from TheView Hotel Room Cloudy Sunrise in Monument Valley - View from TheView Hotel Room Cloudy Sunrise in Monument Valley - View from TheView Hotel Room Cloudy Sunrise in Monument Valley - View from TheView Hotel Room

By the time we showered and went to breakfast, the clouds had cleared and it was going to be a beautifully sunny day!

View from restaurant at Monument Valley The View Hotel Monument Valley

We had arranged for a Navajo tour guide that afternoon in Monument Valley. There are some parts of Monument Valley accessible by car without a Navajo guide, but the roads are really, really rough. We didn’t have a 4 wheel drive (just our little economy rental car), and we wanted the benefit of hearing more about the area from a local guide.

Our guide picked us up at the hotel in a Jeep, and we started our tour. First, our guide pointed out the “right mitten.” (Because it looks like a mitten!)

Right Mitten - Monument Valley

And then right and left mitten together.

Left Mitten and Right Mitten - Monument Valley

And this formation was called the Three Sisters. If you look at it creatively, it looks like the profile three nuns standing.

Three Sisters - Monument Valley Monument Valley Driving Tour Monument Valley Driving Tour Monument Valley Driving Tour

Our guide pointed out this formation, called “Totem Pole”

Totem Pole- Monument Valley

Then our guide stopped at this formation which had a nearly perfect circle formed in the “ceiling.”

Circle roof formation in Monument Valley Wide angle shot of the circle formation

Our guide had us lean against the structure to get a better view. I snapped this picture of Ken and our guide.

Monument Valley formations

As we continued our tour, our guide pointed to some Hogans, or traditional Navajo dwellings,

Hogans - Traditional Navajo Dwellings - Monument Valley

The landscape of the area is just truly stunning. I’d definitely recommend a tour of the area to anybody!

Monument Valley Driving Tour Monument Valley Monument Valley

When our guide dropped us back at our hotel, we stopped by the “Trading Post” at the hotel, which is essentially just a gift shop. While there, I went to the restroom, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at this sign in the ladies’ room!

Funny signs - please do not bathe in sink

And that was it for our time in Monument Valley! We only spent one night there, and then we were on our way to Lake Powell!


Moab, Utah – Southwest USA Road Trip (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico > Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

This post covers our third stop, Moab, Utah!

After seeing Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona, we drove about four hours north to Moab, Utah. While there’s lots of outdoor and adventure activities in Moab, we visited mostly to see Arches National Park.

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

There are many hikes in Arches National Park, ranging from easy to hard. We’re not seasoned hikers (plus, I’m a tremendous klutz, which I’ve mentioned many times here!), so we stuck to the easy ones, with the exception of one, Fiery Furnace (more on that further below).

This was an area of Arches called “Park Avenue.”

Park Avenue trail and hike at Arches National Park Park Avenue trail and hike at Arches National Park - HDR photo Park Avenue trail and hike at Arches National Park

And an area called the Courthouses.

Courthouses Arches National Park

Driving between the different areas in Arches National Park, you could see these petrified sand dunes, which made it look like we were on Mars or something.

Petrified Sand Dunes at Arches National Park

One of the more famous landforms at Arches is Balanced Rock.

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park (HDR shot) Balanced Rock at Arches National Park Balanced Rock at Arches National Park Balanced Rock at Arches National Park Balanced Rock at Arches National Park

And can I please just point out the absolutely stunning weather and skies we had! And there were virtually no crowds. October was a fantastic time to visit!

Fiery Furnace Fail

Okay, let’s talk about Fiery Furnace for a few minutes. The Fiery Furnace is an area of Arches National Park that is only accessible by ranger-led hike (unless you go through a special permitting process) or with an authorized guide. Arches National Park mentions that it is a difficult hike, while reviews on TripAdvisor were like, “I’m a 65 year old grandmother and I thought it was very easy and I think Arches National Park just doesn’t want many people to go,” and “This is not nearly as difficult as the website makes it out to be!”

So, we booked our reservation far in advance, and we met up for our Fiery Furnace tour. I only made it like 5 minutes. I was almost a crying mess. I kept slipping on the gravelly surfaces and tripping on the sloped rocky formations.

Here I am grabbing onto any surface I can!

Fiery Furnace Hike

We got to a point and the guide asked us if anybody felt they had to turn around, and I raised my hand. There was just no way I could spend another two hours in such as stressed out mess worrying that I was going to break an ankle. Ken and I turned around and left.

Fiery Furnace Hike

Here’s a view of the rock formations outside Fiery Furnace.

View outside Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park

This may seem a little silly, but I was really feeling dejected at that moment. I love experiencing beautiful places and getting to see amazing and unique landscapes (and taking photographs of them!). And I was feeling really down that I am just not coordinated enough to do things like rocky hikes. And that people who ARE coordinated don’t quite understand what it’s like to always feel off balance and clumsy. I didn’t get to experience something I really wanted to, and I was mad, like there was something I could do to help “fix” klutziness.

After the Fiery Furnace incident, we drove to the main area of Moab to have some lunch. Ken asked what I wanted to do next, and I looked at him and said, “I don’t even know if I want to go back to Arches!” I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to do ANY of the other trails there. But, after some lunch, I was feeling better about the situation and we headed back to Arches.

(By the way, less than a year later, I was watching the Today Show, and saw a segment about how scientists and engineers have done experiments that show some people really are just born clumsy! Somehow that made me feel better about the Fiery Furnace situation, even months later!)

More Hikes at Arches

Next up, we did a short hike to the Sand Dune Arch.

Ken squezing through during hike to Sand Dune Arch at Arches National Park Hike to Sand Dune Arch at Arches National Park Sand Dune Arch at Arches National Park Melissa at Sand Dune Arch

And then we took another quick-ish hike to Broken Arch. It’s called Broken Arch because there originally two arches at that location, but in the 1940s, one of them collapsed.

Sign for Broken Arch Broken Arch at Arches National Park Ken standing under Broken Arch

Then our next stop was Windows and Turret Arches (two arches accessible on one trail).

This is North Windows Arch:

North Windows Arch - Windows at Arches National Park

And to the right of where I was standing, you could also see Turret Arch.

Turret Arch at Arches National Park

But first, we walked the trail to the North and South Windows arches.

North Windows Arch North Windows Arch Ken sitting under the North Windows Arch View from sitting under North Windows Arch

Then we walked over to the South Windows Arch, right next to North Windows

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And as we walked to Turret Arch, we could get both North and South Windows Arches in the same frame!

Windows Arch

Then we spent a lot of time walking around Turret Arch.

Turret Arch Turret Arch

Turret Arch

Ken, who is luckily much less clumsy than me, climbed the rocky surface to sit directly under Turret Arch. I stayed put and just took photos from the base of the Arch! (He’s the tiny dot sitting about 1/3 up from the bottom of the photo).

Ken Sitting under Turret Arch

Our final stop for the day was Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch was described as a difficult one. Having learned my lesson from earlier in the day, we decided we’d just go to one of the viewing points for Delicate Arch instead of hiking up to it. Again, I was kinda disappointed, but I think it was good to recognize my limitations.

Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Utah Delicate Arch

The next morning, after checking out of our hotel, we stopped by Arches again for just a few more hikes we hadn’t gotten to yet.

Here was Double Arch, which was a nice and easy hike.

Double Arch Double Arch Double Arch

And we also checked out a trail called the Devil’s Garden, which had many arches along the way.

This one was Tunnel Arch:

Tunnel Arch at Devil’s Garden at Arches National Park Tunnel Arch

Pine Tree Arch was also stunning in the Devil’s Garden area. It looked like visitors used to be able to hike under this arch, but the trail has been closed. Upon closer inspection, there’s a huge crack along the curve of the arch. We figure that the park expects it to collapses sometime soon … like within the next hundred years.

Pine Tree Arch Pine Tree Arch - Devil’s Garden - Arches National Park

Besides the Arches, the Devil’s Garden trail also had just generally stunning landscapes!

Devil’s Garden - Arches National Park Devil’s Garden - Arches National Park Devil’s Garden - Arches National Park

And that was it! I wanted to point out that we stayed at a hotel called the Red Cliffs Lodge. Although it was farther than many of the other hotels in Moab, the drive on Highway 128 from the main area of Moab to our hotel was just SO SO stunning. Amazingly beautiful. If you ever find yourself driving through this area, make sure you drive along that road!


Canyon de Chelly – Southwest USA Road Trip 2012 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico > Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

This post covers our second stop, Canyon de Chelly!

After our visit in Albuquerque, we departed for Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon de Shay) in Arizona. It was STUNNING.

We arrived in the evening, but it was still daylight, so we were able to capture some beautiful “magic hour” photos! There are two main drives along the rim of Canyon de Chelly, the North Rim Drive and the South Rim Drive.

South Rim Drive

There were seven overlooks along the South Rim Drive. I’ll let the photos do the talking!

Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive

From the Rim, you could see some of the ruins of cliff dwellings, built around 1100 A.D. (We’d see them up close the next day, when we went into the Canyon.)

White House Ruins Cliff Dwelling in Canyon de Chelly Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive

It started to get dark, so we had to skip the last one or two scenic vistas on the South Rim drive. But we managed to capture this sunset shot!

Sunset at Canyon de Chelly

We headed back to our hotel. Hotel options in Canyon de Chelly are pretty limited, as our restaurant choices. (At the time, Burger King was ranked the 4th best restaurant in Canyon de Chelly on TripAdvisor). We had dinner at the Holiday Inn, our hotel, which was surprisingly crowded!

Two days later, right before we left Canyon de Chelly, we drove back to the scenic lookout points that we had missed when it started to get dark. It was from the vista that you could see Spider Rock.

View of Spider Rock from the South Rim of Canyon de Chelly View from South Rim Drive at Canyon de Chelly

Kind of a strange story, but a couple in the 50’s started chatting us up about how beautiful the area was. We concurred and were just talking intermittently with them as we walked around taking pictures. So I asked them what brought them to the area. The husband mentioned he had been in Las Vegas for (I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s close), the International UFO and Extraterrestial Beings Conference. Oh people. How quickly they can go from seeming normal to just having a completely different perception of them. But no judging, I guess everybody needs a hobby?

Jeep Ride inside Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly is a unique place. It is entirely owned by the Navajo Nation, but it is managed and operated by the National Park Service. It’s the only park like that in America! To drive “in” the canyon, you need to arrange for a tour with a Navajo Nation member. These tour companies abounded, and we had no trouble arranging for a tour when we got there. The tour guide came in a jeep and picked us up at our hotel.

Please forgive the blurriness of some of these photos! Several of them were taken while riding in the jeep, and the jeep was a VERY rough ride thanks to the Canyon’s terrain! Tough to keep the camera steady!

Our jeep ride at Canyon de Chelly Sandy floor at Canyon de Chelly

The driver would stop and have us get out to view certain things of note, like these ancient drawings.

Ancient drawings on wall of Canyon de Chelly

It’s also amazing that Navajo people still live in the canyon. However, our guide pointed out that this is becoming less popular, especially with younger generations.

 

Riding inside Canyon de Chelly

One of the major attractions inside Canyon de Chelly are the White House Ruins, which, I mentioned above, were dwellings built nearly 1000 years ago! (Just as a side note: the ruins are also accessible from the Canyon Rim via trail, and it is the only part of the Canyon you are allowed to go into without a guide.)

White House Ruins sign at Canyon de Chelly White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly

We also made a quick stop at some clean pit toilets near the White House Ruins.

Pit toilets in Canyon de Chelly

We got back in the Jeep and continued our drive. There were different options for what to see inside the Canyon, so we opted for the drive that would take us all the way to a structure called Spider Rock. (More on that below).

Inside Canyon de Chelly (jeep tour) Inside Canyon de Chelly (jeep tour) Inside Canyon de Chelly (jeep tour)

Then, it was impossible to miss it! We spotted Spider Rock in the distance!

Spider Rock from distance inside Canyon de Chelly

Then we got up close and walked around for quite a while.

Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly

It was truly impressive to see up close! Our tour was done, and the driver drove us back to the hotel! It was another rough ride the whole way back!

Canyon de Chelly North Rim

After the jeep ride, we went back to the hotel and rested for a bit. Then we set out to see Canyon de Chelly from the North Rim.

Like the South Rim, there were several scenic vistas to pull over at.

View of Canyon de Chelly from North Rim Drive View of Canyon de Chelly from North Rim Drive View of Canyon de Chelly from North Rim Drive View of Canyon de Chelly from North Rim Drive View of Canyon de Chelly from North Rim Drive View of Canyon de Chelly from North Rim Drive

You could also see additional cliff dwellings from the North Rim.

Cliff dwellings as seen from North Rim at Canyon de Chelly

And that was it for our time at Canyon de Chelly! It was SO stunning, I recommend it to everybody. And, shhh, don’t tell anybody, but I kinda think it was even more beautiful than the Grand Canyon, which we saw later on the road trip.


Albuquerque, New Mexico – Southwest USA Road Trip 2012 – Blast from the Past

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico > Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

This post covers our first stop, Albuquerque!

 

Two years ago this week, Ken and flew from Baltimore to Albuquerque, New Mexico to start a two week road trip of the Southwest USA. The impetus for the entire trip was the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, held every October (and is actually going on right now!). The Fiesta was a big item on my bucket list, and when I was researching the trip, I was trying to figure out what else to visit nearby. Well, “just a few days at the Fiesta” eventually morphed into a two-week long mega road trip hitting several stunning sites in the Southwestern USA.

 

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension

Let me preface this post by saying that the Mass Ascension at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is literally one of the most stunning sites I have ever seen in my entire life. I don’t want to sound like too much of a douchewaffle, but I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing sites during my travels in my life. So when I talk about the Mass Ascension being beautiful and amazing, you should trust me on that and go see it at least once in your life.

Mass Ascension at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Looking upward at balloons at the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque

But! The first day of our trip was kind of a fail. The “Mass Ascension” of the Balloon Fiesta begins at sunrise. It is probably considered the key event during the Fiesta, and it involves the ascension of about 500 hot air balloons into the sky over the course of just a few hours.

Every tip we read online said something to the effect of “Arrive early, dress warmly, and come hungry. Oh, and things can be a bit disorganized.” Our hotel was near one of the park-and-ride locations for the Fiesta. After our 4:15AM wakeup call, we drove to the park-and-ride, showed our prepaid tickets (you can also buy them onsite), and boarded the school buses being used to transport folks to the Balloon Fiesta Park. Everything was well organized. So far so good.

Well, we arrived early, found some seats at a picnic table, and bought some amazing breakfast foods at like one of the hundreds of food vendors.

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta | View from our picnic table seats at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta | Food Vendors including Breakfast Burritos and Hot Chocolate

And we waited for the hot air balloon festivities to start. And we waited. And we waited. Events were supposed to start at dawn, and there was nothing going on. I checked Facebook since I “liked” the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, and read an update that said the Mass Ascension had been cancelled for that morning due to high winds. Booo!

There was another one scheduled for the next day, but weather reports were predicting even higher winds the next day! And the next day would be our last day in Albuquerque. It took announcers FOREVER to announce that the morning’s events had actually been cancelled. I don’t want to sound like too much of a conspiracy theorist, but I assume they still wanted people to stick around and buy food and souvenirs.

Once it was finally announced, there was a huge exodus to the parking lots and other lots where we’d pick up the park-and-ride bus. It was a mess. Apparently there had been a major accident on the highway, which delayed every bus. It took a really long time for us to get out of that damn park.

Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension

The bus took us back to the park-and-ride, we went to the hotel for a little bit to unwind, and then we headed to Old Town Albuquerque for a bit. (More on that below).

The next morning, despite weather forecasts that called for even higher winds than the prior morning, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta went off without a hitch.

When we were looking for a place to sit that morning, I found a picnic table and was like, “Oh, this looks like a good spot.” And Ken asked why. I just said, “I’m not sure, but there are a half dozen news reporters standing around here, so I’m guessing something goes on at this spot!”

Well, my intuitions were correct! We happened to be sitting right at the spot where the “Dawn Patrol” begins. We didn’t know it at the time, but dawn Patrol consists of a few balloons that take off before all the other balloons. Presumably, they report flying conditions for the rest of the balloon pilots. It’s a big, ceremonious starting event (which never took place the day before).

We saw a balloon start to inflate and glow, which we thought was the Dawn Patrol Balloon.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then we noticed there was another balloon inflating right beside that! (I cannot emphasize how dark it was at that park and impossible to see anything in the distance!”

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

And then, before we knew it, there was an entire line of balloons inflating and glowing right before our eyes. I can’t quite explain the excitement at the park at that moment. Everyone was on their feet. It was an amazing site.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then the Dawn Patrol Balloons started taking off one by one.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

And with that, the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta’s Mass Ascension officially commenced! Balloons started inflating and taking off all around us!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

We did not realize just how close we would be allowed to get to the balloons. You’re able to walk all around them as they take off. (Before the trip, I thought you watched everything from bleachers or something).

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

Although it wasn’t precisely defined, it appeared that balloons would set up in waves so that the entire field wasn’t filled with inflated balloons all at once!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

I had just purchased a wide angle lens prior to this trip, and it had a fully manual focus, which I was still learning to use. So forgive the blurriness of some of the wide angle shots!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

It was such an amazing experience!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico

Considering the Fiesta activities started so early, I think we were heading back to the hotel by around 10AM. All the balloons had taken off, and we had to get back to the hotel to check out by the afternoon. We were all smiles for the rest of the day! I’m so glad we got to see it!

Old Town Albuquerque

So, let’s back up the timeline a little bit. The previous day, after the Mass Ascension had been cancelled, we went to Old Town Albuquerque. It was probably more crowded than it usually would be, thanks to the crowds in town for the Balloon Fiesta, but it wasn’t so crowded that it was unenjoyable or anything.

Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Ken joked that I carved grafitti into this cactus. I didn’t, but I still had to take a picture of Mel!

Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Balloon Glow

Another event that takes place at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is the Evening Balloon Glow. We attended that the evening of the failed morning Mass Ascension (so, not that long after our stop in Old Town).

During Balloon Glow, the hot air balloons do not actually take off. Instead, they stay on the ground and use the fuel / fire that would typically be used to make the balloons float to just “glow” instead in the evening dusk hours. (Sorry, I know there is probably a ton of information I’m not conveying correctly here, but that’s just a general understanding from my perspective! I don’t even know that that “flame” is called inside a hot air balloon, and I’m too lazy to google it!).

As dusk approached, the balloons started to inflate!

Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

As it got darker, the “glows” from the balloons started to become more apparent.

Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

And then, all of a sudden, the balloons all around us started to deflate. We asked around to find out what happened. Apparently the balloon pilots had all received some sort of emergency radio code that strong winds were approaching, and they all quickly deflated to avoid any fires or accidents.

And with that, the balloon glow ended fairly abruptly. Following the balloon evening glow, fireworks took place. They were decent, but nothing special.

Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for too much else in Albuquerque. We had planned for more things, but since we ended up having to go to the Mass Ascension two days in a row (since the first day was cancelled), that kind of threw off the rest of our plans.

But, we’ll be back. I think sometime in the future I want to go back to the Fiesta and actually fly as a passenger on one of the balloons. I just knew that for this trip, I’d be way too chicken! But, perhaps I’ll get calmer in the future.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to the balloon fiesta? What did you think?

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for too much else in Albuquerque. We had planned for more things, but since we ended up having to go to the Mass Ascension two days in a row (since the first day was cancelled), that kind of threw off the rest of our plans.

But, we’ll be back. I think sometime in the future I want to go back to the Fiesta and actually fly as a passenger on one of the balloons. I just knew that for this trip, I’d be way too chicken! But, perhaps I’ll get calmer in the future.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to the balloon fiesta? What did you think?