Roadtrip #4: New Mexico and the Albuquerque Balloon Festival (Fall 2008)
Greetings road trippers...
It is that time again. My 4th annual roadtrip is ready to set sail on Monday, September 29th, 2008 in the early AM. The primary highlight of this trip will be to see the opening weekend of the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM. Secondaries will involve seeing more National Parks, National Monuments, and other PoIs. (You can find the original thread here.)
I have laid out a route using Google Maps, which highlight all of our stops as well as the counter-clockwise path I have constructed.
I will be posting daily blogs on this thread (whenever there's an available internet connection). Pictures will be posted to my RTA albums after I get home. Otherwise if I attempt to add them daily, they'll end up chronologically backwards since newest ones go at the top of the album.
Final itinerary (all tentative of course):
Day 1 - Drive to Tucson, AZ
Day 2 - Visit Saguaro NP (East & West), Drive to Las Cruces, NM
Day 3 - Visit White Sands NM, Drive to El Paso, TX
Day 4 - Visit Guadalupe Mtns NP and Carlsbad Caverns NP, Drive to Roswell, NM
Day 5 - Tour Roswell, Drive to Albuquerque, NM
Day 6 - Balloon Fiesta Opening Ceremonies, Cruise up to Sandia Peak via Tram
Day 7 - Balloon Fiesta Events, Daytrip to Santa Fe, NM
Day 8 - Visit Petrified Forest NP and Arizona Meteor Crater, Drive to Sedona, AZ
Day 9 - Chill in Sedona, AZ (looking for last-minute suggestions around here)
Day 10 - Visit Joshua Tree NP, Drive home
If you have loads of time to kill, you can also check out my previous reports of the first three road trips, #1 48 States in 30 Days (offsite), #2 The Great West, and #3 The National Parks of Utah. You can also view pictures from all these trips, as well as smaller side-trips, in the RTA albums section of my profile.
See ya'll on the road...
Have a safe and wonderful trip, I will look forward to your updates.
Love your map and your trip plans look great. And thanks for all the links to your wonderful reports from past trips. They're a great resource and it's good to have all those links in one place.
I can't wait to read about your trip and see your photos. Enjoy!
That does look like a great plan, Kinless. Have fun!
Edit: There is one thing I wanted to mention about the Tramway. There are two parking lots, an upper and a lower. When you get to the lower lot, make an immediate left turn, then go up and around to the right. You won’t have to climb the long stairway from the lower lot if you can find a place to park higher up.
Last edited by howard; 09-26-2008 at 10:05 PM.
Reason: Added info
======== DAY 1 ========
We got a fairly early start as we departed from our San Juan Capistrano, CA home at 5:45am PDT. Headed south on the I-5 toward San Diego, we saw the rare sight of pre-dawn thunderstorms rearing their ugly head, both over the ocean and over Camp Pendleton. What a great way to start the morning.
As we neared San Diego, we briefly transitioned to I-805 before hitting our highway of the day, Interstate 8. On this highway we rushed east to meet the rising sun as we headed through the Imperial Valley. It has been 13 years since I've traveled on this road.
After crossing the border and having a quick breakfast in Yuma, Arizona, we continued east on I-8 until it merged with the I-10. We reached the outskirts of Tucson just over an hour later.
We arrived at our hotel at 1:00pm MST, way earlier than projected, but they still let us get our room before the standard check-in time. We took advantage of the extra hours and decided to visit the west district of Saguaro National Park.
Getting to the Red Hills Visitor Center wasn't an easy task, as my GPS failed me trying to get us to turn on a road that didn't exist. I'm glad I downloaded the map from the official NPS website as a backup plan. After 30 minutes of U-turns I gleefully ignored the vocal GPS instructions and headed down Picture Rocks Road and followed the signs to our destination.
We watched the 15-minute slideshow featuring the different species of wildlife before heading out and taking a few strolls down some Nature Trails. I was kinda hoping to see something besides flora, but it was still late afternoon with 95°F weather so all the animals were probably not on the prowl yet. We got in some decent pics of oddly-shaped Saguaro cacti.
All we have to worry about tomorrow is heading through downtown Tucson (not using I-10) and visiting the east district of Saguaro NP. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of the same, but hey at least I can say I set foot in both.
Last edited by Kinless; 09-29-2008 at 10:23 PM.
Reason: Whoops, I said west instead of east. :) Gotta proof better than that.
Old "technology" sometimes works best
GPS is pretty cool but too many people want to rely on it. Glad you had your papermaps as a back-up.
I'm looking forward to Day 2.
======== DAY 2 ========
We didn't make too much haste in getting out of our hotel this morning. At 9am MST we headed down Silverbell Road, which parallels the I-10, so we were able to avoid all the massive construction that closed the I-10 ramps through town.
We used Congress/Broadway and went straight through the heart of downtown Tucson. We found some murals to take pictures of, and passed by the Unisource Energy Tower, the (current) tallest building of the city.
We then used the Old Spanish Trail to lead us to the eastern district of Saguaro National Park. We hit up the Visitor Center, and another 15-minute slideshow, before heading out into the park. The 8-mile loop was at least paved so we wouldn't have the bumpedy-bumps suffered on the loop from the west district. It was basically more of the same, but we found some photo-worthy areas, took the Nature Trail, gazed at the view of Tuscon backdropped with the Santa Catalina Mountains, and even briefly climbed on the Javelino Rocks on the south end of the loop. Again, this was in the middle of the day so no species to gaze at. Good stuff, regardless.
Not much more to do here. We left at 1:15pm MST and headed due south on Houghton Road until we reached the I-10, and then continued our trek eastward. I haven't been on this stretch of Interstate 10 before, and it's probably safe to say that I wouldn't be again. Not much to see here. There was a brief rocky mountain display at one of the rest stops but that was all.
We entered New Mexico and paid for the privilege by setting our clocks back one hour. We arrived in Las Cruces, NM just after 6pm MDT and had dinner at Chilito's a block down the street. Once again we are a few hundred feet from the main freight line that runs through the town. But the train horn didn't bug us last night and I'm pretty sure with the help of the usual earplugs, it will be a decent night's sleep once again.
Tomorrow is a fairly short run. Zip up to White Sands NM, and then loop around into El Paso, Texas. Oh, and welcome to the party, October...
======== DAY 3 ========
We headed out of Las Cruces, NM shortly after 9am MDT, rounded the jagged Organ Mountains, and cruised up Hwy 70 to the much-anticipated White Sands National Monument. I myself have been wanting to visit this area for over a decade.
Once again we started off our visit with the usual visitor center/17-minute video/gift shop tourist trap business. And then we headed north on the 8-mile road that leads into the heart of the Sands. Our first stop was the mile-long Dune Life Nature Trail. I didn't think my folks would have the energy for hiking this, but they proved me otherwise. We found ourselves overwhelmed by the plethora of white sand that surrounded us as we traversed our way onto the dunes.
BTW if anyone goes there you will definitely need sunglasses to avoid sand blindness. I highly recommend it.
Next was the 650-yard Interdune Boardwalk, which shows you the hard life of all the plants/animals that live their life in between the dunes. We only saw one blue-tailed lizard, otherwise the only other interesting thing was trying not to get shocked as the recycled material on the boardwalk made it way too easy to generate static electricity.
The last thing was going to the end of the loop, glancing in the Nature Center and watching people try to sled down the sandy slopes, mostly without success.
By about 2pm or so, we decided we've seen enough sand for one day, and booked it out of there. We finished off Hwy 70 north to Alamogordo, and then chose Hwy 54 for our southern passage to El Paso, TX, which we arrived at almost 3pm MDT.
After getting settled, we headed out for a few quick places to visit before sunset. Our hotel is less than a mile from the New Mexico/Texas border, so we drove down into Sunland Park, NM and visited the racetrack/casino. Next, we headed back into Texas and up to Scenic Drive, where there's a 240° viewpoint overlooking the entire city of El Paso, as well as the Rio Grande and our neighboring international city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. We topped the evening off with an excellent meal at the State Line BBQ, which is literally on the New Mexico/Texas state line on Sunland Park Drive, less than a mile from our hotel.
Tomorrow will be packed with 2 National Parks on our plate, but the first one doesn't look like we can do too much using the vehicle, and the second one we may have to make reservations for a tour, if it hasn't filled up already. We'll see how it goes...
Great Reports thus far
Like your past trip reports -- you have a nice flow to your prose. Enjoying taking this journey with you and your folks....
Carlsbad Caverns reservations
Originally Posted by Kinless
You won’t need reservations to do the self-guided tour of the main part of the cave, but the Carlsbad Caverns website does say that reservations are required if you want to take one of the ranger-guided cave tours. The caverns are pretty cool, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
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