What’s your specialty, Flagstaff?

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Well, duh. If you are traveling near Flagstaff, you don’t want to miss the big hole in the ground.

Like many of the world’s natural wonders, the Grand Canyon challenges amateur photographers. We are stunned by the colors, the scope, the play of light and shadow, but when we reduce it to  two dimensions… well, if ever there was a time to say, “You have to see it for yourself,” this is it.

This stop illustrates part of the reason why we sold most of our stuff, put the rest in storage, and hit the road. If our country was best enjoyed by flipping through coffee table books, then we wouldn’t be out here, first person-ing it.

Balloons Everywhere

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By Mark Bergmann

Balloons, balloons and then more balloons. It seemed the balloons might blot out the sun in Albuquerque. In addition to the traditional round balloons, there were hundreds of special shapes. My favorites were the Darth Vader and Yoda balloons.IMG_3436

You can pay to watch from the launch field, which is worth the price of admission because you can get so close to the action. Watching the traffic controllers (dressed like referees) give the okay to launch was something not to miss. All morning long new balloons kept taking off. I actually lost track of how many were airborne.IMG_3441

 

Anywhere in Albuquerque is good for viewing but we were fortunate to have a ring side seat in the RV park. The target drop was right in front of us. Many balloonists slowly approach the ground target, judging wind speed and direction. A Smokey the Bear balloonist tossed the bean bag closest to the target the day we watched. One note about camping – make sure to bring in enough water and any time you leave the grounds try to use the public rest rooms. Sewer trucks drive around the RV park and will take your dirty water for $25. Now that is what I call, “pay to go.”

Getting up early to watch the Dawn Patrol was beautiful.  You can watch four balloons go up to check out the wind conditions in the still dark sky. When the balloonist fires up, the entire balloon glows like a Chinese lantern. When the all clear is given, balloon after balloon rises out of the valley and drifts away.

I am sure glad this balloon festival was on Saimi’s bucket list.

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Oklahoma City memorial brings back wrenching memories

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Back in the summer of 1995, our family of four headed west from Ohio for a three-week camping vacation. (Real camping in a tent, not our current faux camping in an RV!)

We made an unplanned stop in Oklahoma City to see the site of the bombing, which had happened just two months previously. We worried a bit that it was vulture-ish or voyeuristic, but it ended up feeling respectful, if emotionally wrenching.

In the weeks and months following the bombing, thousands of visitors stopped to pay their respects, leaving notes, flowers, stuffed animals and photographs along the chain link fence surrounding the rubble. Although there were hundreds there the day we visited, the crowd was silent and the grief visible.

Without asking or drawing attention to the act, our 9 year old son removed the WWJD bracelet he had not taken off for more than a year and tied it to the fence

I wept.

During our visit in 1995 we noticed a church across the street from the bomb site. In the yard stood a large statue of Jesus, his back to the devastation, a hand over his grieving face. Eerie.

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The statue is still there today, but its surroundings have changed to incorporate it into a remarkably beautiful and well designed memorial park.

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The architects tried to capture time and space in the design. I think they were successful. Here is their description:

Gates of Time These monumental twin gates frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 a.m. – and mark the formal entrances to the Memorial. The East Gate represents 9:01 a.m. on April 19, and the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate represents 9:03 a.m., the moment we were changed forever, and the hope that came from the horror in the moments and days following the bombing.

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What’s Your Specialty? New Mexico.

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Everywhere we travel, we try to sample the local specialty. In Albuquerque, it’s no mystery. No matter where you’re eating or what you order, chances are it will have green chiles in it.

You will find half-inch squares of this mild chile in your eggs (no surprise) and on your roast beef sandwich (a little surprising).  And not a small amount. In fact, my breakfast burrito, bought at the Balloon Fiesta, had so many chiles that I could not taste anything else.

 

A side note :  At the Balloon Fiesta – like many other festivals and midways – the farther you walk,  the cheaper the prices. Near the entry gate, the food stands sold breakfast burritos for $7.  After a 10-minute walk, the price dropped to $6. Near the center of the park, I bought my burrito for $5. The same price drop held true for souvenirs.

Just something to keep in mind when visiting amusement parks and flea markets as well.

Checked an item off my Bucket List

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By Saimi Bergmann

For about 15 years, I’ve longed to visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Hundreds and hundreds of hot air balloon pilots from all over the world make the pilgrimage to this 42-year old festival.

Did it live up to my expectations? You bet. And I plan to go back next year and join a crew. Turns out, you can just walk down to the fields where the balloons are inflated and volunteer. If the pilot says yes, you can help with set up and tear down, join a chase crew, and at the end of the flight some pilots give volunteers a quick ride up to the end of a tether. Several of our neighbors in the RV park had volunteered and said it was well worth getting up before dawn.

The most surprising aspect was how up close and personal it all was. Spectators can walk right on the field, weave between balloons, jump over tether lines and chat with crews. A couple times a balloon inflated so quickly it brushed against me before I jumped out of the way.

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Unless you are a professional photographer (and we saw plenty of those- this is reputedly the most photographed event int he U.S.) we dont think its possible to truly capture the experience. Lord knows we tried. It’s impossible not to take hundreds of photos. Everywhere you look, it’s PHOTO OP! PHOTO OP!

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Perils of fulltime Rving, part 2

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We’ve all wondered: Why do tornados seem to target mobile homes and RV parks? Is it an electromagnetic thing – all that metal in one place?

It might only be urban legend. Perhaps RVs aren’t really hit any more often than brick and mortar homes, but the damage is so spectacular that it gets more notice. Even a wimpy tornado doesn’t seem to have any difficulty picking up an RV and sending it sailing like a fly ball to left field.

I’ll admit, when the wind picks up and starts rocking our house on wheels, as it did in Oklahoma City and in Amarillo, we get a teeny bit apprehensive. We also learned the importance of a firm grip on the entry door. A gust grabbed the door from my hands and slammed it against the canopy brace, punching a hole in the door panel. Hubby was NOT pleased.

I’ve since become quite the acrobat, flinging myself at the door handle if it slips away from me. I once had to leap sideways off the step, wrenching my back when I landed, but I saved that dadblamed door (please insert martyred look here).