Friday, October 25, 2013

ABQ to Mesa and Friends

We had many goodbye's to say to the Boomers we had been with for twelve days in Albuquerque so it was after 11AM before we were on the road.  Even though it is only a bit over 400 miles to Mesa, that is a two day drive for us, especially thorough the mountains.  We decided to got off the interstate as soon as possible and travel the blue highways.  We were rewarded with some beautiful scenes we would not have seen along I-40.
The first day was over the high plains along this narrow, but much less travelled highway.
We watched the land change in Western New Mexico.
We traveled by the El Malpais National Monument's huge lava fields.  Of course we could not stop to get our National Park Service stamp because the idiots in Washington had closed all the people's parks.  This was a neat looking out of the way area that we will have to visit in the future.
Not real sure, but I think this is an old volcanic cone.
We spent the night among the tall pines at the Show Low Elks Lodge.  What a change from the high plains.  They were doing some work at the Elks and there was a pile of dirt in front of the rig in the morning.  Not to worry, they just plowed it down so we could get out.
We saw signs like this several times on day two as we traveled US 60 through Salt River Canyon and then down to the Valley of the Sun.
It was a 7 mile descent with many slow turns down to the river and then an 8 mile climb out of the valley.  We just geared down and used the engine brake to go slow on the way down.  We actually went faster on the climb.  Love that big diesel.
Another look at the river valley.
Here you can see both the descent and the ascent snaking through the canyon.  I only got to enjoy the scenery when I looked at the pictures as it was a full attention drive.
Even after that part of the road we had another descent of several miles.  We know we are getting close to Mesa when we begin to see the saguaro cactus.
Nanc has officially named our new toad driver Alf.  It enjoyed the ride and has now been deflated until we hit the road next year.
We arrived at Sun Life on Tuesday and John and Patrice arrived on Saturday for a short visit.  It is always great to see any of our WashPA friends.
We checked out a couple of our local favorite restaurants with them including a trip through the desert to Tortilla Flats where John saddled up to the bar.  They moved on to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  It will be a big change in the weather as it is much colder up there.
At Sun Life we also met up with some of the friends we made on our first visit.  Here are Nanc, Carol, Suzanne, Rene and Lance.  We are looking forward to a great stay until the first of the year. 
We also got together with Sharon and Alan who we met in 2008 in Texas.  They have since moved to Apache Junction to concentrate on their pastels.  We went to Scottsdale to see the fall show of the Arizona Pastel Association where both won Honorable Mention awards.  Even better news, while we were there Sharon got the news that someone had purchased her winning picture, Fantastic!!!!!! 
 On Saturday we are going on a vacation to the Secrets Capri on the Rivera Maya for ten days.  We are looking forward to celebrating our anniversary in Mexico.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Part II

The forecast for Thursday was shaky so Mike sent a message that he was not going to the field so we got to sleep in.  Hooray!!!!  A few balloons inflated but no one flew that morning and we got to sleep in to 8AM instead of getting up a 5AM.  As you can see from the picture below it was a good decision.  Once again there are too many pictures for one post so I did another web album that you can link to here.
Left is what we normally see out our window and right was what blew in late Thursday morning.   Right call Mike.
In the last post I wrote about the launching of 550 balloons.  The zebras are the launch coordinators who make sure everything goes off as planned.  As you can see they also bring a light side to this important job.
Mike was done doing glows so we got to roam the field and see many other balloons.  They light up the whole crowd with their burners.
The bright shining sun.
The glows draw some of the biggest crowds of the fiesta. 
Glowing udder. Go Figure!!!
They are all beautiful.
The launch on Friday was one of the most spectacular we have seen.  The wind was very calm so a couple hundred balloons were just hanging above the field.
The same launch from the back of the chase vehicle.
Sunday's final dawn patrol gets ready to fly.
We had a small chase crew and everyone who wanted to had already flown. So Nanc, whose first flight was real short, got to go up again.  In the middle is Mike's Morning Star, top is a smiling Nanc getting ready to fly and a selfie in flight.  The winds picked up after the launch and they traveled about fifteen miles before they made what balloonists call a "hard" landing.  Bottom, Mike is cleaning dirt out of the basket that they plowed up while cutting a 230 foot path through the desert (right).  Mike said it was the worst wind he had ever landed in.  By the time the chase crew found them they were very dusty, but smiling again.  It was a great ride with a wild and crazy landing!!   
Pictures from that flight with balloons all around Morning Star.
The Bees on the launch field are a real crowd favorite.
Looking down at all the chase vehicles.
Father and son, Mike's Morning Star and his son Chris' Foreplay.
Floating over the Rio Grande.
This is the kind of desert they landed on.
Balloonists take care of each other.  Mike spotted this balloonist who was stuck in an arroyo after retrieving his balloon.  We had to drop the trailer and go pull them out.  I'm sure they will pass it on when they see someone in need. 
The other thing we love about ballooning is the post flight tailgating.  Much food and fun.
Our crew and pilot.  Bob, Mike, T, Luke, Judy, Nanc, Jim and Lois.  It was a great week with a great bunch of people.
The week ended on a really high note for the Liberti family when it was announced that Daniel and his balloon Morning Wood had won first place in the three day competition. We crewed for Daniel at our first fiesta.  The cash prize was large enough that Daniel will be able to buy a new racer balloon.  GREAT JOB!!!!!!!!!
Thanks to Mike for a great week.  The balloon fiesta will be something we will do anytime we are spending the winter out West.  IT'S A REAL GAS!!!!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

This is the second time we have been to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and we love it just as much, if not more, this time.  We made a contact with Mike Liberti, a pilot we meet here the last time and crewed for in Arizona, so we were more comfortable knowing what we were expected to do.  Our week got off to a slow start when the Friday event, Albuquerque Aloft, where they go to local schools was canceled because of weather.  While many pilots flew on Saturday, Mike chose not to because the winds were not to his liking.  We worked every day from Sunday to Wednesday and got a much needed day off on Thursday because of high winds.  We slept until 8AM.  Knowing Mike also meant we both got to fly.  It was just as great this time as the first time.  He is really good about giving his crew members the chance to fly.
The few pictures I put on this entry can't begin to show what a great and colorful event this is so I made a web album with all the pictures that are in this collage.  Here is a link to that album.
We are with the Escapees Boomers so there were several gatherings and of course a lot of food.  They also had an auction to raise money for Escapees CARE.  Thanks to Don and Sharon for coordinating this years gathering.
We also got together with some Class of 07 mates who are at the fiesta or drove in for the potluck.  Here are Cathy, Leland, Nanc, Jim T, Linda, Ron, Bobbie, Jim C and Marty.  It was great getting caught up with all of them. 
A few of us went to dinner one evening for a great Mexican meal and conversation.  Top are Nanc, Cathy, Leland, Linda and Ron.  Bottom from left to right are Lois and Bob, who we met at Betty's on our first visit there in 08 and Bill and Pat, friends of Leland and Cathy.
Here are a few pictures of our typical day at fiesta.  We are out of bed by 5AM.  Because Mike is staying in the RV park he picks us up and rides us to the launch field by 6AM.  Mike then attends the morning pilots meeting and the crew waits for his return to swing into action.  Left are Judy, Nanc, T (Mike's wife) and Mike.  Right are Lois, Luke and Bob.  As you can see the mornings can be quite chilly.
When given the word the crew gets the basket and envelope (balloon) out of the trailer.  Top, Mike connects and tests the burners.  After the crown is velcroed into place a big fan fills the envelope with cold air while Bob holds the crown line.  Next Mike fires up the burners to put hot air into the balloon causing it to stand up.  The crew holds the basket on the ground.  Bottom is looking down at take-off, Mike in flight and finally the landing were the whole thing must be torn down and packed back into the trailer. 
Doug, Nanc and Mike at lift-off.  I think she likes it.
Mike's balloon, Morning Star, floating into the air along with a few other balloons.
Balloons on the launch field in various states of readiness.  The ones lying down are filled with cold air from the fan while the ones that are upright on the ground are waiting for the OK to launch.
After the launch the chase crew makes an important stop before setting off after their balloon.  It is really something to see 550 balloons floating in the air and 550 chase vehicles racing after them all over the city.  Some days the flights are short while others can last over an hour.  One day Mike landed in a field near a house and we could see him, but could not figure out how to get to him.  We told him we were at the Home Depot and a man from the neighborhood drove there to meet us and lead us through the maze of streets where Morning Star had landed.  People tend to be very nice and balloonists get this kind of treatment most of the time.
The mass ascension is a sight to see.  Nanc said if someone is depressed they should come to Balloon Fiesta to have their spirits lifted.  It sure will put a smile on your face.  Here is a short video I shot of the launch.   It really shows the famous Albuquerque "box" with balloons at different altitudes moving in different directions.
Mike and Sherri with Nanc and her new friend.  The last time we were here Nanc wanted one of these to ride in the driver's seat of the CRV when we are towing it. The Sharps were nice enough to buy her one.  Mike and Sherri loved the Balloon Fiesta.  It had everything Sherri needed to keep her excited; crowds, colorful balloons, great food and, her favorite thing, fireworks.  They headed out on Monday but had to change their plans because of the idiots in Washington.  What a shame that their once in a lifetime trip was not everything it could have been.
One of the greatest sights is looking down on the launch field from above.  It is a beautiful perspective that few get to experience, THANKS MIKE!!!!!!!!!!
The day I flew there was a perfect box.  As soon as we took off we floated toward the RV park.  We then went higher and flew back over the launch field and saw the balloons below getting set to fly. 
The butterfly and hummingbird are just two of many special shapes. 
Looking straight down at two balloons below us.  What an incredible view.
The shadow of Morning Star racing across the ground.  There is so little feeling of movement that at one point I said to Mike, look how fast that balloon is raising, only to be told it was not coming up, we were going down, WOW.
After we dropped down we were blown back across the now empty launch field that was being prepared for a competition.  The balloonists try to drop a sack on a specific target on the field.  If it had not been a competition day we could have landed very near the spot where we took off.  How cool is that.
You never know where you might see a balloon.  If we wanted to just be spectators, we could have stayed in the rig and watched them land in our front yard.  Nanc and I both landed on the field in front of the RV.
All these balloons came down right in front of our house.
A lesson from the fiesta. Never leave your backpack alone.  Mike Sharp and I watched as the police cleared people out of the way and cordoned off the area around this backpack.  We don't know why they did not ask us to leave. Then, just as the bomb squad set their computer over the suspicious thing, a guy came running up yelling, "It's mine, it's mine".  They made him open it and allow them to inspect it before they let him take it with him.
Now that we have had a rest day we are looking forward to the last three days of the fiesta.  We think it is so cool and we never get tired of seeing all those beautiful balloons ascending into the sky.  What a sight!!!!  YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING BUT SMILE!  If you haven't already, make sure you put the Balloon Fiesta on you to do list.  You won't be disappointed.