We made specific plans to hit Albuquerque, NM for the International Balloon Fiesta, and it did not disappoint. I'm not sure I would recommend going to Albuquerque for any other reason than the fiesta, but this event, which draws people from all over the world, was one of the highlights of our trip.
We were told that people start getting to the park at 4am. Since we didn't want to miss out on anything, we too set our alarm for 3:30am to be able to hit the road by 4am. What this got us was very, very close parking and that's about it. We sat in the freezing cold for over an hour before any of the festivities began. And while there was coffee and food stands open, it was a long, cold wait. At 6am, the "morning glow" started where about 10 balloons lit up the dark sky with their heated air. It was beautiful, but I'm not sure it was worth the early wake-up.
The real fun began at 7am with the mass ascension. I have never seen anything like this! Over the course of a few hours, hundreds and hundreds of balloons filled the air. You are allowed to walk on the field and go right up to the balloons as they are prepped for take-off. It is the craziest spectacle. There are standard balloons, but also balloons in all kinds of shapes and sizes (such as Darth Vader, a pig, a pirate etc.). It reminded me of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The mass ascension happens all over again at 7pm in case you want to come back in the evening for round two. So, my recommendation would be to sacrifice the good parking for not having to get up super early. I would just make sure you leave in enough time to get to the park by 7am, which could take up to an hour with all the traffic.
If you do find yourself with extra time in Albuquerque, we enjoyed the following:
Dog House Drive In - a small, but cute hot dog shop that was featured many times in the show Breaking Bad.
Speaking of Breaking Bad, we visited The Candy Lady who made all of the "meth" for the show (which was actual candy). She has lots of Breaking Bad souvenirs, and you can purchase the blue rock candy used in the show.
Featured on the Food Network, the Monte Carlo Steakhouse is a total win. This is not your average steakhouse as you actually enter through a liquor store. It's got an old school vibe with big leather booths, dark lighting and a dive vibe, but the prime rib is amazing and the drinks are stiff.
If you want to see some amazing petroglyphs, Albuquerque has some impressive and easy to reach ones right in the city. Check out the Petroglyph National Monument. The hikes are very easy and very short allowing you to see lots of petroglyphs without much effort.
Here are some photos from the Fiesta. I couldn't stop!
The Morning Glow