Balloons Over Albuquerque
October 2002
Page 2

Finding the Glow

I drove one of the two cars in our small caravan. As a result, I was unable to take any pictures of what we saw during our trek to find the Balloon Glow.

This is a story of a problem familiar to many people who travel around the country by motor vehicle. We had to find our way to a major event in a city where we knew very little about where places are located. We were ultimately successful; however, the process of getting to our desired destination was somewhat stressful. Even so, it was very much worth the experience that awaited us at the end of our circuitous route.

Our caravan arrived in Albuquerque a day earlier than we originally had a planned to enter the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta camping area. With us arriving a day early, we would be able to go to our first Hot Air Balloon Fiesta event in the evening, the Balloon Glow. To get there we had a set of hand written instructions and a very simple, not-to-scale map that would get us to a shopping center where we could catch a shuttle bus. It all sounded so simple.

So, with map in hand, Kevin and Tina took the lead. Tom and Nora rode with Kay and me. Our route took us along a nice back road that would keep us out of the city traffic. We got most of the way to the shopping center when a turn was missed and we ended up in a shopping center other than where we wanted to be.

A tour bus was parked on the far side of the parking lot. We drove over to see if we could get directions from the bus driver. He said that he was not familiar with the area and was unable to help us. The bus was parked about 100 feet from a very busy, four-lane expressway. Now we had no way of knowing it at the time, but much later in the day we would learn that the busy street was the route we were trying to find.

Tom had a map and said that he would like to try his hand at getting us to our desired destination. We all climbed back into our cars to continue our trek. I followed Tom's directions as he got us back to a point of reference that put us back on our planned route.

We found our way to Paseo Del Norte Road and Tom said that we had to turn on Coors Road North. Soon the sign for Coors Road South showed up and we figured we would see the Coors Road North sign shortly. Suddenly Tom and I both saw the sign on our right side — too late to turn. It appeared as if road construction may have been responsible for the poor signage along the roadway that prevented us from seeing the sign in time to turn.
(We still were unaware that the busy street next to the tour bus was Coors Road.)

Now we were heading down the wrong street. I thought that I would simply go to the next off ramp and circle back to the correct turnoff. As it turned out, it seemed as if there would be no exit ahead. Exits were blocked due to construction or the Balloon Festival. The road just kept going on forever.

To add to the tense situation, I had to plan ahead in such a way that not only could I change lanes, but there had to be room for the other car, in our small caravan, to change lanes as well. There were two points where I would have been able to move over, but there was a car in the lane that would not allow our travel companions to get over. This resulted in us missing a turn to escape the heavy traffic. We ended up right in the heavy traffic we were trying to avoid. Because of the crowds that were going to the Fiesta grounds, police blocked some exits.

I ended up trying to get around the balloon park to get back to the shopping center. It seemed as if everything Tom and I tried was blocked. When I followed the RV parking signs, we came to a roadblock patrolled by police officers. We now had no choice but to get back to the freeway and try to get back to the other side of town. As I was driving along, Tom said to take the Second Street exit. As it turned out, the desired off-ramp was on the left side of the road. I was driving in the middle lane with Kevin and Tina behind us with a couple of cars between us.

When we discovered that the exit was on the left, I had to turn at the last minute. I told Tom that it appeared as if Kevin would not be able to make the lane change. Tom insisted that we must take the exit. I was able to move over to the left just in time to make the exit. Kevin could not get over in time and was trapped in the traffic. Tom called Kevin and he said that we would all meet at the Cottonwood Mall shopping center.

Tom navigated us successfully to the shopping center where we could catch a shuttle bus. We were very fortunate to find Kevin and Tina there as well. We finally were all together again ready to begin another fun experience. On the plus side of our fiasco, we were able to get a preview of the RV route we would be taking the next day.

We all rendezvoused at the shuttle bus staging area. It was here that we learned that the busy street next to the tour bus, we saw earlier, was in fact the very street we had been seeking. A lesson learned the hard way. I hope we can all laugh about this later.

The company running the Balloon Fiesta shuttle bus service was organized very well. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly busses filled with passengers. A new bus, at the head of a line of empty busses, pulled up quickly to the line of waiting people. The whole process was so well choreographed that there was very little delay between a full bus pulling away and a new bus being ready to take on passengers.

Our ride to the Balloon Glow has arrived

The price for the shuttle bus trip was all of $10, which included the $5 entrance fee to the balloon park. If we had driven our cars to the balloon park, we would have been parked at some distance from the walk-in entrance. The ride on the shuttle bus would take us right into the grounds, discharging passengers not far from the field.

The ride on the shuttle bus was very cramped, as the shuttles actually were school buses. The seats were not intended for long-legged adults. However, the ride was not very long because the shuttle company had a route that allowed their buses to use roads that were closed to the public.

We observed the very same traffic we had experienced earlier as the buses passed by on a frontage road open only to the buses. When it came time for the bus to cross the busy roadway, two police cars pulled across the opposing lanes of the road to stop the cars. Our bus proceeded across the expressway in the corridor formed by the two police cars.

As the bus approached our destination, we could see the field of balloons ahead of us. Now I knew this was a big event, but I was unprepared for what I saw; balloons, balloons, balloons everywhere. They were all packed in together on the launching field. All were in a vertical position with an occasional flash of light as a blast of flame was applied to keep a balloon inflated.


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