What can one say about Vegas...except "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!" While that's probably good advice, we'll let you in on some of our experiences. This was one of our longer stays as Mike took a 5 day side trip to San Francisco/Santa Rosa, CA to visit friends. We 'pitched our tent' at the LV RV Resort near Boulder Pkwy which is home to 4 casinos (Sam's Town, Boulder Station, Arizona Charlies, and the Eastside Cannery) with loose slots, lots of free play and discount buffets...our kind of place! This was in stark contrast to the Strip which was 4 miles away and where things have gotten expensive over the last decade. Our first day there we had brunch at one of our favorite places, Mona Mi Gabi in the Paris Hotel where we had a street-side table right across from the Bellagio fountains. One of our favorite areas is The Fremont Street Experience. We took Ron's cousin Kris Krail (attending a nursing convention at the Mirage) there and then to the Heart Attack Grill for some sustenance and libations! And what better place to celebrate Halloween than Fremont Street!
While Mike was in CA, Ron took a trip though Boulder City to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead about 15 miles from where we parked our beloved Challenger. There was an AMC annual rally at the Hoover Dam Lodge which was really interesting!
We kept busy in Las Vegas. Two notable adventures included a trip to the Neon Sign Boneyard where we enjoyed the docent tour and hearing about the history of the signs and bygone days of 'The Strip'. Mike enjoyed an afternoon at the Pinball Museum where you can play over 350 restored machines from the 40's to present day.
The topography of Utah is so spectacular that no pictures will really do it justice. We spent time in the Green River area where we also went off road Jeeping to a rare cold water Geyser! Gaylord loved the freedom and open spaces of Utah.
.High kidz! It's your, always happy, Uncle Mike here.
So, I never thought I'd live to see the day when I'm able to go to a store that looks like the cosmetics counter at Bloomingdales...and buy pot.
It's been legal to purchase 'recreational weed' and edibles in most counties in Colorado since 2012. It's not without its problems but certainly looks like the cat's out of the bag, so to speak. There are over 300 'outlets' in the greater Denver area. And even in small towns along our route, it's often easy to spot the large green cross identifying the availability of the herbal medicine.
I've been smoking marijuana since the early seventies. Most of those years were fraught with secrecy and mild paranoia. Memories of my first encounter with the stuff was freshman year at Ohio University in our 'Sergeant Hall' dorm room with wet towels shoved under the door. A can of 'Right Guard' sat on the makeshift coffee table made out of record bins next to the communal bong with a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix on the wall behind. Oh, and I do believe we had a black light for an appropriate 'mood.'
I, of course, checked out several specialty stores while visiting and found every type of retail outlet from small Amsterdam-style 'windows' to amazing super stores...like Oasis, which boasts the largest selection of 'bud' in the world. That place really blew my mind, man!
Leaving the greater Denver area, we headed west on route 70, through Vail and stopped at Glenwood Springs. The road was very mountainous and, at times, a bit of a challenge for our 'gas' coach but provided incredible vistas along the way. We toured the small town and had a bite at a popular local restaurant. The next morning we drove to Aspen and had an amazing brunch at the historic and ever so Western-chic Jerome Hotel. We strolled the streets and upscale shopping venues then headed to a special place we read about online. Penny Hot Springs is naturally fed with hot mineral water and is free to use. It’s located along the Crystal River just past Carbondale, near Aspen. The hot springs are named for Dan Penny who ran a small hotel and bathhouse on the railroad line upstream of Avalanche Creek. Originally guests donned swimsuits, but in the 1960’s people starting soaking au natural.
Golden, CO was base camp for our visit to Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, Estes Park, Black Hawk and Central City, where we explored both new and old stomping grounds (Ron), had great food, gambled a little, and visited old friends. Golden surprised us as a wonderful little foothills western town, home of Coors Brewery, and some great places to eat.
Golden had some fun places to eat including burgers at Atomic Burger, a lunch on the patio of Sherpa House and cultural center (Nepal, Tibetan and Indian food), and we enjoyed the really good pizza and salad bar at Woody's. We utilize an I-Phone app called "TV FOODS" to find many of unique places as we travel, along with Trip Advisor and Yelp.
Denver is the Capital of CO and the largest city in the state. Located in the South Platte River Valley, Denver is on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Denver is nicknamed the Mile-High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level, making it one of the highest major cities in the United States. Union Station includes the historic terminal building, a train shed canopy, a 22-gate underground bus facility and light rail station. A station opened on the site June 1, 1881, burning in 1894. The current structure was erected in two stages, with an enlarged central portion completed in 1914. The Station has become a historic landmark and a vibrant space for staying, eating, gathering and shopping.
Boulder, CO (Ron's hometown in the late seventies) is the home to the University of Colorado. Boulder is located at the base of the foothills (the Flat Irons) of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 5,430 feet above sea level. The city is 25 miles northwest of Denver. Pearl Street became a pedestrian street while Ron lived here and is now a favorite area of downtown. No visit to Boulder would be complete without a visit to the "Sink" an institution for generations on The Hill near CU. A favorite of "Triple D" and after a visit by President Obama a pizza he ordered was named "POTUS"! And some pictures of houses Ron lived in. We visited with Alan Webster (an old friend Ron grew up with in Lloyd Harbor) and Karen while in Boulder and Elsie Tabor in Ft. Collins.
After our visit in Ft. Collins we traveled up the mountains to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. A popular summer resort and the location of the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park lies along the Big Thompson River. Estes Park landmarks include the Stanley Hotel, which Stephen King used as his imaginary hotel in the "The Shining". Ron owned a small condo at the Estes Park Chalet near Mary's Lake that partially burned down in the eighties. Today the burnt section has been rebuilt and is now a well known lodging and mountain wedding venue. Elk blocked our route a few times and were feeding on the golf course.
The canyon roads in the mountains to Estes Park, Black Hawk and Central City were not only hair-raising, white knuckle drives but also very beautiful. Gambling was approved in the mountain towns of Black Hawk and Central City 25 years ago. While these Gold Rush mining towns still have much of their original flavor they have really changed with the addition of casinos in the narrow valley.
Alan Webster came from Boulder to visit and we enjoyed Mike's famous Paella Valencia while watching the '3rd battle' of this year's Presidential Debates.
As you can tell from our pictures we experienced wonderful weather in Colorado. It was usually a crispy, cool 40's during the evening and nights, we had glorious sun and unseasonable 70's and 80's during the day. We hope it continues as we traverse the Rockies and the Continental Divide heading to Glenwood Springs with visits to Aspen, Snowmass and Penny natural hot springs (a clothing optional old hippie haven!) near Carbondale before getting to Grand Junction later in the week.
Ron lived in the Denver/Boulder area for about 10 years in the 70's but this is Mike's first visit to the area and the Rocky Mountains. Our first stop was Colorado Springs and included a visit to Garden of the Gods to see amazing vistas and rock formations.
The next day we conquered Pike's Peak Jeep trip to the summit! The Pikes Peak Highway is a 19-mile toll road that runs from Cascade, Colorado to the summit of Pikes Peak in El Paso County at an altitude of 14,115 feet. It is at least partially open year-round, weather permitting, i.e. open up to the altitude where snow removal becomes excessively difficult. When we left camp it was foggy, cloudy and in the low 40's, proceeded up PP Highway and as we got above the clouds around 7000' it became sunny and clear with temps rising into the mid to high 50's and then started dropping as we got higher. The summit was clear, 22 degrees and very windy (hold on to the Jeep doors!). Mike's fear of heights was tested and his eyes were closed for much of the 19 mile trip up to the summit! It didn't help when he heard Ron yelling "Oh...My...God! Oh...My...God!" as we took the very steep, narrow road (with no guardrails!) up the mountain.
After so much BBQ in the Southeast, great seafood along the Gulf coast, and Tex-Mex in Texas with New Mexico Mex in Albuquerque and Santa Fe we were ready for a change and enjoyed dinner at a popular German restaurant in Colorado Springs.
No trip to Colorado Springs would be complete without a visit to the historic and famous Broadmoor Hotel and Resort, located in the old Broadmoor neighborhood. The famous landmark property is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Its visitors have included heads of state, celebrities, professional sports stars, and businessmen.
The main resort complex, situated at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, is 6,230 feet (1,900 m) above , and 5 miles (8.0 km) southwest of downtown Colorado Springs. The architecture and the color is like the grand hotels that would be found on the coast of the Mediterranean, in an Italian Renaissance style. The pink stucco of the façade also helps to blend in to the Pikes Peak area landscape. The main buildings are connected on a circular path around a lake. The original hotel building is Broadmoor Main that was built in 1918. The others—built between 1961 and 2001—are Broadmoor South, Broadmoor West, Lakeside Suites and West Tower.
Santa Fe is the capital of the state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of Santa Fe County. This area was occupied for at least several hundred years by indigenous peoples who built villages. The city of Santa Fe, founded by Spanish colonists in 1610, is known as the oldest state capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico.
We put our Challenger RV in the shop on Thursday to have Sumo Springs installed which will help stabilize the suspension. Gaylord had a fun day at a luxury Doggy Daycare facility while we had an amazing 'New Mexican' breakfast at the Frontier Restaurant.
Wednesday morning, as most of the balloons took flight, we stayed and interacted with many of the Zebras, chase crew members and pilots and visited several of the vendors and sponsor booths. There were only a few left on the field when we finally decided to leave. We caught a courtesy golf cart back to the overflow lot which was on a hill overlooking the field. As we approached our car, we noticed a gondola attempting a landing in a vacant area of the lot a couple hundred feet from us. We watched as the giant balloon slowly drifted and dropped with a thud making a perfect landing. Their chase team hadn't yet arrived and the pilot called out to us for some help. We ran over and held the basket to the ground while two occupants climbed out and the pilot started shutting down the flight systems. We could feel the power of the wind and lift left in the balloon as we struggled to keep it stable and grounded. The pilot detached several lines and asked us to start to pull the 'envelope' down and away from the basket as it started to deflate. You could feel the hot air rush out as the giant balloon started to slowly fall from the sky. Once deflated, we stretched out the fabric and started rolling each side toward the center to help ready it to be packed away when the chase crew arrived. It was a thrilling end to an amazing last day of our visit to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Go!
Because yesterday wasn't the best day for 'ballooning' we decided to head down to 'the Fiesta field' again Wednesday morning. The weather forecast was more promising and the Flight Of The Nations Mass Ascension was scheduled to take place. It was a very brisk morning but a perfect day to launch with the famous Albuquerque Box in full effect once the sun rose over the Sandia Mountain range. Dawn Patrol first took flight pre-dawn with 13 balloons. Then, as the sun rose, over 600 balloons from 24 countries were launched creating a spectacular, thrilling sight.
The picture of us in the gondola was taken when we visited the Cannon Exhibit, one of the major sponsors of the event.
Tuesday morning we had VIP tickets to the Gondola Club at the Balloon Fiesta. It was a chilly morning and the winds were not very favorable. However, there were several dozen balloons on the field and Ron got a taste of the event.
That afternoon, we went to visit Ron's high school friend and her husband, Joan and Dennis, who lived across the Rio Grand. They have a beautiful Adobe home with a view of the river and Sandia Mountains. We enjoyed conversation and an iconic New Mexico lunch of Green Chili Hamburgers.
Ron returned from his High School reunion Sunday Nighty. Monday, Oct. 3rd and we headed down The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway to Madrid which is nestled on the northeast side of the Sandia Mountains. The scenic drive and historic area links Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The drive is approximately 50 miles along Highway 14 and very beautiful.
Madrid is an old coal mining/ghost town which has become a small artists' colony and tourist destination with 400 full time residents. The film Wild Hogs (2007) was set and filmed in the town.
We had a great lunch and best Fried Green Tomatoes ever at The Holler restaurant while watching the resident artist drill his artwork to the entire surface of the outside patio.
Wow! Wow! Wow!
First, let me encourage everyone to put this event on your bucket list. It is very unique and absolutely worth the trip.
The amazing pictures you see don’t come close to the actual experience of attending the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The setting, the well-run organization with thousands of proud volunteers (called Navigators) and the camaraderie of the balloonists add up to an event of absolute wonder. This is their 45th year and it’s the most photographed event in the world.
This year over 600 balloons from 24 countries are attending for 9 days during the first week in October. Then there are the 900,000+ visitors and the insane logistics and manpower to move and organize such a big crowd for the numerous events.
Saturday, October 1st is opening day. Morning temperature is 55 degrees and winds are 5-10mph from the west. I awoke at 3:50am, drove to the park-and-ride closest to me which was the parking lot of a local mall. I arrived at the mall at 4:45am, stood in line for 20 minutes then boarded a bus and was on the field by 5:35am. Balloon Fiesta Park is over 360 acres and the launch field is 78 acres, or the equivalent of 56 football fields.
It was still dark and difficult to get acclimated but I found the concession area (of course!) and had an obligatory 'award winning’ Breakfast Burrito and an orange juice while I found my way to the launch field. Music was playing and there was a laser light show which was hitting and illuminating the first wave of balloons starting to inflate on the field. First up were eight balloons they call the ‘Dawn Patrol’ which were situated in the middle of the field. It was still dark and they glowed as the propane prepared them for first fight just before sunrise.
Early October in Albuquerque brings cool morning temperatures, just right for a balloon launch. The city also has a phenomenon known as the “Albuquerque Box,” a combination of weather patterns and geography that results in balloonists having great control and allows them to fly back and forth across the launch field. Once airborne, the hundreds of balloons slowly glide in a wondrous ballet.
I was lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony, which had perfect weather conditions for the first ‘mass ascension’. This is not always the case and over the years I read that numerous events and whole days have been cancelled due to unfavorable weather conditions. This is why the event is 9 days long and includes two weekends.
Luck again had me located close to the lead balloon where I was allowed to help with the first launch. All of the launch procedure is under watchful eye of ''Zebras' which are a large team of launch directors and safety officials easily identified by their black and white striped jackets. We unfurled the yellow balloon emblazoned with the Balloon Fiesta logo and held the opening open enough for a large fan to start inflating the ‘envelope’. When inflated to about 80 percent, they fired the propane which slowly gave rise to the massive balloon. I could feel the heat of the propane as it was fired. The temperature of the air inside needs to be 100 degrees warmer than the outside air in order to achieve lift. Once airborne, it is simply a back and forth operation of heating the air for lift and ‘venting’ to release the heat to descend. Air currents steer the balloon.
As the balloon starts to tilt upright, there is a coordinated safety checklist which includes the propane operation and the venting mechanism which are ropes attached to vents at the very top of the balloon.
Fiesta officials were in contact with the balloon crew who were waiting for the ‘green’ flag to signal safe conditions for liftoff. While that was happening, several dozen kids were gathered by the Zebras to help hold a giant American Flag attached to the Gondola.
When the green flag was finally raised, a countdown began which was chanted by the thousands of people surrounding the area. The balloon took flight as first light rose from behind the mountains that surround the city and the National Anthem blared from the sound system. It was an absolutely awe inspiring and a magical moment. I was overwhelmed with emotion and had tears in my eyes.
After that launch, literally hundreds of balloons went through the same basic procedure and launched into the dawn skies over the next two hours.
Besides the normal hot air ballon teardrop shape, there are numerous balloons that have what they call “special shapes”. Recent technology has allowed balloons to be larger and more intricate in shape. Larger ‘envelopes’ can weigh over 1,000 pounds and while regular balloons need a crew of 4 or 5 to lay out and inflate, special shapes require up to 20 people.
Ron will be back from his New York High School Class Reunion in Cold Spring Harbor Sunday night and I look forward to going to several more events before we leave for Santa Fe on Saturday.
Our RV Adventure
Here's a record of our travels as we explore the USA. Blog posts are listed by month in descending order.