Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tomé Hill

It's been really fun to get more familiar with the Belen area now that we're here. Neither Ethan or I had ever spent any time here, despite having lived in NM most of our lives. Belen is right off the freeway, and I've driven past it more times than I could even try to count, but I'd actually never driven through the town until we moved here.
A few weeks ago we decided to take a Saturday morning and go see a local landmark, Tomé Hill. It's a volcanic hill that rises up from the valley floor, and is visible for quite a ways in all directions. It is right along the old Spanish El Camino Real (King's Highway) and would've been a good landmark for travelers going back and forth between Mexico and Santa Fe. There's a neat little park at the bottom of the hill with statues and signs telling the history of the area, and from there it is a 1/4 mile hike to the top of the hill. 1/4 mile doesn't sound too bad, but the hill is pretty steep and rocky, so it's harder than you might think, although still very doable.
Looking through La Puerta Del Sol towards the trail head. 
 Erik tripped and fell into a huge patch of goat heads while we were reading the signs and looking at the statues. His poor little legs were pretty torn up and one of the thorns stabbed through the bottom of his shoe and broke off in there, so he got to ride most of the way up the hill. He probably would've ended up riding anyways, the trail was pretty darn steep with lots of loose rock.

Took a break half way up for mom to rest and pick the thorn out of Erik's shoe. And for him to throw rocks. 
 Erik's a pretty tough little kid, he did end up walking some of the way, and when we got to the top he climbed all over the rocks up there.

 This is the only petroglyph we saw on our hike, but there are supposedly 1800 of them cataloged on the hill. It would've been really fun to see some more of them, but oh well.
 We finally made it to the top. The view out over the river valley was gorgeous, especially with the vibrant blue sky and puffy white clouds. You don't get to see sights like this in Mississippi!
 Tomé Hill is actually the site of an annual pilgrimage for local Catholics. Every year on Good Friday hundreds of people come from all over to make the climb to the shrine at the top of the hill. Supposedly the climb is a great way to make penance for your sins.
Two of the three crosses at the summit, there's an altar (I guess that's what you'd call it?) under the central cross. 
 After spending quite a while wandering around the top of the hill looking for more petroglyphs and just enjoying the gorgeous day, we headed back down the hill. This was a fun way to get outside and get to know the area around us.
I love this view of the valley. It's so typical of NM. Once you get too far away from the river, life seems to just dry up and the desert takes over. 

Friday, November 1, 2013


Anyone who's ever spent time in the Albuquerque area in October knows that this is balloon season. There is something about the air currents in the valley this time of year that makes for especially great hot air ballooning, so people come from all over the world to enjoy it. Our first taste of the fun was actually towards the end of September. I was on my way home from the General Relief Society meeting broadcast, and as I drove over an overpass I saw a hot air balloon lighting up in the night sky just a few blocks down the road. I flew home as fast as I could and grabbed my boys, and we went to go check it out. It turns out there were three or four of them there as part of a festival that was going on that day. I don't know if they'd been flying earlier in the day, but by this time they were just inflated to look pretty in the dark. We got to walk right up to them and talk to the pilots/crews. It was really fun, I'd never been that close to one before. 

 Our next bit of balloon fun was when Kett and Cam came up for a visit during the Balloon Fiesta.
The day Kett and Cam were there, we were too lazy to get up in time to be there for the morning ascension (we'd have to wake up about 4am), but we did make it to town in time to watch them fly for a few minutes before they started coming down all around town.
Erik got a hold of the camera, sorry about the smudges in the pic. This was the view as we came up the freeway into town.
When they run out of fuel, they have five minutes before they deflate, so as they run low they start coming down all over the place...
...including right in the middle of the road. The balloon crew and helpful bystanders had this guy out of the road in about one minute.

We had stopped just to sit and watch the balloons, but when we realized they'd be landing just down the road we had to get a closer look. Especially since this is the same balloon we got to see just down the street from our house a few weeks before. 
 The Balloon Fiesta is the largest ballooning event in the world, the most photographed event in the world, and the largest annual international event held in the USA. As kids we always begged mom and dad to take us to the fiesta, but it never happened, they weren't willing to fight the traffic and the crowds. We'd see balloons any time we were in ABQ (and sometimes they'd even come over to our side of the mountain and we'd see them closer to home), but we never actually went to the balloon park. Ethan and I decided we wanted to give it a try this year, so we looked at the event schedule and decided that if we were only going to go once, we wanted to make the most of it, so we chose to go to the Special Shapes Glowdeo. The special shape balloons are every kid's favorite, and the balloons are so beautiful all lit up at night. Plus, there was going to be a fireworks show afterword so there was really no contest. It had to be this night!
It took us 45 minutes of fighting traffic to get into the parking lot at the balloon park. Maybe mom and dad were right about the traffic being bad, but this was still going to be awesome, right?!
Headed from the parking lot to the main entrance.
Looking out at the swarms of people on the balloon field. Maybe mom and dad knew what they were talking about when they said it would be too crowded...

We got there about an hour before sunset, so we spent some time wandering looking at the different vendor's offerings. Our favorite area was where they'd been having chainsaw carving competitions. There were some really neat pieces of art there. 
Ethan and I were both as excited as little kids. We'd both dreamed of this for as long as we could remember!
 Unfortunately, baby decided she was hungry (and I mean HUNGRY) right as the sun was going down and the first balloons started inflating. So I left the boys sitting on a bale of straw watching the balloons inflate while I ran real quick to get a bite of dinner for us all. Unfortunately, so did everyone else in the park. This was the food line.
 I ended up spending nearly 45 minutes standing around waiting for food, about 30 minutes of that time was prime balloon viewing time. Because we only have one phone, Ethan and Erik were not allowed to leave the spot I'd left them at, so they weren't getting to see any more of the balloons than I was. It was killing me to see all the balloons just right over there, but I'd already paid for my food and I wasn't about to just walk away and leave it (although, if I'd known how long they'd take getting it, I'd have just walked away and been hungry).
 Finally, our food was ready, so I rushed to find the boys and see balloons. It was SO neat to be walking around looking at the balloons up close. Some of them were ones I remember seeing as a kid, many of them were new. They were so much bigger than I'd ever realized, and looked so neat glowing in the dark!
Sorry, the balloon pictures aren't that great, but night pictures are hard enough, then throw in a bunch of glowing moving objects and it's nearly impossible! This is a guy with a jet pack and a spider man piggy bank.
Erik's favorite, the "moo"
It turns out that the balloons only stay inflated for about an hour, so the fun was over WAY before we were ready for it to end, especially since I'd spent half that time waiting around for mediocre food.
The fireworks show was SPECTACULAR! Erik wasn't so sure about it, but Ethan and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It may have been the best firework show I've ever seen. It was really nice to snuggle up on the grass of the balloon field as a family and watch the show.
It took us 45 minutes just to get out of the parking lot, and then we still had to fight our way onto the freeway and get ourselves home.
So mom and dad may have been right. It was VERY crowded there, and we spent 1.5 hours in traffic for 1 hour of balloon viewing (with half of that fighting the crowds for food instead of enjoying the balloons). BUT, it was also really neat to see it all up close and to be right in the middle of the action. While it probably wasn't worth the price and the hassle, we still really enjoyed our evening there and made some fun memories.