Albuquerque, NM to Prescott Valley, AZ

There was one thing that I definitely knew I wanted to while I was in Albuquerque: go for a hot air balloon ride!

Since a lot most of this trip has not been really planned out, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to book a flight on such short notice.  The day before I had called World Balloon to see if they could squeeze me in for their Champagne Flight the next morning. Luckily, they told me that the short notice was not a problem.  Not so luckily, I’d have to be there at 6 am!

Have you ever been on a hot air balloon ride before?  I didn’t know this, but they lay out the balloon and fill it up with cold air with the basket on it’s side.  They asked if anyone wanted to help set up the hot air balloon and I obviously volunteered!

When the hot air balloon is all fluffed up with the cold air, then they start using the fiery hot air to get it to start floating.

Once it’s filled with hot air, you climb into the basket.  And it seriously is just a basket!

Going up in the balloon, I was kind of nervous.  I mean you are seriously in a basket.  Flying while attached to a balloon.  I knew it was safe, but we’ve evolved to avoid this kind of dangerous activity, so there was something about it that just felt scary on an instinctual level.

It’s really surprising how smooth it feels to take off in the balloon.  It’s nothing like taking off on a plane with all that bumpiness and getting pushed to the back of your seat because of the force of the plane.  It feels like nothing at all, until suddenly, you are floating!

Because Albuquerque is so well known for it’s ballooning, there were tons of other people up in the sky with us.  It was so cool seeing the other balloons take off into the air.

Before I knew it, the sky was full of balloons flying!

It was the perfect last activity to do in Albuquerque before heading west towards Arizona.

About an hour outside of Albuquerque, I saw a sign for the Acoma Pueblo and Sky City.  If you read my previous post, you saw that I had watched a demonstration by a potter from Acoma.  But, my friend Blair in Austin, had also told me I should try and get to the Pueblo if I could.  So on a whim, I decided to head over the Pueblo to see what it was all about.  The mesa you see in the picture above is called the Enchanted Mesa.  Before the Acoma people moved to the mesa they live on now, they lived on the Enchanted Mesa.  According to oral history, one day when they were off the mesa hunting, lightning struck the stairs they used to get up and down.  They took this as a sign that they should no longer live there.

In order to get up onto the mesa where the Acoma people live (and have lived for hundreds of years), you have to visit the cultural center and purchase tickets for a tour.  Visitors are not simply allowed to wander amongst the people and homes.  I was worried about going on the tour because it was supposed to take 90 minutes and I still had a long time to drive before making it to my destination in Arizona.  But what had really made me want to come to New Mexico in the first place was exploring more of Native American culture, and I didn’t really feel like I got an authentic feel of that in Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

The first place we visited was the Mission and cemetery.  The story of the building and the cemetery are very sad.  Franciscan friars backed by the Spanish army destroyed all of the kivas (religious buildings) and forced the Acoma people to build this mission.  Part of this included forcing them to go to a mountain about 75 miles away, cutting down trees and then carrying them back to the pueblo without letting them touch the ground.  Apparently, the friars thought that doing this would somehow help them in their conversion to Catholicism.  We couldn’t take pictures inside of the mission, but one thing I wanted to mention is that the floor of the mission was a dirt packed floor.  Our tour guide said they left the floor untouched because they felt a connection to the floor that the biggest kiva was once built on, and on which the mission now stood on.

The people who still live on the mesa live without running water or electricity.

Visiting the pueblo was a spiritual experience.  There is something about a place where people have lived continuously for so long, lived their lives, fought to retain their culture, laughed and cried, grew their families, and survived.

The Acoma people didn’t start using a door as an entry to their homes until the 18th century.  Before then they used these ladders to get into their home.

I also got a chance to try Indian Frybread.  This isn’t actually a food specific to the Acoma people, but originated from Plains tribes during their march on the Trail of Tears.  Since the government didn’t give them very many supplies, they used the flour and lard they were given to create this frybread.

It seems terrible to say this, but oh my god! It was so yummy!!!

The view off the mesa stretches on for miles.

As we walked through the pueblo, we also had a chance to meet some of the people who live there, many of whom were selling their pottery and wares.  I bought a small little catchall and a Christmas ornament from two local women.  I also bought two prints from an artist whose work I had seen displayed.  I had been very cautious about buying anything in the “Indian” shops in Santa Fe because I felt very uncomfortable being unsure about where things had actually come from.  I didn’t want to be a part of anything that was unsavory or taking advantage of any of the Native American tribes.  This way, I felt confident that I was buying items directly from the source, and it was cool to hear from the artisans themselves about what the pieces/symbols/colors/etc all meant.

At the end of the tour we also had the option to walk back down a staircase that was actually used to get up and down off the mesa.  It was insane!  This staircase was actually modified from the foothold and handhold only version, and I couldn’t even think about trying to carry up water or food or anything else walking up or down those!

It was the perfect way to end my visit.  I felt like I was walking in the steps of the Acoma people who had stood exactly where I had before.  In case you can’t tell, I kind of loved being at the pueblo, and it was my favorite thing I did in New Mexico.

After making it down the terrifying steps, I got back in the car and headed to Arizona.

Traffic was horrendous.  But I have been making an effort to be positive and happy on this entire trip, so I turned up the radio, jammed to every song, and cuddled with my copilot as we waited for the bumper to bumper traffic to clear.

When I made it into Prescott Valley, I had a fun surprise.  I was staying with some family friends.  My mom had mentioned that they had some animals on their property, but I couldn’t remember exactly which kind of animals they had.

Surprise! They were llamas!!

I got to help our friends feed all their llama pals!  They were so cute and had such adorable personalities.

I have to tell you that I have felt so incredibly blessed (I know that sounds so cliched!) being welcomed into people’s homes some of whom I literally have not seen for 20 years!  It makes me feel like I have a family that stretches into every corner of this planet.  How amazing is that?

I enjoyed an amazing home cooked meal before crawling into my beautiful guest bedroom and sleeping like a very, very tired baby.

Distance traveled: 427 miles

High: Visiting the Acoma Pueblo

Low: Getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in AZ

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