So where did Route 66 take us after we left Holbrook? Why, to New Mexico – Albuquerque to be exact, a city that has been on our bucket list for some time now, primarily because of the International Balloon Fiesta which is held in the late September, early October time frame.
Unfortunately March was a bit too late for the 2017 Fiesta and too early for 2018, so I guess that event will have to remain on our bucket list for now. But that’s okay, we still wanted to see ABQ (as the locals refer to it) so we planned a week
long stay at the Route 66 RV Resort & Casino (review coming) about 18 miles from Old Town Albuquerque.
As soon as we were settled in, we headed across the highway from the RV Resort to the “66 Pit Stop” which is basically a gas station with a new sit down diner, a small convenience store and a gift shop (btw there is a shuttle that takes you from the RV Resort to the casino or to the Pit Stop. How convenient is that?). This diner is the home of the famous Laguna Burger, named for the small town where it was first created.
So what exactly is a Laguna Burger? Take a half pound of fresh never frozen ground beef, prepared lovingly (so they say) to order (no fast food here), topped with a sizzling Bueno brand green chile to give it just a little kick, perfectly melted cheese and then adorned with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mustard and served on a sesame seed bun. Wow! One burger was enough for two people. Have to say that this was definitely one of the best burgers we’ve ever had!
While we couldn’t attend the Balloon Fiesta, we could visit the location of the event. Although we didn’t see hundreds of colorful balloons soaring in the sky, we did learn a lot about the history, how and why balloons fly, how balloons were used for military purposes and the recreational aspects of ballooning at the on site Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum.
The Museum, named after famed balloonists Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson, both killed in air accidents in the 80’s, opened in 2005 and is located directly south, adjacent to the massive Balloon Fiesta Park and overlooking the entire field. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., admission for adults is $4 ($1 discount for NM residents, $2 discount for Seniors 65+), children 4-12 $2, under 4 free. On Sundays from 9 AM – 1 PM and on the first Friday of the month, admission is free.
Oh, my what an awesome museum! Hanging from the domed ceiling were actual balloons, among them the Jules Verne, flown by Maxie Anderson and Double Eagle flown across the Atlantic Ocean by Ben Abruzzo. Upstairs was great for a birds eye view of what all the balloons looked like.
On the lower floor, step into a life size balloon gondola with 3 large panoramic screens in front providing a very realistic simulation of flying an actual balloon. Ropes in the basket allow you control ascent and descent and with limited propane fuel your goal is to hit the marked landing spot – not easy! There are other interactive exhibits too which would be a blast for kids (and for any other flying enthusiasts)!
In addition to all the exhibits, in the Tim Anderson 4-D Theater, two short videos were shown, one in 2-D and the other in 4-D. The 2-D film, “Remarkable Tales of Ballooning“, runs approximately four minutes and shows a history of ballooning as depicted by the museum’s exhibitions and collection. The 4D film is “Aerobatic Challenge“, an award-winning and spectacular animated flight experience that runs approximately four minutes. Very cool! Check out the trailer of the film on their website. Film screenings are offered Tuesday through Sunday every 30 minutes beginning at 9:30 a.m. The last showtime begins at 4:30 p.m.
Before we left, we walked outside for an awesome view of the Balloon Fiesta Park where, with a little imagination, it was easy to picture what it must be like during the Fiesta – a definite must do for us in the future!
With five museums and more than 100 shops, galleries and restaurants, historic Old Town Albuquerque is the heart of the city and its cultural center. We spent several hours here wandering the streets looking at the historic buildings and browsing in some of the shops.
When a group of Spanish families settled in the first neighborhood in 1706, they organized their new town in the traditional Spanish colonial way with a central plaza anchored by a church. After the original adobe church collapsed after the long, rainy summer of 1792, it was rebuilt and in 1793 San Felipe de Neri church was completed. Today, this functioning adobe church with walls five feet thick is the oldest in Albuquerque and its white towers mark Old Town from a distance.
At the Visitor Center, we were reminded that two of our favorite TV series, Breaking Bad along with its spin-off series Better Call Saul had been filmed in Albuquerque. For those of you familiar with the show, you know the two main characters are Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a former student. To secure his family’s financial future before he dies, Walter turns to producing and selling crystallized methamphetamine. Saul was Walter White’s lawyer, adviser and Albuquerque’s most notorious criminal lawyer. For five seasons, we followed their life of crime. The show was the winner of 16 Primetime Emmy Awards!
Before the show became such a hit, many people who lived in ABQ thought the series would give the city a bad name but instead it has had quite the opposite effect – it’s created a “Breaking Bad” economy. Three firms offer location tours, hotels provide show-themed packages, a brewery makes tribute beers and a shop in Old Town, The Candy Lady, sells blue tinged rock candy that was used as a stand-in for White’s meth in the show. There’s even a design studio that has developed a range of merchandise including aprons emblazoned with the iconic image of Heisenberg (Walter White’s alter ego) in dark glasses and a pork pie hat and “Better Call Saul” T-shirts.
Although several guided Breaking Bad tours are available, some of them are quite expensive (ABQ Trolley Tour – $65 and Breaking Bad RV Tour – $75) so we opted to drive to several of the locations ourselves, mainly because they were along our route to other attractions. Our first stop was Walter White’s house but when we arrived there, there was a replica of the iconic Winnebago motorhome featured in the show parked in front and people walking around taking pictures which turned out to be the Breaking Bad RV Tour.
When we saw the house in the middle of a residential neighborhood, we wondered how a particular location is selected – do people offer their homes? Is there an interview process? If the film people select it, what sets one particular house apart from others?
In the show, the Dog House appears fairly often as a place where Walter and Jesse went to sell meth, buy guns and hide out. Fortunately our visit here didn’t involve any of that, instead we had lunch, ordering a foot long chili dog from the waitress who appeared at our car window to take our order. Our next stops were Jesse Pinkman’s house, the A-1 car wash and the strip mall where Saul, the lawyer and adviser of Walter White, had an office. It was fun checking out a few of these places, guess we’ll have to watch the series again just so we can both say in unison “we’ve been there!”
Friends recommended taking the Sandia Peak Tramway which transports visitors high above deep canyons for a distance of 2.7 miles. Oh, no, we had gone on the San Jacinto revolving tram, did I really want to do this again? Maybe it would be easier since it didn’t revolve? To go or not to go? Whew, no decision necessary! Can you hear my big sigh of relief – it was closed for maintenance the week we were there! Maybe next time. Instead we took a less scary ride up to the mountains where there were gorgeous views of the city and surrounding mountains. Must be a great spot to watch some spectacular sunsets.
Although there was a lot more to see and do in Albuquerque, a day trip to Santa Fe was a must! More about that in our next post.