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battleships and volcanos

A friend and I recently drove up through Jemez Springs to Valles Caldera. This is a pretty easy day trip from Albuquerque, but I had never been to Valles Caldera and I calculate it’s been seven or eight years since I’ve been to Jemez Springs. I really do need to get out more.


I have fond memories of visiting the park around Battleship Rock (aptly named as you can see from the photos below) 10 years ago with a group of friends around dusk. The moon over the Rock was a wondrous sight. But seeing the Rock in daylight was no less grand.

We strolled around for a while, and I took a few more photos. Below is the Jemez River and a tangle of autumn leaves and blue sky.


Then we headed up to Valles Caldera, which is an 89,000-acre National Preserve. A caldera is a volcanic crater formed by the collapse of the central part of a volcano. This area was a privately owned ranch until the year 2000 and has only been a National Preserve for 12 years!

Fun fact: Some scenes from the new movie, The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp, were filmed here. In fact at least two dozen different movies and TV series have been filmed at this location.

Although I checked my camera’s battery before I left home, it gave out before I was able to photograph the caldera itself, thus giving me a really good reason to return to this amazing and unusual place. We went on a 45-minute van tour that stopped at the edge of a forest of Ponderosa Pines, and so my last few shots were of–you guessed it–trees.

I do like trees. My greatest disappointment is that I wasn’t able to take any pictures on the drive back. The sunlight striking the fields of golden leaves was truly breathtaking. But now I know where to go next October to get my fix of autumn leaves.

identified flying objects

Now’s the time of year in Albuquerque when for nine glorious days—weather permitting—the blue October sky is peppered with colorful hot air balloons. And not just ordinary hot air balloons, but all kinds of special shapes—animals, birds, bees, cartoon characters, Darth Vader, even an ark! It’s the 41st annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, this year called “Blaze a Trail.”

Last year I watched one balloon drift over my apartment complex so low I was sure it was going to land in one of the parking lots. And I live a distance from Balloon Fiesta Park, where it had lifted off.

Joey and Lilly Bee, a love story

The other night I happened to catch part of a show about the Balloon Fiesta on a local PBS channel. The operators of two balloons, Joey and Lilly Bee (“The Little Bees”), explained how they manage to get both balloons to lift off at the same time, holding hands. Once airborne, Joey and Lilly turn toward each other and kiss before letting go of each other’s hands. These two are a familiar annual sight around here and beloved by enough people that they even have their own Facebook page.

balloons in flight

Here’s a video of one of the mass ascensions this year. So far our weather’s been good—sunny and cool in the morning, but not too windy. Let’s hope everything continues going up without a hitch this year.

There are not many places where can you wander around for days at a time under a sky filled with drifting dots of color. Even if you’re feeling down, you just have to look up. That’s one of the reasons why I love this place.

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