Sunday, October 3, 2010

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2010

When Suz and I first married, resources were limited as we were both recovering divorcees. But the one past-time we enjoyed and found affordable, was exploring the remnants of Route 66, "The Mother Road." On this adventure, our ultimate destination will be the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, but Suz and I will explore two other Route 66 communities along the way, including Amarillo, Texas and Tucumcari, New Mexico. We'll be posting as we travel, so come along as we explore what's left of The Mother Road through this photolistic journey!

After leaving OKC on Saturday morning, we made a brief stop in Weatherford, also a Rt. 66 community, to give Maynard a stretch and for me to grab a cup of coffee. Other than a few "check stations" along the way, we realized there are few actual rest areas west of OKC to the Texas line. Check stations are nothing more than a pull-off area for commercial trucks to check their tires, etc. They offer no amenities whatsoever. Suz and I love our state, but our Department of Transportation needs to give serious consideration to Interstate travelers, especially those with large RVs. Upon exiting the highway, spotting a Subway that would offer a healthy snack, cup of coffee, and parking area that would accommodate a 60-foot rig, we encountered the following restriction . . . .

When my daughter, LaDonna, was a young teen living at home, she had a routine response when I opposed some of her actions - "Oh, well!" Which was precisely my response when Suz pointed out the sign.

Next stop - Amarillo! We've stayed at the Oasis RV Resort on the west end and found it to be a very convenient overnight facility. No frills, just a clean, well planned RV park with large sites and easy hook-ups.

Today's focus was to reach The Oasis before 2:30 p.m. (kick-off of the OU-Texas game). We were successful and had the coach set up, awning out, and HD TV plugged in on the patio. Although Suz was more interested in getting back to harvesting her Facebook Farm, she and Maynard took a moment to watch parts of the game with me.

The Oasis serves breakfast and BBQ dinner, but we opted for something different. We've traveled I-40 west many times and noticed the signs promoting the "Free 72 ounce steak," but never before stopped to dine at "The Big Texan."

R.J. (Bob) Lee founded The Big Texan in 1960. Rumor has it that soon after opening the restaurant, Bob overheard several cowboys debating whether they could eat a 72 ounce (4.5 pounds) steak. He offered the winner of the competition a "free meal," provided he could eat the entire steak with all the trimmings, which consist of salad, three fried shrimp, baked potato, dinner roll, and of course the steak, all within sixty-minutes. A tradition was born, and as of October 2, 2010, 8,610 people had accomplished the task. Suz and I were witness to two successful winners that evening, one of which is depicted in the following photo . . . .

The current champ is Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, who polished the multi-course dinner off in just 8 minutes, 52 seconds in 2008. Other winners include Klondike Bill, a professional wrestler, who ate two whole 72oz. meals in 1965, Cincinnati Reds pitcher, Frank Pastore, in 1983, and a 63 year old grandmother in 1977.

In the above pictures, you'll notice the Texan Cowboy Singers serenading Suz. For a video of their presentation singing "Oklahoma Hills" by Woody Guthrie, click below:

In addition to the entertainment and rowdy western atmosphere, Suz and I, surprisingly, enjoyed the dinner. We both ordered the 8oz. sirloin priced at $16.25 each. One of the best steaks we ever ate! We plan to stop again on the way home, but will pass on the industrial-tasting desserts.

Tomorrow we're off to Tucumcari for a sad, but historical, journey to the past.

The above pic represents a thriving 1960s Tucumcari community as I remember it as a youngster. Today, the once vibrant town illuminated with neon appears to be struggling for survival.

We reserved an RV site at the Cactus RV Park, which was formerly the Cactus Motor Lodge. The business has been owned for the past 30 years by an Indian couple named "Andy & Sue."

The original lodge was built in 1939 and looked similar to the following photos . . . .

The current owners are embroiled in a battle with the local area Chamber of Commerce over the demolition of the remaining units of the former motel. The Chamber wants the buildings demolished, while Andy and Sue want to hold on to a piece of Route 66 history.

Andy and Sue have done a good job transforming the lodge into a modern RV Park. It's certainly a "no frills" park, but it offers pull-thru accesibility with easy hook-ups, and they maintain a clean, quiet environment. The best part is it's right on Route 66 and situated on a historical piece of land.

Tucumcari offers two good restaurants from the past, "La Cita" and "Del's Restaurant."

I have few memories of Del's, but I'm told it was built around 1960, and Suz loves their authentic Mexican food. La Cita is another story. My mother's family is from Albuquerque, where we would regularly visit every year. As far back as I can remember, my parents would time our arrival in Tucumcari, regardless of direction (east or west), with the lunch/dinner hour at La Cita. Maurice and Lee Snider were the original owners of the restaurant, and Mr. Snider had a striking resemblance to comedian Red Skelton. The Sniders are gone now, but the new owners have carried on the tradition of serving good Mexican food. And of course we ate at both restaurants during our stay in Tucumcari this trip.

Many legends exist regarding how Tucumcari got its name, but one told by a Methodist minister in 1907 involved two Apache warriors who fought for the hand of the dying chief's daughter, Kari. It was said that Tocom, the brave loved by Kari, was slain by Tonopah. Overcome with grief and anger, Kari seized Tonopah's weapon (knife) killing him, then turned the knife on herself. The old chief, heartbroken, took the same knife and stabbed himself while crying out as he died, "Tocom-Kari, Tocom-Kari." The incident was said to have occurred on Tucumcari Mountain, pictured below.

The town boast several murals painted on the sides of buildings, including the two below, one of which is of the legendary Indian lovers, Tocom and Kari.

The following mural depicts Tucumcari's association with the Mother Road (Route 66), which was painted on the east side of Lowe's Grocery.

Although the railroad once had a strong presence in Tucumcari, little activity remains at the once busy depot . . . .

As early as 1902, the above depot catered to four passenger trains, two mail trains, and two freight trains on a daily basis. Suz and I witnessed only one freight train come through during the two day period we were in Tucumcari.

Decline is prevalent throughout the town with abandoned filling stations, motels, drive-in restaurants, etc.

But history can still be seen along the Mother Road . . . .

According to the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce, the town is working toward restoring 20 filling stations to their former appearance, including a Whiting Bros. station directly across from the Chamber. The town has also purchased "Route 66 - A Photo Journal Exhibit," from the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac, Illinois. The exhibit is expected to be on display in Tucumcari by next spring and will provide a virtual tour of Route 66 through photographs produced by Michael Campanelli. Below is the Route 66 "Roadside Attraction," designed by artist, Thomas Coffin, in 1997 and situated in front of the Tucumcari Convention Center.

We'll be heading further west and hope to be greeted by plenty of multi-colored balloons as we pull into Albuquerque. But first, a stop in Moriarty for lunch.

While returning from last year's Balloon Fiesta, Suz, Nana and I tried "El Commadore" restaurant which is owned by the Anaya family, who are well known for local politics. They serve great blue corn tortilla enchiladas with red or green chili. We suggest you give them a try if you're in the Moriarty area.

(Above) The New Mexico sky and Sandia Mountains on the way to Albuquerque.

And finally, the balloons!

According to the "2010 Guest Guide," "The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta" began in 1972 with 13 balloons that launched from a shopping mall parking lot. The Fiesta is now an annual event that last for nine days in October and is held at the 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. It is hailed as the "largest balloon event on earth" with over 500 balloons participating.

Credit must be given to the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce for the balloon pic over the Rio Grande (above left), but all other photos are all ours.

Overall, the Fiesta had a very "carnival" like atomosphere, and was not at all what Suz and I expected. We did enjoy the U.S. Air Force Band (above, lower-right). Below, motor coaches line the ridge above the crowd in the "President's Campground."

Suz and I scheduled a bus excursion to Fiesta Park in late evening to view the "Balloon Glow." Several balloon pilots ignite the propane burners on their balloons around dusk which creates a beautiful site and camera opporunity. Unfortunately, the night we chose to attend was accompanied by brisk winds that required cancellation of the balloon glow event. Nevertheless, we did enjoy a beautiful New Mexico sunset at the end of the day.

We chose to stay at "American RV Park," which is off Route 66 on the far west end of Albuquerque.

This park is rated as one of the best in the Albuquerque area, and Susan was particularly fond of the paved streets, grassy areas and pet playground for Maynard. Our only complaint was the weak wi-fi signal, which prohibited me from updating this blog until we returned home. I found the close proximity of the park to the Route 66 Casino to be its best attribute . . . .

Don't be impressed by the three "red sevens;" they only paid 120 quarters ($30.00). Tribal casinos are obviously not as generous as their Las Vegas counterparts.

The above pictures reflect two retro RVs from the 1950s and 60s. Considerably smaller than the 40-foot behemouth we drive, but I bet they're more economical.

My wife cannot tour the American Southwest without dining on authentic Mexican food. We generally try a new restaurant each time we visit Albuquerque, and this trip we visited "El Pinto." We were told that U.S. Presidents, other politicians, and celebrities dined here before us, and pictures on the walls confirm the claim.

Nana flew out of OKC ahead of us and visited her sister in Denver. She then traveled to Albuquerque with her niece, Willa, and we met up with her there. Our 8-day trip down Route 66 has been a nice break from the routine, but it's time to head back home. The following picture is the view of Albuquerque as we approach the city from the west on Route 66 . . . .

Nobody enjoys an RV roadtrip better than Maynard, but he's even anxious to get home to his backyard full of birds and squirrels.

And, of course, the kids are always excited for us to get home . . . not because they're excited to see us, but so that we'll stop spending their inheritance!


  1. Hey Brother

    Your blog is a good read and well written. Maybe someday you guys will go somewhere that is actually interesting! Just foolin'. A belated Happy Birthday to you. Hope you guys are having lots fun on your adventure west. I am guessing the two wild women made it to Albuquerque safely in the hippie van. Tell mom we love her and Nikko misses his Nanna. He has being doing good, so she not need to worry. You guys be safe!

    See ya soon


  2. Hey! This is your best post yet - going anyplace with you and Susan makes it very interesting or at least that's my opinion - I know you are having fun and I look forward to my next trip with you!!