Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
For nine days straight at the beginning of October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta dominates the scene in this high-desert city along the Rio Grande, drawing some 700 balloonists and more than 100,000 spectators.
Every morning, hundreds of brightly colored hot-air balloons lift off into the sky just as the first golden rays of sunlight spill over the purple peaks of the Sandia Mountains. Mariachi musicians greet spectators of all ages, who stare up at the sky as they warm their hands on a cup of hot cocoa or savor a breakfast burrito laced with New Mexico’s signature roasted red or green chiles.
What began in 1972 with 13 balloons taking off from a shopping mall parking lot has grown into the world's largest hot-air balloon event—and one of the most widely photographed events on the globe. The festival is held at the custom-designed 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park, where visitors can browse the booths of food vendors, retailers and artists. In 2000, a record-breaking total of 1,000 balloons went aloft, though since then the number has been capped at 750.
A combination of geography and climate makes Albuquerque the ideal spot for ballooning. The winds in the Rio Grande Valley vary in direction according to altitude, creating a phenomenon called the "Albuquerque box," which allows pilots to more easily return to their starting positions.
During the city-sponsored Balloon Fiesta, spectators can walk freely through the 78-acre launch field to get up-close views of the hot-air balloons and gas balloons. Mass ascensions take place in the mornings and are worth getting up well before dawn to see. At the evening Balloon Glow, the balloonists let their burners roar simultaneously, lighting up the clear night like gigantic lanterns. Another festival favorite is the Special Shapes Rodeo, showcasing balloons shaped like animals, cartoon characters, stagecoaches and other forms. Spectators also can watch flying competitions and fireworks, listen to live music, and book their own balloon rides through a private vendor.
During the rest of the year Balloon Fiesta Park is open for varied recreational uses, including balloon rides, golf and softball. It's also home to the 60,000-square-foot Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of hot-air ballooning through hands-on exhibits.
Cliff's Amusement Park
From April to October, this playground is open for the young and the young at heart. It offers more than 23 rides, games of skill, arcade and redemption deals and a variety of great food and gifts. Centrally located in Albuquerque for a convenient playful getaway, this place is sure to put a smile on your face and a little extra spring in your step.
Take a walk through history around Albuquerque's original central plaza, the serene village that has been the focal point of community life since 1706. Quiet hidden patios, winding brick paths, gardens and balconies are waiting to be discovered. Wrought iron and adobe bancos (benches) beckon you to rest in the shade and watch people stroll. Unique items from around the world, as well as those distinctively Southwestern, can be found in more than 100 shops and boutiques.
Rio Grande Zoological Park
With everything from rare and exotic animals to comical and common species, the zoo offers award-winning natural habitat displays of white tigers, polar bears, big cats, great apes and just about everything else that came off Noah's Ark. Do not miss to feed the seals and sea lions. Shop for hats, toys, film and gifts in the gift shop, open daily. Snack bars are open and an extensive menu is offered at the Cottonwood Cafe. Catering services are also available for group or corporate events.
Petroglyph National Monument
Take a historical hike among 15,000, ancient rock drawings which date back thousands of years (just remember to bring a camera, some comfortable walking shoes and a hat). The 7,100-acre monument contains some of the nation's largest natural displays of prehistoric artwork. Anasazi nomadic hunters etched various drawings and messages onto the black basalt boulders of the escarpment just west of the Rio Grande. This is an adventurous, educational experience. Visitors can take a ranger-guided tour that can last up to two hours or explore various trails on their own.
Explora Science Center and Children's Museum of Albuquerque
Learn and play at a center that challenges people of all ages and backgrounds to explor learn and critically think. Explore art, science, technology, culture and fun. The museum contains a collection of over 250 interactive science, technology and art exhibits such as an experiment bar and a high-wire bike and robotics lab. Demonstrations, theatre performances and a variety of programs and activities are also offered. The museum store provides a wide array of bilingual and educational items.
If you are up to the challenge of a hike through four life zones, that climbs from 7,080 feet to 10,280 in just under eight miles, La Luz Trail offers you an alpine escape from the concrete jungle. On weekends, the trail is crowded with day hikers, joggers and their pets. The trail switchbacks upward among granite spires, ponderosa pines, and quaking aspens. Near the top, the trail forks. The right fork takes you to Sandia Crest; the left fork terminates at the Sandia Peak Tramway . Take along plenty of water.
This is an awesome orchestration of natural wonder. Sleek and graceful sharks glide about their sovereignty, a 285,000-gallon climate controlled, simulated natural habitat. Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is contained and capsulated in this state of the art facility which brings life from the exotic seas to the high desert. Among the oceanic life exhibited you will see stingrays, sand tigers, sea horses and sea dragons. Albuquerque Aquarium is definitely a must-visit to marvel at the aquatic life!
National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
This place is known as America's official museum of nuclear science and history. A short movie shown every hour features Albert Einstein and the people involved with the development of nuclear science. The world's largest public collection of nuclear weapons is displayed here. Also on display are military air crafts, robotics and nuclear medicine exhibits.
Hinkle Family Fun Center
On the northwest corner of Tramway & Indian School Road, you will discover a whole world of fun and games with something for young and old kids of all ages. Hinkle Family Fun Center is a clean, modern and well-maintained facility featuring bumper boats and bumper cars. The amusement games and kiddy karts are a crowd pleaser and so is the miniature golf course. If you are feeling sporty, try your hand at Laser Tag and have some laughs with that game of agility and coordination. Group discounts and packages are offered to private and company parties and an ice cream parlor sells goodies and beverages.
Roswell UFO Museum
The International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell's UFO Museum, light-heartedly examines evidence of UFO visits as well as the pop culture phenomenon surrounding public interest in Extraterrestrials. The 1947 crash that made Roswell infamous is featured, as are other incidents around the world.
A fascinating collection of rattlesnakes and assorted other reptiles, thoughtfully assembled with commentary for kids and former kids. There's other cool stuff, like beers cans branded with snake themes, original bottles of snake oil and other serpent-themed memorabilia through the ages.
Mention Albuquerque.com for a 10% percent discount on any item in the gift shop.
Jemez High Road
The scenic route to Santa Fe through the Jemez Mountains is one of 33 congressionally-authorized scenic byways established in 1998. A half-day or day's motor journey through Native America is filled with culture, history and scenery.
Albuquerque Botanic Garden
Albuquerque's Botanic Gardens is a sprawling expanse of desert plants and medicinal herbs along with colorful species native to the Iberian peninsula, Africa and China. Paths crisscross the gardens, which also feature greenhouses and playful exhibits for children.
Opened in summer '02, this high style three-room bar and dance club with Asian fusion decor is the brainchild of entrepreneur/designer Michael Goodwin. It's success has kept patrons waiting behind the velvet ropes for a chance to get in. Buddha statues, Moroccan henna lamps and glass mosaic tiles appoint the sparse interior. Bar stocks premium vodka from every country in the EEC on its bird's eye maple shelves. Dance floor in back washed in high tech sounds and lights, orchestrated from roomy DJ booth above. Open four nights, Wed.-Sat.
Sushi & cocktail bar. Featuring sushi, sashimi, salads, appetizers, cocktails. Excellent sound system entertains with DJ music. Open until 2am nightly except Sunday.
Softly-lit Liquid Lounge in back spins acid jazz, house and hip hop. A pretty crowd dances beneath a stamped tin ceiling amidst retro furniture and lights. Restaurant in front serves pizza fired in a wood burning tiled oven, accompanied by salads, beers, espresso drinks. Next door to Raw sushi bar.