How I’ve missed writing in here! Work has been overwhelmingly busy. There are so many things that I still need to write about, but I’m dedicating this post to my most recent adventure. Since March, my fiance (A lot has happened these past few months!) and I have been planning our annual trip. Being an organized couple, we created a Google sheet with various tabs to record our itinerary, reservation #s, car information, etc. From emergency numbers to walking minutes, we had everything detailed and color coded. You may think that it’s a lot of work for one trip, but we wanted everything to go smoothly for the three cities we planned to visit: Albuquerque, NM; Grand Canyon, AZ; and Las Vegas, NV.
First stop: Albuquerque, NM. Home of Breaking Bad AND the world’s largest annual hot air balloon festival! Right after we landed, we stopped by an awesome Mexican restaurant called Cervantes, and then drove straight to Walter White’s home (Pictures below). The couple who actually reside in the home was fed up by the numerous tourists and only allowed visitors to take pictures on the sidewalk ahead. Despite that, it was still pretty cool to be at the scene of the crime.
The entire city of Albuquerque is a Breaking Bad wonderland (especially in Old Town). It offers various tours and products for all those crazy fans (see below for a look alike trailer, meth candy, magnets).
Some people may come here just for Breaking Bad, but we were really here for the Balloon Fiesta! I’ve seen breathtaking pictures from the fiesta and have always wanted to be there to see if for myself. We woke up at 4AM to make it in time for our balloon ride (which costs $800!) and morning mass ascension. At the fiesta, there were various food tents that had the usual carnival food and some of Albuquerque’s famous green chili burritos and burgers. I decided to buy a burrito- which ended up being painfully spicy for breakfast. Coffee + 4AM + Spicy burrito = no bueno. Later, we were finally called to our balloon group and was placed in a small basket (YES!). Other baskets had 10-12 people, whereas ours only had us plus two older women. It was going to be quieter and roomier. It was going to be perfect.
Until they cancelled our flight.
After waiting 1.5 hours for the wind to be in optimal conditions, they ended up canceling our flight. I was disappointed, but we adjusted our itinerary, made some calls, and planned to come in extra early the next day for standby tickets. Below are some pictures from the morning. Some of the balloonists blew up their balloons for show, but none went up that day.
We had the evening glow at around 6PM so rather than wait at the festival, we went to Sandia Peak Tramway (world’s longest tramway). We originally wanted to go on the tram, but the wait was two hours. It seemed like other festival-goers ended up here as well. Fortunately, there was a walking/hiking trail so we walked along and enjoyed the fabulous view of Albuquerque.
Note: We were exhausted from traveling and waking up early so we took a much-needed nap in our car at the tramway parking lot.
After killing some time at a Dave and Buster’s knockoff and watching Gone Girl at the movie theater, we headed back to the festival for the evening glow. While eating a random collection of festival foods: fried pickles, a tamale and kabob, we sat on the lawn and watched the balloons slowly come alive.
Standing in the middle of 700+ glowing balloons was an unbelievably enchanting experience and one that I’ll never forget. The warmth from the balloons’ burners, colors that blasted from the balloons, and bright moon in the background created a feeling of that I was in some sort of fictional dream state.
After the evening session, we quickly went back to our friend’s place and slept for 1-2 hours before having to wake up again. We drove to the festival’s gates and slept in the car for a few more hours before stepping out to wait in the cold for morning mass ascension balloon ride standby tickets. When the time finally came (4+ hours later…), they only had two spots open and there were four people ahead of us. Damn.
We were still scheduled to fly that afternoon, but it would only be with three balloons. While trying to decide whether to stay or move on to our next city, we saw the morning mass ascension and it was amazing (pictures below). Gazing at the hundreds of balloons blow up and fly up into the blue sky solidified our decision to stay and wait for our afternoon flight.
We drove back to our friend’s place to take a nap and midway through our sleep, we received a call which informed us that our flight was cancelled again due to wind conditions. After waiting hours, sleeping in car, barely getting rest, we decided that was the last straw and took it as a cue to move on to our next stop.
Lessons learned: If you ever plan on attending the balloon fiesta, give it 3-5 days in the city so that you’re guaranteed a balloon ride!
Second stop: Grand Canyon, AZ. This was the trickiest part of our trip to plan due to the popularity of hikers coming here for the favorable October weather. My suggestion is to book Bright Angel Campground at least 3-4 months in advance or Phantom Ranch at least 10 months in advance (reservations open 13 months in advance). In spite of planning early, we couldn’t get any spots at the base of the Canyon so we had one option: hike the entire canyon in one day.
After not being able to ride a hot air balloon, we were adamant about making the rest of our trip phenomenal. We wanted to see everything the Grand Canyon has to offer so that meant hiking the 16+ miles.
We drove six hours from Albuquerque to GC, settled in our hotel room and went to bed by 9PM.
Tip: We stayed at Yavapai Lodge (one of the lodges offered in Grand Canyon)- which I also recommend booking 3-4 months in advance during high season.
Our alarm rang at 5:30AM and we quickly got ready to catch our bus ride at 6AM. (Vacationing is hard…) By 6:30, we were at the start of the South Kaibab trail. The views were spectacular! As the sun rose, the orange/red tints of the canyon bloomed all around us. Pictures can not do the canyon justice, but there are some below.
There were warning signs that discouraged hikers to climb the entire canyon in one day, but we didn’t let it get to us. Reaching the base of the canyon wasn’t too bad since most was downhill (although my quads and back muscles were shaking). The view from the base was gorgeous: the rush of the Colorado River and tall walls of the canyon surrounding us. We rested for about 30 minutes and then started heading back up.
Going up was when it got very tough. My biggest worry was that we were running low on water and the next water station was about 1.5 miles away. We began to walk slowly and took small sips of water. Fortunately, we finally made it to the water stop and refilled our pouches/bottles and massaged our aching legs and back.
After nine hours of hiking, we finished one of the hardest hikes in our lives. When we looked back at the canyon, it was incredible to know that we hiked the entire thing. Would we do it again? Probably not. Was it worth it? Hell yes.
Note: We could barely walk the next day because our bodies were so terribly sore!
Our original plan was to set up camp at Mather Campground, but we were fortunate enough that a room at Yavapai opened up. I slept like a rock that night.
The next morning, we checked out, picked up some Chik Fil A and drove 2.5 hours to Upper Antelope Canyon, a place that may be familiar to others as one of the default Windows backgrouds. We made it just in time for our tour and jumped onto a four wheeler for a wild ride (see truck picture below). After the bumpy ride, our tour guide provided some background/history and led us into the canyon. When I entered, it was as if I walked into a Google Image. The sun rays hitting the beautifully sandy smooth walls created a magical effect. I loved it.
After the tour, we jumped into our car and drove another 4.5 hours to our last stop.
Last stop: Las Vegas, NV. This was my first time going to Vegas, but I’ve heard many stories. Now I finally understand what people meant by extravagant buffets, crazy people on the streets (Similar to NYC though), and non-stop drinking. It truly is an adult Disney World.
We started our Vegas adventure with a relaxing massage (Yes, I was still terribly sore) and a buffet! As for the rest of the trip, we ate, gambled, drank, and watched shows (Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson One and The VEGAS Show!). It was a trarafoic ending to our intense trip.
Now it’s back to work and real life….and brainstorming ideas for our next big trip. 🙂