In October last year, 7 of my friends and I travelled to New Mexico for the Annual Hot Air balloon festival. Although I hadn't originally thought of it as a hotspot destination, there was so much to see and do and eat!
We started by flying into El Paso, TX. We rented 2 cars and drove a few hours up to Alamogordo, NM, for our first stop: White Sands National Monument.
White Sands was a place I'd been wanting to visit for a while. I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations and waste my friends' time—it's 2 hours from El Paso and about 4 hours away from Albuquerque, NM, which is where the rest of our trip would be—but it turned out to be pretty spectacular. Definitely worth the drive! We got some beautiful photos.
The dunes go on for miles and are made out of gypsum, which is pure white and makes it feel like you're driving through a warm snowfield. You pay a $5 entrance fee which is valid for up to 5 days, and then drive through to any area you'd like.
Many people rent sleds here for $10, but our hotel was really kind (comfortable, clean, and cheap too!) and had some for us to borrow! I don't think it'd be worth it to rent, as it's not the best surface to sled down (takes some force), but the boys had a good time with it. You can slide down it without a sled, as well.
We started our day here at 4pm, and I really wish we had come earlier. I was originally worried about us wandering around a desert all day and getting hot/dehydrated, but the gypsum has a lot of moisture underneath the topmost layer of the dunes, so the day was very cool and pleasant. Sunset was pretty spectacular, with the pinks and purples reflecting off the white sand.
TIP: Put on bug spray. The mosquitos really came out after the sun set, so on our walk back to the car at dusk, people got tons of bites.
My friend Mike is a super talented photographer and videographer, and at the end of every day he would make a quick video summarizing everything we did. Here's Part I:
We checked into our Airbnb, which was huge, gorgeous, and very New Mexican. I'd highly recommend it for anyone going to Santa Fe! It was a little far from Albuquerque, where the Hot Air Balloon festival was (an hour drive), but it was way cheaper and more beautiful than anything I saw that was available and closer.
Meow Wolf wasn't too far from our Airbnb. It's hard to explain, a very weird place—kind of an immersive art installation that goes on and on. There's an overarching narrative about aliens or something, but we never quite understood what was happening. It was a bit pricey at $20 each, so I'd say only go here if you're into weird hippie artsy things. It was a little weird for weird's sake. We had a great time though, and took tons of fun pictures. They frequently have indie bands play here, and I'm sure it's amazing as a venue.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
We woke up at 3am to get to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on time! I'd read a lot about how crowded it gets. Really though, we arrived at 4am and ended up waiting around for a while in the dark. It got crowded, but there was no bad viewpoint! The balloons get blown up on a giant field, so you can be right in the middle of the action anywhere you sit.
They start out with something called "Dawn Patrol," followed by a laser show. Dawn Patrol was cool, but the laser show was whatever. Also, it was freezing cold this early in the morning, so wear lots of layers!
There are a ton of food vendors surrounding the main field, kind of like the fair. Eating a warm breakfast burrito, watching the balloons flicker into the dark sky... good times,
We brought blankets to lie down on later (we were sleepy!), and we still had an amazing view. The balloons kept filling up and launching until around 11am!
We had a huge Breaking Bad fan in our group, so we had to visit the restaurant where they filmed the Pollos Hermanos scenes! It's actually a fast food place called Twister's Burgers and Burritos, and it was truly the worst food I've ever had at a restaurant. We got some fun pictures and they were playing the show on a TV the whole time, but please do not eat here.
The Grove Cafe & Market
Now for some GOOD food! We stopped by The Grove for brunch the next day, which was also featured in Breaking Bad. It was delicious and cute and pretty busy.
We stopped by this cute aquarium and botanical garden area before our flight home. The Aquarium was a bit smaller than most I've seen, but still fun.
The botanical garden was great, with a kid's area that had giant produce you could interact with—maybe my favorite was a huge pumpkin you walked inside.
In all, an amazing trip with some pretty unique sights. I know there's so much more to New Mexico that we didn't get to explore, and I'd love to go back sometime soon!