(October 1 – 14, 2013)
Since purchasing our Cessna 195 (in November 2010) we have focused our travels on interesting and fun places that we can fly ourselves to. As 2012 came to an end and the new year was upon us it was time for us to start thinking about where we were going to explore in 2013.
An annual travel tradition that we started in 2009, when we began the search for a Cessna 195, is attending the International Cessna 195 Club annual fly-in held each year in September. The 2013 fly-in was scheduled to take place in Tupelo, Mississippi from September 26 – 29 and this was definitely on our 2013 travel calendar. In looking at our various vacation options, we figured that since we were going to be in the south-central US for the fly-in we might as well tack on a two week flying adventure right after. Now we just had to figure out which direction we would travel from Tupelo – east or west?
In the past few years we have seen a fair bit of the eastern US, so we thought that maybe it was time to explore more of the southwest. We eventually narrowed it down to New Mexico, with the initial draw being the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta taking place from October 5 – 13. When we started researching all that there was to see and do in New Mexico it was difficult to narrow the list down to fit it all into 2 weeks! It is certainly fitting that the nickname for the state is the “Land of Enchantment”.
We departed from Tupelo, MS on Tuesday, October 1, kicking off our two week flying adventure in New Mexico. Our planned itinerary was to start out with some of the National Parks & Monuments along the southern part of the state (Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands and the Gila Cliff Dwellings), then make our way north to attend a few days of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and then end things off with a few days in Santa Fe and Taos.
Well, all I can say is the “Best laid plans…”
As we were making our way west to North Texas Regional Airport (KGYI), for a fuel stop, we received a text message from a friend (who happens to be from Texas) asking us if we had heard the news that Carlsbad was closed. This was certainly news to us and was definitely going to throw a wrench in our plans. We landed at KGYI and started investigating the Carlsbad closure only to find out that all sites operated by the National Parks Service were indefinitely closed due to the US government shutdown.
So, now we had to come up with Plan B. One of the best parts of travelling by small airplane is that you have flexibility to decide the schedule and the destination. We decided to reverse the order of our itinerary with the hope that the NPS would be back up and running by the time we were done in Albuquerque. So now we were Santa Fe bound.
Between KGYI and Santa Fe Municipal Airport (KSAF) the landscape gradually began changing underneath us. The rolling green slowly became flat brown plains. There were wide open fields where it was very evident that irrigation systems where in use. It looked like a large quilt of different coloured circles. Into New Mexico the ground was slowly coming up to meet us and we steadily increased our altitude. The flat plains gave way to rocky hills, cliffs and mountains that were connected by long flat plateaus.
We arrived at KSAF just as the sun was setting. The views of the city and the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the southeast were beautiful by the soft light of the setting sun. The elevation of the airport was 6,348 feet and was the highest elevation we had ever landed at.
Santa Fe Air Center (FBO) was very helpful in arranging a rental car and hotel room and giving us directions. After tying down and unloading the airplane we made our way to the hotel to check in and drop our stuff off. We had made it safely to New Mexico and it was time to celebrate with an adult beverage!
After a little research on the internet we settled on Secreto Lounge in Hotel St. Francis. We definitely found the right place – it was excellent!! As luck would have it we were served by Chris Milligan, the bar manager and mixologist (aka the Santa Fe Barman). He pioneered the “Garden to Glass” cocktails in New Mexico which focuses on using local, fresh and organic ingredients. Some of his recipes have been featured in Imbibe Magazine. Chris delighted us with lots of delicious cocktails, some on menu and some off menu, simply based on what he learned of our tastes and favourite spirits.
Santa Fe is full of history, culture, visual arts and culinary pleasures. For a city of it’s size, with a population of about 70,000, it has a lot to offer. This is likely due in part to the city’s long standing history as a capital city, making it a hub and focal point since it’s founding in 1607. It started out as the the capital of the Spanish province, Nuevo Mexico, and has remained a capital through the centuries making it the oldest state capital in the US.
While in Santa Fe we wandered around downtown, including the old town square, explored Canyon Road (lined with over 100 art galleries) and walked along the Santa Fe River park. We also went to the New Mexico History Museum & the Palace of Governors (one of the oldest public buildings in the US, built in 1610). And of course we enjoyed lots of great food and drinks – breakfast at Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant, lunches at The French Pastry Shop, Blue Window Cafe (Los Alamos) and Del Charro Saloon, dinners and cocktails at Coyote Cafe and two nights in a row at Secreto Lounge (this was definitely our favourite!). We also camped two nights at the Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park. After a couple days we began to understand Santa Fe’s nickname “City Different”.
We also did a day trip to Los Alamos to do some cycling and site seeing. It is located about 1 hour (by car) northwest of Santa Fe. We cycled about 25km through various parts of town. We made sure to take it a bit easy because this was our first ride at elevation. We definitely got out of breath a whole lot faster! We then spent some time in the Bradbury Science Museum and learned about the history and current mission of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The town and Laboratory were founded as a consequence of the Manhattan Project, which was the research and development project that resulted in the first atomic bombs that were used in World War II. We also stopped in at the family owned and operated Don Quixote Winery & Distillery and sampled some delicious wine and spirits.
Friday afternoon we made our way from KSAF to Taos Regional Airport (KSKX). The elevation at KSKX was 7,095 feet, which now made this the highest we had ever landed at. We arrived at KSKX a couple hours before sunset and unloaded the bikes and camping gear. Monte Bello RV Park was just 3.5km from the airport so we got organized, loaded up our backpacks and the bike trailer and made our way to the campground. We set up camp while the sun dipped below the horizon and boy did it get cold fast! We crawled into the tent and had a little picnic with some of the Don Quixote wine that we had bought. It got down to around freezing overnight but we were nice and warm in our down sleeping bags. Getting up to go to the washroom was certainly not appealing!
We got up as the sun peaked over the Taos Mountains (part of the Sangre de Cristo range). It was a clear, brisk morning and we had to bundle up to get on our bikes. We were off to see Taos Pueblo, which was about an 11km ride. The map in our iPhone’s Runtastic cycling app was not detailed enough to tell us which roads were dirt, so the route we ended up taking put us on a dirt road (more like a “goat” path) for about 5.5kms of the ride. It was certainly not the smoothest dirt road we had ever seen and riding on it with our road bikes was not optimal. But we made it, slowly.
Taos Pueblo is estimated to have been built between 1,000 and 1,450 AD, with some later expansions. The main north building is a combination of many individual homes with common walls and at some places it reaches five stories high. The pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US and was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Today there are about 150 people who live at the pueblo year-round. There is no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing permitted in the historic pueblo. We went on a 30 minute guided tour with one of the tribe residents and learned a bit about the history and current day life at the pueblo. We then had a chance to wander around at our leisure.
Following the pueblo, we cycled to the outskirts of Taos and had lunch at Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe, specializing in New Mexican cuisine (Would you like green or red chile’s with that?). Our combo enchilada plate with a mix of both kinds of chile’s refuelled and warmed us up. We made our way to downtown Taos and happened upon Taos Cyclery, which was the perfect place to park and lock up our bikes. We wandered around the historic plaza, through the Wool festival events, grabbed a delicious latte from World Cup Cafe and wandered through lots of unique shops. I even managed to find a ladies fitted “zia” (the sun symbol of New Mexico) shirt made by a local artist at a great place called Michelle’s.
With our cycle back to the campground we managed 37kms for the day. Kurtis got a few more kms in when he cycled to pick up our take out pizza from Pizano’s just down the road from the campground. We enjoyed pizza and wine at our campsite while the sun was setting. There was definitely a cold snap in New Mexico because it got down to a low of 24 F (-4 C) overnight.
The idea of getting out of our nice and toasty warm sleeping bags the next morning was certainly not appealing at all! But our tummies needed some breakfast, so we bundled up and cycled into Taos to Michael’s Kitchen Cafe and Bakery. It was definitely popular because the line up to get a table was out the door. Apparently chile’s can go with any meal – I enjoyed Eggs Benedict New Mexican style! Since the lattes had been so good yesterday we also made our way back to the World Cup Cafe for another caffeine fix and sat in the historic plaza and did some people watching. I’m sure you can probably tell by now we like food 🙂
We cycled back to the campground, cleaned up, packed up and made our way back to the airport. That ended up being another 23km of cycling for me and 30km for Kurtis (who made an extra trip from the campground to the airport and back with one trailer load). Once the airplane was all loaded up, it was time to make our way to Albuquerque. The flight was smooth and the scenery was spectacular. We did a 360 flight over Taos, then headed slightly southwest crossing the Rio Grande gorge, flew over Los Alamos, and then beside the Sandia Mountains on our way to the Albuquerque International Sunport (KABQ). We tied down at Cutter Aviation (FBO) who were very helpful and friendly. We rented a car and made our way to our hotel to drop our stuff and to browse the Internet for a place to relax and have a couple drinks. The Apothecary Lounge on the rooftop of the Hotel Parq Central did the trick. We enjoyed a couple cocktails while the sun was setting.
We decided to take things a bit easier on Monday. We wandered around the historic Old Town district, went to Northeast Cyclery to get the scoop on cycling in and around the city and then up to Balloon Fiesta Field to purchase entry tickets for the next 3 days and to figure out where to park our bikes at the field. We had a “picnic” dinner of bread, cheese, salami and wine in our hotel room and looked through the pictures from the first half of our trip. We studied the city bike map, figured out our cycle route up to the Balloon Fiesta Field and got to bed early.
The alarm woke us at 5:30am. It wasn’t quite as cold as it had been in Taos but it was still chilly. We bundled up and donned our head lamps and turned on the front and rear lights on our bikes and cycled the 10km from our hotel to the field in the dark. Our route was on a bike path the whole way and we only had to cross two roads. The local cycling club had a Bike Valet set up at the field and for a donation of our choice they stored our bikes while we enjoyed the Balloon Fiesta activities.
We arrived at the field at around 6:45am. It is hard to describe in words the atmosphere and activity on the ground and in the air. Everywhere you turned there were envelopes (the technical term for the balloon) being cold packed (big huge fans blowing cold air into the envelope), then heated with large flames of propane until the balloon was fully erect. The “zebras” (volunteers dressed in black and white stripped outfits) would then come along and help co-ordinate the launch of the balloons. There were hundreds of balloons everywhere; it was absolutely amazing to see and the pictures don’t quite do it justice. It was certainly a great way to start celebrating Kurtis’ 35th birthday!
By 9:00am the activities at the field were pretty much over for the day. We got back on our bikes and cycled west to the Paseo de Bosque trail that is a multi-use paved trail running north/south along the Rio Grande. We made our way south to Java Joe’s in downtown (recommended to us at Northeast Cyclery). It was a very funky place with great lattes. From there we cycled to a neat area in the city called Nob Hill. The focal point of the area is along Central Avenue (between Washington St and Girard Blvd), which is part of the historic Route 66. It is lined with eclectic shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. We made our way back to the hotel through parts of the University of New Mexico campus and then north on the N Channel trail. Our bike explorations for the datotalled 45km.
We cleaned up and made our way to towards the Artichoke Cafe where we had dinner reservations in celebration of Kurtis’ birthday. We were a bit early so we strolled along the west end of Central Avenue towards downtown and then up through some of the surrounding residential neighbourhoods. We had a wonderful, slow-paced, delicious dinner to end off a very memorable day.
Our Balloon Fiesta routine for Wednesday and Thursday was pretty much the same. Wednesday was a Mass Ascension. I have no idea how many balloons launched but I am pretty confident there were at least 400 balloons (and likely more). Thursday morning was the Special Shape Rodeo. There was a weather system with strong winds forecast to move through the area around lunchtime on Thursday so the balloons didn’t launch but they were all inflated so that everyone could walk around the field and see all the special shapes.
We also enjoyed exploring more of Albuquerque – the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, shopping in the Uptown area, lunch at Golden Crown Panaderia (will be featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on November 18) and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (it’s a chain but it has really great food) and dinner at Zacatecas Tacos + Tequila.
Since the National Park Service was still closed and we had finished our explorations of Albuquerque, we had planned to depart Thursday before the weather moved. But the winds and rain arrived earlier than predicted. The winds were gusting up to 45 knots, which was definitely over mine and Kurtis’ comfort zones. We got out to the airport before the wind got too bad so that we could point the airplane into the wind and make sure it was tied down very securely. Since we didn’t have a schedule to keep and nowhere that we had to be we decided to just stay put and spend one more night to let the weather pass.
We got up early Friday and got out to the airport only to find that the wings were covered with frost. Just our luck! New Mexico is so dry that they rarely have frost but on the morning we wanted to leave early, there it was. We waited until the sun melted it and then we were eastbound. Our departure was a little interesting with the Sandia Mountains straight in front of us. We slowly climbed and were cleared for a 360 if needed to gain more altitude. The 195 did a great job and we managed to climb slow and steady to an altitude high enough to make it through the valley area (without doing a 360). We had a great tailwind pushing us towards Meacham International Airport (KFTW) in Fort Worth, TX where we met up with our friends, Mark Brown and Ashley Atkinson to check out AOPA Summit. After wandering around Summit we took a drive through TCU’s campus, then enjoyed an excellent dinner with Mark, Ashley and Mark’s parents at Next Wood Fired Bistro & Vino Bar and a post-dinner drink at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Centre.
Another early morning departure and we were bound for St Louis, MO to spend a couple nights with the Sharpe family. Our airplane has been the conduit to lots of fun adventures and new friendships and this was another great example. Kurtis and I met Andy Sharpe and his father OJ at the fly-in held in Tupelo just two weeks prior. We got to spend a bit of time with Andy at the fly-in. We hit it off right away and he extended an open invitation to visit him and his family in St Louis whenever we had the chance. Well it took us only 2 weeks to take him up on his offer. People have to be careful what they say to us 🙂
We arrived at Spirit of St Louis Airport (KSUS) at around 11:00am. Andy and his wife Lisa picked us up and took us back to their house. Andy is one of the pastors at a local church and was officiating a wedding in the early afternoon and Lisa had some errands to run so they told us to make ourselves comfortable, which we did. When Andy and Lisa got home mid-afteroon we departed for our culinary tour of downtown St Louis that Andy had planned out. We started at Bailey’s Range and the four of us shared a couple of their very unique and tasty signature burgers. Then we made our way to Gringo’s, a Taco & Tequila bar in the Central West End area, serving pitchers of margaritas, guacamole made table-side and a variety of tacos, including grasshopper (which Kurtis was brave enough to try!). The last stop on the tour was at Taste. The drink menu had 6 full pages of different cocktails to try – this was our kind of place! We tried some cocktails from the menu and then tested the knowledge of the mixologists behind the bar with some special requests. They did not disappoint. If you are ever in St Louis you definitely have to check this place out.
On Sunday we got to sleep in a little. We went to the 9:00am church service with Andy and Lisa then did a formation flight with CF-KCS and Andy’s 195 over to Creve Coeur Airport (1H0) for the weekly Sunday lunch put on by the owner of the airport. We got back to KSUS in time to pick up groceries for dinner at the Sharpe’s. Kurtis took charge of a couple appetizer courses, helped with the main course and made dessert. I did my usual sous chef duties helping Kurtis and also took on the role of mixologist. A few of the Sharpe’s friends were invited and we ended up with 14 for dinner. The food, drinks and fellowship were all great. We even had a little two-stepping fun out on the deck after dessert! It was such a fun, impromptu way to celebrate the end of another great flying adventure.
We had a relatively easy final day. We got to sleep in again, had a leisurely breakfast with Andy and then departed for home. We stopped for fuel in Warsaw, Indiana (KASW) and arranged for Customs. Two hours later we were at Waterloo Regional Airport (CYKF), our home airport. We tucked CF-KCS in and drove home to downtown Toronto.
Our 2 week adventure had come to an end. Although things didn’t quite go as planned (with the closure of the NPS) we were able to see and experience lots of wonderful new things and had a blast with some old and new friends.