Category Archives: Article

Full of Hot Air!

Albuquerque, New Mexico is the top spot for hot-air ballooning.

We spent an afternoon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum,  studying their long history of flight which predates airplanes by more than 100 years.  The first passengers were a rooster, a duck and a lamb – since  no one was sure if breathing would be possible while ballooning!

As so often happens, we made friends in a cafe.  Fast friendships often happen through common interests, and this time it was flying.  One of our new friends and Deena are both pilots.  They then hooked us up with a local celebrity pilot and very experienced balloon team.  Even though it was a little windy, we had a chance to soar.  We loved both the flying and chasing on the ground.

Bye!

Ballooning is an indescribable experience.  It reminded us of scuba diving because of the floating weightlessness and quietude.

Especially fun is the first flight initiation!  We enjoyed the official champagne toast, although we think having us make angels in the dust while drinking our champagne without the use of our hands was not standard practice!  Then they read the Balloonists’ Prayer:

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

Our Day in Prison

Cell block

We recently watched the movie 3:10 to Yuma, a Western starring Russel Crowe and Christian Bale. It’s better than the average Hollywood nonsense, and inspired us to visit the Yuma Territorial Prison Museum in Arizona.

The museum is fascinating. Along with the colored lives of those old west gangsters and shoot-em-up cowboys that once inhabited the cells, the prison itself has a checkered past. Before Arizona was an official US state, the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s put Yuma on the map. To accommodate the ones who found robbing easier than mining, Arizona opened the Yuma Territorial Prison in 1875.

View of the “outside”

Notorious gangsters, gun-fighters, killers, train robbers, a Mormon jailed for polygamy, a famous female stagecoach robber, a Mexican anarchist, and many others slept in the Yuma prison cells.

Overcrowded by 1909, Arizona shifted the prisoners to a different city. From then, the prison facilities were used by a hospital, a high school, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, hobos riding the trains, and even homeless families during the Great Depression.

Finally, in 1939, the citizens of Yuma turned it into a museum to preserve what was left after years of disuse and pilfering by drifters. The prison inspired dozens of stories, movies and television episodes. Deena and I aren’t big museum-goers, but we really enjoyed our visit to the Yuma Territorial Prison Museum. (It’s better than the movie.)

Stalking the Wild Americana

Before there was the interstate highway system and a steady stream of 18-wheelers, there was a road called the Old Spanish Trail that went from St Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California. One of the benefits of our Jack Kerourac-style traveling, is following an old road that preserves the culture and sights of a past era.

We left the interstate highway to travel a chunk of the Old Spanish Trail west of San Antonio, Texas. The road went right through Main Street in Bandera, Texas. Naturally, there was still a general store on Main Street, and the very charming OST Diner  – “OST”  being the acronym for Old Spanish Trail. This diner was a stopping point for the Chevys, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles of the 1940s and 50s.

We went in for a late breakfast (served all day, of course!). The decor is kitschy Western, with a large section of one wall dedicated to John Wayne. For you cowboys missing the range, the bar stools are saddles. Their specialty, and traditional breakfast, is chicken fried steak, eggs, biscuits and gravy, and perfectly cooked hash browns. All of it was delicious and perfect, served with fantastic coffee (and I’m a mean critic of coffee, so you know it was good!).

The idea for a southern-most transcontinental road was conceived in 1915, and took nearly 15 years to finish. The Old Spanish Trail strung together four different US freeways. By the early 60s, Interstate Highways I-10 and I-8 killed the Old Spanish Trail and many of the businesses on it. One of the truly great losses of America is its heterogeneity – the lack of unique Mom & Pop businesses that still mark so many other places in the world. That is the reason Deena and I travel.