The destination was the balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but it wasn't all we experienced. I was amazed at the places we stopped, which we did every 2 - 2 1/2 hours. The first stop was the Russell Stover Candy Store and after that it became more interesting. We went to the Cathedral of the Plains in Victoria, KS, a beautiful church with many stained glass windows and refurbished interiors in a small town of only 1300.
The ride itself was fascinating. It was amazing to see so many windmills and sorghum fields between Topeka and Victoria. Our next stop was Goodland, KS, where there's an outdoor display of a huge reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflower painting. It is one of only 7 in the world and the only one in the United States. The 24' by 32' painting is on an easel that stands 80 feet high.
At the end of the day we reached Colorado Springs. The following day we went to Canton City to see the Royal Gorge. Once there, we got on the aerial tram and crossed the gorge. I'm a little afraid of heights, but I made it over and walked the suspension bridge back. The bridge is one of the world's highest suspension bridges at 956 feet. It was worth it -- the scenery was spectacular. We took the incline railway down to the bottom of the gorge at a 45 degree angle - a distance of 1550 feet. During the walk back a large tarantula walked in front of us, exciting since my family has pet tarantulas.
Our next destination was the Garden of the Gods, fabulous rock formations. We visited the Air Force Academy, which houses the most beautiful Chapel that I have ever seen. On the upper level is the Protestant chapel and on the lower level is a Catholic Chapel, a Jewish Chapel and an all faiths chapel.
Next, we were off to Santa Fe where there is so much American history. Both Santa Fe and Albuquerque use one percent of taxes for art, resulting in amazing art pieces that tell the story of the cities. Our first stop was "Museum Hill" or "Journey's End." It depicts a Conestoga wagon reaching the end of its long trip along the Santa Fe Trail. Our walking tour of the Historic District took us to the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the country, the Lorette Chapel, which has an impossible staircase (nothing seems to hold it up), and the Basilica of St. Francis, another fascinating structure.
After Santa Fe it was on to Albuquerque and the Balloon Festa. Our wake up call came at 4:30 each morning so we could get to the grounds as the first balloons were launched. The committee planned to get at least 340 balloons up in the air in an hour to break a record. It happened and was a beautiful sight. We went each morning and returned at night for the nightglow, and amazing fireworks. The weather was perfect, and the sky was a breathtaking blue.
During a break from the Festa, our walk-on guide, Matt Ojile, took us around Albuquerque and explained the sculptures. We made stops at the International Balloon Museum and the Pueblo Cultural Center where we saw many examples of Indian art and learned about their culture, including a presentation of native dancing. Native craftsmen around the courtyard were selling their wares.
We left Albuquerque to a great send-off. As the bus pulled out, the hot air balloons were in the sky. What an awesome sight.
For lunch we stopped at "The Big Steak in Amarillo, TX". They have a 72 oz. steak for $72.00 (the meal also includes 3 shrimp, bread and a baked potato). If you can eat it in 1 hour it's free. While we were there two men tried, but failed. It is said that a woman managed to eat it in less than 30 minutes.
After Texas we stayed a night in Kansas City, and then on to Wisconsin: playing bingo, trivia, watching movies, and reading books.
Would I do it again? In a heart beat! It's a great way to travel and see things you wouldn't even know were there.