Friday, November 05, 2010

Land of Enchantment Day 4

Today was the first day of the conference for which I am here - the YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium. But before the conference got under way, I had an exciting adventure - one I wasn't sure if I would follow through on at first, but eventually did, which I will term the Beauteous Balloon Adventure.

The YALSA folks had kindly negotiated a good price for those who wished to soar into the skies on a hot air balloon (an activity Albuquerque is well-known for, as it hosts the yearly International Balloon Fiesta). I had always had a yen for ballooning, after an incident when I was 16 -- a bunch of us from Saturday School were camping for our annual Summer Camp, when a balloon came down in a scrub area near our campsite. Since the boys amongst us helped the balloonists bring their balloon down safely, they gave some of us a ride up to 80 feet, with the remaining hot air (once the balloon was safely tethered). But then I had also heard of a hairy hot air balloon experience my friends Liz and Bill had soon after their wedding, wherein they landed, I think, in a tree! So, with equal parts excitement and trepidation I decided to go for it along with about 20 other intrepid librarians from all over the U.S.

We were met at the conference hotel at 6:30 a.m. by several balloon pilots with vans (and presumably balloons) in tow and taken to the ground where the balloons would be launched. I was surprised to be recruited into helping get the balloon inflated -- my job was to hang on to one edge of the balloon (for dear life) while a giant fan blew air into it. Near the end, it felt like the balloon was about to lift off despite me bearing down backwards with my full weight. I need to write one of the other folks in my group to ask for that photo!

All in all about five to eight balloons were taking off from the same dirt field... It turns out that the early morning is the best time for hot air ballooning, as a result of relatively predictable and mellow wind patterns.

The best part of the ride was coasting along the tops of the golden cottonwood trees that grace the banks of the Rio Grande...

The worst part of the ride was that it was all over all too soon... I am so glad that, despite my reservations, I went for it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Land of Enchantment Day 3

Lori had suggested yesterday that Valles Caldera Natural Preserve would be a good day trip, as it is scenic, has some good hiking trails, and one can do a loop, going west and then north, up over Santa Fe, and then dropping down to Santa Fe via Los Alamos and then back down to Albuquerque. Jim was game to come along again, for which I am ever so thankful, as I don't think I could have hiked the steep trail we ended up hiking, without his encouragement.

So we set off mid morning, up 25 North, and then west on 550, and north on 4. There was a steady, curving incline as we climbed up the Jemez Mountains. Since we were going to go for a "real hike" (meaning that it was going to be moderately strenuous, at least for me!) I voted to get coffee at the Laughing Lizard Inn & Cafe in Jemez Springs (point B on map below) on the way to give me courage, what with my being out of shape and all.... Good, strong coffee with a chocolaty feel and look gave me that needed kick in the pants for what was to come!

Then we headed over to the Jemez Falls trailhead/picnic area. (see point C on map for approximate location.)

View Larger Map

The Jemez Falls are beautiful and only a short quarter mile hike away from the trailhead.
But then, we returned to where the trail forked, to go down to the McCauley Hot Springs... more like the McCauley lukewarm springs, as we learned... The way down (down and down!) to the springs was gorgeous, with a Tahoe-like atmosphere created by plentiful fir and pine trees (not surprising, considering we were at over 7000 feet in elevation.) The springs are about 600 feet down in elevation from the start of the trailhead, which was all very well and easy on the way down, but on the way back... well, let's just say that the going was s-l-o-w... :-)

But all the effort was worth it, as the McCauley springs are these gorgeous little dammed up pools filled with clear lukewarm water and sand, and minnows that like to nibble at your feet. In case you're wondering, it tickles! And did I mention the views are just stunning? Don't take my word for it... take a look at some of these pics!

After the steep back to the trailhead, we realized that more time had passed than we had allotted for the hike (hmm... wonder who might have caused that?) So we got back on our merry way, as we had yet to actually see the ancient volcano top (now a grass valley) that is Valles Caldera... Good thing that our path naturally had us driving around part of the rim of it, on our way to and through Los Alamos. It is huge and... well huge. Vast. Mountain tops formed back in the day, by lava erupting, in the middle of it. I don't think this photo (the one with the yellow grassy meadow) does it justice... You'll have to go yourself and check it out!

At this point, exhausted, it was decided to try to get back to Albuquerque to meet Lori for food as soon as possible, but it did take a while. After all, we had to pass through Los Alamos (there was a security checkpoint!) and Santa Fe as well. No visit to the old town this trip, as the sun was setting, but we were lucky to get a wonderful view of the sunset on the way back! Take a look!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Land of Enchantment Day 2

Today Jim and I agreed to meet up at noon to mosey down over to the Frontier Restaurant for... what else? a breakfast burrito, but of course!

And it was a pleasant surprise to just by chance run into Lori and her colleague, who were also there for lunch, which was awesome. I love the way things just work out sometimes! Lori's colleague, Amy, is a local, we asked her for suggestions on cool things to do in the area. The plan was for Jim and I to hang out, as he's off work right now, and then to meet up with Lori again for dinner. Amy suggested we try the hike at Tent Rocks, as it's amazing. Plus I am lucky to have arrived in NM so soon after Tent Rocks re-opened to the public after being closed for a long time for road construction. And so, we were off (with a pit stop at REI for me to buy hiking shoes, as I no longer own any. (So glad to have rectified that sad situation!)

One thing we realized only after getting very very close to Tent Rocks itself is that neither one of us had water, but we decided to "brave" the short trail anyway... And so glad we did, as it is simply marvelous, weirdly gorgeous, splendid, spiritually inspirational .... What a place. Just see some of these pics.

Tired, happy and thirsty, we gratefully gulped down some water found at a nearby convenience store and then raced back down to Albuquerque to meet up with Lori. After some discussion it was decided to go to Lori's beloved El Patio for dinner. Oh, so good, the vegetarian plate with Christmas on top!

All in all, a marvelous second day in the land of enchantment...

New Mexico food diary part 1

malini, this is for you. read and weep. know that I have wept as well, if only from happiness. (and chili!)
Yesha's food diary thus far:

nov 2, 3 p.m. Frontier Restaurant. Breakfast burrito. To the unititiated, google or yelp it.

nov 2, 7 p.m. Flying Star. Buddha Bowl. *yes, not eggzackly New Mexican cuisine. but i was in the mood for feeling virtuous.

nov 3, 10 a.m. The best damn cafe latte with almond syrup, from michael thomas coffee.

nov 3. 12 pm. Frontier Restaurant. Breakfast burrito. (yes, aGain.)

nov 3. 8 p.m. El Patio. Vegetarian plate, consisting of: one avocado burrito, one bean taco or chile relleno, beans and sopapilla. oh and I had it "christmas" style, which meant Both red and green chili on top. And, they give you honey to eat with the sopapilla.

nov 4. not much for breakfast or lunch except for some great coffee and a couple of protein bars, and oh yes, an Odwalla C Monster...

nov 4. 7:00 p.m. Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza with Lori and Jim.

nov 5. champagne breakfast, courtesy of the ballon pilots, complete with mimosa and prewrapped danishes (!)

nov 5. dinner, late! Los Cuates with other librarians... I had an omelet with green chili,----eh.... It was just okay, albeit nowhere near as good for vegetarians as El Patio. What was Quite Excellent was the salsa and chips. To Die For. I would recommend going just for the chips and maybe a drink and then going somewhere else (i.e. El Patio) for dinner.

So. That's the food update. For now.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Land of Enchantment Day 1

Today I arrived in Albuquerque at about noon Mountain time, flying from NYC via Chicago. After paying way too much for a rental car (live and learn!) I checked into my home away from home - a sweet little casita with 3 affordable rooms for rent. The rooms all share one kitchen and one bathroom, and one small living room, complete with flat screen television. Oh, and there's also wifi. And a kickass cafe - Michael Thomas Coffee - next door. And a yoga / meditiation / massage / spiritual studio of all sorts (The Source) nearby as well. This makes up for the bad karma that is Thrifty rent-a-car. (Never rent from them again!)

After check in and some bonding with a new "housemate" at the Casita, I was off to the Frontier, an Albuquerque icon of which I have fond memories more than a decade old, for a late lunch. What did I have you ask? A Breakfast Burrito, my friend. And, mmm! it was so Good.
Ingredients? Here they are: one egg, hash browns, cheddar cheese and green chile... plus there is, if you choose to add, cold salsa, hot red salsa, hot green salsa, and ketchup. Which I did.

Then I was off to the Tamarind Institute, down the block, to check out their cool lithographs. The informational card below describes what you see above. Beautiful, no? And in the reflection you can see one of the UNM buildings across the street. And oh yes, the gorgeous New Mexican sky.

After the short Tamarind Institute trip, I went over to the UNM bookstore to seek out a map. The first year student who rung me up and I had a little talk about how her first year is exciting but so busy as well... And when I mentioned that I was visiting from Brooklyn, she said she really really wants to visit NY, as she's hardly travelled and is so excited about everything she's heard about NY and Brooklyn in particular too. I assured her that to Brooklynites, New Mexico is exotic and exciting!

After a quick shopping trip to buy some almond milk, earl grey tea and sunscreen, (yay for casita kitchens!), I met up with my old friend (and past roommate) Jim, so that we could walk over to pick up his wife and my friend Lori from her work. Then we all walked over to the Flying Star for dinner, where I partook of the ever so virtuous Buddha Bowl, which consisted of steamed and stir=fried veggies, brown rice and tofu, with some nice ginger flavors. Oh and on the way there, we were accosted by a drunken would-be "friend" who kept begging us to let him give us piggyback rides. He dogged us for a good five plus minutes, almost running into us at times. Sheesh. But funny afterwards.

Over dinner we discussed various esoteric points about librarianship and... bonded. It was bliss to be sharing a meal once more, with old friends, in the Land of Enchantment.