It’s difficult to fathom that a mere two weeks past we were comfortably nestled at the 10,000 foot level enjoying fresh snow and receding fall colors in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and today we are lounging about the pool, sipping Margaritas and picking fresh key limes and grapefruit from the trees just outside our door near sea level in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  Ain’t life grand!!!!

Our journey consisted primarily of setting our Urban Assault Vehicle on a heading of 180 degrees (that’s due south for directionally-challenged folks like my brother-in-law) and maintaining that heading until we bumped headlong into the Mexican border.

Quite by accident, we happened upon a couple of rather interesting events en-route…

  Up Up And Away                                                       October 21, 2012

Of course you could just forego the entire bat adoption procedure and simply  settle for a tour of the caverns.  If you choose to use the natural entrance and descend the entire 800 feet to the cavern floor using only your God-given conveyance apparatus instead of the optional elevators, you will soon discover that it is not a task to be undertaken by the weak of heart or weak of knees…

Imagine our surprise when we awoke one morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and were greeted by this sight through our windshield!  Our good fortune continued when we discovered that our current camping location in the parking lot of the Rio Rancho Elks Lodge was just across the street from a huge Intel manufacturing plant which turned out to be one of the sponsors of the 41st Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Festival and, as such, they were offering discounted tickets which included round trip bus fare.  At this point you are probably asking yourself, “How the hell do these two yahoos keep tripping over opportunities like this?”  Damn if we know but we’re not about to look that proverbial “gift horse” in the mouth.

The next morning, bright and early (think 5am), we rolled out of bed, bundled up in every warm rag we owned and joined our fellow zombies standing in line, gripping cups of hot coffee, awaiting one of the hundred or so school buses to transport us to Balloon Park.

Our pre-dawn arrival afforded the opportunity to watch the launching of the Dawn Patrol; a flight of 9 balloons which ascend in the pre-dawn darkness and “test the waters,” so to speak, to ensure that flying conditions are safe for the hundreds of balloons participating in the Mass Ascension which occurs at the break of day.  We found ourselves nose-to-nose with the crews unrolling, rigging and inflating the hundreds of “envelopes” (that’s balloon speak) that would be participating in the various events throughout the day…

Look closely and you will see tiny humanoids making their way into the cavern’s maw.

Ansel Adams once said of Carlsbad: “Something that should not exist in relation to human beings.  Something as remote as the galaxy, as incomprehensible as a nightmare and beautiful in spite of everything.”  I couldn’t agree more.  He was commissioned by the U.S. government to photograph all of our National Parks and believed that Carlsbad, above all others, presented him with the greatest challenge because he believed in working with natural light and found it impossible to do so within the cavern.  My Bride decided to try some Adams-esque photos using only the low level indirect lighting provided and long exposure timing…

After spending a few days with our friend, The Duck, on the Seattle to Sun Valley lunch run and seeing some of the truly great photographs he has taken, we’ve been thinking that it may be time for a new camera.  “Ho! Ho! Ho! And what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas, little girl?”  See y’all next time.  Hugs.  Santa Chuck and Zookie

Tarantulas, though rather fearsome looking and equipped with a set of world class fangs, are not particularly harmful to healthy adults of my girth, but they have been known to bring down hummingbirds, lizards and small rodents.

Another of the predators inhabiting this little corner of the world are the Mexican Freetail bats living in Carlsbad Caverns…

In addition to the overhead activity, there were also a few interesting things happening at ground level…

The guy in the left photo is one of the “zebras” who are charged with seeing to it that the balloons get aloft without any of the observers getting caught in and ending up airborne dangling from mooring lines.  And the little kid dressed as a cow…well, I guess you gotta do something to keep warm on those cold New Mexico mornings.

A few days later we were camped out at, you guessed it, the Elks Lodge in Roswell, New Mexico, when my Bride happened to see a TV news report of another balloon event which was occurring at the local airport…

“Fearless Felix” was able to complete his jump several days later from an altitude of 128,100 feet and reached a free-fall speed of 833.9 miles per hour; just a wee bit slower than my Bride heading to a sale at Nordstrom.

The following day found us in Whites City at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and home to some very aggressive spiders…

For those of you who may have been napping for the past few days, a fellow named “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner who, according to an air traffic controller we spoke to at the Roswell airport, “has to be nuts!” decided to squeeze into this tiny capsule, tether it to a 55-story tall helium filled balloon, ascend to an altitude of 24 miles and then…jump out!

The winds were not cooperative on this particular day, however, and the balloon, which initially filled to the appropriate shape and size…

Was soon battered and damaged by an errant gust of wind…

Each day at sunset, several hundred thousand of these adorable little creatures emerge from the main entrance to the caverns and spend the night devouring as many insects as they can sink their tiny teeth into.  And, should you find yourself irresistibly attracted to these winged beasties, there are several available for adoption…

Once the sun peeked out of the clouds and it was ascertained that wind was not a problem, hundreds of balloons in every imaginable shape and size took to the sky…