Archive for October, 2013

The Grass

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Touring the Southwest has been a blast. We are now slowly working our way back home to the East.  Katie, our dog who is accustomed to a grass yard back home has actually done a pretty good job of adapting to the dirt, sand, and gravel surfaces of the west.  The monstrous sand spurs have given her a bit of a challenge, but all in all she seemed not to care about the less friendly ground.  After all, interesting smellsimage are everywhere.

Oklahoma City offered our first campground in over a couple of months with a richly grassed lawn.  Despite her apparent adaptability it was pretty obvious Katie was happy to be out of the desert.  I’ll simply let her photo speak for itself.

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

BLOG IMG_3499Red peppers hang in a cluster from a post where we register our status as visitors at Taos Pueblo. Heading down the dirt road we make our way to the San Geronimo Church courtyard where we will meet our tour guide. Ancient adobe buildings line the streets.

This is our third pueblo visit in the Southwest. While similarities exist with Zuni Pueblo (Arizona) and Acoma Sky City Pueblo (New Mexico) each pueblo has its own unique persona. Each makes us glad we visited.

Taos Pueblo sits just outside the northern edge of the town of Taos, New Mexico. In 1992 Taos Pueblo was recognized by UNESCO as the first settlement to be named to the Living World Heritage Site list. According to our guide, Taos Pueblo has been here about 1000 years.

After a short tour we are allowed to roam around on our own. Taos provides our first chance to wander in and out of pueblo adobe buildings looking at the crafts and wares of the locals. Standing on dirt floors packed hard by the years we appreciate the corner fire places that draw the chill from the fall air.

Clear water moves over stones through the middle of town. This, the Red Willow Creek, is the community’s only source of water. Running water and electricity are not allowed. A wooden foot-bridge over the creek connects the North Side of town with the South Side.

Colorful entry doors of blue, teal and pink spice up monochrome walls. Adobe stands three stories high in places and is further highlighted by the deep blue sky. The craftsmanship of the native people is impressive and we spend time chatting with the locals when the opportunity arises. They talk freely about their traditional arts but traditional beliefs are closely kept and guarded within the village walls.

The flavor of the place is rich but no less so than the flavor of their homemade bread. A young man standing at a simple table espouses the bread’s many uses and I fall prey. A round loaf baked in the traditional outdoor oven (a Horno) makes its way home with us for dinner. Funny how that happened. Just living the Airstream Life.

Sky City Acoma Pueblo

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Over 900 years ago bare feet walked the mesa of Sky City Acoma Pueblo where my boots now tread. As I stand at the edge of the mesa I wonder how they got here. It was certainly not easy to reach with its steep cliffs that rise 370 feet above the desert floor.

We cannot be sure why the Acoma people decided to make this mesa their home. Could it be that they recognized the great defensive posture they would have against intruders? Perhaps they wished to be closer to the rain or the sky.

What we do know is that the Acoma people must have liked it here, for here they remain making Sky City Acoma Pueblo the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. Not all current residents live here year round but it is a living community. Important community ceremonies still take place at Sky City which is the oldest of the three of the Acoma Pueblo communities.

Visiting Sky City Acoma Pueblo is about as close to time travel as you can get. It is living history in its truest form. Over 300 sandstone and adobe buildings line dirt and rock streets and most of the traffic seems to be on foot.

Acoma Pueblo and its San Esteban del Rey Mission constructed between 1629 and 1640 are each the National Register of Historic Monuments. The mission was constructed by the Acoma under forced labor by the Spanish and is noted for its amazing 21,000 square foot adobe construction.

Yet there is a strange dichotomy. Cars, although not many, stand in stark contrast to ancient buildings with native-made pole ladders. Contemporary portable toilets snuggle behind houses to compensate for the lack of indoor toilets.

Robert, our excellent guide, grew up here. No TV, no electricity, no running water. His ancestral home remains in the family. In this matriarchal society each of the homes is owned by Acoma Pueblo women. No one is allowed to sell their home, it must stay in the family.

Caroline Lucario stands outside her home at a small table. She is quick to show me which of her pottery is make the old way and which has been cast in a mold. Like Caroline, other women scattered throughout the Pueblo display the orange, black, and white pottery for which Acoma Pueblo is famous– similar in general appearance but each unique in details. Designs flow from the minds of these women directly onto the pots and that amazes me.

In the traditional Acoma way clay is made from a specific stone ground into a power. The clay is formed into coils and carefully handmade into fine, thin-walled but sturdy pottery. Paint is handmade from various natural sources and brushes are generally handmade from the Yucca plant. One woman told me she prefers to create her brushes from the hair of her children because she can make a finer brush for detailed design or a thicker brush if needed. Another woman proudly shares that she is a sixth generation Acoma potter while a woman at a neighboring table shares that her pottery is in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

The pottery is more than pretty. Each part of the design on a piece of pottery means something. The symbolism is traditional and the thought that goes into each design is phenomenal. A craft passed from generation to generation, rooted in an ancient culture, yet each piece so unique and functional as well. I am totally fascinated.

Acoma Sky City is located off of I-40 about one hour west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You must take a guided tour and be transported to the mesa by tour vehicle. The modern visitor’s center includes a museum, café, and gift shop. It is truly a cultural experience not to be missed.  Learn more on their website here.

Note: There are a couple of RV Parks in the area but  we stayed at Sky City RV Park and Casino. It was about 20-30 minutes from the Sky City Pueblo.  At the RV Park the Airstream was in sight of the Casino.  We’re not gamblers, but we’ve learned that casinos often have reasonably priced food and this campground has discount tickets for meals and Sky City tours.

Sky City Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

Sky City Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico

The edge of the Mesa is just a step away from pueblos at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico

The edge of the Mesa is just a step away from pueblos at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico

Silver City Albuquerque Style

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Having friends all over the place is one of the advantages of being active in the Airstream community. There is definitely a spirit of unity among Airstreamers and you never know who might show up at a big rally. With 200 Airstreams at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, it was a perfect place to connect and reconnect with Airstream friends.

We were happy to reconnect with my fellow “Airstream Life” blogger Forrest McClure and his wife Patrice. They had returned to the Balloon Fiesta to share its magic with their two grandsons. Judy and Ken Bechthold were also there from California which was nice since we had not seen them for several years.

Our friends Kate and Don Tyminski showed up from the coast of South
Carolina. Participants of two WBCCI caravans attended the rally and included old friends as well as new. We got to meet people like Ken Johansen and Phil Glassey who we had talked with on the phone but not previously met in person.

And then there was the Good Samaritan, our next door neighbor Charlie Wright. For a variety of reasons we showed up at the rally without a generator. It did not take us long to realize that even with conserving power, coming without a generator was a mistake. Charlie plugged us into his generator which helped keep our trailer batteries charged enough so we could turn on some light and power a morning shot of central heat. We never met Charlie before but his willingness to help a neighbor out sure made our four days of dry camping nicer.

You probably don’t know these people. You may be wondering why I’m writing about them in this blog. I include them because they serve as an example of the advantages of being involved in the Airstream community. In addition to travel and camping experiences, getting involved with the Airstream community is about connecting with good people who share a common interest.

I have an article that will be coming out soon in the print edition of Airstream Life magazine that talks more about ways to get involved in the Airstream Community. I hope you will find it helpful. Happy Airstreaming!

For more on Airstream Life magazine visit the rest of the Airstream Life website.

My favorite balloons. I call this view "Bee Hinds."

My favorite balloons. I call this view “Bee Hinds.”

Bee balloons

Bee balloons

Breathing Fire over Our Airstream

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

A fire-breathing dragon is hovering over my bed, or so it seems.

My eyes pop open. “Is there a hot-air balloon right over the Airstream?” I ask Fred. “Yes, a bunch of them,” he replied. “Where’s the camera?” he asks as he heads to the door.

Firing off his gas flame to gain a bit more lift, the hot-air balloon pilot overhead serves as a curious alarm clock. I snatch on some clothes and head for the door. Circling over our Airstream travel trailer are a sea of hot air balloons.

We’ve been on the balloon field prior to dawn for a few days in a row now and then back on the field for balloon glow and fireworks at night. Today rather than walking down the hill to the balloon launch field we are scheduled to hook up and leave the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta* so to we slept until almost 7 AM.

Over the sea of Airstreams is a magical show of color and movement as hundreds of hot air balloons waltz through the sky. Working the box effect, air currents fairly unique to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the balloons move one direction at one altitude and another direction at a different altitude. Most seem to be circling a large area centered over the flight field. Some drift aloft off into the distance.

Over the days we’ve been here balloons take off, land, and compete in various games. Food vendors selling everything from breakfast burritos and funnel cakes to sandwiches line the “Main Street” at the Balloon field. Native American jewelry and craft vendors join official Fiesta souvenir vendors as well as a multitude of others. In the early morning and evening the so called Main Street is a shoulder-to-shoulder experience.

Diversified events ranging from chainsaw carving to concerts add variety to the week’s events. But of course the best part is the balloons. Young and young-in-spirit smile as colorful, fanciful shapes come to life and overcome gravity. Cheers ring out as each balloon takes flight.

If you have never been…go!

If you have an Airstream recreational vehicle go to the WBCCI rally and stay on the Fiesta grounds. It is dry camping (no hook ups) but it puts you in the middle of the activity. If you stay off the grounds, stay close by and be prepared to get up at 4:30 AM to get through heavy traffic and see the events. Dawn Patrol starts at 5:45 AM and many days the morning’s events are over by 9:00 AM. Competition days run a bit longer. Balloons don’t fly in the afternoon. Evening events include balloon glows and fireworks. It is a big plus to be on the grounds.

See the links in my previous post for details.

Find out about the Dawn Patrol at the Fiesta.

* NOTE: This Balloon Fiesta is a huge event held in Albuquerque, New Mexico and tickets are available to the public. In conjunction with the public event, the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI) which is an Airstream RV owners’ club, sponsors a special events rally for its members. We were attending the larger event by attending the rally which is held on the grounds of the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. The rally lasted four of the nine days of the Fiesta.

View from our Airstream dinette.

View from our Airstream dinette.

Enchanted Sunrise- Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, NM

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
Balloon fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Balloon fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico

“Watch your step,” says Fred. Spread on the ground in front of us is a colorful hot air balloon opened wide across the grass awaiting the breath of life– it’s respirator a portable fan. Larger and larger it inflates as chase crew members hold guide lines to keep it under control. But it is the kiss of the flame that gives rise to the envelope and sets the balloon upright. It is 7 AM.

Action is everywhere. Surrounded by balloons on the ground and in the air we work our way through an enormous crowd. Men and women in the Zebra Patrol intersperse with the observers. Dressed in everything from referee uniforms to wacky zebra striped attire with tails, the Zebra Patrol supervises take off of each balloon. Blowing a whistle a woman with a large white cartoon style glove moves bystanders away from a ready-to-launch balloon and gives the pilot the all clear for take off.

Over 500 hot air balloons took flight on day one of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It seems like there were a lot more on day two but I never heard the count. This year the annual event runs October 5-13. We arrived on October 4 for a four night stay with the WBCCI rally.

Magical and enchanting the spectacle is quite the experience. Smokey the Bear, Darth Vader, Angry Bird, a lighthouse, the Wells Fargo stage coach, and three adorable bees are among the fanciful shapes that join the traditional shaped balloons. Elvis even rose to the occasion along with a princess and gigantic cow.

If you’d like to hear from some other folks who were at the rally check out this link.

Want to attend the Rally with your Airstream RV next year?  You can contact Ken Johansen through the link above. Go to page one of the thread and send a message to Ken J. Or email

The Balloon Fiesta site is here.  The Fiesta itself  is open to the public.



Dawn Patrol at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Brrrr…It’s 5:45 AM and 37 degrees in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lights from vendors brighten our path as we weave our way through the sea of people to the sound of loud speaker announcements. The Dawn Patrol on the first day of the 42nd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has been slightly delayed due to the breeze.

Reluctantly I hand over $4.00 for a cup of coffee hoping it will return circulation to my hands and warm my cockles. Word blasts out that all but one ballon in the Dawn Patrol is ready to launch so we move as quickly as we can through the crowd to reach the gigantic grass field.

All of us here are privileged. This is the only hot air balloon festival in the world where observers can walk all over the field and right up to the balloons while the balloons are being set up and launched.

About twelve balloons make up the forerunner group known as the dawn patrol. By watching their early launch the other balloonists get a sense of wind direction and speeds at different altitudes. As dawn breaks the official Fiesta balloon takes the lead and launches to the tune of the National Anthem as it trails a large American flag beneath its gondola.

Whoosing flames add heat to each balloon. Slowly the remaining Dawn Patrol balloons take flight. It is a exciting sight.

We are here attending the WBCCI International Balloon Fiesta Special Events Rally along with 199 other Airstreams. The rally centers on the local event and has prime, (although no hook-ups) VIP parking adjacent to the balloon field.

More coming soon on the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and the rally.


Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Three long-legged dogs wandering the dusty street in Zuni Pueblo come over to check me out. When I speak kindly, two of them go on their way. The large tan one decides to make friends and tag along with me as I take a few photos of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Mission.

Back at the well-used van at the side of the Mission Fred and Sherry Niiha our Zuni tour guide wait for my return. As I approach a woman appears on the otherwise vacant street. She holds up a plastic bag with small inlaid silver earrings to see if I’m interested. Suddenly a man follows suit showing me his mother’s beaded handwork. I buy a small beaded pin cushion figure–I mean, it is for his mother.

It is estimated that about 80% of the residents at Zuni Pueblo are artists or crafts people. From trinkets to exquisite finely crafted inlaid silver jewelry, this community is rich with native talent and tradition. A myriad of stores sell their wares. Some sell on tables at the visitor center and others sell from their homes.

Sherry our guide is a jewel in herself. Her knowledge and patience with our questions adds the richness of experience I seek. I want to know more about the Zuni. Already fascinated by their talents I want to know more about their culture. Sherry cheerfully obliges.

We sit in the mission with Sherry and chat. Phenomenal murals adorn the upper parts of the walls. I purchased a photography permit for the pueblo, but we are not allowed to photograph inside the mission, in large part due to those murals. Sherry explains that the murals represent sacred ceremonies of the Zuni faith. She shares that her father is a key leader in that faith. I’m impressed with her reverence to the faith and traditions of her people. Sherry is teaching her children the Zuni ways and they speak the native language as well as English.

Curiously, in addition to the Zuni murals, the chapel retains the Stations of the Cross and the Madonna and Child left there by those of the Catholic faith. It is a curious mix. I ask if the two faiths blend and she says no. The chapel is no longer an active place of worship but is open to those with an official tour guide.

I ask Sherry if the Spanish were kind or unkind to her people. She said Spanish people decided this mission needed to be built here in 1632 and they decided they would mandate the Zuni tribe to build it. They built the mission on top of native burial grounds and required the Zuni to attend the Catholic services. Sherry answers my questions as a matter of fact but I can only imagine the sadness in her heart over this time in the history of her people.

On the way back to the Visitor Center Sherry stops for me to photograph the traditional outdoor wood burning ovens still in use today. She likes to put a meal in at night so it will be ready for the next day. She laughs and calls it a Zuni crockpot. To me the ovens look a bit more like small earthen igloos.

A gentleman in a store suggest we have a hamburger at the Halona Plaza before we leave town and gives us directions to the place. We enjoy a tasty burger in the back of this local grocery and the lady that serves it is as friendly and personable as Sherry. We dine at the vinyl covered table next to the paper products.

Merely passing through Zuni Pueblo on New Mexico State Highway 53 would not likely invite you to stop. The buildings are reasonably typical reservation fare, and the shops vary from nicely maintained to not so very. But to merely pass through would be a mistake, for to do so would be to miss totally the culture and personality of a proud and ancient people.

This is a small community. Before we leave I go back into the Visitor Center to ask Sherry one more question. Taking off the Zuni earrings I purchased in Albuquerque several years ago, I show her the signature on the back and ask if she knows the artist. She smiles and says, she’s my cousin.

So if you go to the Zuni visitor center ask for my new friend Sherry. Don’t just take a passive tour of the buildings. Seek to know the treasure that is the people and their culture.

As we leave, three long-legged dogs are wandering in the street.

Old Zuni Mission

Old Zuni Mission

Zuni ovens

Zuni ovens

Take Me Back

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Trucks wiz by, cars jockey for position, and red lights stop our flow. Worse yet, signs and buildings clutter the landscape and distract us from nature. We are back in a city.

Give me the drama of the red Vermillion Cliffs or the open spaces of the sparsely populated plateaus. Take me back to the intrigue of Mesa Verde or the grandeur of plunging canyons. Let me breathe air that smells of the North Rim pines rather than auto exhaust. Take me back to a people who are one with nature.

Take me back.

About the Author

I'm Renee Ettline. For twenty-something years my husband Fred and I have been Airstreamers. Since 2005 I've been writing for Airstream Life magazine on every topic from destinations and lifestyle to rivets and tires. Currently you'll find me in a section called, "Living the Life." We've Airstreamed from Alaska to Florida and California to Nova Scotia and loved every minute.