Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Habitat for Humanity Build #15: Las Cruces, New Mexico

Lessons learned from the talented Habitat crew!

As we returned to Las Cruces, New Mexico to participate in another Habitat for Humanity build, I was once again so impressed by the knowledge and skill of the local volunteers and my fellow Care-a-Vanners. This mighty team of volunteers built and raised walls under the guidance of our skillful and ever-patient construction supervisor, Meghan.

Three years ago when Doug and I participated in another Habitat build in Las Cruces, we met Meghan who was also a care-a-vanner. Her desire to ''jump right in'' and learn all that there is to know about building a house really impressed me. And so, it was of no surprise for me to see her shine in her new position as the construction site supervisor. Over the next seven months, she will guide numerous volunteers and future homeowners in the construction of five new houses for the Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity.

When we arrived, House #1 consisted just of exterior walls on a concrete slab. House #2 was just a concrete slab, and Houses 3, 4, and 5 were still awaiting their foundation and stone ''fence''. Seeing the smile on Doug's face, I knew that learning to frame was in my future. I am grateful for the many lessons that were going to come my way and for all the folks who taught this old dog many new tricks.

Smile! You learned a new skill today!

This lesson was taught to me by future homeowner Stacie, who shared a big smile as she learned to use the chop saw for the first time.

If you keep your eye on the nail, chances are good that you will hit it on the head!

Taught (and retaught) by my patient husband. He and I were both impressed that this lesson also may have helped me with my pickleball-whacking skills which resulted in a rare win against Joanne and Gary (or it was just my lucky day).

A plumb wall is a perfect wall!

And a perfect wall leads to a happy construction supervisor who won't have to figure out how to straighten it later on. And believe me, Meghan would figure out how ... she is that good!

Measure twice; cut once
Three heads are better than one

It is wonderful how the teams of local volunteers, future homeowners, and the care-a-vanners worked together over the two weeks to create the exterior and interior walls on the first two homes.

There is power in numbers

These seven powerful women worked together to help ''raise the roof'' as we hauled and handed up the trusses for house #1. What we lacked in height, we made up in sheer determination! After we were through, house #1 really started to look like a home.

But one of the greatest lessons came from Construction Supervisor Meghan's dog, Abby ...

Be Faithful!

Abby showed up every day with her owner to encourage all the hard working, skillful, and generous volunteers who are helping to build ''forever homes'' for her canine companions and their deserving families ...

for Katie and Roberto
and their three children,

for Stacie and her daughter,

and for Kristine and Richard
and their five children.

There are always new lessons to be learned at each Habitat build. And the #1 lesson is that by faithfully building a home for a deserving family, we will help spread ...

Peace to all who enter here!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Getting Carried Away at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Every traveler has certain ''bucket list'' destinations. One of ours has been to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Each October, hundreds of hot air balloon enthusiasts and thousands of spectators gather in the high desert to celebrate the graceful art of floating in air. Two weeks ago, it was our turn to get ''carried away'' at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Originating in 1972, the nine day fiesta quickly grew from a gathering of 13 hot air balloons to become the world's largest balloon rodeo with more than 500 floating beauties. October's cool morning temperatures and the unique weather phenomenon called the ''Albuquerque Box'' helps produce near-perfect soaring conditions. The ''Albuquerque Box'' is a set of predictable wind patterns that aid the balloonist's travel course. At low altitudes, the winds blow to the south and at higher altitudes the winds blow to the north thus allowing the pilots to follow a ''box'' pattern and land close to where they took off.

Balloon Fiesta Park, located north of downtown Albuquerque, is the location for all the festivities. The 365 acre park has camping spaces, parking areas, and a ''Main Street'' complete with vendors selling all sorts of New Mexican souvenirs and delicacies. Our ''foodie'' friend, Gary highly recommends the ribbon fries loaded with bacon, cheese and of course, New Mexico green chilies!

But the highlight of Balloon Fiesta Park is the 78 acre launch field. For a $10 admission fee, we had ''up close and personal'' views of all the balloons and activities. Highlights from our couple of days on the launch field included:

... beginning the day with the
''Dawn Patrol'' as they light up
the morning skies with their
propane burners and test for
favorable winds,

... getting near to the balloon crews
as they set up, inflate, and prepare for take off,

... watching the ''Mass Ascension'' of balloons
as they take off in organized waves at 7 am,

... enjoying the ''synchronized burns''
of hundreds of balloons during
the evening Twilight Balloon Glow,
... and ending the day with the
fireworks extravaganza.

While we initially didn't reserve our camping spot early enough, we were fortunate to be one of those on the ''wait list'' who were able to snag a spot after someone canceled out. For $40 a night, we had a home in the ''dry camping'' section ... no hook ups but a perfect spot to view the early morning ''rush hour'' that floated over us.

According to some ''fiesta'' enthusiasts, the ultimate experience is to be on the launch field for the early morning Mass Ascension. After digging out our winter jackets (as it is quite chilly in the desert at o-dark-thirty), we took the free shuttle bus over to the launch field for this true balloon fiesta experience.

32 degrees and I could hardly feel my
toes, but it was oh ... so beautiful to see
the balloons greet the sun when it finally
appeared over the mountains.

Ascending along with the sun was Christ
(the balloon) during the ''Mass Ascension''.
Noses are red, feet are numb,
but our smiles are genuine as we get
''carried away'' with all the early morning fun!

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta claims to be the most photographed event in the world. And yes, I too got ''carried away'' with the picture-taking, but it is not hard to do. Everywhere you look ... a magical, mystical photo opportunity is waiting for you. 

You will love it as we did, and so we encourage you to put the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival on your travel ''bucket list'' and get ''carried away'' with all the fun!

Maybe someday I will get braver and agree to truly be ''carried away'' when Doug convinces me to take a ride in one of these floating wonders!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

There Are Golden Treasures in These Mountains!

Leaving the Black Hills, we continued our southwestern journey along the Front Range of the Rockies. Like the early pioneers who made their way west in search of adventure, religious freedom, and gold, we are excited to search out the ¨golden treasures¨ that await us as we approach the foothills of the Rockies.

We passed through Scottsbluff, Nebraska and saw our first hint of changing landscape. The large rock formations making up Scotts Bluff National Monument were important markers for the early travelers of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Today visitors to the Monument can hike along stretches of the Oregon Trail, and hike/drive up to the top of the bluffs and enjoy spectacular views of the North Platte River and surrounding area.

Heading west, we came to Cheyenne, Wyoming where we found another ''golden treasure'' while staying for a few days at Curt Gowdy State Park. 

Golden hills and hiking trails surrounded the campsites along the reservoir. A beautiful sunny day beckoned us to explore the popular trail leading to Hidden Falls.

This park has miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. As we walked along the Crow Creek Trail, the leaves were just beginning to change providing colorful views as we climbed up, around, and through giant rock formations.

We passed by a number of mountain bikers and hikers of all ages. As we got closer to our destination, Hidden Falls, I saw some young hikers returning on the trail. ''Were the Hidden Falls pretty neat?'' I asked one young hiker. He looked back at me as if wondering about the sanity of this old lady. ''They are called 'Hidden Falls' so, of course, you can't see them,'' he replied matter-of-factly. Well, duh!

Yes, as we found out, you have to wade through knee-high, freezing cold mountain spring water to get to see the Hidden Falls. Too cold for Doug to venture much beyond the bend in the creek. We will just have to assume that the elusive treasure is back there just waiting for someone tougher than us to discover it. 

From there we headed south into Colorado where that cold mountain spring water is famously used to make that beloved ''golden treasure'' ... BEER. We met up with our friends, Joanne and Gary for some urban exploration that included a tour of New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, lunch at Golden City Brewery in Golden, and a tour of the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum and Burial Site on Lookout Mountain that overlooks the city of Denver.

Ride 'um, Cowgirl!

From there, we decided to give Baby Beest her first taste of mountain climbing as we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our ''golden treasure'' was found with the aspens' autumn colors popping out amongst the forests of green pine as we hiked around Bear Lake.

The four mile hike lead us to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake with even more spectacular colors and views. It is no wonder that Rocky Mountain National Park is a ''golden treasure'' for millions of tourists including us. Beautiful autumn days like this tend to fill up the park. Our advice for you: Either get there very early in the morning or wait until later in the afternoon if you want to attempt to get to the popular trail heads.

The roads and shuttle lots were very busy midday, but if you can get to a quiet trail, the serene beauty is worth the effort.

After finding a stealthy parking spot overnight in Estes Park (brewery parking lots are our friends), we continued our search for ''golden treasures'' by driving the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. I am thankful for my skillful driver behind the wheel as we further tested out Baby Beest's mountain maneuverability ... they both passed! The end of this drive brought us into Denver where we connected with friends whose ''golden'' lab brought photo bombing to a whole new level!

Almost to the southern edge of the Colorado Front Range, a stop in Woodland Park, CO would show us the ultimate ''golden treasure'' of friendship.

High school buddies, Diane and I have managed to keep in touch through the years. A few years ago, cancer took her husband, leaving Diane to raise their daughters and keep up their beautiful mountain home. I am in constant awe of her resilience as well as her home fix-it skills. But upon hearing that she had run into a road-block when re-doing her deck, I decided that we needed to pay her a visit ... sort of a personal ''Habitat for Humanity'' project.

Her daughter was eager to learn some of the construction techniques that her dad had been so skilled at. So with Doug as her patient teacher, they worked together to put up the deck railing, construct the stairs, and side the edges of the deck.

Mission accomplished!

Megan and her new rescue dog, Bonnie may just be ready to follow us to our next Habitat for Humanity build!

There are ''golden treasures'' in these mountains! They are revealed in the beauty of the colors ...

... and in the beauty of friendship!

We sure do cherish these ''golden treasures''!