50 Things To See or Do See in Your RV Before You Die

You might have read it or flipped through it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The list, which includes everything from Asian sailing excursions to African horseback riding sites, might be mouthwatering to the wannabe world traveler. For most, however, the financial ability to travel the world simply isn’t there.

But have no fear. Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Acadia National Park, Maine

People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Thanks to the robber barons that used the park as a private playground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands of Acadia have been preserved in a pristine state.

Acadia’s largest island, Mount Desert Island, encompasses a range of geological diversity, including rocky Atlantic shoreline, lush forests of spruce and fir, dozens of lakes and ponds, and rugged granite hills. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

The Alamo, Texas

One hundred seventy-six years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas.

Remember the Alamo!

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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows. The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 6-14—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

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Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. In fact, each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch.

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Big Bend National Park, Texas

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.

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Up, Up and Away: The Greatest Show OFF Earth

How do balloons work?

The basic principal behind hot air ballooning is that hot air rises.

Weather permitting, balloons begin to launch at about 7:15 AM on mass ascension days, led by a balloon flying the American flag to the strains of The Star Spangled Banner. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

The envelope is first filled with cold air, and then, when the balloon is almost full to capacity, still lying on its side, the pilot operates the burners. Propane gas burners are used to project heat into the envelope. When the air inside the balloon is warmer than the air outside the envelope, the balloon stands upright. That is why balloonists like to fly so early in the morning. If it were too hot outside, it would be impossible to get the inside of the balloon that much hotter, and it would not have enough lift to get off the ground. The morning air is generally cool and stable, and ideal for flying.

To launch the balloon, the pilot pulls on the burners again, increasing the temperature inside the envelope, and, while it becomes lighter than the air outside, the balloon lifts off the ground.

What about the weather?

Predawn October mornings in Albuquerque are quite crisp, so dress warmly. When you arrive at the Balloon Fiesta Park before dawn, you can expect the temperature to be around 40 degrees. By noon, it is usually about 65–68 degrees. Your best bet is to wear layers of comfortable, casual clothing that you can shed as the day heats up. A wind-resistant jacket over a sweater and long-sleeve shirt is ideal.

For the evening events, you will probably start off warm, but be prepared to throw on a jacket after dark.

RV facilities at Balloon Fiesta Park

Like RVs, new balloons can vary in size and amenities. You can start with a smaller sport model for about $20,000. These balloons typically carry a pilot and one additional person. The larger balloons that can carry two or three passengers in addition to the pilot will range between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Having an RV parked adjacent to the launch site is without question the best way to attend this event. Balloon Fiesta Park is set up to accommodate RV parking during the event.

The four RV parking site types include:

STANDARD sites have NO hookups; 2011 rates are $30/night

PREMIUM sites have 20-amp minimum electrical service and low-pressure water provided; 2011 rates are $65/night

VIP sites are located in a separate area immediately adjacent to the Launch Field with two field entry passes included, and NO hookups; 2011 rates are $85/night

PRESIDENT’S COMPOUND sites are located on the east side of Balloon Fiesta Park on a bluff overlooking the Launch Field with four field entry passes included, and 30-amp minimum electrical service and city water pressure; 2011 rates are $150/night (number of spaces is very limited)

Note: All sites require a three-night minimum stay

Albuquerque Aloft

Many pilots who are registered for Balloon Fiesta sign up to participate in Albuquerque Aloft. Pilots launch their balloons from selected school grounds in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho on the Friday morning before Balloon Fiesta. It is a great way to kick off the beginning of the nine days of Balloon Fiesta.

Fiesta Glow all burns when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time are perhaps the most spectacular single moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Albuquerque Aloft is the only Balloon Fiesta event in which balloons launch from pre-designated sites outside Balloon Fiesta Park.

Hot-air balloon rides

For many visitors, the ultimate thrill during Fiesta Week is a ride aboard a hot-air balloon. Flights during fiesta events may be booked onsite at the balloon park. The area’s usually good weather and gentle winds make this a popular activity for visitors. Dress in layers and wear gloves.

Exploring Albuquerque

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. The Albuquerque metropolitan area contains approximately one-thirds of New Mexico’s residents, and, as the state’s largest city, it has attractions to please a variety of interests.

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes in honor of the Duke of Alburquerque, Viceroy of New Spain. The first “r” was later dropped, but Albuquerque is still known as “the Duke City.”

Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it’s still current before making your travel plans.

Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Part 1: Up, Up and Away: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Details

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Web Site: ballonfiesta.com

Phone: (888) 422-7277 or (505) 821-1000

Mailing Address: 4401 Alameda NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Worth Pondering…
The balloon seems to stand still in the air while the earth flies past underneath.

—Alberto Santos-Dumont

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Up, Up and Away: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Countdown to Liftoff: 22 days, 21 hours, 50 minutes

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows.

Part of the reason for the success of the Fiesta are the cool Albuquerque morning temperatures in October and the Albuquerque box. (Credit: Raymond Watt, balloonfiesta.com)

The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 1-9—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

The balloons come in many colors and shapes with the special shapes category getting larger every year. There are balloons that look like cows, cartoon characters, automobiles, stagecoaches—and just about everything else.

A century after the release of Jules Verne’s balloon adventure novel with Captain Phileas Fogg, Around the World in 80 Days, internationally-acclaimed balloon festival was born in Albuquerque. It was 40 years ago! In 1972, and 20,000 sleepy spectators gathered at sunrise in a local parking lot to witness 13 balloons ascend. At the time, 13 balloons seemed really impressive.

But in 2004, more than 800,000 spectators watched as more than 750 balloons floated into the beautiful blue New Mexico skies. The fiesta has amassed an international following, attracting pilots, spectators, and media from nearly 30 countries.

So, what’s the big deal about balloons?

Hot air ballooning is a spectacular and exciting event to experience. Before dawn, people start to gather. By 6 a.m. long lines of automobiles are jockeying for position in a stop-and-go traffic scene. Excitement fills the air. Weather permitting—and if the wind is not too strong—a rainbow of hot air balloons simultaneously lifts into the early morning air. The crowd is awed and “oohs” and “aahs” over every balloon! Each is a work of art. The number of giant painted bubbles gliding through the sky multiplies the viewers’ pleasure.

Mass Ascensions, a launch of all the participating balloons have been a feature of Balloon Fiesta since its earliest days and is one of the most spectacular display of sound and color in all of aviation. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

The launch field is divided into three sections of 11 rows of 12 balloons each. Think of a checkerboard. The launch begins with the outside rows on the north and south ends of the field—these two rows lift off at the same time. Usually the wind is from the north, so that works out well. Then they work in towards the middle of the checkerboard.

The excitement begins as the crews take the collapsed giant balloons from their storage baskets. Twenty to forty feet of fabric is stretched flat on the ground in exactly the right way. The blue-flamed burners that heat the air to lift each balloon are started. The heat of the flame from the propane tank is surprisingly intense and the noise made by the burner is expectedly loud. When finally, the signal is given for the balloons to ascend and they take off in waves of color, it is a magnificent sight!

Ballooning is popular in Albuquerque…why?

Albuquerque is popular with hot air balloonists because of the “Albuquerque Box.” In balloon language, a “box” refers to flight back and forth over the same area by using winds of opposite directions at different altitudes. It is a common phenomenon in valleys because of the flow of air down the mountains. With a box, balloonists have more flexibility in how they can control and navigate their balloons.

What is a balloon crew?

Balloons are big—and it takes a group of four or more people to help the pilot. Before the flight, the ground crew helps with preparing the balloon. First they walk out the envelope for inflation, and then they help attach all the equipment to the basket.

A special shape balloon, Well Fargo's Cent'r Stage. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Once off the ground, the chase crew follows the balloon in a car or truck (the chase vehicle) so they can help retrieve the balloon and pack it up wherever the pilot lands. It can be a lot of work, but chasing can be fun! Balloonists often need helpers—so ask around; you might just get a ride!

Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Part 2: Up, Up and Away: The Greatest Show OFF Earth

Details

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Web Site: ballonfiesta.com

Phone: (888) 422-7277 or (505) 821-1000

Mailing Address: 4401 Alameda NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Worth Pondering…
How posterity will laugh at us, one way or other! If half a dozen break their necks, and balloonism is exploded, we shall be called fools for having imagined it could be brought to use: if it should be turned to account, we shall be ridiculed for having doubted.

—Horace Walpole, letter to Horace Mann, 24 June 1785

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