I recently had the privilege of attending the Ag Media Summit in Albuquerque, an event which my wife was a speaker on a panel. So, while we had plenty of work to do, we tried to do some fun stuff as well on our hot date (without the kids) in the Southwest.
One highlight of the trip was a hot air balloon ride in this self proclaimed “Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World.” As it turns out, Albuquerque’s climate is very well suited for ballooning and the state’s single top economic event is the International Balloon Fiesta in October. Jonathan, our adept balloon pilot, told us that a typical commercial balloon setup
costs around $120,000 and the ballon lasts for about 500 flights. Different colors last different durations by faring differently in the UV rays and general wear and tear. As the material ages, the pores expand and eventually degrade the balloons. Yellow material lasts the longest. In addition, the dust from the very dry conditions can actually add a bit of longevity to the balloons by filling in some of those pores.
The beautiful bird’s eye view from the balloon revealed a landscape that looked quite different from Ohio. They only get around 8 inches of rain a year, and most of that is in July or August when locals complain about the uncomfortable spike to 30% humidity.
Irrigation from the Rio Grande keeps some pastures going and allows for alfalfa hay production for livestock. There are 1.5 million cattle in New Mexico. Once outside of Albuquerque, there are miles and miles of desert nothingness filled with dust and cactuses. I was surprised to learn, though, that winter temperatures can get well below freezing due to the high elevation of the area, particularly in the Sandia Mountains. Much of the range is within the Cibola National Forest, and part of the range is protected as the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. The highest point is the Sandia Crest at 10,678 feet.
I would highly recommend a visit to these beautiful desert mountains. Just note, it is not wise to step on a cactus. I made that mistake and a thorn poked through my shoe and into my foot.
Fortunately, there are parts of the state that, while still very dry, get enough water to support some types of agriculture. Chile peppers are a hot commodity and New Mexico is a hub of global research on the subject with the Chile Pepper Institute.
We got ample samplings of this most popular crop in just about every delicious Southwesterrn-style meal we ate. Red peppers are often more hot than green, but not always. You can try both red and green peppers in a “Christmas” blend of chiles for the best of both worlds. We had some great food in Old Town Albuquerque in ramshackle haunts that looked as if there should be a burrow hitching post right outside of the aging adobe structures that are as old as the city itself. The ambiance was great and the food was better, if you can handle the heat.
The Ag Media Summit also provided a number of great venues for expanding professional connections around the country and picking up a helpful tip here and there. I got to meet with and interview a number of great exhibitors at the trade show as well. A real highlight from the event was the presentation from Captain Peter Shinn who was deployed with the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agribusiness Development Team in Afghanistan’s volatile Kunar Provinceto spur agricultural development as a means to benefit the economy and society. It was great to hear about the accomplishments, and continued need, for agriculture in the region.
This was my first trip to anywhere in the Southwest U.S. and I really enjoyed it, but I will be glad to get back to Ohio
(especially if I could bring that 30% humidity back with me). While things have been dry this year for most of the state, the rich resources of our beautiful soils that support a robust agriculture in the state continue to be a tremendous blessing. Scratching around New Mexico’s dust and parched, rocky soils for a few days makes a guy appreciate the bounty of ample water and rich soils that we enjoy. Water is a scarce commodity in New Mexico and that changes many aspects of life in the area.
Check out my short videos for more about the ag, dining and local flavor from this fun Southwest urban center. And, I would be remiss if I did not mention our final stop in town at the Owl Cafe. The 50s era diner has delicious food, but may be better known for the giant adobe owl hovering over it. I got a FANTASTIC world famous “owlbuquerque” green chile cheese burger (which were the hottest chiles of the trip) and a delicious chocolate milkshake. It was the perfect ending to our trip that covered everything from the dusty deserts to the cheeky charm of Route 66 and the definite rustic feel of Old Town that, combined, makes for one quirky Albuquerque.