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Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, Valley of Fires and White Sands National Monument

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is truly a sight to behold. It has grown from humble beginnings in 1972 with 13 balloons to over 300 balloonists with hundreds of thousands of spectators. It is said to be the most widely photographed event in the world and it is easy to see why. The event is well choreographed and beautiful to see when it goes off without a hitch. 

Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States and has been named the Valley of Fires.

White Sands National Monument is breathtakingly surreal. The "white sand" is actually gypsum which is incredibly rare to find in sand form as it dissolves in water. The White Sands Dunes formed from mountain runoff river water which pooled in the Tularosa Basin and had nowhere to go, eventually evaporating and leaving the wonder of white, sandy dunes in the middle of the desert. Longtime residents of New Mexico tell of visiting the monument as children and not wanting to get out of the car because they thought it would be too cold, mistaking the white sand for snow. It is truly an incredible geographic feature.