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Balloon Fiesta: Worlds of discovery

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With its distinctive curved shape, the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is hard to miss at its location just south of the Balloon Fiesta Park.

As the balloons inflate and take to the sky during fiesta week each October, the museum remains grounded, a tribute to its namesake adventurers Maxie Anderson and Ben Abruzzo. The ballooning partners, along with Larry Newman, set distance and duration records flying the Double Eagle II across the Atlantic Ocean in 1978.

However, the balloon museum is not the only game in town. Visit it, certainly, then check out more than a dozen other museums.

You’ll find superb artwork, hands-on science activities for families, reconstructed dinosaurs, race cars and even rattlesnakes. Enjoy traditional Pueblo Indian dances, Hispanic theater and a visit to a planetarium.


Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, 9201 Balloon Museum Drive NE;; open daily 5 a.m.-5 p.m. during fiesta week.

The Balloon Museum is a colorful showcase of exhibits and artifacts that focus on the sport of lighter-than-air flight.

Visitors will find exhibits about ballooning history, culture, art, science and balloons used during the Civil War.

During fiesta week, the Balloon Museum offers expansive views of the seemingly never-ending launches that bring VIPS and ordinary folk together in a swirl of color. Tickets are available for special museum events such as Balloons & Breakfasts, Dine & Glow Dinners and Photographers’ Gallery & Workshop.

Art and history

Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain SW (Old Town);; closed Mondays. Free admission from 9 a.m.- 1:30 p.m. Sundays.

Some of New Mexico’s most acclaimed artists have wall-space in the spacious Albuquerque Museum, among them Georgia O’Keeffe, Peter Hurd and members of the Taos Society of Artists.

New for visitors is a recently-completed $4.5 million renovation to house a new permanent interactive exhibit – “Only in Albuquerque.” Explore various historic aspects of Albuquerque’s growth spurred by settlers along the Santa Fe Trail to the Route 66 highway network.

The newest exhibit open in time for the Balloon Fiesta is “Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman.”

The Albuquerque Museum has an indoor café and a gift shop, as well as outdoor sculpture garden. Enjoy music from 2-5 p.m. Saturday afternoons.

The "Only in Albuquerque" interactive exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum includes this mock diner.

The “Only in Albuquerque” interactive exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum includes this mock diner.

New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, 1801 Mountain NW (Old Town);; open daily.

Dinosaurs and volcanos, oh my, oh my! A favorite for all ages, the Natural History museum takes visitors through a wonderland of the state’s geological and life changes over millions of years.

Walk through an exploding volcano. Discover a full-scale replica of the Mars Exploration Rover.

Watch the new 3-D movie “Robots” on the five-story DynaTheatre screen or chart the stars at the full-dome planetarium. Visit NatureWorks, a most interesting gift shop.

Best of all, look up – way up – to get a look at life-sized dinosaur bones!


Unser Racing Museum, 1776 Montano NW;; open daily.

Here’s your chance to get close to the exciting world of race cars that have been driven or collected by Albuquerque’s most successful multigenerational racing family.

Between Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Al Unser Jr. are nine victories in the famed Indianapolis 500 race. The extended Unser family also has 39 victories in the Pikes Peak “Race To The Clouds” event.

The family-owned museum celebrated its 10th anniversary last month and houses more than 30 cars, including a race car simulator that puts visitors in the driver’s seat.

American International Rattlesnake Museum, 202 San Felipe NW (Old Town);; open daily.

No, visitors cannot pet the rattlesnakes, but they can hold a nonvenomous Ball Python. Visitors to the Rattlesnake Museum will marvel at what has been called the world’s largest collection of live rattlesnakes, currently about 40 snakes, plus about 40 babies. Non-rattlers include bull snakes, rat snakes, lizards, scorpions and more.

Learn about snake bites, venom, rattles and fangs while looking at these misunderstood snakes behind glass. Join in the effort to increase animal conservation and preservation through education.

Tinkertown Museum, 121 Sandia Crest Road (Sandia Park);; open daily.

An intriguing folk art museum is the result of the late artist Ross Ward’s “tinkering” for 40 years at his mountain home in Sandia Park.

More than 50,000 glass bottles are embedded in walls of this 22-room museum that houses carved miniature treasures such as a western town and circus. Feed the larger-than-life mechanical fortune teller or listen to the automated band featuring piano, drum, cymbals and an accordion. Visitors should bring plenty of quarters drop into vintage machines while wandering through this one-of-a-kind museum.

Tinkertown remains open until Oct. 31 when it closes for the winter.

Telephone Museum of New Mexico, 110 Fourth NW (Downtown);; open fiesta weekdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tours may be arranged by calling 292-9833 or 505-280-4893.

See the switchboards that linked New Mexico to the world at the Telephone Museum. Hundreds of telephones and other communication equipment fill the three floors of this unusual Downtown museum housed in a 1906 historic building.

Photographs and historical displays bring the early days of the telephone alive. Visitors can see the switchboards that operators used to warn settlers of a Pancho Villa raid as well as a devastating flood that destroyed the town of Folsom.


Explora, 1701 Mountain NW (Old Town);; open daily.

Hands-on learning is not just for children. All ages will enjoy this premier science and learning center where technology and simple scientific experiments create many learning moments.

Great gift store offers unusual purchases (kits, models, experiments) that will inspire the imagination.

A restored B-29 Superfortress is on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, along with rockets, missiles and other aircraft.

A restored B-29 Superfortress is on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, along with rockets, missiles and other aircraft.

Explora has several special events planned for Balloon Fiesta week: “Adventures In Science” is a family activity scheduled from 3-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4. On Saturday, Oct. 10, visitors can meet with real-life scientists for hands-on demonstrations and conversations from 1-4 p.m.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, 601 Eubank SE (Interstate 40 and Eubank);; open daily.

This modern facility, now easily accessible outside the security gates of Kirtland Air Force Base, tells the story of the Atomic Age through interactive exhibits. Topics include nuclear energy, weapons, medicine and planes presented in a way to let visitors draw their own conclusions about nuclear science.

The museum features a nine-acre Heritage Park where families can get close to aircraft such as the newly restored and iconic B-29 Superfortress.

See rockets, missiles, different types of aircraft and a nuclear submarine sail. Inside the facility, families and kids will enjoy Albert Einstein’s Lab with hands-on science activities.


Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th NW; 843-7270;; open daily.

At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, exhibits and an extensive gift store highlight the contemporary art, traditions and history of New Mexico’s distinctive 19 pueblos. Several of the pueblos claim more than a thousand years of continuous occupation.

Balloon Fiesta week is jam-packed with special activities at the center. The first fiesta weekend (Oct. 3-4) marks the Albuquerque American Indian Arts Festival with high-quality, authentic and hand-crafted artworks.

Daily throughout the entire Balloon Fiesta (Oct. 3-11) are traditional Native American dances at 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. with special performances at noon and 3 p.m. by the well-known White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers.

Other highlights during fiesta week include Santo Domingo Pueblo master potter Robert Tenorio demonstrating traditional open kiln pottery firing techniques at 11 a.m. Oct. 9-10.

A Mural Discovery tour at 1 p.m. Oct. 5-9 introduces visitors to large-scale murals at the center.

In addition to all the special fiesta offerings, visitors will also be able to see the regular museum exhibits, including a new exhibition “Original Instructions: Pueblo Sovereignty and Pueblo Governance.” Open daily is the Pueblo Harvest Café.

The "Quinceanera: Our Story, Our Future" exhibit celebrates the National Hispanic Cultural Center's 15th anniversary.

The “Quinceanera: Our Story, Our Future” exhibit celebrates the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s 15th anniversary.

National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth SW;; closed Mondays and free Sundays.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center is an art gallery, museum, educational center, and performing arts venue rolled into one, all celebrating Hispanic culture. Visit the website for a listing of activities throughout Balloon Fiesta week.

Highlights include the theatrical production “Confessions of a MEXPatriot,” and the exhibit “Quinceanera: Our Story, Our Future.”