The Best Way to Watch the Annular Eclipse Is at This Hot Air Balloon Festival

It's the view of a lifetime.

A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

It’s sweater weather in Albuquerque, and nothing marks the change of the season than the city’s marquee event: the International Balloon Fiesta, where from October 7 – 15 more than 600 hot air balloons take to the sky for a dazzling display of colors. This year, city visitors are in for an unexpected treat. Albuquerque is in the annular eclipse’s direct path, making the city one of the best cities to view it from.

The hot air balloon festival kicks off on Saturday, October 7 where every day, twice a day, beginning at 7 am (weather permitting) more than 600 gigantic hot air balloons lift off to pepper the sky with a dizzying array of colors and design. Near to the close of the festival on Saturday, October 14, the annular eclipse takes place. A ring of fire will form around the moon as it passes between us and the sun. The celestial experience begins at 9:13 am MDT with the annularity starting at 10:34 am MDT (and lasting four minutes and 48 seconds). The whole process is set to take more than three hours so whatever your plans, prepare to be comfortable and sit around.

From now until Friday, October 13, people can pick up a free solar eclipse viewer at UNM’s Physics, Astronomy, and Interdisciplinary Science building. The department is hosting a solar eclipse watch party open to the public on the day of the eclipse beginning at 8:30 am where staff and students will provide a play-by-play of the celestial moment, and local vendors such as Suenos Coffee, Castaneda’s Kitchen, Black Iron Catering, and Love Waffles will be on hand for anyone looking to purchase snacks. Telescopes for safe solar viewing will be set up throughout the field. Details here. For those looking for something a bit more casual, consider Flyby Provisions parking lot watch party which will then segway into a local artisans market featuring more than 20 local makers.

Those preferring more solitude in their nature experience should plan to hit the Sandia Mountain trails which are ideal for hiking or biking and provide options for beginner to advanced levels. The Petroglyph National Monument hiking trails are ideal for anyone looking for a historical hike that speaks to the city’s Native American culture. Pino Trail is just outside of the city and is considered an easy trail. Expect hikers, horseback riders, runners and dogs are welcome but they must be leashed.

A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Drive Time:

6.75 hours from Denver
8.5 hours from Las Vegas
7.75 hours from Houston

More Things to Do in Albuquerque

Coinciding with the Fiesta, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center hosts the Albuquerque American Indian Arts Festival with more than 50 artists giving visitors the opportunity to meet, talk with, and shop directly from Native artists selling handcrafted art and jewelry during Balloon Fiesta’s opening weekend October 7 – 8 from 9 am – 4 pm. Visitors can enjoy delicious Indigenous food at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, Native dances will be performed throughout the 10 day festival, which includes a number of guest speakers.

New Mexico’s 23 Native American pueblos, tribes, and nations have influenced nearly every aspect of life within Albuquerque. The culture is reflected in its food, art and architecture. No stop is complete without a visit to the IPCC. Complete programming here.

The Balloon Fiesta is a non-stop party for the city. The historical Old Town district will showcase live music and feature local cultural performances everyday of the festival.

Where to Eat and Drink in Albuquerque

VARA Winery and Distillery, a craft producer of New Mexican wines and spirits, will be extending hours and offering special menus for grab-and-go options for picnics (as well as offering picnic space on their property during the balloon fiesta). Adding to the week-long lineup of festivities, Vara will also host a barbecue pop-up with Grillmaster Calvin Evans, an Alb on October 11 at the Albuquerque tasting room. Tickets are $100 per person (a $45 vegetarian option is available) with the option to add on a $25 VARA wine pairing.

Watch balloons on the patio at Steel Bender Brewyard beginning at 7 am during the Balloon Fiesta. Craft beer, cider and housemade hot cocoa are on the menu alongside breakfast burritos and local pastries.

Where to Stay in Albuquerque

Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm is one of the city’s most popular choices due to it sitting on a lavender farm where alpacas and peacocks roam the grounds freely. An on-site restaurant, bar, and spa make it easy to say yes too. But if that wasn’t enough, the property has a panoramic view of the Sandia mountains which turn pink as the sunsets due to the light refracting off the pink granite. Balloons are visible throughout the day even when it’s not Balloon Fiesta. If you prefer something off the beaten path, book a room at El Vado Motel off of historic Route 66. Rooms are modern and cozy and the property is located steps away from Old Town, ABQ BioPark Zoo, and there is a pool on-site. A number of local restaurants and shops are also located on property. For a spot somewhere in between these two there’s Hotel Zazz. Dr. Sharmin Dharas purchased the hotel from her parents and has focused on revitalizing the property and surrounding community while also promoting women of color in the hospitality industry.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu is a Thrillist contributor.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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