Fire and wind: that’s all it takes to fly. Hot air ballooning’s sheer simplicity sparked pilot Scott Appelman’s interest in the sport 30 years ago. “In a lot of ways, it’s the exact opposite of the way the world is today,” says the Rainbow Ryders, Inc. founder. “And I think that gives it a certain degree of romance.”
Further evidence of ballooning’s inherent romance can be found in the number of proposals and weddings that have taken place aboard Rainbow Ryders’ fleet of 19 balloons, earning the company a spot on Yahoo’s list of top five places in the nation to pop the question. Even if engagement is not on passengers’ agendas, the crew still strives to ensure a memorable expedition. Guests can join the launch crew to help inflate the balloon before takeoff, and upon landing, pilot and passengers clink glasses in a champagne toast to celebrate another successful flight.
Though whimsy and romance may prove the biggest draw, Rainbow Ryders’ untarnished safety record is what ultimately keeps the balloons hovering. Since 1982, experienced pilots have safely floated 160,000 people over the Rio Grande Valley. Pilots not only helm top-tier equipment, but carefully monitor the region’s weather patterns to ensure smooth thermal drafts and minimize hitchhiking requests from migrating geese.
Helmed by cookbook author and television personality Jane Butel, Jane Butel’s Southwest Cooking School arms aspiring chefs with savory culinary artillery. For more than 50 years, Butel has sharpened her culinary prowess—authoring 20 cookbooks and hosting four television and national radio shows—developing an insatiable catalogue of accessible, demonstration classes that delve deep into American Southwest and regional Mexican cooking. Master the spices, sauces, and complicated handshakes of southwestern fare with one of Butel’s introductory classes, which teach greenhorn gourmands how to prepare quintessential New Mexican eats, including guacamole, quesadillas, green-chili chicken, enchiladas, and more. Each class focuses on a specific menu and theme, with items that speak to a wide range of culinary topics, including healthy cuisine, grilling, quick-and-easy cooking, and party favorites.
In the historic landscape of El Camino Real, the Black Mesa's vines produce the purple foodstuffs formed and fermented into award-winning wines. Partakers can sit indoors or out on Black Mesa's gazeboed patio while wetting their whistles on a wealth of varietals, including chardonnay, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and zinfandel. Tickle tongues' taste receptors with six of Black Mesa's wines and six New Mexican cheeses, earthier alternatives to showy moon gouda. Guests are gifted with two souvenir wine glasses and $20 towards a bottle of their choice, including Black Mesa's award-winning blends, such as Coyote, Antelope, and Black Beauty (prices range from $12.45-$34.50), ensuring at-home sips are enjoyed in more appropriate receptacles than plastic cups or "World's Best Cousin" mugs.
With more than 13,000 square feet of automotive artifacts and hands-on exhibits, Unser Racing Museum is dedicated to demystifying America's racing history. The museum focuses on the eponymous Unser family: four generations of racers who have collectively won the Indianapolis 500 nine times. Using this clan of drivers as the jumping-off point, the facility explores industry hallmarks from the first races at Pikes Peak and Indianapolis to the unveiling of modern racing technology. A newly completed annex features a showroom brimming with restored antique cars, including notable pace cars and racecars. The trophy room, meanwhile, houses thousands of pieces of vintage racing memorabilia, uniforms, and awards. Not all of the museum's exhibits are static, however: interactive video kiosks dispense trivia at the touch of a button, and a racing simulator lets visitors grasp the wheel of a replica car and chug a gallon of simulated milk.