Commander’s Corner: Top 10 things to do

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, New Mexico -- Some of you may have seen a recently popular book titled "1000 Places to See Before You Die." In a less ambitious list, Smith¬sonian magazine this month lists their "28 Places to See Before You Die."

As military members, many of us get travel opportunities that few others enjoy. And yet, we are probably all familiar with the feeling you get about six months before your tour of duty is up, when you realize in a panic that you have barely begun to do all the things you meant to do. Having a list helps - so without further ado - here's my personal list of the "Top 10 Things to Do" during your tour at Kirtland.

1. Ride the Tram to the Sandia Crest. If you have not yet been, then go this weekend! It's a marvelous experience, right in our backyard! Once you've been, you will want to go again. It's the perfect day trip for visiting friends and family. Don't forget to check with Information, Tickets and Travel for discounted tickets.

2. Go to the Balloon Fiesta. Admittedly, you'll have to wait for next October, but this is such a big deal, you should mark your calendar now. (It is Oct. 3-12, in case you were wondering.) Plan to attend at least one of the mass ascensions, and the nighttime "Balloon Glow" is a sight to behold.

3. Go skiing or snowboarding. If you're an experienced skier, you already know that New Mexico is close to heaven. If you've ever thought about trying winter sports, now's the time. Dry powder, blue skies and sunshine ... what's not to like about that?

4. Visit the Explora Museum in Old Town. If you have kids, this is a no-brainer. If you ever were a kid, it's still a no-brainer: a fascinating and fun experience. Don't miss riding the high-wire bicycle.

5. Tour Santa Fe. With hundreds of galleries and some great places to eat, Santa Fe is a must-do day trip for shopping, sightseeing or just hanging out on the plaza and watching the world go by. Don't pass up the Palace of the Governors, originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain's seat of government for what is today the American Southwest. When you visit, don't forget to tell them you're military ... free admission! Take the scenic route: Drive up via NM Route 14, the "Turquoise Trail," and return via Interstate 25.

6. Drive the NM Route 4 loop through Jemez Springs to Bandelier National Monument. This is a terrific day trip. Allow at least a few hours to explore the ruins and take the short hike to Alcove House.

7. Hike the La Luz Trail. How can you look up at the Sandia Mountains every day and not want to say "I climbed that"? Plan an early start - about 7 a.m. - and you'll reach the summit by lunch time. Then you can grab some lunch at the restaurant and take the easy way down via the tram.

8. Visit the National Atomic Museum. This is a gem of a museum, tracing the history of the atomic age from World War II to the present day. For military personnel, an absolute must!

9. Visit Mesa Verde National Park. OK, I admit this is in Colorado, but it's a great weekend excursion (though you may want to wait until spring when more of the park is open). The amazing ruins are significant enough to earn a spot in the Smithsonian's "28 Places" list. You can't live this close and not visit.

10. Take a trip with Outdoor Recreation. You may not know it, but there is an organization of people on base who have the full-time job of helping you enjoy your stay in New Mexico. Visit Outdoor Recreation on M Avenue, or at www.freewebs.com/kafbodr. In addition to a lot of great rental equipment, they have several upcoming ski trips and a Jan. 26 tour of three New Mexico wineries. Leave the driving to them, and have a great time!
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