Since moving to New Mexico, I've been reading a lot about Navajo history and culture. To my pleasant surprise, one of the most enjoyable and informative sources has been Tony Hillerman's series of murder mysteries starring two Navajo police officers -- the methodical Joe Leaphorn and the recalcitrant Jim Chee. Chee, the more spiritual of the two, follows the Navajo ritual of rising at dawn, facing east and greeting the new day.

I like that -- giving thanks for a new day and spending a few moments silently taking it all in. The Navajo traditionally make an offering of corn pollen, but I simply toast the rising sun with a cup of coffee. It's a special moment -- seeing the tall grasses glow with backlit frost that will be gone before my coffee, hearing the leaves quietly falling from the purple leaved plum tree next door, and smelling the cold, clear piƱon-scented air.

Rising early has its other rewards -- such as greeting the new day with good friends watching the predawn ascent of over 500 multicolored hot air balloons! Here are four of my favorite images from last month's serenely beautiful Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. And yes, that's Vincent van Gogh, Darth Vader and Master Yoda in the group shots!

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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