Everyone descends on my hometown once a year for the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It's a busy time for the Duke City. Pretty much every hotel is full and the highways are crazy with cars!
Now, the big thing that manages to ruin Balloon Fiesta can be the weather. The first week of
October is usually when the Fiesta is held, because balloonists like the "box effect" that the local winds bring, where it allows for a flight that allows them to ascend and descend more easily. However, this also seems to be the time when the local weather can go from sunny to windy to rainy. Any chance of a harsh gale or rainy night will disrupt the day's festivities and the officials will cancel it for that day.
Don't be alarmed, as the Balloon Fiesta goes on for a full week. Now, to avoid disappointment, it's recommended that you plan your trip for a full week, in order to catch another day just in case that day's events are canceled. You wouldn't wanna come for 2 days, and then all of a sudden those two days there's rain or a strong wind. Make the most of your time here in Albuquerque and plan on staying a full week during the Fiesta. Also, it's best to catch one of the Park-and-Ride services that take off at places such as Intel Parking Lot and Coronado Mall Parking Lot. The freeways here are a mess during the Balloon Fiesta. If you can't find a local to take you, those options are usually the best. Ask the concierge at your hotel about transportation to the Balloon Fiesta Park as well.
I have been going to the balloon fiesta for 34 years and have missed only one or two. By far the best time to go is on the week days. The week ends are very crowded. On the week ends expect to spend 30-60 minutes in traffic getting in, unless you try to get there before 6am or so. There is plenty of food at the balloon site. Check out my travel page for some good restaurants in the university area.
The tickets for the main events...like balloon launches and races...are at a premium. Buy your tickets for events as soon as you know you're going. You will have no trouble getting takers for them if you cannot make it or choose not to go. General admission tickets are okay, but remember that the grounds are north of town and you may not wish to spend all day, every day, on the grounds. Once the balloons take off, there isn't much to do.
The Kissing Bees, Lilly and Joey, are considered 'special shape balloons' and were certainly a big favorite with the crowd and of mine.
These sweet bees rise to the air kissing, then slowly separate until they are holding hands. How long they lock hands depends on the weather. At a certain point, the velcro separates and each begins its own flight (see picture #2).
This type of balloon that is not shaped like the traditional round balloon can participate in the GLOWDEO. The balloons are tethered to the ground and lit up at night, producing a lovely glow in the dark.
Hot air balloons are filled by using a propane-fired burner (picture #2). The tanks lie at the bottom or sides of the basket and the pilot can control the flow with levers.
I learned that balloons can't be steered left or right, but can only go up or down. The wind decides which direction one goes, so its important to know exactly which way you'll be headed--you don't want to drift into the Sandia mountains or into the Rio Grande river.
To rise, the pilot adds more hot air, to descend one releases the hot air...slowly. When in flight, the balloon below has the right of way.
During the festival visitors could sign up for hot air balloon rides. The cost was $150.00 per a half hour and $300 for an hour. We didn't schedule a flight, but many people did!
Although the GLOWDEO, featuring the 'special shaped balloons', had been cancelled the night before, we had the opportunity to glimpse a Balloon Glow as we dragged into Fiesta Park early Saturday morning.
The gentle glow of the balloons pierced the darkness dramatically. It was magnificent! As people straggled into the field, you could hear the surprised "ahs!" as they were startled by the beauty of this scene.
I was very happy that we didn't miss seeing and experiencing this highlight of the fiesta!
Categorized as a 'special shaped balloon',Cent'r Stage was truly a masterpiece. This huge creation captured the attention of kids and adults both. Who didn't imagine sitting atop this stage coach for the ultimate ride?
The organizing that goes into this event seems like it would be staggering! Although we inched our way to the grounds, the traffic flowed fairly well. There was a vast amount of parking and school buses were used as shuttles.
Those staffing the booths were given special visor cards so that they were able to access parking lots closer to the activities. We were fortunate to be traveling with a couple who was helping with the event, so were able to use nearby parking. Otherwise, we would have had a good walk to the grounds.
Cent'r Stage is a Wells Fargo balloon--sponsor of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta this year.
Aside from the main attraction, there were other amusements at the park. A trickster did magic or sleight of hand tricks for the crowd.
A chainsaw carving contest was held on Saturday morning. The participants were given 90 minutes to carve something ingenious out of wood. I'm not sure about the prize offered, but this bigger than life inflatable chainsaw directed contestants to the proving ground (picture #2)!
A designated ride area appealed to the children at the fiesta. A giant inflatable 'TITANIC' set apart their special place (picture #3). As we strolled by, a girl was being spun in some sort of hoop...I got dizzy just watching her turn head over heel.
This is Airabelle, the Creamland Cow balloon and another of my favorites. It was huge! We watched it being prepared for flight, which was just amazing! She's 110 feet of charisma.
Last year, this bovine-shaped balloon descended to the street below the home of friends who live near the Sandia Crest. It was a thrilling occasion for them!
Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta Park actually sits near the feet of the Sandia Mountains. As the sun sets, it casts a rosy glow on the mountains which have been named for the Spanish word meaning "watermelon". This was a curious effect and very dramatic!
As we were walking to the North end of the field to view the morning ascension, we came across these policemen on handsome mounts. They made a very appealing picture!
We wanted to plant ourselves at that point on the grounds, because the balloons were going to drift to the North/Northwest--and what a spectacle!
Although many balloons were launched seconds after each other, the majority drifted North, but a few headed West. As we watched the television Sunday morning, it was reported that someone's balloon landed on the roof of a house.
Residents welcome the balloonists by displaying a white sheet--this signals they can land in that particular yard.
There were two large tents at either end of the concession strip that sold all types of souvenirs from the Balloon Fiesta. We found commemorative pins, posters, gorgeous calendars, a beautifully illustrated guidebook and many other balloon-inspired items.
Food booths seemed to multiply from one visit to another and there was no excuse for anyone's stomach rumbling because there was an abundance of edibles! Funnel cakes, breakfast burritos, cinnamon rolls, sandwiches, turkey legs and much more. Getting up early was less a chore because we could grab a quick breakfast here.
I had written to Kymbanm (Albuquerque) that we were planning to attend the balloon fiesta this year. After contacting her, my computer crashed and I was offline for 4 weeks. ERRRGH! During this time, Kym left this comment on my homepage, "So, do you think we're finally going to meet?"
Several weeks later I found the message and answered, but it seemed we would be there on different days. However, once we flew to New Mexico, our group decided to spend Friday evening at the balloon fest, as well.
I was so excited to meet my second VTer! Kym had given me directions to the First Aid building where she was part of the crew and we had no problem finding the location. Unfortunately, our visit was brief because she was working and my husband and I had to relocate our friends in the huge crowd...but we did take pictures!
So glad to have finally met you, Kym!
The Balloon Fiesta began each day at 5:45 am with the Dawn Patrol. The pilots participating in this event take off in the dark using position lightning systems. They maintain their height until first light, which allows them to safely descend.
We arrived at 6:15 am on Saturday morning...early enough to enjoy a delicious cinnamon roll and hot chocolate before the Mass Ascension at 7 am. The balloons ascend at this early hour because the wind shifts around 9am each day, making it a difficult flight.
I believe there were about 750-800 balloonists this year. The procedure is to launch them in three separate waves. Less than half of the balloons participating in the fiesta ascended on Saturday morning because the wind was predicted to pick up.
Albuquerque's annual Balloon Fiesta is a highlight of the year for the city (rivaled only by the All Nations Pow Wow). Even though it is a mass tourist event, it is definitely something to check out. People from the world around come to see it. I would strongly suggest you go on a day when they will have the special shape balloons. They have so many odd balloons, that you won't be able to remember all of them an hour later. After they launch the special shapes, the balloons that are "racing" start coming in. They do "golf" and also have several poles with envelopes attached to them that the balloonists try to grab as they pass by.
The Balloon Fiesta takes places in October and usually lasts about a week and a half.
This was my first visit to NM and first to ABQ (and Santa Fe, but I'll write a little about that later).
It was an amazing awe inspiring thing to behold and I think I'm going to turn into a balloon junkie. This is the second time this year I saw the lovely sight (the other time was in Tuscany, not a festival but one balloon and I rode in it).
You must must must do this once in your life. The photos make it appear as if God just threw a bunch of colors in the air and then they wafted around.
Some of my family lives out there so it was nice to see and catch up with them too.
the ABQ Box is so named because the winds create an effect whereby the balloons go up and then can travel E/W/N/S and back to their takeoff spot. theoretically...
on to the photos...