Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Wrap-up

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I am sitting in the Bighorn, enjoying the cool air and the first quiet break from the happenings of the week. Many of our neighbors left today, but we have decided to venture out tomorrow.

We were fortunate to be able to attend six sessions of the Fiesta. The tickets are good for either a morning or evening session, but not the entire day. The best deal on tickets is to purchase online from Costco. There are about six hours between sessions, so it is common for visitors to do some sightseeing in the afternoons. Santa Fe, the state capital, is a little more than an hour away, was no doubt impacted by the Fiesta crowds.

This event is an “early riser” happening with the shuttle buses starting their runs at 4:30 a.m. and events commencing at 4:45 a.m. The main features such as the amazing “Mass Ascension” begins at 7:00 a.m. Earlier there is the “Dawn Patrol” and “Morning Glow” with the initial balloons taking flight in the darkness with the hot air glow of the propane burners illuminating the envelopes. There is also a presentation of the National Anthem with a specific balloon displaying the stars and stripes.

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Even though we attended multiple days, each day was unique. This is very much a weather dependent event, especially with the variable winds.  In fact, the last morning, the balloons were not able to lift-off as the winds never dipped below 10 miles per hour. That is another reason that one does not want to attend for just a couple of days since  weather can cancel a given event.  Fortunately for us, this was a wonderful weather week with launches every day but the last.

With well over 500 balloon teams in attendance, not every balloon takes flight every day, so even this last weekend there were new teams that we had not seen before. On days, when the wind is light, the balloons seem to hover over the launch field creating an amazing sight. It is difficult to explain the experience of hundreds of balloons in flight at the same time visible from the massive fiesta park. The launch area itself is equivalent in size to 54 football fields!

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You may have wondered if we got to take a balloon flight.  The short answer is, “No”.  There is only one official flight company for the event, Rainbow Riders, and they charge a premium for a trip. If you were even able to snag a spot, your wallet would not provide much ballast.  It would have cost Celia and me almost $800 for a trip. Hopefully someday we can take a flight at a more typical rate, one not found here. One possible way to get a balloon ride is to volunteer to be on a “crew”.  Pilots travelling in from longer distances often cannot bring a crew and gladly welcome volunteers. While there is no guarantee, sometimes the pilots thank their crew with rides. The other perk of being a volunteer is free admission for the week.

What became a highlight of the week was the friendliness and passion of the participants. We had repeated conversions with “zebras”, security personnel, pilots, and other team members who gladly shared their knowledge and enthusiasm. This added so much to the experience to hear first-hand about their event or their balloons. Whether it was the hot air balloon competition, morning lift-offs, or evening events; the workers, volunteers, or other participants eagerly shared with the guests. What you may also be surprised to learn is that the launch field itself is very accessible.  One is able to walk, photograph, and mingle with the rows upon rows of balloons readying to ascend. When each balloon lifts off, the crowds cheer, the pilots wave and shout to the gathered throngs. Often the balloonists are taking pictures of the thousands of guests and other balloons, no doubt an amazing sight from above.

If this is not on your bucket list, it should be. Plan ahead. The Fiesta is always in October and always in Albuquerque.


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