Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
From Buena Vista, CO I headed south on Hwy 285 to Albuquerque, NM for the Balloon Fiesta. Attending the Fiesta has been on my bucket list for several years. Sales of RV camping passes begin the week after the fiesta ends; and they sell out quickly. Last October I went online the morning sales began and purchased camping for the full nine days of the fiesta. I have been eagerly anticipating it since!
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One of my favorite events is the Dawn Patrol, which is held each morning. At 6am a group of about ten balloons inflate and launch just before dawn. When the propane burners were lit the balloons were beautiful against the dark sky.
I liked the balloon with the palm tree, it was in the dawn patrol group each morning; it is cleverly named “Floating Awaysis” and is from Safford, AZ.
The Fiesta is said to be the largest balloon gathering in the world and one of the few that allows spectators onto the launch field. That is what sets it apart from other balloon events, spectators walk amongst the balloons; one can stand right at the base of the balloon and look up into it as it inflates. You can see every step of the launch up close and personal.
The events are organized into Morning and Evening sessions, which are ticketed separately. This year the ticket price was $10 per session. The morning session starts at 6am with the Dawn Patrol and wraps up around 9am after the morning ascension. There are also competition events on some mornings which last a bit longer.
After Dawn Patrol is the morning ascension. On Mass Ascension days, hundreds of balloons launch and fill the sky. Albuquerque has a unique wind pattern known as “The Box”. The surface wind is generally from the north; when the balloons launch, they blow to the south. At a little higher altitude, the wind is from the south. When this wind pattern is present, the balloons launch and drift south over the grounds. Then they will climb to a slightly higher altitude where the wind blows them back to the north of the fiesta grounds. This results in a sky that is filled with balloons going in all directions. It is really amazing to see.
There were many unique balloons, for some reason this tiger caught my attention. He seemed to appear in many of my photos!
The officials in the black and white striped shirts are called zebras, of course! They patrol the launch field to assist balloon pilots when they are ready to launch. They have very loud whistles they blow alerting spectators to clear a path in front of the balloon and give the thumbs up to the pilot when clear to launch.
According to the Balloon Fiesta website, this year 550 balloons participated and there were over 886,000 in attendance. The launch field is huge and it takes about 20 minutes to walk the length of it at a steady pace. That’s a lot of balloons!
The Cathy’s Hope balloon was a huge crowd favorite. It is piloted by Brian Liley from Fall Branch, TN and is flown in honor of his wife Cathy, who passed away in 2011 after fighting breast cancer for seven years. The balloon always had one of the largest crowds gathered around it; and a huge cheer would go up when it launched.
My RV space was in the North RV lot, which was a new lot for this year. It is immediately adjacent to the north end of the launch field, making it an easy walk to the fiesta grounds. The other lots are further away and may require riding a shuttle to and from. If the winds are southerly, then the balloons blow right over the lot. A weird thing did happen though. Wednesday morning I decided to watch the balloons from home. They were flying right over me and one of the balloon pilots dropped his GPS unit on my roof. It made a loud boom and I went up on the roof to investigate; it hit one of my solar panels, shattering it.
I’m glad it did hit the solar panel and not my roof, as it may have put a hole in the roof! Really, what are the odds of this happening??? I contacted the fiesta office and they put the balloon pilot in touch with me. He came by to look at the damage and was very apologetic. He will be reimbursing me for the cost of replacing the panel, material and labor. So I’m happy. Also, a warning about this lot, the first row along the entrance road is subject to serious flooding if it rains, which it did on Friday.
The events for special shapes balloons are held on Thursday and Friday. The schools take their fall break those two days so the kids can attend, and there were thousands! Unfortunately there were high winds on Thursday so that day’s morning ascension had to be canceled. The balloons were able to inflate, but not launch. I felt bad for the kids, but they still seemed to enjoy seeing the balloons. On Friday, all events went on as scheduled.
Events are always subject to cancellation if there are winds over about 10mph or other detrimental weather, for example fog. It is a good idea to plan several days at the fiesta just in case of cancellations. You can buy admission tickets individually and they are good for any session on any day.
I tried to get photos of the kid’s favorites. Yoda and Darth Vader were huge favorites of course.
I thought this balloon was a cat, but it turns out to be a raccoon 🙂
The colors and detail in Lady Jester are spectacular, isn’t she beautiful!
These three bumblebees were another big favorite with the kids and adults alike.
One of the three penguins…
I couldn’t figure out who some of the special shapes were, so I would listen to the kids – they knew right away. I did recognize Tweety Bird though! Sylvester was next to him but I didn’t get a good photo.
The evening programs consisted of Balloon Glows, at which the balloons inflate but remain static. At 5pm there was a skydiving show; then again after sunset around 7:30pm.
The streaks are a skydiver carrying a flag. Somehow they would also ignite some small fireworks.
As it became darker, the balloons would glow more brightly.
Several evenings there were fireworks after the balloon glow. The first night I stayed out to watch them. When I got home, Misty was hiding back in a tiny space I had never seen her get to before. The fireworks launched right behind the lot where I was parked and she was terrified. So after that, I made sure to get home before they started so we could hide under the covers. When I heard them from inside, I could understand why she was so frightened. The blast reverberated so much, it sounded like someone was actually beating on the side of my trailer. If you attend in an RV and have pets, keep in mind the close proximity of this lot to the fireworks launch location.
The Balloon Fiesta has been on my bucket list for several years; and now that I have experienced it, I can say it is definitely a must see event! Go if you get the chance!