Our weekend at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

We left Dallas last Wednesday for Albuquerque and the 40th Annual Balloon Fiesta.  We had loaded up our 25’ travel trailer and had reservations at a campground connected to the Balloon Fiesta.  They have four campgrounds:  two without any services and two with electric and water. Per night charges range from $30 to $150 with a three night minimum.  I made our reservations last March and already the campgrounds with services were sold out. I bought a 2000watt Honda generator before we left and I’m glad I did. It kept the Interstate battery charged and the TV and microwave working. Oh, how I love roughing it.

We arrived in Albuquerque Thursday about noon.  It was very windy and the evening’s Night Glow was cancelled.  Friday it was raining and less windy but there was no morning session or evening session.

Saturday started out a little “iffy” but turned out great even though it was a little cool.

The first balloons started inflating about 6:30am.  I’m told there were nearly 600 balloons registered for this event.  There were the traditional shapes and the special shapes.

This event draws nearly 800,000 people over the nine day run.  In 2008 they set a record for 890,000 attendees.  They average about 80,000 per day with many more on the four weekend days than during the week.  Admission is $6 at the gate and $5 for advance purchase tickets.  Kids are free and everyone is welcome to walk among the balloons.  There are no ropes you have to stay behind.  The grounds are controlled by “Zebras”, launch directors who move crowds away from the balloons when they’re ready to launch and work with pilots to clear the way for their launch.  And I use “control” in the very loosest terms.  A few whistle toots and everyone moves back.  No one wants to get bowled over by one of the baskets.

Zebras has to go through a two-year training program before they’re turned loose on the launch field.

It is really awesome walking around as balloons are cold inflated with fans before they are upright and the propane tanks start heating the inside air.

The field is laid out in squares and two balloons are assigned to each square.  First one inflates and launches then the second one follows suit.  While that’s going on, the crowd is moving around taking pictures like crazy.

In less than two hours, everyone who is launching is in the air.  There are plenty of other things to do before heading home to wait for the “Night Glow”.  There are food and souvenir vendors along one side of the field with picnic tables for some.  Then everyone clears out.

About dusk the “Night Glow” begins.  It is simply spectacular!

The first balloon fiesta had 13 balloons in l972.  It was started by a gentleman named Sid Cutter who was an aviation executive in town.  He died this past May after watching the event grow to nearly 600 balloons per year with 20 from outside the United States this year.

Sunday morning was to be the last mass ascension.  I was a little lazy and had decided to get the trailer hooked up and ready to go so that we could get back to Dallas Sunday night.  It’s about 12-13 hours pulling a trailer and stopping for a couple of meals and gas.  The round trip from home was just under 1400 miles.

Anyway, I went out to start the generator about 6:30 and the Dawn Patrol had already launched.  They are a group of about 10 balloons who are licensed to fly at night.  They have strobes under their baskets and go up to check weather conditions before the rest of the field inflates and launches.

Meanwhile, the local TV stations were broadcasting live from the launch site and were showing balloons inflating and starting to take off.  I went back outside and here they came.  Right over the campground.

Some looked like they were a little low.  They actually started landing in the campground and in a vacate field to the west of us.

Campers were having coffee in folding chairs with hot air balloons coming down almost in front of them.  Some folks went to the told of their campers for a better view.

This is our trailer….

All those little dots are spots on my lens.

Well, I can cross one more thing off the bucket list.  This was one of those events I’ve wanted to attend for years but with work and other things, it was possible until now.

Everyone connected with this event was great.  We visited Old Town and were in various stores and were treated well.  This event brings a lot of people and their money to Albuquerque and they appreciate both.

The crews were very accommodating to all us who were crowding around to get our pictures.  The organizers and the police had traffic under control.  Shuttle buses ran from the campgrounds and bypassed the lines of cars going in were expedited to the ticket booths.  The only lines that I was in was to buy food at the concessions.

The evenings were capped off with a very nice fireworks display.

I’m very glad I went and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the time.

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