Albuquerque and hot air balloons—synonymous to so many people! Yesterday started the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Do I have memories! It lasts nine days during the first week of October. When October hits, the early morning skies overflow with colors and special shapes. I used to love to drive to work in October, scanning the skies for the hundreds of balloons during the fiesta. Jeremy Aragon, driving down an Albuquerque street yesterday, captured what it feels like:
In July 1991, I moved to Albuquerque, so by the time October hit, I had become used to living here and getting around. In full anticipation of the event, I drove out to the balloon park by myself and found a parking spot. That must have been the Special Shapes Rodeo they used to do on Thursday nights. Co-workers warned me about the size of the crowd, but it still shocked me. Someone got hurt in the mob and the ambulance had a horrible time getting to the injured person. Being amid the balloons inflating and burners roaring, I was hooked!
Over the years, I’ve had many memorable experiences at the Balloon Fiesta. My ex-husband and his family participated as part of a chase crew, so I joined in. The pilot they worked with offered to bring his balloon to my school, tether it and give my students rides. While he inflated it, he let my excited students play around inside the balloon sock-footed. What an experience that was for them!
How exciting it was to be on a chase crew! When our pilot went up, we jumped into his truck with a walkie-talkie and drove to pick him up, following him in the sky. The locals who volunteer to do this part of the fiesta help tremendously because of knowing the area around Albuquerque.
Speaking of volunteers—they provide the backbone of this colorful event. Many of my friends have volunteered over the years and still do. I know of a mother-daughter duo who have been zebras (volunteers dressed in black and white outrageous costumes who direct the mass ascension) for years!
The next year, Mom and Dad joined us at this annual event, but we weren’t on the chase crew. To see the first balloons go up called Dawn Patrol, we had to get up way early (they go up at 6:00 AM), and it’s cold here in Albuquerque in October. Dad went on Saturday morning, but that was enough for him and his cold bones. Mom loved it so much she joined us on Sunday morning, and he stayed in bed.
After I divorced, I went alone some, going early for Dawn Patrol because that’s what you do. I then shopped in the vendors’ booths, enjoying the variety of wares. Several years I went with a girlfriend, Lorraine Hogan, and we went early enough for Dawn Patrol. Then we grabbed a breakfast burrito, cinnamon roll and hot coffee and found a spot on the ground to wait for the mass ascension where over 500 balloons go up in waves! The crowd milled around the balloons, marveling at the equipment and manpower it takes to launch a balloon.
Another ex-husband and I drove our van out to the parking lot near the balloon park late on Saturday night and then had breakfast, watching Dawn Patrol from the comfort and warmth of the van. Then we walked over to the balloon field to witness the mass ascension—not as much fun for sure.
The magic of the balloon fiesta to many visitors is the waves of ascending balloons in the mass ascension. It’s an amazing timed event. The zebras direct the pilots on when to ascend, so no accidents happen.
In 2010, Mom joined me again. We caught the Park ‘n Ride bus near my townhouse, and they dropped us off right at the gate—so much easier than finding a parking spot. Again, we timed it to see Dawn Patrol go up. We just bundled up, set our alarm for 4:00 AM and got up and went!
In advertisements leading up to the balloon fiesta, we had heard a lot about a new special shape balloon, Noah’s Ark. So, on the field, we were looking for it, walking around the balloons as they inflated. We stopped for a moment to figure out where it was—hundreds of balloons laid out, so it was hard to identify them until they became a little inflated. I turned around and there it was—right beside us. And yes, what a treat it was!
The colorful hot air balloons grace the skies and I marveled at the variety—the sky’s the limit on color and patterns. So many people savor the special shapes balloons—a chili pepper ristra, the castle from Disney Land, Disney characters and so many others. I know they are my favorites!
One fun tradition the pilots take part in called “Splash ‘n Dash” gets the gondola, the basket, wet by dunking down into the Rio Grande river west of the balloon park. Here’s what it looks and sounds like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpbgTpY6Qyc
Another great tradition participants enjoy is pin collections—trading, gathering and showing them off in outlandish ways.
If you’d like to see the jam-packed nine-day schedule for this year’s event, go here: https://balloonfiesta.com/Event-Schedule
Going with Mom in 2010 was my last time of going to the field and experiencing the fun firsthand. I’ve missed it now for ten years, but this year all the memories came rushing back when October hit, so I wanted to share them with you. I know I will return, and if you haven’t been, add it to your bucket list now!
Have you ever been to Albuquerque’s balloon fiesta? Or one somewhere else? What’s your feelings about hot air balloons? (Scroll down and leave your comments below.)
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