Friday, October 19, 2012

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Recently I was lucky enough to visit beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico with a group of friends. We were celebrating my friend Kathy's birthday. Her birthday is actually in January, but we decided to celebrate in October. Why in October you ask? The answer is simple: it is when Albuquerque hosts its annual International Balloon Fiesta, the most photographed event on Earth.

This nine-day event first was held in 1972, so it is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. What started with 13 balloons now has grown to the largest balloon convention in the world. It is also the largest annual international event in the United States. 

The Fiesta begins early (and I mean early) in the morning.  Hours before dawn breaks, balloonists arrive on the 78-acre launch field to start preparing their equipment. Spectators start trickling in as soon as the gates open at 4:30 a.m. We got there at about 5:00, and by that time there were thousands of vehicles in the parking lot. So arrive early and dress warm.

As the first balloons are inflated, the fire to heat the air lights up the surrounding darkness and makes them glow.

The Dawn Patrol is the first group to go up: they start inflating shortly after half past five in the morning. They take off before the sun rises and land once there is enough light to find a safe landing place.  

The Dawn Patrol has an important job: they provide information by radio to the balloon field on the conditions above- wind directions and speeds at the different altitudes.

As they take off one by one, usually around 6:00 a.m. they dot the pre-dawn sky like giant fireflies. 

During fiesta week, the dozen or so balloons of the Dawn Partol perform a choreographed launch show set to music. While they ascend and float away in the twilight sky, other balloonists start preparing for take-off.

As the sun appears on the horizon, waves of colorful balloons take to the sky.  Mass ascensions start at about 7:15 a.m., with the balloon carrying the American flag leading the pack. 100,000+ spectators sing The Star-Spangled Banner.

Every year hundreds of balloons and balloonists from all over the world make the trip to Albuquerque, to participate in this largest of all balloon festivals.  There is a Flight of the Nations, which showcases two balloons from each participating country.

Optimal weather conditions make New Mexico a balloon paradise.  Light winds and clear skies are the pilots' best friends.

Among the many special shapes (108 at its largest number) are Elvis, who is officially called Aaron for copyright purposes, several flying pigs, cows and even a Darth Vader.

I hope you get to visit this magical event one day. Next year's Fiesta will be held October 5-13, 2013.
You can find out more about this awesome event at

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