This was one of my most anticipated event for me to attend. Once I found out that it was occurring around the time that my wife and I were planning our vacation, I made it a primary event to plan our vacation around. I planned our trip to coincide with the first day of the event that lasts all week. There is just something about a balloon floating around silently (somewhat) in the air so gracefully that is just artistic.
The local Plano Balloon Festival disappointed me a few weeks earlier due to weather. As the date was closely approaching I kept a close eye on the weather reports through the local news programs. All was looking good for the first day – Saturday, Oct 3rd. I was practically giddy like one is the night before Christmas. I was not disappointed.
On the morning of the “big” day I set my alarm for 4:00am and got out the door around 4:30am. I am not much of a morning person so this did not come natural for me but the adrenalin rush was in full swing. This was a bit dampened once I got to the line for parking. I wasn’t too thrilled by the parking logistics in that it took over 30 minutes to travel about 1 mile from the freeway to the parking spot at Balloon Fiesta Park. However, I did feel that the $10 parking fee was very reasonable as was the $8 entry fee.
Once inside the grounds there was a combination of excitement and confusion. Since it was still very dark it was hard to get my bearings as to what to do and where to go. I did not want to miss anything. I soon found myself wandering about on a grassy field trying not to run into anything or anyone. I realized that I was on the balloon grounds with hundreds of others. Since the scheduled events were about a half hour away I turned toward the food booths.
I wandered through the food and vendor booths taking in all that was around me. I finally found one that got my attention – the mini donut booth. They were fresh made and perfect for my breakfast.
Once I got my breakfast I headed back to the balloon grounds. I found it pretty amazing that you can just walk up to and around all the balloon teams throughout the grounds. The 2 events that I knew were coming up were the morning balloon glow and the launch of the dawn patrol. I walked about trying to figure out where these were going to take place. It was still very dark out at this time so there were no real signs to guide you anywhere. As it happened I walked right into the area where they started to inflate the first balloons. It was a bit surreal to see these pieces of fabric laid out on the ground start to grow in size that is hard to describe. I quickly realized that this was not the best place for pictures and had to move for a better view.
It turned out that the balloon glow and dawn patrol were one in the same group of balloons. Once inflated the 8 to 10 balloons put on a “glow show” before lifting off into the dawn light. The glow part was several minutes of firing off their gas burners such that they lit up their respective balloons much like a light bulb lights up a lamp shade. I have a short video of this here (link). Once the show part was over there was a roar from the crowd as the first balloons took off for the sky. Because it was still dark the burner glows continued through the flights.
Next up on the agenda was a laser light show. I had no idea what to expect until I saw this one balloon being used as a screen for the show. While there were some interesting designs being shown it seemed like a lot of advertising. Still, it was pretty cool to watch.
Finally the main event was starting – the mass ascension. This is where literally hundreds of balloons (I heard accounts of 500 or so) would inflate and ascend skyward. While I love the grace and beauty of a single balloon in the sky it was an overwhelming sight to see hundreds of them at the same time.
It started out slowly as the sun began to hint at its sunrise. The sky was getting a bit bluer and the grounds were easier to see the balloon teams scattered throughout the fields. I quickly realized that it was fun being among the balloons but it was not the best vantage point to take it all in at once.
Some of the early balloons to lift off were the Rainbow Ryders. These were the balloons that carried people who paid to get a balloon ride. There were dozens of them filled with people who I was envious of. Unfortunately it was a bit out of my budget to catch one of these rides. They run several hundreds of dollars at the Fiesta. In addition to Albuquerque they also operate in the Phoenix area year round. You can find out more at www.rainbowryders.com
After the Rainbow Ryders lifted off it was row after row of balloons filling with hot air to fill the balloon grounds. Then one by one they started to float upwards. The next hour or so went by quickly as my head was spinning around to catch sight of each balloon. Then every once in a while I had to take in the wondrous sight of the sky dotted with all the colors, shapes, and sizes.
The interesting thing that became clear as I looked around was that many of the balloons that had lifted off earlier were now behind me. While the lower air currents were blowing southward (away from me) the upper currents would bring the balloons back over the field.
For the next hour at least I was snapping picture after picture of all the balloons that I could see. They were like flying art pieces that danced around the sky. While I was getting pictures of those balloons ascending there were many balloons making their landing as well. It was like watching bubbles flying through the air – some going up and some landing. There were also many balloons that inflated but did not take to the sky for some reason. All were an amazing sight to see.
Some of my favorites (and crowd favorites as well) were the character or “special shape” balloons. There was Woody Woodpecker, Smokey the Bear, Darth Vader, Yoda, the characters from Rio, ladybugs, bees, and many, many more. You’ll have to check out the gallery for more.
As many were landing in various areas near the grounds some were able to land back onto the same field that they left from a short time ago. While it was fun to see them gracefully take to the sky, it was also fun to see them land. There is much more skill needed to land one of these than to take off.
After the balloons had pretty much done their ballet act it was time to see the other features of the fiesta. This included a NASA booth, a small zip-line, souvenirs, etc. One of my favorite booths was the official souvenir booths that had a lot of event pins among many other types of gifts and memorabilia. There were many collectors around trying to find the pin that they did not have. I picked up the 2015 pin for my memories to go with the T-shirt that I got online prior to the event.
The only sad part was traffic. It took nearly an hour to leave the event grounds. I would have to say that getting in and out of the parking area was not too much fun but well worth it.
There is also a Balloon Discovery Center and the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum at the southern ends of the grounds. I did not go there but it is a definite destination when I return. They are where you can learn more about the operations and history of ballooning.
Here is the website for more information about the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum:
If you would like to see more, there are many more pictures and videos available at… (link).