We came to Albuquerque New Mexico, along with 800,000+ other people, for the International Balloon Festival. The nine-day-long annual celebration is where more than 500 hot-air balloons and their ballooners from around the country meet at 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park to show their stuff.
Hints for the Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has been a highlight of the city since its humble beginnings in 1972. With so many people descending upon Albuquerque, plan ahead if you need a hotel or rental car. Last-minute planners told us that they found few available hotel rooms and rental cars were sold out. And expect high hotel pricing.
Consider taking one of the park-and-ride buses to the event, especially for the very popular weekend events. You can catch one of these buses from several locations around the city. We found that they are very efficient and convenient. But if you do plan to drive to the event itself, you should get there very early as parking can be difficult and traffic tied up. Some roads are closed to allow the buses to move more quickly.
Dress in layers. The early morning events are cold. But as the sun comes out, it becomes warmer.
Consider bringing your own refreshments to avoid the long food/beverage lines at peak times.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Events
Weekend mornings and evenings, in particular, are filled with events. We attended the show on Saturday, the first day of the fiesta. We attended the morning show and the evening show. While you can stay at the venue the entire day, we went back to the city in-between each event.
Morning Glow and Ascension
The opening day began at 5:45 AM with a skydiving display and drone light show, both of which we missed due to the long lines to catch our bus and traffic from our park-and-ride site. Fortunately the events were duplicated at the evening show which began at a much more convenient 5:00 PM.
Morning Glow is when hundreds of inflated, brightly-patterned, and in some cases elaborately shaped hot-air balloons turn on their propane burners in a spectacular display of patterns in the chilly, still-dark morning. It is a beautiful sight that was well work getting up early for.
Mass Ascension is where several hundred balloons launch in timed stages. The first balloon start to rise in the dark but quickly as dawn comes the morning sky is filled with hundreds of colorful balloons. Most were brightly decorated, teardrop shape.
A number of balloons were in the shape of familiar creatures including Yoda, Darth Vader, a frog, koala bear, penguin, Barney and even Scooby Doo’s bus.
It made for quite a sight—both seeing all these inflated balloons sitting in a field and especially as they launched, blanketing the sky, makes for quite a sight.
Getting the Balloons Inflated and Launched
Since the balloons launch in stages, some of the balloons had not yet been inflated by the time we had arrived. We were able to watch the process by which teams laid the acres of fire-proof nylon fabric out on a large tarp and held open the bottom while a powerful fan blew unheated air into the cavity and the balloon began to fill. The pilot then turned on the propane burner of the wicker passenger basket (which is wicker both to reduce weight and absorb some of the impact of landing). At this point the basket is resting on its side. This heats the air in the balloon enough for it to rise, but not to lift the basket off the ground. When the air in the balloon began to cool, the pilot pulsed the burner enough to keep the balloon inflated. When he (or a few she’s) was ready to launch, he threw off the mooring lines and opened the burner enough to rise to the desired altitude.
Once in the air, pilots cannot change directions. Skilled pilots, however, can often read the air currents. They adjust their altitudes to catch the air current going in the direction and speed they wish.
Although daytime activities also included a chainsaw-carving exhibition and some other events, we left to return in the late afternoon for the evening events.
At 5:00 PM, four parachutists descended from a plane with an American flag.
We spent the hour or so before the next event walking along the long-midway-like row of souvenir shops and food stands. We stopped at one tent with a long line to check out the official fiesta items.
Then we stopped at another very long line to enter a large open space with scattered tables serving Dos Equis beer, Cuervo tequila and cocktails. Once inside we got into another slow-moving line to get some drinks.
Gas Balloon Race Launch
The gas balloon race launch was next. But due to the winds, it was postponed to later that evening. While hot air balloons have open ballooning fabric, gas balloons are sealed. But we did see the gas balloons ready for when they could launch later that evening.
Evening Balloon Glow
As the sun was setting, about 30 hot air balloons on each side of an open field pulsed or turned their burners on after a series of countdowns. While it was okay to watch, it was less compelling than Morning Glow in which the field was filled with hundreds of balloons.
Twilight Twinkle Glow
Next, four skydivers wearing suits covered in strips of colored LED lights, jumped from a plane onto the field. In our view, it was pretty lame.
Drone Light Show
The highlight of the evening for us was a drone light show in which hundreds of LED-equipped drones flew in intricate configurations and periodically stabilized to form a number of fun and interesting patterns.
The fireworks were to go off next but instead were delayed so that the gas balloons could go up. By this point, we were tired from our early morning wake up and somewhat disappointed by the evening events (other than the drone display) and elected to skip the show in favor of an already late dinner.
All in all, the morning event was beautiful and well worth the trip. Seeing hundreds of hot air balloons in the sky at the same time was a sight to behold. The evening show was less compelling for us. It felt that things were so spaced out that we became bored. Even the evening glow was becoming repetitious. In fact, if we had arrived in time for the morning Drone Light Show, we would have been just as happy to have skipped the evening session.