I have loved hot air balloons since I was a little girl. They used to fly over our house once a year and I remember watching in awe as they floated overhead.
As a kid, they seemed magical. As an adult, they still are.
Attending the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque has been a dream of mine, and last week the dream came true. I was like a kid in the candy shop as hundreds (which seemed like thousands!) of balloons took off in a mass ascension on a clear Wednesday morning.
Here is our story:
When we arrived at 4:30am (OUCH!), the organizers of the festival had everything completely under control. Traffic, parking, and the carnival-like atmosphere were all in full swing and ready to handle the onslaught of giddy balloon lovers.
The temperature was warmer than most other days/years, but still cold to us…in the low 50’s (10degC). Brrr! The winds were about 10mph (16kmph), just low enough for launch. The green flag in the center of the field confirmed the launch was a go. Yay!
Bundled in all the warm clothes we brought, we walked out onto the enormous balloon launch field to take it all in. The field is about 78 acres (approximately 54 American football fields). This is one of the only festivals that allows spectators to walk amidst the balloonists. Their excitement was contagious.
The first event was the Dawn Patrol, where they send up about 12 balloons at 6am to test the wind conditions and to light the field.
Once the Dawn Patrol balloons took off, everything got underway. Multitudes of balloons prepared for ascension. A balloon carrying the American flag took off as the Star-Spangled Banner played, which officially kicked off the mass ascension.
On this day, the Flights of the Nations event followed. Two balloons representing each country participating in the festival took off before the rest of the balloons went up. Some countries included US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Croatia, China, South Africa, Australia, and Thailand. Many of the “special shape” balloons were from Brazil. Such creativity!
After the Flight of Nations, it was all fair game. Everywhere I looked there were balloons in different stages of preparation. Some laid out on the ground, some being blown up, some standing tall, some taking off, and others quietly floating on the breeze. I am sure there was a master conductor somewhere organizing the ascension…
…but for little ole me, I was just taking it all in. Not knowing which way to turn or which one to watch. Several hundred balloons took off over the next 2 hours. Absolutely amazing.
Balloonists are a fascinating group and this is their biggest international stage. So the excitement was palpable no matter where we looked. And not just the balloonists, their crews, and the spectators, but also the “zebras”–people who coordinated the take-offs and landings so named because of their black and white outfits, as well as the mounted horseman who were on guard to make sure that all balloonists and spectators stayed safe.
I’m still impressed by how safe, well orchestrated, and fun the whole event was. Albuquerque really has it going on. Kudos to them! This is their biggest festival of the year and they do it proud.
We’ve provided a video (with audio) as well as a slideshow. This is the first time we’ve tried video, so let us know if it doesn’t work! [Not that I’ll know how to fix it, but we’ll try. Ha!] Click the button in the bottom right corner if you want a full screen view.
The photos are best viewed on slideshow and fullscreen. [Hit SL and FS buttons in lower right of gallery box.] There are no captions. Just enjoy the pix!
Balloon Festival 2013
We hope you’ve enjoyed reliving the ascension with us! And to top it all off, this wasn’t even the biggest ascension of the festival. The Saturday and Sunday ascensions are typically larger, but we couldn’t stay that long. I’m not sure I could have taken anything more in, quite honestly. That said, this does leave something for “next time” (wink, wink)…
Happy ballooning to all!