Cover: Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
There are quite a few hot air balloon festivals held each year but, each October balloonists from around the globe make their way to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the world’s largest event, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Why Albuquerque? In an area that is known for its out-of-the-box artistic creativity, balloonists want to be “in the box” and Albuquerque is ideal for it. The Rio Grande Valley and the nearby Sandia Mountains create a “box”, where cool air from the north takes balloonists in one direction, and then, when the pilots want to return to the launch site, they simply change elevation to find winds blowing in the opposite direction.
These ideal conditions make Albuquerque a favorite location for flying balloons and have brought the balloonists back year after year for the event.
When did the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta begin?
1972 was the first year the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was held with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot.
How many balloons participate in the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta?
In 2015, 547 pilots registered to fly in the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. A Mass Ascension of hundreds of balloons from the launch site can only be described as a carefully choreographed spectacle of color and grace.
What is Dawn Patrol and Morning Glow?
Beginning far before sunrise, ballooning fans head to Fiesta Park to watch the pilots and crews prepare for launch. Each day begins with Dawn Patrol – a small group of balloons that lift off in the dark and provide an early assessment of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes. Following Dawn Patrol, about a dozen balloons are inflated on the ground, providing a pre-dawn Morning Glow show for the crowd.
How do all those balloons take off during Mass Ascension?
2 consecutive waves
As the sun begins to rise, so do the balloons. As thousands of onlookers watch and photograph the launch activities, hundreds of balloons are filled with air before gently lifting off into the sky. The balloons depart in two consecutive waves from an area of 72 acres of grass (the equivalent of 54 football fields) that contains 208 launch sites, with the Mass Ascension taking up to two hours.
How many countries are represented at Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?
In 2015, balloons from 17 different countries participated including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Russian Federation, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.
How many people attend Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?
It is estimated over 848,000 people attended the 2014 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
In addition to watching the magical show of the hot air balloons taking flight each morning, attendees can stroll through a concourse of 43 merchandise concessions, grab a bite to eat at one of the 45 food vendors and pick up a few of the 60,000 balloon fiesta pins sold each year. In the evening, attendees can return to the park for glow shows, fireworks, and musical performances.
The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, which is operated by the City of Albuquerque, is located adjacent to Fiesta Park and showcases a vast collection of balloons, art work, and aerial artifacts.
Know before you go
Book travel early. Hotels in and around the area sell out fast, so booking travel as far in advance as possible is a good idea.
Dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes. Pre-dawn hours can be chilly, with the temperature quickly warming as the sun rises. Enclosed, comfortable shoes are your best footwear choice for the walk from the parking area and for walking and standing in the fields that serve as the launch site.
Leave early – really early. Traffic to Fiesta Park begins to get heavy as early as 4:30am. Park and ride locations are also available. Pricing, parking locations, schedules and other travel information are available on the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta website.
Weather can be a factor. Hot air balloons can only fly in certain weather conditions. If the wind speed is faster than 11.5 mph (10 knots) or if it is raining, the event will be delayed or canceled. If an individual flying session is canceled, no refunds are given however, rain checks are issued that can be used for another flying session during the same year’s Balloon Fiesta.
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