Imagine the sky painted with hundreds and hundreds of hot air balloons. I suspect the sight has been responsible for its share of fender-benders as morning commuters are busy looking skyward. Even after 20 years, every fall I gawk as Balloon Fiesta shows its colors for a 9-day hot air party. This year’s dates are 7-15 October.
Best way to catch the action, which begins about six in the morning, is to hop a shuttle to the Balloon Park. With a million plus spectators, the traffic is something you do not want to experience, trust me. By noon, when the weather has warmed and the winds pick up, the balloons are packed away until the next day. But for those few hours the Balloon Park is a carnival of sights and sounds. Crowds and vendors jostle for space with the balloon crews trying to find a place to lay out a colorful nylon envelope that can be as tall as a five-story building.
The size of these balloons up-close is awesome. Lying on the ground, they remind me of cartoon characters, flattened by some mishap. Then, they begin to move and sway, filled again with life as the burners breathe hot air into them. Its also surprising how many people are needed to make this magic happen. Crews to fly it and chase crews to follow its airborne progress and retrieve the flight crew at the end of the day.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, they have what they call the Mass Ascension, a must see. Hundreds of balloons (this year they expect 1000) rise into the air more or less at the same time. Other “must see” events are the Balloon Glow, a much more sedate gathering at night to watch the balloons light up like giant Chinese lanterns; and, my personal favorite, the Special Shapes Rodeo, when the beer bottles, running shoes, piggy banks, dragons and castles rise into the air.
Take a ride, if you can afford it. Rides have gotten pretty pricey, $125 and up for an hour. But for a one-time shot, it’s worth it. It’s hard to describe the experience. There you are in a tiny gondola with this huge bag of hot air suspended above you, then the ground just begins to recede. No warning, no sound, no wind. Its like being transported to another dimension. Control, however, is limited and you are at the mercy of the prevailing air currents. After a glorious ride over Albuquerque and the Rio Grande, our magic balloon landed in the city dump.