Up, Up, & Away at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

A few years ago we finally got to do something I had wanted to do for quite a long time, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The fiesta is a yearly nine-day event festival of hot air balloons which takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico each October. The event is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world and has over 500 balloons each year.  

The Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 as the highlight of a 50th birthday celebration for 770 KOB Radio. The first event was located in the parking lot of the Coronado Center Shopping Mall. There were 20,000 spectators and with 13 balloonists from Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas. Happoly, the Balloon Fiesta grew each year for decades, and today is the largest balloon convention in the world . On any given day during the festival, up to 100,000 spectators may be on the launch field where they are provided the rare opportunity to observe inflation and take off procedures. Countless more people gather at landing sites all over the city to watch incoming balloons.

We were one of the many people watching them from afar, but were able to see a few actually get inflated and take off. It was so amazing. It was a little chilly first thing in the morning, but still amazing. We wanted to make sure we were able to see the Dawn Patrol. Dawn Patrol pilots take off before sunrise and fly until it is light enough to see landing sites. Apparently, balloonists appreciate the Dawn Patrol because they can watch the balloons and get an early idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes. The Dawn Patrol began at the Balloon Fiesta in 1978, when two California balloonists developed position lighting systems that allowed them to fly at night. It is still one of the main events at the fiesta.

Balloon_Fiesta6Another fun aspect of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the Mass Ascensions experience. This is one of the main events at the fiesta where all participating balloons launch in two waves, filling the sky with hundreds of balloons at once. Launch directors, also known as “zebras” because of their black-and-white-striped outfits, serve as “traffic cops,” coordinating the launch so balloons leave the field in a safe and coordinated manner.

There are also many non-traditional, uniquely shaped balloons which are launched at the same time. Some of the most famous shapes include a milk cow, a wagon coach, and twin bees. There are also many others like soda pop cans and animals. This is the most popular part of the event as families can see how balloons can be all different in shapes and sizes. It is truly interesting to watch these huge balloons in flight.

As great as all of the above events are, we really enjoyed the Balloon Glows. It is perhaps the most spectacular single moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. Especially when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time, followed by New Mexico’s most spectacular fireworks displays. It was absolutely phenomenal. That was definitely the best part of the whole Balloon Fiesta.

Each year the fiesta had a different theme. This year (2016) the theme is Desert Kaleidoscope, and will be held October 1-9. I really wish we could go again, but have two other events in October. Hopefully we can make it next year. In the meantime, I will keep up to date on their website. Please check it out for more details and event info. Hope to see you there next year!  If you have been to the fiesta, please feel free to share your pictures or experiences. Would love to hear about them.


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