Hot Air Balloon Fiesta: Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Spectacle in the Sky by Terry Zinn

There are some major world spectacles that must be experienced more than once. The Albuquerque Annual October Balloon Fiesta is one of them. Usually the first and second weekends of October Albuquerque, New Mexico, is host to a plethora of spectators and balloon pilots, for mass ascensions (this sounds like a religious experience, and it is), specialty balloon exhibitions, contests and night glows – where hot air balloons act like giant painted light bulbs against a darkening New Mexico sky.
No number of photographs can capture or convey the experience of actually being amid the inflation and accension of a hot air balloon. Multiply this by more balloons than you can count and the emotional contagion expands exponentially. Spectators surprisingly are allowed to mingle among the balloons as they are inflated and then directed to ascend by referee-type dressed launch directors. Spontaneously viewer and balloon riders wave a fond farewell to each other and good bye to the bounds of earth as passengers happily lift skyward.
How long a flight will last is determined by the wind currents and the expertise of the balloon pilot. They can last from about 10 minutes to 2 hours – a variable out of the control of the passengers. Balloon flights can be reserved and purchased at the Balloon Park. As weather is a determining factor in accensions and weather as we all know is fickle, an early rise to find a parking place and a position can be for naught, when sunrise weather does not cooperate. This of course makes the consummation of a balloon flight all the more precious.
If your morning balloon ascension is canceled (as ours were a couple of times) a visit to Old Town with its shops and eateries, is a pleasant diversion, even in the rain. My lunch at the Church Street Café in Old Town in an historic building with southwestern flared cuisine was a delightful respite. A stop at the Christmas Shoppe is always fun as it is Christmas in there all year long. I found some decorative fabric chili peppers that were a delight to the pocketbook and a pleasant memory of that New Mexico visit. No matter what the weather a visit to Albuquerque’s Old Town is another unique atmosphere to be experienced.
Over the decades the Balloon Fiesta is as organized as one could expect with traffic being directed before sunrise in strings of impromptu car caravans. A reserved parking lot ticket is recommended – although in the dark of pre dawn there still may be some confusion as to the exact parking lot. But not to worry, all are here for obtaining the best Hot Air Balloon Fiesta experience.
Arriving early is the key to Fiesta happiness as there are food stations and souvenir tents that open early and port-a-potties are available on the periphery. And for the brave, it’s worth it to give up your parking spot at noon and return for the night glow, where once again the magic of the hot air balloon takes on a spectacle all unto themselves. The area where special event tents and VIP stations are set on a small rise at the south end of the park is an optimal viewing spot for this night time event. Flickering off and on, between the roar of propane flames, the balloons emit a larger than life façade of wonder.
Some balloon pilots come every year, as well as local residents and even tourist. If you have never made the effort to schedule yourself, your family, your friends to take in the International Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I recommend you do. Reservations for over night accommodations may be tight during this very popular New Mexico season, but with the excellent free way system even a hotel by the airport like the Sheraton Albuquerque Airport Hotel is a recommended comfortable oasis.