Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
October 15, 2006—Last fall's balloon fiesta was one of the best times I'd had in my life. It was there that I met people like Bill Haas, Kate & Terry and Jonna & Mimi who almost instantly became close friends...people I've rendezvoused with again and again from southern Arizona to Wyoming. And of course I loved the balloons! So although I don't like to schedule things these days (hey—I'm retired!), this year's balloon fiesta was on my calendar almost from the moment that last year's fiesta ended.
More than that, I invited my good friend Gretchen Leahy to come out from Pennsylvania and share the fun at this year's event. Gretchen isn't an RV owner herself, but she has adventure in her blood, and she's accompanied me to the first four get-togethers of the Northeastern Lazy Daze club...so she's an honorary LDer. She's good company, smart as a whip, and consistently comes up with great ideas for organizing a rig.
Gretchen flew in to Albuquerque airport, where my friends and I picked her up. Having stayed in Gertie, she was immediately at home in the more spacious Skylark. The two room dividers provided plenty of privacy... Gretchen had the whole back room to herself, while I slept in the "upstairs bedroom" over the cab, as usual.
It was cloudy when Gretchen arrived, but the next morning dawned brilliantly clear. Looking out her bedroom window at 6:00 a.m., Gretchen exclaimed "I see balloons!" Indeed—a mass ascension of nearly 700 balloons provided a spectacular start to her visit. All morning they drifted over our heads, as Gretchen shot video and I shot stills.
Although balloons are of course at the mercy of the wind, in Albuquerque they don't just fly in one direction. Because of differing winds at various altitudes (a phenomenon called the "Albuquerque Box"), they can fly in one direction for miles, then change altitude and fly back to the launch site. At times, there were balloons all over the sky going in all directions! I made a little 90-second time-lapse video that gives you an idea of how it looked from where we were parked.
Although we were a mile from the launching field, we got to see plenty of balloons close up. Many were flying low, and I always love it when this happens... the thrill is even greater when the balloon looms overhead!
Passing over us at only thirty or forty feet above the ground, they'd hit their burners to maintain altitude. The characteristic roar of propane flames is a part of the fiesta we all know well.
The skill of these pilots always amazes me. I've seen them land right among the RVs in the parking area, but never have I seen one hit a vehicle.
People often wonder "With hundreds of balloons in the air, what if they collide?" Well, the answer is about what you'd expect: they bounce off each other harmlessly and go on their merry ways.
The next day, we were treated to a "Special Shapes" event, in which only unconventional balloons flew. My favorites were this cheerful cow ...
... and the famous "Little Bees" from Brazil. They always launch while holding hands, and sometimes kiss in flight before separating.
In between events, we browsed the vendor tents. Camping World had a large tent in our RV parking area... and sometimes the vendors came to us, like this gent on his "Cruzin Cooler," a picnic cooler fitted with wheels and an electric motor that makes it zip around quite peppily, while still storing 24 beverage cans plus ice. I can't imagine what I'd do with a self-propelled cooler, but the salesman was obviously having a ball!
And of course, there was the festive SpamMobile exhibit. (We declined their free Spamburger samples.)
One evening, Gretchen and I went to a "Special Shapes Glowdeo." This is an evening event in which balloons are inflated but kept tethered to the ground. Upon a signal, they all light up their burners simultaneously, illuminating the night in the most spectacular way imaginable.
What's remarkable about these events is that spectators are not confined to bleachers, or anything like that. No, everybody just wanders around, in and among the mammoth inflated shapes. Yes, you can touch the balloons if you want! You might even be asked to help out one of the crews.
The cow looks even more enormous when she's on the ground and you can walk right up to her. But what this photo can't show you is the majestic way she nodded her gigantic head in the gentle breeze that evening. You'd have sworn she was alive!
Almost every night we were treated to half an hour of spectacular fireworks—some of the best I've ever seen. No need to go to the launching field... we watched them from our rigs!
Gretchen and I did view one fireworks performance close up, though, on the night of the Glowdeo. The pace was rapid, the displays extravagant, and the bursts came fast and furious toward the finale that signaled the end of the show...and of the Fiesta. This year's balloon fiesta was just as much fun as last year's, and it's a pretty safe bet that I'll be back next fall for a repeat performance!
Then again... in the interest of presenting opposing viewpoints, I encourage you to read Scot Key's "Ten Reasons I Don't Heart the Balloon Fiesta."