Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico, South West USA
When: Start of October
Happenings: Giant gathering of colourful and exotic hot air balloons
Remember to: Let go of the rope!
Where’s The Party?
Albuquerque benefits from a freakish twist of meteorological fate known as the Albuquerque Box, a geologic break provided by the nearby Sandia Mountains and complex weather patterns of the area that give balloonists high levels of control. However, it is not just this fact, nor the many listings in the Yellow Pages for balloon companies eager to get you up above the city, Wizard of Oz style, that give Albuquerque its tag as the Balloon Capital of the world. Perhaps it is because each year in the first week of October, the brilliant blue desert sky above the city becomes kaleidoscopically pregnant with balloons.
The festival had somewhat less magnificent beginnings – a handful of balloons drifting skywards from a parking lot in uptown Albuquerque to commemorate the 50th anniversary of local radio station KOB in February 1972. It had been intended that 21 balloons would participate, but lousy weather reduced the turnout to 13. However, the overtones of this number clearly did nothing to dampen the spirits and enthusiasm of the locals, and over the past 30 years, the month has been changed to the more serendipitous October and the location has been moved to an old alfalfa field (a previous flirtation with the State Fairgrounds saw a few problems along the lines of balloons landing in the military base). These days, the event attracts close to 1 million visitors, around 800 balloons and fills a whole week and the whole sky.
What Happens at the Balloon Fiesta?
Beginning each day at sunrise with a mass ascension of literally hundreds of balloons, the days see varied events on terra firma, as well as balloonists engaging in friendly competitions. Each night culminates in a glowing ascension of the balloons – spine-tinglingly illuminated by their own fires and lighting up the night sky.
Aside from the glorious technicolour of the dawn ascension and the pure enchantment of the night time balloon glow, there is plenty in the hours between to keep the visitor entertained, and it’s far more boisterous than the hushed, awed admiration of the dawn and dusk spectacles. Try checking out the Tumbleweed Drop – and forget any ideas about feather-light tumbleweeds wheeling lonesomely down Route 66. This is all about balloonists swooping down to grab all manner of plant life and then dropping it from the sky in an effort to hit a designated target. Popular also is the Key Grab competition, where balloons (and their pilots) dance crazily in flight, dipping, rising, writhing and stretching to grab car keys from a 30 foot pole.
Balloons in non-traditional shapes are showcased in the Special Shape Rodeo, where balloons are formed into shapes as grand as dinosaurs, elephants and giant cacti, and as unexpected as a motorcycle, a sailing ship with three masts and even a folded newspaper. The sky’s the limit.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The official website for this event, with details of this year’s events.
Guide By Sarah Rodrigues