We’re kicking off our series on the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta with pictures from the 2014 event and the best advice we can give you: Get up at the crack of dawn (No — BEFORE the crack) and head to Balloon Fiesta Park early. There’s an old saying: You can’t soar with the eagles in the morning if you hoot with the owls at night. And even if you’re young (which we’re not), a 4:00 AM alarm at home or in a hotel “comes atcha” pretty hard. But you gotta do what you gotta do since seeing a morning balloon launch is nothing short of spectacular.
Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta (The 2015 event is October 3 – 11.) has grown from humble beginnings in a parking lot to the current location known as Balloon Fiesta Park, a 365-acre site. The park includes a 78-acre launch field equivalent in size to 54 football fields! With over 80,000 people driving the streets and interstates of Albuquerque, parking in vast lots, crowding onto Main Street for early morning coffee, and then staking out a spot on the field, you can kinda see what we mean when we say, “Go Early!”
To be fair, here’s a plug for the folks who run this event. From the volunteers to the bigwigs — this is one smooth operation! TV announcers keep you informed of weather conditions and routes to take. Street maps on the website point the way to Park & Ride locations (which open at 4:30 AM) or park yourself lots. Specially reserved handicapped parking areas make accessibility a reality. And vendors, entertainers, and service people are up and at ’em with you, leading us to wonder just what time the people who make the coffee get there. (Be sure to download Guest Guide 2015 for calendar, map, events, etc.)
So, if you get up with the chickens, what’s the reward? According to info on the web, “Balloon Fiesta, with 500+ balloons, is the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.” Nothing to sneeze at, right?
Speaking as first-timers who entered with plain ol’ general admission tickets last year, we felt the magic of the event immediately. First, you stand with thousands on a huge field watching as trucks roll in and balloon teams unroll tarps on damp ground, filling their marked-off squares on the field with equipment.
Then, you hear the sounds of flames roaring upward as everything gets tested prior to use. And, if you’re lucky, someone who’s been there more often than you will explain the layout process, the mechanics of holding steady while huge fans force heated air inside colored nylon, and how warm air inside the balloons helps them soar through the morning coolness to points unknown. (We met several veterans of the fiesta who willingly shared their experiences over their morning cup o’ joe.)
Your eyes adjust to the wee morning light, and you see the colors of the first balloons as the Dawn Patrol comes alive and takes off at 6:00 AM in darkness.
Everywhere, people snap pictures, point in one direction and then another, and shout as teams lift off. Launches can take time, but once balloons are up, they’re gone. So you have to take pics quickly. And it’s hard to keep track of which balloons are in what stage of the launching process. You follow the colors, the herd-like movement of spectators, and the hurrays of the crowd at the joy of being in the midst of “the most photographed event on earth.”
And then you just stand in awe as balloons and their riders leave the field, floating out of sight as they appear smaller and smaller in the distance.
So, look at your map the night before. Lay out layers of clothes to brace the chilly, early morning air only to be peeled off when day breaks. Pack up your camera, bottled water and snacks, if you wish. Roll up a blanket if you want to sit on the sidelines and watch the skies fill with color. And, by all means, set your alarm. You HAVE TO get up early!
For more information:
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta website
2015 Guest Guide with Schedule of Events, maps, admission, parking tips
2014 Photo Contest winners with great pictures of the Dawn Patrol
Boomer Travel: You’re in luck, if you’re headed to Balloon Fiesta!
- Seniors over 62 enjoy reduced pre-event admission of $10 (Regular admission is $12.)
- Handicap parking on a hard surface is available close to the launch field for the same parking fee as regular lots. The event posts the availability of a limited number of scooters and wheelchairs.
Be aware, however, that the park is enormous. Distances from the parking lot, down main street, and from one end of the field to the other can be challenging.
Twitter: Follow @balloonfiesta for photos, updates and info related to this year’s event!
Facebook: Several sites for Balloon Fiesta 2015 are on Facebook.