2009 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Every year, thousands of people arrive in Albuquerque to see the International Balloon Fiesta, an event started back in 1972. That original event had only a few balloons, but attracted a crowd of approx 20,000 people. Each year the festival grew and Albuqueque built the official balloon fiesta grounds which are now the home of many events, including the annual Balloon Fiesta and a ballooning Museum. Current attendance for the weeks events is approx 800,000 people, with 3/4 of those from outside of the area. People from all over the USA and also countries from around the world show up for what has become the "Largest Balloon Festival in the World" and the "Most Photographed Event in the World".
Albuquerque Int'l Balloon Fiesta - official website
October 3rd, Saturday - Opening Day - Mass Ascension!
Arriving at the grounds at 5:30am, we grabbed hot coffee, hot chocolate, and breakfast burritos, then headed out onto the field to watch the 'Dawn Patrol'. Dawn Patrol is the first group of balloons to inflate. Lined up in a row, they put on a 10-15 minute show flickering their balloons with the burner flames, then take off over the field, continuing the show above the spectators. The primary purpose of Dawn Patrol, however, is to test the wind speed and patterns for the balloonists. They then radio down to the control tower what they find. If conditions look acceptable, then the Fiesta begins! A balloon carrying the American Flag inflates and lifts off the National Anthem is played as the sun begins to rise.
With the sun rising, balloonists arrive on the field at their assigned launchpad. The launch field is the size of 72 football fields yet still is not large enough for all balloons (over 550 atttending this year) to be set out and inflated at once. This is accomplished in several waves. Depending on the wind patterns, balloons begin inflating and taking off by direction of the 'zebras', the ground launch directors. Row after row inflate and launch, sometimes from both ends of the field.
One of the unique features of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is that everyone is allowed out onto the launch field and able to observe the balloons up close. People are encouraged to talk to the balloonists, ask questions, and maybe even help with the launch.
The "zebras" are the field launch coordinators and take pride in their responsibility, even though some are costumed in rather humorous fashions.
It is not unusual to hear many different languages on the field as many attendees are from foreign countries. Locals also attend year after year. The Balloon Fiesta never gets old!
This year, big news was made by some of the "Special shapes" balloons which were in China and having problems returning in time for the Fiesta. This international controversy raged for several weeks with the NM Govenor and Senators lobbying with the Chinese government. After much negotiation, the 13 balloons were finally flown back to the USA, but not in time for this first day event. The missing balloons included Darth Vadar and Nelly B, the pink elephant who are both big crowd favorites. These special shapes did make it to Albuquerque by midweek, yeah!
One of the reasons that Albuquerque is known as the Ballooning Capital of the World has to do with the number of resident balloons in New Mexico. Over 200 balloonists live in the city alone. They move to Albuquerque from all over the world for several reason, but the biggest one has to do with a weather phenomenom known as the Albuquerque Box. This is when the wind at the lower (field level) blows southward but at a higher altitude the winds reverse blowing directly back northward. This allows the balloons to launch from the field and drift south, then rise to the proper altitude and come right back over the field. They can then drop down low again and repeat the pattern over and over, in a box. This is ideal for balloonists and for those viewing the spectacle on the field. The sky stays FULL of balloons and the ballooists don't have to worry about where they are drifting off to and whether they can find a safe landing spot. Many of the balloons are able to land right back down on the field from where they launched. Also the balloons are able to stay aloft much longer!
This first day of Balloon Fiesta the Box was in affect and it was truly SPECTACULAR!
After all balloons are launched for the morning Mass Ascension, many people stay on the balloon fiesta grounds to attend the various demos or shop in the over 100 tents. We left for the day, but returned later in the afternoon for the evening scheduled events. The Gas Balloon race was supposed to take off around 6pm with a balloon "Glow" to follow, with the evening capped off by a large fireworks display. Unfortunately, winds canceled all but the fireworks this day.
Each day, events continue at the Balloon Fiesta grounds starting with a Mass Ascension of balloons. Some days competition events are held with balloonists winning prizes. Windy weather canceled a few evening events during the week and also on a few days there were reported crashes of balloons around town as they tried to land.
On Thursday I noticed several balloons heading in the direction of my house on the westside of town. I grabbed my camcorder and headed out to see if I could catch some video of them landing nearby. Sure enough, one was landing in a parking lot.
Saturday, Oct 10th - Mass Ascension!
Today we headed to Balloon Fiesta grounds again, but in different cars. Ron was going to be working as crew with a balloon so he was off to meet the other crew. Tiffany was attending with a friend so I drove alone but met up with them all at the park.
Ron crewing with the balloon, Mixolydian Dream.
Sunday, the final day of the Fiesta, all events were canceled due to weather.
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