Why the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Is Worth a Visit
Over 600 Balloons, 7 Friends, and Great Memories
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is New Mexico’s premiere event. For 10 days every October, nearly 1,000,000 people from all over the world converge on Albuquerque to watch the largest mass balloon launch in the world. The sight of all these balloons inflated at the same time is a sight to see.
We decide to attend the fiesta with some longtime friends of ours and make the 10-hour drive from San Antonio and arrive in Albuquerque early in the afternoon. There is not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature is about 60 degrees. We meet our friends in our AirBnB house, which proves incredibly open and relaxing after the long drive. We exchange pleasantries and catch up with our old friends. We don’t waste too much time, however, because we need to get down to the fiesta grounds for the evening light offs.
We arrive at the grounds early enough to avoid the major traffic. Soon the roads will become extremely congested. We pass by the balloon museum on our right side. After parking, we make our way down to the festival area. It consists of a big open grassy field. Behind it, many shops are busy selling food, clothing, and Fiesta souvenirs. Several vans are starting to make their way into the grassy area full of balloons that will soon be blown up. In a couple of hours, hundreds of balloons will be inflated. My family and I sit and snap a photo.
The first balloon to inflate carries the Cannon logo. As it starts to go up, a crowd gathers to snap photos and videos and just take in the site. A few minutes later, the Dos XX balloon inflates and a similar crowd gathers. At this point, it's starting to get cold and dark, and I decide to go get some hot chocolate. As I walk back, I see dozens of balloons going up with logos bearing images like the New Mexico flag and Phillips 66. I see a balloon promoting the show Wicked with the words "Defying gravity" painted on the side.
Finally, the highlight of the evening arrives: the light offs. A whistle blows and the sound of people cheering fills the air. A few seconds later, the dark sky fills with hundreds of lights as the balloon pilots all light the hot air tanks in their balloons. I feel the heat coming from the Cannon balloon next to me. A festive atmosphere now fills the air. We watch our kids marvel at the sight and return to playing around. The balloon pilots are very personable. They take selfies with the kids and hand out pictorial cards describing their balloons. After another hour, we walk back to our cars and drive home.
My Almost Ride With Rainbow Ryders Balloon Operators
The next day I wake up at 3 AM. I’ve booked a balloon ride for this morning. I will be going up in a balloon during the morning balloon mass ascent. We arrive back at the grounds at 5 AM. Parking is much easier than last night. I get in line at the Rainbow Ryders tent. Rainbow Ryders is the only balloon operator that can launch from the fiesta grounds. I mingle with customers from England and Ohio. The wall next to us is decorated with tiles that previous customers bought to commemorate their experience. After a few minutes, a rep from Rainbow Ryders says that no balloons will be launched today due to high winds. Unfortunately, my first balloon ride will need to wait until next year.
If you plan on going up in a balloon, I would recommend booking several months ahead of time. While there are several balloon companies operating in Albuquerque, Rainbow Ryders is the only one authorized to launch from the fiesta grounds. That means you will be part of the big mass ascent.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Is Fun for the Whole Family
Even though I wasn't able to go up in a balloon, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was a blast. The evening light offs were amazing, and the whole festival environment was fun. Navigating around Albuquerque is easy and the city does a great job managing this huge event.
© 2018 George Johnson