The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was an event that both Linda and I have wanted to attend for many, many years. This year, we finally had the opportunity to attend this famous event as part of the Winnebago Itasca Travelers (WIT) group.
Up until now, I have always called the balloon fiesta by an incorrect name. I thought it was always the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. But when we arrived at the balloon grounds, we discovered that the correct name for the balloon extravaganza is actually the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
We confused many of our friends, when we said that we were going to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta via South Dakota and Colorado, but that is exactly what we did. We enjoyed seeing many parts of Wyoming, South Dakota, and Colorado, before we made our way to Albuquerque. While in South Dakota we visited Mt. Rushmore. Mike was especially intrigued by the way in which the mountain was sculpted.
For those of you who have heard about the balloon extravaganza but have never been there, you should put the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on your list of must-do events. You can listen to other folks rave about the most photographed spectacle in the world, but until you have been to Albuquerque and experienced the Balloon Fiesta first hand—up close and personal—mere words can’t begin to describe the visual sight that awaits you!
As part of the WIT group, we were treated to many of the local attractions. We rode the world’s longest tramway to the top of Sandia peak; we had several luncheons in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe; we toured the old town districts of both cities; saw how green chilis are roasted; and we visited a wild animal park that cared for injured animals that could not be returned to the wild.
But, of course, the main attraction was the many balloon events that occurred over a very busy ten-day period. When the wind was right, the balloons came directly over our motorhomes, sometimes less than 50 feet in the air. There were more than 700 balloons registered for the 2008 event. What a sight to behold when they were in the air!
Our group of 52 rigs was parked in a very large group of motorhomes, just across the street from the balloon fiesta grounds, and free shuttle buses carried many RVers back and forth. From a distance, the RV parking area reminded me a lot of Quartzsite, where all you can see for acres and acres is the white roofs of hundreds of RVs.
The Balloon Fiesta is set up to make money, and admission to many of the events required a $6 ticket and, for those having to drive to the balloon grounds, a $10 parking fee. There were also rows of vendors selling all sorts of goodies and every kind of edible food imaginable. And, of course, you could only buy the official Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta souvenirs from the one approved source—and the prices were outrageous!
For the truly adventurous, you could even buy a ride in a balloon—but at $300 per person was way too rich for our tastes (yeah, you can call us cheapskates, but we try to be judicious in choosing where to spend our hard-earned money).
For the hardy folks, who don’t mind "getting up before the crack of early," you could attend a balloon pilot morning briefing (would you believe 0545), or watch the early Dawn Patrol balloons that ascended each day to check on the local wind conditions.
Most mornings, the main balloon ascensions occurred after 0700, and sometimes lasted until after 0930— yes, there were hundreds of hot air balloons in the air. The array of vibrant colors was a treat for the eyes, as were the many balloons that were made in a special shape—such as Felix the cat, Darth Vader, a Wells Fargo stagecoach, and many, many other unique shapes. It was interesting to see that many of the balloons, of both varieties, were from many different countries. Some of the balloons were more than 100 feet tall, dwarfing the basket that carried the pilot, sometimes one or two other people, and two or three propane bottles.
Spectators are not usually kept at a distance, and you can walk right up to a balloon that is being inflated for flight or deflated at the end of an event. Watching the work of an experienced balloon crew is quite interesting. However, standing amidst many balloons that were suddenly deflating can be a strange experience.
One of the popular events is seeing all the balloons on the launch field in the early evening. Most of the balloons are inflated, but kept on the ground. Periodically, they all, either individually or all together, fire off their propane burners and the insides of the balloons glow like a giant jack-o-lantern—really an amazing sight.
Asking a few questions, we found out that the average balloon uses about 25 gallons of propane per hour to stay up in the air. The average balloon size holds about 18,000 cubic yards of hot air! Seeing a balloon fully inflated on the ground is rather awesome—they are a lot bigger than they seem when you see them peacefully floating by above you.
Albuquerque is unique in that it often, but not always, has a wind pattern called a “box”—where the wind patterns go in different directions at different altitudes. When conditions are just right, it is possible for a balloon to take off to the East, fly to the South, then West, and finally back East almost to the point where it started.
Many of the balloon competitions in Albuquerque use the “box” phenomenon to provide challenges to the balloon pilots—dropping bean bags on targets (to see which balloon drop comes closest to the target), and even playing Texas Hold ‘Em by dropping bean bags from airborne balloons.
One of the more spectacular visual displays was a wonderful fireworks show, lasting about 20 minutes, that was repeated on three different evenings of the balloon fiesta. It was an awesome sight, seeing it from the front windows of our motorhome (but about a mile away). The fireworks were even more spectacular when viewed from just 600 or so feet away at the North end of the balloon grounds. Wow! It was neat to be so close and to hear the bangs and booms from the launching mortars and the aerial bursts. I must admit to being surprised that the local newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, put on this show more than once— not an inexpensive undertaking. Nice job Albuquerque.
For years, we had been under the misguided perception that if you didn’t have long-term reservations or come with an organized tour, that you (your RV) would be banished to places more than seven miles from town. But, after we asked around, and saw many people coming into our RV parking area—but dry camping instead of having electric and water—we found out that most of the RV parking area is first-come-first served! It is not inexpensive, costing about $30 per night for dry camping, and $65 per night for a water and power spot, but you are near all the action and can jump on a shuttle bus to save walking a mile over and back. Apparently, (and we have not checked this out yet), you can make RV reservations for the next balloon fiesta as early as January by getting on the internet and going to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta website.
Some of the RV areas seemed to have power from large generators, whereas other areas seemed to have power from the local power company. The water pressure was OK, and the water tasted OK too.
Sometime, a few years hence, we are definitely going to come back for another Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta experience, but we will do it on our own and just get an RV reservation for a water and power spot. Most of the more interesting activities occur during the first six days or so, and we will probably come for a shorter time period, rather than staying the entire ten days.
Words just cannot adequately describe the spectacular sights that await you at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We were blown away by the visual experience of this event, and suggest that you come and see for yourself.
Just like Quartzsite, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is one of those destinations that every RVer just has to experience for himself and herself—at least once.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta—what a wonderful experience!
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