Beginning on the Saturday prior to the first full week of October, hot air balloon enthusiasts from around the world will meet in
Albuquerque, New Mexico
for the 35th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The “first” Balloon Fiesta was held in 1972 when 13 balloons launched from the north parking lot of the
. This year’s International Balloon Fiesta will consist of an estimated 700 balloons launched from the 73-acre launch site at
. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest ballooning event in the world and also holds the title of “most photographed recurring event in the history of aviation.”
Hot Air vs. Gas Balloons
Since many people are not familiar with the differences between a hot air balloon and a gas balloon, it will be explained in terms of similarities and differences.
Both types of balloons rely on the same principles of physics: any gas that is either naturally “lighter than air” (not as heavy as the air outside the balloons’ envelope) or made lighter than air (by heating the air inside the envelope) will rise, carrying along whatever happens to be attached to that body of gas.
A hot air balloon is more of a recreational pastime while a gas balloon is practically always used for “serious” or “scientific” purposes. This is due to the fact that hot air balloons have a “limited ceiling (how high the balloon can rise)” that is much lower than that of a gas balloon. On the other hand, hot air balloons are relatively cheap to operate while the gases used in gas balloons are very expensive and dangerous to handle without special training.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta caters to hot air balloonists, although in recent years it has also served as the starting point for the ‘s Challenge Gas Balloon Race.
The “official” schedule for this year’s events can be found on the International Balloon Fiesta’s web pages at this link. Brief descriptions of some events (and their sponsors / underwriters) are listed below.
Mass Ascension: This is the most spectacular sight at the Balloon Fiesta. During this event, all participating balloons will launch according to predetermined times and locations. Due to safety policies, it generally takes around 90 minutes for all balloons to become airborne. This means that by the time the last balloons launch those that launched earlier are now miles away. Under ideal weather and wind conditions, the balloons are literally spread from “horizon to horizon.”
Dawn Patrol (Sponsored by Howard Johnson’s International, Inc.): This event usually begins at least an hour before the day’s mass ascension when specially-equipped balloons will launch before sunrise. The other balloon pilots are usually around for this event because the speed and directions of travel in the dawn patrol can be a clue as to what can be expected later on.
Balloon Glow: Balloon Glow is always an evening event and involves inflating the balloon while it remains tethered to the ground. The flames from the burners illuminate the balloon from the inside which, when contrasted against the darkened sky, provides one of the most colorful events at the Balloon Fiesta.
AfterGlowÃ¢Â?Â¢ Fireworks Show (Sponsored by the Albuquerque Publishing Company / Albuquerque Journal): This event follows the earlier Balloon Glow (with some overlapping) and consists of a “regular” fireworks show that is usually accompanied by music. When the “Glow and Afterglow” overlap, the Fiesta patrons are rewarded with what one reporter described as “being inside a fishbowl of fire.”
Special Shapes & Special Shapes RodeoÃ¢Â?Â¢ (Sponsored by Wells Fargo): Special shapes can best be described as “balloons that don’t look like balloons.” What this means is that the traditional round envelope (the part that holds the hot air or gas being used to give the balloon its ‘lift’) has been replaced by an envelope that resembles some commercial product marketed by the balloon’s sponsor. Over the years these shapes have included a 40 foot tall bottle of Jack Daniels’Ã¢Â?Â¢ whiskey, “Mr. Peanut,” a roll of
film, and numerous cows of varying colors.
The Special Shapes Rodeo consists of special events and contests that showcase these unusual shapes. As one might imagine, these events are always a favorite of children (also known as “future balloonists”).
Getting There & Parking
is located 1 mile west of the intersection of I-25 and
. Exit onto Alameda, turn left, drive approximately 1 mile on
and the park is on the right.
Warning: Traffic conditions and parking can be a nightmare!
As an alternative, consider the
and Ride service provided by fiesta sponsors and the Albuquerque Department of Public Transportation. Buses leave from pre-announced locations throughout the city and the fares (~$12-15) include the price of admission.
Admission & Parking
Admission to the Balloon Fiesta will be $6 per day for persons over the age of 12. Children 12 years old and under are admitted free.
General (unassigned) Parking will be $10 per car.
Follow the Balloon Fiesta from Your Computer!
Following the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta from your personal computer is almost the best seat in town. While no computer can fully capture the spectacular sights, sounds, or aromas of the Balloon Fiesta you can follow the week’s events via the network of web cams.
‘s ABC affiliate KOAT-TV provides extensive coverage, updated frequently, of the International Balloon Fiesta. Although it was not available when this article was written, there should be a link from their homepage to news coverage of the Balloon Fiesta beginning with their coverage of the first mass ascension on Saturday morning.
The Albuquerque Journal devotes considerable “ink” to the Balloon Fiesta, including publication of photography shot by amateurs.