I left Redondo Beach, California on the last weekend in September, in order to get to New Mexico in time for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, billed as the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. It’s a 9 day event that takes place down at the Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, NM. This year, I was lucky to have a relative, my dad, in Albuquerque that I could stay with for the fiesta. From what I hear, hotels are very few and far between during the festival, and are often booked quite a ways in advance.
I didn’t quite know what to expect out of the Fiesta, but it proved to be a spectacle that was well worth the journey, and braving the cold. My friend Sara had driven out from California to visit with me, so we both woke up very early on the weekend to drive out to the parking overflow for the event. Shuttle buses were picking people up from various points throughout Albuquerque and depositing them just outside the event gates. It was quite handy. I believe I played Weird Al’s song Albuquerque several times while Sara and I drove around downtown ABQ – you know, like ya do. The staffers are very friendly and informative, and the atmosphere on the bus is infectious. People were very friendly, and we were able to see some of the Dawn Patrol balloons off in the distance as we started our way toward our destination.
The event itself is enormous; the field full of hot air balloons of varying shapes, colors and sizes. Some were already inflated and bobbing gently in the cold morning air; others were laid out in preparation. It was a very delicate dance of space and manpower.
We made it in time for the Mass Ascension around 7am, hooking up with a friend that had driven down from Santa Fe. She’d gotten there substantially earlier, and we’d gotten a late start. Once we found each other at the fairgrounds, we started walking around. Apparently this was one of the few balloon festivals where you could actually wade in amongst the balloons as they were readying to lift off. There was a flurry of activity everywhere as we all milled around waiting for the show to start.
The place was packed, and at times it was slow going, trying to get from one side of the field to the other. One of the balloons that I remember standing out most prominently was this gigantic Creamland Cow Balloon, Airabelle. Watching Arabelle inflate was an exercise in controlling the giggles. The enormous fleshtoned udders billowed as the cow slowly came to a standing position; it’s ass facing us. It never did get off the ground, unfortunately. Arabella was deflated and packed away for reasons unknown. (Well, they WOULD have been known if I’d bothered to ask, but I didn’t, so there’s that.) Still, completely hilarious laughter over the udders. We are twelve year old boys. Next to that was the Wells Fargo stagecoach, an inflated red and yellow representation of the company’s early delivery method.
The second one that really stood out for me was the Darth Vader balloon. After about an hour of watching all the other balloons rise into the morning New Mexico sunrise – a large, grinning clock, what looked like a lego Elvis, a cupid, the POW/MIA balloon, a tourist penguin in a hawaiian shirt, an astronaut, SPIDER PIG, and an array of other wonderful spectacles, we spotted the Darth Vader balloon all the way across the field.
My god. I never thought I’d be looking at it in real life. I’d only seen pictures on the internet before, and there it was, a looming parachute fabric menace. I had to go get close to it. It was a moral imperative. We slowly began making our way over to it, and my jaw dropped the closer we got. It’s gorgeous – a work of art, the way it’s put together. The detail that the crafter was able to put into the design is spectacular. We took a great deal of pictures of it, but I didn’t have the social fortitude to actually push my way through the crowd to go over to talk to the person that was manning it. (PICS of the Fiesta)
I’d wanted to go up in a hot air balloon for years, but apparently you need to know somebody at the event, and have asked them way beforehand for a possible ride. The site of all those hot air balloons in the air at one time is quite breathtaking. It’s equally visually appealing even from a distance. In the following mornings, I could see packs of ballooners off in the distance from the back of my dad’s house.
If you ever get the chance, DO go. You won’t regret it. Trip of a lifetime.