It was a chill morning with a black, star-flecked expanse of sky above us and the red flash of taillights ahead. Four a.m., and there was already a line of cars curving into the darkness, around the fence, and out of sight. We’d had a feeling the opening day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta would draw a crowd.
After parking, my husband and I joined the throngs of people making their way to the Balloon Fiesta Park gates. Floodlights placed at intervals lit the way. We caught sight of sleepy children bundled up to their eyebrows in blankets, couples talking softly, and yawning groups making their way down the steep incline toward the snaking lines below. The sugary scent of fried dough drifted to us a moment before the rich smell of coffee hit. The thought of a hot cup of caffeine and entertaining ourselves with people-watching carried us through the hour and a half wait until the gates opened. Then we were in.
The crowds funneled through the gates and spilled into the park. Tents stretched to either side, selling breakfast burritos, donuts, hot drinks, balloon memorabilia, artisan jewelry, and rack after rack of cloths. But the first stop? Coffee. It went a long way toward combating the early morning and chilly 40-degree weather.
Excitement ran in the air like a current. Drowsy voices were ratcheting up with energy, dull eyes were brightening, and the crowds were shifting across the blacktop as if in anticipation. Soon we saw why. The Laser Light Show began, flashing colors across the black horizon. The crowd again shifted, pooling out into the grassy fields. We took the hint and followed.
Balloon crews were bustling across the grass, hauling out baskets and burners, unfolding yards of multi-colored fabric of the envelope, calling out responses to fellow crewmembers, and answering questions from the fascinated public who were able to mingle with the crews and stand right in the middle of the action.
By the time the frost lining the toes of our shoes had started leaking into our socks, the magic happened. It was more than enough to distract us from the cold.
Towers of flame ignited, slowly filling and lifting the fabric of the envelope from the ground. A line of select balloons rose for Dawn Patrol. Bright spots of color lit up the dark sky. The balloons drifted over our heads, growing smaller but no less dazzling for the distance.
Dawn was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky when Mass Ascension began.
Rising balloons packed the 80 acres of the launch field – balloons of vibrant color and striking patterns, balloons of giant animals, balloons of fantastic shapes, balloons of such massive size it hardly seemed possible for them to rise from the ground. Within two hours, nearly six-hundred balloons sailed through the brilliant blue, spinning a colorful dance through the skies.
IF YOU GO
2018 Event Dates:
Saturday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Oct. 14
Find information on hotels, amenities, rules, and
frequently asked questions at www.balloonfiesta.com/
Ticketing prices & information: