The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is just an awesome experience! We linked up with two other couples that we know from Key West at the Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post. Being able to share the experience with friends definitely added to our enjoyment.
One of the neat things about Enchanted Trails RV Park is they have “vintage” trailers that you can rent. If you are camped there they will loan you a key to see the interiors.
None of us had made any specific plans prior to arriving in Albuquerque. We gathered for drinks and dinner and, after sharing some recent history, we got down to planning. The Fiesta operated at Park and Ride service that was the best deal. For one price we were able to take a shuttle from a nearby shopping mall to the Fiesta and entry to the Fiesta. We purchased tickets online and were ready for the adventure.
Our first day at the Fiesta started VERY early. We left the RV park at 4:30 to get an early shuttle. We were all impressed by the efficiency of the shuttle system. There was a huge fleet of busses, with one leaving every few minutes. The lines at security to get into the Fiesta moved quickly and it wasn’t long before we were inside. It was well before dawn and the crowds were huge. We purchased some breakfast burritos and headed on to the launching field. As we walked onto the field I kept waiting to run into the rope line or barrier that would keep us off the field, but we never got to it because it wasn’t there. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is unique in that visitors can walk out onto the launching field. We were able to talk with the balloon crews, stand next to the balloons as they were being inflated, and step aside as they took off. The fact that much of this was going on in the dark made it more impressive. Every direction we looked there were balloons being laid out, inflated, waiting to launch, and taking off.
One of the factors that make Albuquerque an excellent balloon site is the “box winds” in the area. The winds blow in different directions and speeds at different altitudes. We would track a balloon as it took off to the East at a brisk speed, and then see it fly to the North. It would turn West and move at a slow speed, and continue to fly in a box until the crew decided to leave the circuit to fly to a landing site.
There is more to do in Albuquerque than the Balloon Fiesta. We all packed lunches and drove to take the tramway to Sandia Peak. This is the highest peak in New Mexico. There was a long wait to take the tram. It was interesting to see other people stand in line for an hour or more and then give up and leave. I guess frustration can be a terrible thing. The ride to the peak was spectacular but not as spectacular as the view from the peak itself. You could see for hundreds of miles!
Old Town is the historic root of Albuquerque. It was fascinating to me to walk through the area, to see the town square with the performance gazebo, the adobe buildings that housed shops, cafes and restaurants. All around the area one can listen to native Americans playing their ancestral flutes. In a courtyard off the main square I listened to a trio entertaining the shoppers. After we were done shopping and exploring we enjoyed a great dinner while being entertained by a harpist. What a treat!
Each evening of the Fiesta is the Balloon Glow. We took advantage of the Park and Ride again and took the shuttle from the mall. Inside the grounds we wandered through many of the vendor tents to check them out. In addition to vendor sales there were also exhibits from the Experimental Aviation Association and NASA. This event is certainly a great place to get young minds interested in aviation and space exploration.
After picking up some dinner we sat at the edge of the launching field to watch the sky diving demonstration. As a former paratrooper I really appreciate a good parachute demonstration and these guys did an outstanding job. After the skydiving, we wandered around the launching field to see the balloons. As it became darker the scene became more dramatic as multiple balloons would light their burners simultaneously. What a site! The pictures don’t do credit to the actual lighting.
The final activity was the fireworks display. This was preceded by a night skydiving demonstration. This was the first time I have ever seen sky divers illuminated with flares attached to their boots – a very spectacular display.
Throughout the time we were together we rotated from one rig to another for meals. The ladies thought it was a good deal to only prepare dinner every third night. We all enjoyed the great meals and good fellowship.
On October 15th we all hooked up and headed to different destinations. For us, the next stop was Hot Springs National Park.