Balloon Fiesta is Glorious!

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BALLOON FIESTA IS GLORIOUS!
by Debbie Stone

 

The crowd roars with excitement as the hot air balloon rises from the field. Then another one goes up, and then several at once ascend into the wild blue yonder. It’s hard to keep up with the count. Just know there are hundreds more to come, filling the blue New Mexico sky with bright splashes of color and shape, creating a stunning op-art canvas.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a feast for the senses, with the sound of balloon burners simultaneously igniting, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and breakfast burritos, the look of awe on thousands of upturned faces and the feeling of collective joy that comes from witnessing this magical event.

For nine glorious days in October, Albuquerque plays host to the largest hot air ballooning festival in the world. People from all over the world head to the Land of Enchantment for this unique and unmatched experience. Many make it an annual tradition, as the scene never ceases to be spectacular.

This year, Balloon Fiesta celebrated its 48th year. It has grown from a quaint launch of thirteen balloons in 1972 to the massive event it has become today, with over 500 balloons and hundreds of thousands of spectators. They flock to Balloon Fiesta Park’s 78-acre launch field, where they become part of the action, cheering on the balloons, the pilots and their crews during the various events.

This year, there were balloonists representing 41 states and 17 countries. Many are veteran pilots, like Beth Wright-Smith, who’s been participating in the event since 1986. She’s a second generation pilot, who began crewing for her father when she was eight. Wright-Smith owns Airborne Heat in Albuquerque, and is regarded as one of the best ballooning instructors in the country. She describes being in a balloon as “floating around on a cloud,” and says, “It’s the closest I can get to heaven without being powered up there.”

Other pilots, like Jeremy Cowgar, were first timers at Balloon Fiesta. The Akron man traveled 1,600 miles to participate in the event, as it has been his goal ever since he took up the sport several years ago. The festival is a family affair for him, as his wife and four daughters comprise his crew. Ironically, Cowgar is afraid of heights, but in a balloon, this fear never manifests. “I love it up there, as it’s so calm and peaceful, with an ever-changing landscape, he explains.” He adds, “It’s like a porch in the sky because you’re with friends and family and sharing this wonderful experience together.”

Balloon Fiesta starts early with the Dawn Patrol Show, where a number of pilots take off before sunrise and fly until landing sites become visible. This event is not only beautiful, but it’s also practical, as it provides other balloonists with a sense of the current wind speeds and direction at different altitudes. The Krispy Kreme Morning Glow follows with about dozen balloons lighting up the field with a balloon glow. And then comes the Mass Ascension, a dazzling show, featuring hundreds of balloons launching to the skies in two waves. It’s a well-orchestrated production with referees directing traffic on the field.

Whimsically shaped balloons take center stage with the Special Shape Rodeo and Glowdeo. This year, there were more than 100 of these works of art, including a penguin, lion, dog, trio of birds, the Wells Fargo stagecoach, Yoda, Darth Vader, and more.

At night, the Twilight Twinkle Glow, Balloon Glow and Night Magic Glow events light up the park, as the balloons, inflated and tethered, ignite simultaneously, producing a kaleidoscope of color. A fireworks show concludes the evening.

There are also competitions, such as America’s Challenge, where teams of gas balloonists vie for flying the longest distance.

Throughout the festival, there’s live music, chainsaw carving exhibitions, sky diving performances, a car show, artisans, food booths and more.

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents.

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About the Author:

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents.

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