From the moment I watched the hot air balloon scene in the Wizard of Oz, I dreamed of riding in one. They seemed so romantic and almost mystical. A bright, colorful pillow floating around in blue skies appealed to my inner dreamer. “High above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me.”
Years after falling in love with this magical form of transportation, I learned about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. My aunt and uncle attended and raved about it. When I started creating my bucket list, I knew I had to add this festival to my list. The event runs for nine days in October each year and hosts over 500 hot air balloons. Imagine that! 500 balloons. That was a sight I needed to see. The fact that it is the LARGEST hot air balloon festival in the world added to my desire to attend.
2016 turned out to be the year I crossed this item off my bucket list! In early October, my family and I took a short 14 hour road trip from California to New Mexico (more on that in a post to come). Our main objective – see the opening ceremonies and mass ascension. A mass ascension is when all the balloons on site take flight.
Our trip to the festival began at 3am. The concierge at our hotel warned us that it can be pretty crowded so we should arrive early. That we did! We were staying about 30 minutes away from the balloon park and arrived around 4:00am. It was pretty chilly. Despite the warm days, make sure to wear layers for the morning sessions.
As we waited for Dawn Patrol and opening ceremonies, we parused the vendor tents, ate a breakfast burrito, and drank piñon coffee. While I fought the urge to purchase every piece of hot air balloon jewelry I saw, I had to convince the little ones that a glowing hot air balloon would lose it’s appeal come sun rise.
While the sun started to slowly rise behind us, the dawn patrol began. Seeing them at dawn was quite surreal. Dawn patrol pilots take off in the dark and fly until it’s light enough to see landing sites. Perhaps because of this safety precaution, among others, attendees can walk in the launch field and be among the balloons.
Before we knew it, the Dawn Patrol balloons were up and a number of balloon crews started to fill the launch field. Balloons were inflating left and right. Mass ascension was around the corner! Aside from the colorful traditional balloons, there were many special shaped balloons. I couldn’t pick just one favorite but Yoda, Darth Vader, and the cow were by far the front runners.
As 9am drew closer, nearly all of the balloons had launched and we were longing for a cozy bed. Leaving the festival, we could still see the balloons for many miles. Maybe I don’t see hot air balloons in flight often but it was one of the most incredible views I’ve seen. My inner dreamer smiled in satisfaction. “Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true.”
Tips and Recommendations
If you are planning your own trip to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, I have a couple of tips and suggestions.
- Wear layers – Whether you are going to the morning session or the afternoon session, layers will see you through the weather changes.
- Take a camera – Don’t rely solely on your smartphone for pictures. The balloons reach heights that are difficult for smartphone cameras to capture.
- Purchase your tickets online before attending – We did this and were able to bypass a line with well over 30 people. If you don’t want to wait in line to get into the park, purchase your tickets ahead of time. Added bonus – Kids 12 and under are free!
- Take folding chairs and blankets – There are some benches available but they fill up fast. If you bring your own chair, you’re guaranteed a cozy seat. Once the balloons start to inflate and take flight, you may not be able to stay seated.