Balloons Over Albuquerque

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Since living in Denver, we’ve visited New Mexico many times and grown to love it.   And for many years we saw photos of balloons over Albuquerque and talked about attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but the timing never quite worked.

Then last year while visiting Quartzsite, Arizona, we met some of the Boomers, one of the special interest groups within the Escapees, an RV club, who have traveled to Balloon Fiesta for the past nine years. So I contacted the coordinator of the Boomers’ Balloon Fiesta group for 2014 and signed up.

Balloons  139But I also found out that they don’t just attend the event, a bunch of them volunteer to crew for the balloon pilots, many of whom travel from other cities and countries and need crew to help them set up, chase the balloon and then break down. So we too volunteered to crew.

We arrived in Albuquerque on a Wednesday and got settled in our campsite.  The Boomers reserved an area for 40 rigs looking out onto the landing field.  Cool.Balloon  328

Balloons  107The group kicked off with a couple of happy hours that included slide shows, presentations by a couple of the balloon pilots and by our trip leader, Judy, who gave lots of great tips about crewing.

The Boomers have developed a special relationship with one family of three pilots that they’ve consistently provided crew for in the last few years.  Mike and two sons Daniel and Chris, and Mike’s wife Theresa (aka “Mama T”), who oversees all.  The Liberti family generously offered to have a training flight for newbies on Friday morning, the day before the event was scheduled to begin.

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At the practice run we assisted in unloading and unpacking everything, laying out the balloon (called the envelope), cold inflating it with a high powered fan, attaching the top (called the crown) which can be pulled open to vent for landing, and standing the balloon up with heated air ready for lift off.

Then we chased the balloon and helped pack everything back up after landing. A couple of Boomers even got to fly!

One of the benefits of crewing is that the pilots try to take each member of the crew for a ride – not a guarantee but a strong possibility.Balloons  109Balloon 101  018Balloon 101  014Balloon 101  013Balloon 101  015Balloon 101  025Balloon 101  027Balloon 101  028Fiesta  015

Chasing was fun, and pretty easy since there were only three balloons flying in the area (there were other small balloon happenings around town).

One of the things we learned right away is that pilots land throughout the city and most members of the community are excited to see them and will pitch in and help in any way that they can. Which is especially helpful when the chase crew doesn’t quite make it to the landing site on time; groups of people run over to hold down the baskets as the balloons land.

The Liberti family balloon fleet.

Fiesta  017Balloon 101  038Balloon 101  043Balloon 101  042It was a perfect and fun training session.Balloon 101  044

Meanwhile our friends Tim and Amanda arrived at their campground across from the launch field.  After reading their blog for a while we finally caught up with them in Quartzsite last year and were really looking forward to seeing them again.

Balloons  101Balloons  102The first morning of the Fiesta we rode over to the launch field on our bikes. The Balloon Fiesta folks provided bike valet service by the entrance to the park, so we didn’t have to depend on the shuttle bus or deal with traffic or parking fees. Kudos to them!

As we arrived at the 78-acre launch field before dawn we began to realize the scope of this event.

Balloon Fiesta is one of the few hot air ballooning events that allow spectators on the field alongside the 500+ balloons. So everyone gets to see all of the action up close. Which makes it even more exciting.

The giant field is sectioned off so that each of the balloonists has a designated area to park their vehicle and lay out, inflate and launch their balloons from.  There is anticipation in the air as dawn approaches.

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"The Kid", Jesse, and Shawn crew for Daniel

“The Kid”, Jesse, and Shawn crew for Daniel.  Quite the team.

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Balloons  119The nine-day event kicked off with a Mass Ascension – with all the balloons lifting off in waves. Field officials dressed like referees – referred to as zebras and wearing zebra accessories – made sure the coast was clear just above each balloon and gave the final go ahead for them to lift off.  Over 100 people manage the launch field with 60 of those zebras on the field.  Controlled chaos.

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Daniel had plenty of crew, mostly friends, so we didn’t really get to crew but we chipped in a little when we could. Then we met up with Tim and Amanda.Balloons  120Balloons  131

One lone balloon carrying the American flag lifted off while someone sang the National Anthem.  Then, slowly the sky filled with balloons, and it was unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Everyone was looking up at the sky and taking photographs. This is the most photographed event in the world. Balloons  112Balloons  123Balloons  138

The four of us wandered around the field, we were all first-timers and didn’t want to miss a thing.Balloons  127Balloons  133Balloons  124

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That evening, we met Amanda and Tim over at their campsite, where about 200 beautiful Airstreams were camping. We’re big fans of Airstreams, so it was really cool to see so many in one place.

Balloons  193We met several other happy Airstream owners including two couples that recently became fulltimers. It was wonderful to meet Kate and Iain and Lauri and Jase, they are special and fun people.   We wish them well as they embark on their new adventure.

And did I mention that these events are totally dependent upon weather and winds?  Pilots attend a briefing before dawn each day where they are given detailed information on weather, specifically the wind speed and direction.Balloons  105

That evening, along with four other evenings during Fiesta, there was a scheduled Balloon Glow event; pilots inflate the balloons but don’t take off. Then various times during the night, there is a countdown for the pilots to light their burners simultaneously, illuminating balloons as far as the eye can see.Balloon  322

Balloon  319Unfortunately, due to high winds, only a few of the pilots inflated their balloons. But we got a small taste of the Balloon Glow. And enjoyed a fireworks display afterwards.

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Oh, and did I mention that the morning events begin at 5:45 in the morning? All crew must be on the field with their pilots by 6:15 or so.

And even earlier if they crew for the “Dawn Patrol”, which consists of between four to six balloons that lift off (when conditions allow) just before dawn. Each flies at a different altitude to provide additional information to the other pilots on differences in wind speed and direction.Balloons  106

The dawn patrol is worth getting up for, as they light up and lift off in the darkness. Stunning.

After the Dawn Patrol lifts off, the Balloon Fiesta organization communicates to the field as to whether the event is a go or not by raising an appropriate flag.   Green of course means conditions are safe to fly, yellow means flying is on hold because conditions are not right but may be expected to improve, and red means weather is inappropriate to fly.   But even when the green flag is raised, it is ultimately the pilot’s prerogative to fly or not, and they sometimes don’t.

Sunday morning we headed back to the launch field along with a huge crowd only to be disappointed as the red flag was raised because the winds at higher altitudes were too strong to fly safely.  Rats.

So we got together with Tim and Amanda once again.  And met up with them and some of their friends once again that evening over at the Airstream group campsite.Balloon  311

Balloon  306That evening’s Balloon Glow more than made up for the morning’s disappointment.  A spectacular sight, especially since most of the balloons participated. But it was tough to capture the row upon row of giant sparkling balloons in photographs. That will just have to live on in our memory.

The carb kiss

The carb kiss

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After our exhausting time in Denver and crazy drive to Albuquerque, getting up between 4:30 and 5:00 for three mornings, and staying up pretty late in the evenings, we were beat. I don’t nap so I’m not able to catch up on sleep during the day. So Sunday night after we heard that it was going to be windy again in the morning, we decided to sleep in a bit.

Not!  We were awakened by the sound of burners. The wind had died down, and balloons were flying into the landing field (in front of us) and right over us!  We stumbled outside and they were absolutely everywhere in the sky and many were coming towards us.Balloons  142

Balloons  159Balloon 101  032As I was standing there, I heard someone say good morning and thought it was my neighbor Ken. But he wasn’t anywhere near his motorhome. I looked up and a balloon was flying low right over Island Girl. The pilot was the one that said good morning. He asked if we had breakfast and beer for them, and of course we said yes! That’s one of the cool things about hot air balloons, you can talk to the crew when they are near the ground or in another balloon next to you in the air.Balloon 101  031Balloons  153Balloons  141

Balloon  331That afternoon, one couple in the Boomers group who is into biking and breweries, Diane and Harvey, led a bike ride to one of the local breweries. There was a great bike path just across from our campground and it was an easy ride – just under ten miles roundtrip. Which was a good thing, since I don’t do so well riding after drinking beer.   Good times, new friends, delicious beer and a nice little workout – not bad. Already other Boomers had been on balloon rides and were telling their stories.  But we didn’t get any photos at the brewery!

That evening was Tim and Amanda’s last night at the event and we had them over for a simple dinner. It was such fun catching up with them.Balloons  126

If this had been the end of our visit, we would have been thrilled to have taken part in this phenomenal event.  But it wasn’t, stay tuned for more ballooning fun on our next post.

~ Brenda

 

 

35 thoughts on “Balloons Over Albuquerque

    • It was amazing! We’re still in Albuquerque, hopefully will get Island Girl back tomorrow, and taking Angel in for an ultrasound 🙁 Don’t know what’s wrong yet. We head to Tucson on Friday, and Hector is flying to Miami for a week on Saturday.
      Brenda

  1. So glad you enjoyed our Balloon Fiesta. Your pictures are beautiful. About those windy days – the pilot’s saying here is “Taking off is optional, but landing is not!” It is always disappointing when they don’t fly, but you may be interested to know that this year’s festival was accident free!

    • Thank you – we will have even more photos in the next post including lots of special shapes. It was a beautiful event and we did read that it was accident free.
      Brenda

      • We were part of the Boomers in Albuquerque this year and enjoyed meeting the two of you. Your photos are great. We are looking forward to seeing those photos you took of the special shapes, as we crewed for the Speedy Snail from Brazil. It was an amazing experience and we are even thinking of going back next year.

        • It was nice to meet you too. Crewing was really a special experience. We didn’t post all of our photos, will look for some of Speedy Snail and send them to you. We’re thinking of going back next year too.
          Brenda

        • Shoot, I thought we had a photo of Speedy Snail but didn’t. Hector was juggling photography with crewing so missed some of the great special shapes, there were so many! Maybe next year 🙂
          Brenda

  2. We’ve been anticipating this post and were NOT disappointed!!! Lovely shots and great info. Thank you for keeping us along with you. Pets and greenies to Angel! Godspeed, Friends.

  3. It’s hard to capture the magnificence of all those balloons, but you sure do a great job! Can’t wait to see your next post! I just love the way you two get so involved in the places you visit. You live such a rich life. Sending Angel all the positive thoughts I can and hoping to hear a really good report.

    • Thank you, we can’t help but get involved in all of the beautiful and interesting places that we visit. Thanks for your good thoughts for Angel, we’re still trying to figure out what’s wrong. We’ll keep everyone posted as we find out more.

  4. Sure sounds like your first balloon experience was a perfect event. The photos are beautiful, the blue sky and vivid balloon colors sure make for gorgeous photos. So nice that you caught up with Tim and Amanda.

    Hoping Island Girl is getting all patched up. Wishing Angel well:) Keep us posted!

    • Such an incredible event – we just got Island Girl back today. Thanks for your good wishes for Angel, we’re still running tests to figure out what’s wrong and will keep everyone posted.
      Brenda

  5. Holy Moly!!!

    What a treat it must be to wake up to that stunning scenario with a cup of coffee in hand. I can only imagine the feeling that washes over you as that familiar grin of yours gets wider and wider : )

    I do hope Angel is on the mend. She’s a “lucky dog” to have you guys.

    • It was a very cool event – we loved it! Still figuring out what’s wrong with Angel, I’m hoping we know more by next week. Sorry I won’t get to see you guys!
      Brenda

  6. I could barely wait for your balloon post as I knew the photos were going to be fabulous, and they did not disappoint. I have been to other balloon events but nothing this grand. It is on our list. Hope Island Girl has fully recovered from her repair work and that Angel is doing much better.

    • It really was grand. We got Island Girl back yesterday and all seems good – quite an experience. Still following up on Angel’s blood work, although she seems to be feeling better.
      Brenda

  7. Fantastic pictures! It was no nice to meet you at ABQ and these photos just are spectacular since we were there too! You even captured a morning “Dawn Patrol” flight of the orange/yellow “Peanuts 4Ever” in which I was a passenger with our pilot, Ron Thornton from Massachusetts.

    • It was great to meet you too. Wow, you sure were early birds doing Dawn Patrol – but how interesting.
      Happy Trails,
      Brenda

  8. Wow! As expected, all your fiesta pictures are gorgeous! We had such a wonderful time hanging out both of you again, and look forward to crossing paths sometime, somewhere, in the future. Thinking of you and Angel and hoping all is well with her health 🙂

  9. Super great time.
    Thanks for the photos.
    It was great to be with all of the Boomers.
    Y’all captured a great photo of our Grand Villa with the balloons low over us. Thanks.
    We are still in Albuquerque sight seeing and RV repair. We should leave for an Arizona Winter this week.
    Safe Travels,
    John & Phyllis Ramares

    • It was lovely. Glad you enjoyed the photos. We stayed in Albuquerque a while too, and are now in Tucson for a little while. Will stay in Southwest and Southern California for the winter.
      Safe travels to you,
      Brenda

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