Spirit of the Winds

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Balloons  154We had a fabulous time during the first half of the week at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and were looking forward to crewing and participating in the rest of the event.  The theme this year was “Spirit of the Winds”.

Turns out the best was yet to come.Balloons  235

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Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday didn’t have Mass Ascensions scheduled but there were still lots of balloons on the field. The rest of the balloonists were preparing for various competitions, many of which give away prizes, including cash.  The balloons that take off from the field are the ones not competing, and they need to clear the field early so that the staff can set up the targets for the competing balloons to aim for.Balloons  160

Balloon 101  001Daniel Liberti was the winner of the 2013 competition and his balloon was flying with banner number 001. On competition days Daniel was flying a special balloon called a racer.  These balloons have a different shape and are more maneuverable.Balloons  192

In the various competitions, pilots read the winds and launch from a location of their choice elsewhere in the city (no less than a mile away, although many start further away to have more room to maneuver) and steer their balloon towards the launch field.

There may be targets to hit or 30-foot poles that they need to loop a ring around or grab an envelope from.  It is cool to see hundreds of balloons all coming towards the launch field.Balloons  182

Balloons  184The competitions really demonstrate how skilled many of the pilots are. We watched a couple of the competitions where the balloonists were trying to get a marker to the target, and it was amazing how close they got to the ground and the targets.

Especially considering that if they touched the ground they would be disqualified. And they came really close to each other as well.Balloons  183Balloons  189

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Balloon 101  016On Tuesday, BJ, one of our new Boomer friends, introduced us to a pilot who needed crew for the rest of the week.  We joined Ron’s crew on Wednesday.    Ron hails from Tampa and flies a balloon named “Skywalker”.  This was his 29th Balloon Fiesta!Balloons  197

Crewing makes the event much more interesting not to mention educational.

Balloons  166Balloons  164During this time of year there’s a special wind pattern, unique to this area, called the Albuquerque Box.   Because of the shape of the Rio Grande Valley, winds at lower elevations move in one direction while winds at higher elevations move in another. Usually low winds are from the north and high winds are from the south, allowing balloons to take off and land in the same general area.Balloons  175

One morning there was a perfect Albuquerque box. Absolutely fabulous as we watched balloons fly away, then come back around and around.  It was a spectacular day with wispy clouds.


But my all time favorite morning event was the Special Shapes Rodeo. This was scheduled for two different mornings, and the first morning Ron chose not to fly so we could all stay on the field and enjoy the special shapes from the ground.

Good choice.Balloons  220Balloons  173Balloons  215

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Balloons  203If you haven’t had that feeling of childhood wonder for a while, you will rediscover it during the Special Shapes Rodeo.  Adults and children alike were looking up, pointing, and excitedly calling out names of the special shapes.  Pigasus, Sharky, The Blue Whale, Hopper T. Frog, Arky, Oggy the Friendly Dragon, Pegleg Pete…Balloons  202

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And one special shape balloon made a surprise debut, a Yoda balloon was uncovered by the owners of the Darth Vader balloon so the two of them could fly together. Awesome!

Some of the special shape balloons need huge crews to deal with their enormous and often really complex shapes.  And many can only fly in extremely light winds.

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Brenda ready for launch

Balloons  233On the second Special Shapes Rodeo morning, I got to fly!   Beth, the lady who won the contest for next year’s theme, “Where Dreams Take Flight”, and her husband flew with us as well.  Beth is a teacher from Topeka, Kansas.  Very cool.

Balloons  240Balloons  241Balloons  244The wind was very light so many of the special shapes were able to fly.  It was quite wonderful to be up in the air with special shape balloons as far as the eye could see.  At one point we were surrounded by Bumblebees!

Balloons  245There’s a beautiful 360 degree view that includes the Sandia mountains from the air.  Flying was like sailing in gentle winds – very soft – though the burners were a bit noisy.

I was so nervous and excited that most of my photos came out blurry, but I got a few. Fortunately, Hector took some awesome ones from the ground.  When we landed we again caused a stir and an adorable little girl in a princess dress and her mom ran over to us and helped to pack up the balloon.

Balloons  250Balloons  251After each balloon ride, once all of the work is completed, it’s traditional to have a champagne toast.  In the old days when flying was still new in the world, balloons were much more combustible.  They sometimes set fires when they landed on people’s properties.  And so people were not very welcoming and sometimes would attack the balloonists with pitchforks!

So in order to make a better impression the balloonist began to carry champagne and offer some to those on whose property they landed.  A tradition that thankfully continues to this day.

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Special Shapes Glowdeos were on the schedule for Thursday and Friday evenings. Sure to be spectacular.  But weather once again didn’t cooperate, windy on Thursday and windy and rainy on Friday. We had to ride back to our campsite in the rain, fortunately I had our rain gear in my back pack.Balloons  254

The next morning, during one of the Mass Ascensions, Hector got to fly.Balloon 101  022Balloons  256Balloons  255Balloons  232

Balloons  259Balloons  260Balloons  262It was another absolutely spectacular day, with light winds so that even the largest special shape balloons could actually fly!Balloons  276

Winds were blowing in the direction of one of the Indian reservations. Pilots don’t like to land there because if they do they have to be escorted out and there can be big delays in getting out of the area and many of the pilots were flying further out. So Hector got a nice long ride, and we chased a very long way.Balloons  267Balloons  265Balloons  268Balloons  264

Balloons  263Balloons  279Balloons  270Balloons  280Balloons  271Balloons  272Balloons  269

Balloons  285An adorable couple also flew with Hector and our pilot.  Hector took both of his cameras and got lots of photos from the air.  Balloons  274Balloons  273Balloons  282Balloons  290


Balloons  288Including some of balloons doing a Splash and Dash; lowering their balloons briefly into the Rio Grande. Baskets can be damaged by water, so the pilots lift off immediately after touching the water, thus the name.Balloons  286

Balloons  294And Ron wound up landing on someone’s private horse ranch. When I arrived in the chase vehicle with the crew chief Mike, the gate to the property was closed! Mike jumped the fence to the property to help them move the balloon to a location where it wasn’t in danger of getting caught on the roof of one of the buildings.

Balloons  297Fortunately, the owners of the ranch arrived shortly thereafter, helped us all out and avoided us being stuck behind a gate with all of the equipment. Lovely folks and another great day.Balloons  298

Balloon  303And there was one other activity – not included in the schedule of events – that takes place every day of the event: partying. Many pilots come back out to the field after morning activities have ended to celebrate and party. There is food and drink for all to share.

Balloon  302We only participated in the tailgating two of the days we were there. Ron introduced us to a group that had a homemade blender built from a motorcycle handlebar and throttle with a gas engine.  It took a bit of effort, but they made some decent margaritas.

Crazy Floridians!Balloons  252Balloon  332

Balloon  333The last evening, another Balloon Glow was scheduled to take place. And, being the last one, we expected it to be fabulous.   Well, another front came in and once again we rode back to our campsite in the rain. Amazingly, there were fireworks displays every night after the Balloon Glows were cancelled.Balloon  334

On the last morning of Fiesta, the winds were very strong once again, and the balloons didn’t fly. So sad for those that could only attend on the weekends; both Sunday morning events and both Saturday evening events had to be scrapped due to weather (although the first Saturday evening a few balloons did inflate for the Balloon Glow).Balloon  327

Ken and Shirley, our neighbors

Ken and Shirley, our neighbors

Luke and Judy, the organizers

Luke and Judy, the organizers


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Ron and his buddy Mike

And it was also sad to say good-bye to new friends.  This was one of the most beautiful events we’ve ever attended, we highly recommend it to everyone!

~ Brenda

Balloons  209May the winds welcome you with softness.

May the sun bless you with its warm hands.

May you fly so high and so well that God
 joins you in laughter and sets you gently
 back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

The Balloonist’s Prayer
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27 thoughts on “Spirit of the Winds

  1. Wow wow wow… what an adventure… the photos show the enormity of the event… this must attract 1000s of visitors or spectators … I would love to see one of these…
    But your photos are just too magnificent for words… brilliant captures….

    • Thank you, it attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators over the nine days – this year they expected over 800,000!

  2. Oh my! I’ve had this on my to do list for a while. Need to find a way! The pictures are beautifully dramatic. Can only imagine how it must be in person. What an awesome time!

    • Thank you! You should definitely do it. I plan to publish a shorter post on some tips for those interested in attending. Hope you can make it!

  3. How wonderful to get this insiders’ view of the Fiesta! We’ve been there for the last day lift off and loved it, but your post about the breadth and height (!) of the event gave me so much more information than is visible from just one visit. What an experience!!! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  4. This looks like a very special week. It definitely seems that participating in a group and also volunteering is the way to fully experience it all. Thanks so much for letting us in on the whole experience.It’s so cool you each got to fly!

    • It really was special, we hoped to fly, but weren’t sure it would happen. So we were thrilled when it happened.

  5. Did you boondock camp for the whole event or did stay in camp grounds. If Boondocking how do find the sites we are pretty new to this but would love to try it next year.Any hints would be great .beautifull pictures


    • Thank you and welcome to our blog. We stayed in the Balloon Fiesta campground, the dry camping fee is $30 (except for the launch field which is much more expensive). I am posting some tips about planning for this event in my next post – stay tuned.

  6. I don’t know how the follow-up to your first post could have been any better but it was. The photos are fabulous and getting to fly at this event must have been an over-the-top experience. I went to the Phoenix balloon festival many years ago and was asked to join a balloonist for a flight. It was fabulous but flying during this event must have been so special. 🙂

    • Yes, flying amidst all of the other balloons is really cool. We’re thinking of going back next year, but not sure what plans will be.

  7. BEST POST EVER!!!! I will I will I will get down there one day to participate and take photos which will never be as amazing as yours! Would love to hear more about crewing for the balloons someday though.

    • Thank you! Hope you get there soon, and I’m sure your photos will be great. Our next post will have some tips and links that you might find helpful.

  8. Spectacular. This is what we missed. We will be asking you anytime soon how and who organize the MH to hang out together for this event.
    I can just imagine the great feeling you guys experienced.

  9. Spectacular! So glad you enjoyed yourselves! And I love The Balloonist’s Prayer. Awesome. Love to you both and Angel. ~ Rebecca

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