With so much uncertainty to my travel schedule this year, I had just about written off any hope of attending my first Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. I’d always heard you had to book reservations months in advance, especially if wanting to stay at the park in an RV. I also had always thought it was ridiculously expensive.
But after seeing a few posts on the Xscapers Facebook Group that suggested otherwise, and reading the Balloon Fiesta’s FAQ document that mentioned short-term, non-reservation, “Drive-In” camping as being virtually unlimited at their massive Standard RV Parking lot ($30/night boondocking), I decided to pack up the Winnie and head up to Albuquerque to give it a shot.
As luck would have it, a few Xscapers had just left when I arrived, so I was able to get parked at the very front of the lot with the Xscapers group right in between bloggers RV Wanderlust and Drive, Dive, Devour!
After getting parked, I headed over to Technomadia’s Open House to tour Chris & Cherie’s new bus renovations. We’d met in Tucson last Spring, and it was great to see them again and see their gorgeous new bus upgrades! As Chris showed off the iPhone app that monitors their Vectron-controlled lithium battery bank, I coveted their cool solar globe-thingy at the top of their flagpole (that glows different colors at night)! Those Technomads are never at a loss for interesting new tech gadgets!
Cherie graciously introduced me to some very friendly Escapee Boomer and Xscaper attendees, and then to Travis & Mel Carr. Travis is the grandson of the Escapee Club founders, and he and his wife Melanie launched the new Xscapers Club earlier this year to focus on the needs of non-retired, working RVers.
Soon, the next festivity of the evening was underway—the margarita smack-down! How drunk could one girl get just sampling the various concoctions from a tiny Dixie cup? I did o.k. until I got to the peach and blueberry jars of homemade moonshine…whoa, beware of Xscapers toting Mason jars of innocent-looking fruity 100% proof!
If I was ever going to make it to the pre-dawn balloon events the next morning, I decided I’d better leave the party early while I could still walk home in a straight line!
A big benefit of parking at the Fiesta grounds is that you can avoid the traffic jams completely. I didn’t bother to bring my tow vehicle—just my folding Tern Node D8 bike was sufficient. The Fiesta has free shuttle bus service too, but I found biking even faster and easier. There was a terrific Bike Valet service at the front gate to park your bike in a secure, supervised lot for free. Remember to bring your front and rear bike lights though—it’s still pitch black when riding to the morning events (or coming home at night)!
Thankfully, as you walk across the dark balloon field, there is a laser light show and plenty of headlights from balloon crew trucks to light up the field.
The first event of the day is “Dawn Patrol” in which a half-dozen balloons launch just before sunrise to check the flying conditions for all the other balloonists. It is literally jaw-dropping to watch as the burners start firing to raise each balloon upright and create a spectacular glow of color in the dark morning sky!
The Albuquerque Fiesta is not only the largest ballooning event in the U.S. (over 550 balloons participating this year), but it’s also one of the few that let spectators onto the balloon field to mingle right up next to the balloons!
As Dawn Patrol ends, Mass Ascension begins—time for all 550 balloons to get airborne! There is no other place to get quite this same experience of being completely surrounded by massive canopies of colors and shapes.
Everyone knows how much cops love their doughnuts, but I bet you’ve never seen them loving them quite this way before! Check out the “Tail-Lights” on these horses!!!
Each balloon is first laid out flat on the ground. Once it’s connected to it’s basket, a large high-powered fan begins filling the balloon with air. As the inside inflates, crew members can walk inside to position the lines and fabric as needed.
As some crew monitor the inflation process, the most muscular crew members hold safety ropes to keep the balloon stabilized!
When the pilot turns the burner on, the hot air lifts the balloon upright. Time to load up the passengers and prepare for lift-off!
Dozens of officials in striped “referee” outfits (called “zebras”) serve as Ground Control to ensure each balloon gets launched in a safe and organized fashion. Cleared for take-off!
Seeing all 550 balloons in the sky at once is a spectacle I will not soon forget. It was absolutely breathtaking!
The next day, Thursday, featured both a morning and evening session of “Special Shape” balloons. The creativity and whimsy was magical. I think every school kid in Albuquerque was there squealing with delight as these fun characters emerged overhead.
I loved Mother Hubbard’s Shoe with the little girl hanging by a shoelace, and loved the untied shoelaces on the turtle too!
All kinds of fun creatures—from Smokey the Bear, to a pink pig in sunglasses, a pink elephant, happy dairy cow, and even a couple honey bees holding hands!
Somehow, they all eventually managed to get airborne….
with even Uncle Sam approving!
The evening session was to feature a “Glowdeo” of the Special Shape balloons. It started out promising, with the Canon balloon and one of the Special Shapes inflating….
but after sunset, the winds picked up and the Glowdeo had to be cancelled. Fortunately, the fireworks were still “on.” I decided to bike back to my RV and watch them from there to beat the crowds. Not such a bad view!
I thought I’d skip the Fiesta on my final morning and sleep in a bit before driving back to the Refuge. But as dawn broke, I heard a sudden “whoosh” above my RV. Bolting out of bed and looking out my skylight, I saw this flying overhead. The soft northern breeze was bringing the balloons to me!!!
and to Cherie & Chris…
and to hundreds of other RVers around the campground!!!
What a way to start the day (and end my time at the Fiesta!).
Lots of great blog posts and photos have been published this week about the Fiesta, perhaps none better than those from Nina at WheelingIt. I was delighted to finally get to meet Nina in-person after commenting on each others’ blogs and Facebook posts the last few years. Nina’s next post will cover their experience at getting to crew for a balloon. Quite a number of Boomers and Xscapers staying the whole week volunteered to do this as it not only got them into the Fiesta for free each session, but also gave many of them the thrill of a free balloon ride too! Many of the commercial tour balloons were bigger, slower, and literally had their paying clients jammed like sardines--not an experience I’d enjoy shelling out over $400 for!
So, next time, I’ll plan to stay for the full week and try to crew—the pics from the air looked absolutely amazing! Check out the Facebook page photos (like the one below) from the official Fiesta photographer, Bennie Bos. Simply Spectacular!!!