Oct 1-11, 2015

Last year Guy and I had decided we wanted to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We had seen pictures of what it was like but weren’t sure what to do, go on our own or with a company. There are mixed views with some saying not to spend the money and others liking some one planning for them. We knew we wanted to stay close to the launch field not wanting to deal with driving to the launch field. We had made reservations with one group but canceled as we started to research and liked what Adventure Caravans had to offer!!

There is a schedule that the fiesta follows which waits for no one!! Opening day was Oct 3, people start arriving at the field about 4:00am.  The first of the balloons start lightening up at 6:00 am. There are events going on all day, and we sure did not want to miss anything.

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Dawn Patrol 6:00am

We did not want to miss the early Dawn Patrol, where pilots take off in pre-dawn dark using lighting position systems that allow them to fly in the dark. 5:00am is way to early for these two retired old people to get up, be dressed and on a bus by 6:00am!!  School buses pick you up right at your coach and take you to the launch field about a mile away, which is great not dealing with parking and traffic.

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fire from the burner

The Dawn Patrol helps Pilots who take off at dawns first light, about 6:30am. The Dawn Patrol helps the Mass Ascension, get an idea of the wind direction and speed of the wind. After Dawn Patrol takes off the Mass Ascension which is 550-600 balloons start to inflate, the excitement rises as confusion reigns.  What a site it was as the balloons all started to inflate using ordinary fans. You can see the dark shapes of balloons laying on the ground, not until they use fans blowing air into the balloon do you start to see them take shape, propane burners start throwing flames into the center of the balloon, lightening them up!

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Soon you hear the count down signaling all the balloons to fire up the burner so they all light up at once.  It was breath takingly beautiful! You hear a whistle blow and slowly the Dawn Patrol rises, glowing, into the sky. As each balloon ascends you hear the crowd cheering and yelling with the pilots and the riders in the baskets. You feel the excitement in the air as it is so contagious. It was truly exciting standing in the midst of so many excited people laughing and enjoying the sounds of the burners, the different shapes of each balloon, colors and sizes of balloons.

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Albuquerque has a  set of predictable wind patterns that can be used to navigate the balloons, this is called “The Albuquerque Box”. At low elevations the winds tend to be southerly but at higher elevations they tend to be northerly. The balloon pilots use these winds to navigate in a vertical box. The balloons use these winds to navigate   ascending slightly from the launch park, move south, ascend further, move north, descend and repeat the box or land back in the launch park or nearby.

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The balloon fiesta is one of the largest in the world, which started in 1972, it runs every October for 9 days. There can be anywhere from 80,000 – 100,00 people attending the event, you can imagine what the traffic is like trying to get to the launch site. The Albuquerque fiesta is the only one that allows spectators to walk around the launch field among the balloons and pilots. It is also the most photographed event in the world. Standing by a balloon as it is filling with air watching it inflate getting bigger and bigger makes you feel so small.

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We choose to attend the fiesta with a tour group, Adventure Caravans. So glad that we made that choice as they made the trip so easy for us. They provided 30 amps of power and water, as well as a truck that would empty our tanks twice during the week, tickets to all the events, breakfast everyday, 9 dinners/lunches, lots of desserts!! Lots of wonderful people helping and working to make sure everything went off without a hitch. During the week there is not much going on after the early morning balloon lift off, so Adventure planned trips around Albuquerque (I will post about our side trips in another post).

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Camping is in a field that is plowed just before the event starts, its dirt and rock, numerous times the day a water truck comes thru watering roads trying to keep down the dust, the spots are marked for each coach, there is not lots of room or privacy but we were not in our coaches much so privacy didn’t matter.

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There are other places to camp that are closer to the launch site, VIP – $85.00 per night, which is dry camping, above the launch site, Presidents camp- $150.00 per night, 30amp/water. which is also above the launch site.

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Where we were in the Standard camp is 1 mile from the launch site, $65.00 per night, 30amp/water or $30.00 for dry camping. This camp spot was a great place to be as after the balloons launched at the launch site they would fly over the top of our coach or land in the field in front of the coach. Once they land they need everyones help keeping the basket and balloon from taking off if a gust of wind came up.

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Coming down in field next to coach

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holding basket down in field by coach

Guy ran into the field as one of the balloons landed and their crew was not there to help take the balloon down.

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One of the evenings we went to the launch field for the Evening Glow and fireworks show, where large numbers of balloons are illuminated at night by their burners, the balloons don’t fly but they inflate the balloons and turn their burners on for a beautiful glow.

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We decided to go with Dorrita and Larry to the Evening Glow on Friday night, as we were walking in we all were asked if we would like to help crew on a balloon? Well, we all looked at each other, smiled, and of course, we all said yes. After signing all the legal papers, we met up with our pilot, Shane Robinson, he was piloting the Angry Birds balloon, the owner, Ben, was from India.

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Angry Bird

As a crew member you help take things off the truck, basket, burner, and balloon! Unfold the balloon and layout on the grass, keeping all the people who want to get a close up look away so they don’t step on it, help with the fan, hold open the opening to let air in, holding the basket down as an anchor, Dorrita and I got to stand inside as anchors to help keep it in place. I tell you what it was hot when the burner was on!!

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Dorrita and I in the basket taking a selfie, with Shane, the pilot, Larry holding us down and a zebra (someone who has a whistle and keeps people away from the basket as it takes off)

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Once they Evening Glow was over everything needed to be packed and put into the truck! He asked us if it was possible we could be there the next morning to do it all over again!! Yup, we all set our clocks and made it to the field by 6:00 to do it again. Larry and Guy were hoping that they could go up…but the owner, Ben, brought some of his family who went! Darn!! We then became the road crew, which we meant we would follow the balloon thru town and pick him up where ever he would land. But lucky for us he found the “Albuquerque Box” and landed back on the field.

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There are numerous concession stands selling, food, coffee, cokes, jewelry, kids toys, swings, and of course clothes. There were bands, The Band Perry,  music over the loud speakers, a chainsaw woodcarving contest then a raffle of woodcarvings.

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I recommend if you ever make it to the Balloon fiesta sign up to help crew with the balloons and pilots!! We had a great time, and I think we all decided that it all is way to much work to own one!!

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Each night after the Evening Glow they have amazing fireworks, we could sit at our campsite and watch. It was spectacular watching while enjoying a glass of wine while talking with our neighbors.

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I will leave you with a few fireworks pictures.

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Thanks for keeping up with “The Nomads” in the next blog I will talk about the wonderful excursions we took around Albuquerque. Y’all have a Blessed day and see ya next time.