Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Family arrived to take part in the ALB Int. Balloon Fiesta   http://albuquerque.about.com/od/albuquerqueeventcalendars/a/Balloon-Fiesta-Facts-And-Figures.htm   so our excitement and interest was higher this year. After spending a day at El Rancho de las Golondrinas    https://daflikkers.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/record-average-rainfall-new-mexico-fall-festivities/   as described in previous post, we then drove the motor coach out to Balloon fiesta park, to be used as a motel on site. Finding a parking space among the hundreds of motor coaches of various classes and sizes already in place, was relatively easy during the week. Socorro chapter of Good Sam Club (24 families) arrived nearby to take a portion of one row near the entrance way http://www.nmgoodsam.com/MSams.htm.

The weekends are a bit tougher, requiring early arrival, due to the shear numbers of groups and reservations, all arriving to witness the ‘row by row’ Mass Ascension of hundreds of balloons. This international attraction with over 600 balloons currently, is the one most photographed event in the world. Over 100,000 observers at a time, attend ‘each’ event on certain special days. Kodak film and cameras at one time sponsored the entire program. With the advent of digital imagery, they quickly dropped from relevance. Attendance is now approaching the one million mark with over 841,000 attendees during 2007 and again in 2010. It is the single largest International event in the USA. The value of the US dollar influences international attendance. When the US Dollar is low, internationals flock to the event, as their buying power is great.

One group of motor coaches in attendance for the first day’s events, was the ‘Prevost’ Prouds group http://libertycoach.com/events/Prevost-Prouds-Albuquerque-International-Balloon-Fiesta They arrived in style, with five long rows of immaculate luxury coaches, parked as if on display. Their group event this year included Santa Fe. Our Son documented images of the immaculate coaches in rows, many with illuminated undercarriages. LEDs or small high intensity spotlights were used to give an iridescent glow to the rows of absolutely beautiful luxury coaches.

The Prouds had a group hospitality tent that resembled a pre-tensioned retail shelter. Their catered serving tables were set with China, rather than paper plates. The large area they had reserved and occupied, was now vacant and they had dispersed on each individual  journey, by the time we arrived.

Although back a bit from the street on the RV park, we had front row parking, level sites and wide open views toward the launch field. We were living large, like the Prevost organization before us :>)  A sizable chapter of ‘Lazy Days’ vacations, was also represented in rows, as a fun loving group nearby http://lazydays.com/travel/tours/balloon-fiesta.html

The day of preparation proceeded a bit too fast for our own little group and we arrived on site after dark, to settle in for the night. The children were excited about the ‘camping’ and would not settle to sleep until after 10 PM. Usually the ‘News’ helicopters flying over the scene before the ‘crack’ of dawn on the first day, would wake everyone early. This time during the week, no helos overhead, so we overslept slightly. A fast bite of breakfast and we rushed out the door to catch the shuttle bus for a ride to the launch field by 7 AM. Costco had the entrance gate tickets at 4 for $24 this year. it saves money to acquire them early.

The first rows waves were in the air already, so I hustled to the main group still preparing for launch, being separated as a family in the process. This (my fault for rushing) caused stress for my wife, at not witnessing our excited young grand children seeing the hundreds of balloons surrounding them for their first time. Being rare visitors to NM, we will likely not be in their company again for years to come.

Throngs of spectators and participants on the huge launch field (54 football fields) make it difficult to re-assemble as a group, unless a plan is in place, radios or cell phones are ‘remembered’. This year had different ‘special’ shapes of balloons, so the interest kept rising, as each of the over 600 envelopes was inflated. The Hummingbird from Brazil, as pictured here  http://www.abqjournal.com/276069/abqnewsseeker/balloon-makes-hard-landing-in-golf-course.html  was Not the one that incurred damage or had the hard landing.  The familiar Honey Bees were no longer holding hands, though still launching 3 together. Time lapse videos from this years event on site web cams (speeded up drastically) graphically depicts the story of this event’s popularity.  http://www.balloonfiesta.com/event-info/web-cams

A giant doll with long golden hair stood so tall, that other balloons were rising and not yet cleared of her stature. Represented among the colorful myriad, were Batman, Elephant, a Fireman and a Fireplug, along with a Polar Bear and countless many other characters. They all rose into control altitude, drifted south and then leveled off, before rising or settling, catching the next level of breeze, back in a northward direction. The effect over the Rio Grande Valley is well known as the ‘Albuquerque Box’. When it works perfectly, the cycle continues in the early morning, as the balloons cycle to re-land on the launch field or hover on windless mornings.

Several hundred balloons are eventually in the air at any given time. In years past the grand launch was often utter chaos, as a number approaching a thousand balloons, launched almost simultaneously. To say the least, it was a mad jumble of balloons jostling against each other. Dangerous to the balloonists, it resulted in a few disasters.

Exciting to observe…. from the ground. The various launch sites of previous years, was more often dirt with Jack Rabbits scurrying away from the crowds, with many dogs in pursuit. Dogs no longer roam free among the orderly crowds. Grass (sprinkler irrigated from Rio Grande water) replaces the dirt mesa. Pavement on key intersections and drive paths, keeps the hundreds of balloon crew vehicles from becoming dust generators, while allowing wheelchairs and mobility scooters access to the launches. The first organized launch was from a shopping mall. Now buses cycling continuously, carry the people to and from designated sites around the city. Parking near the expansive site is for the patient, as the traffic can attain dense levels, at times even hindering the buses from arriving before launch or evening ‘Glow’.

The orderly ascension is now on a grassy field, with paved main access grids for the trucks and trailers. Each chase crew quickly leaves the launch field in their retrieval vehicles and begins tracking, following and communicating with their own balloon, as it drifts away. AT the early events, CB Radios were the communication. Today’s cellular system with ‘smart’ tech GPS tracking, is a vast improvement.

South America, with their prospering economy, was well represented this year. With a fascinating Hummingbird from Brazil, as just one special shape creation to thrill the spectators, they flew each day of the event..

Retrieval is naturally paramount to the participants. Not always easy, due to terrain and geography hindering the direct routes to the often remote, unplanned and random landing sites. Not all landings are smooth. Today’s event was marred by a balloon floating on the mercy of the wind, near the Intel plant in Rio Rancho, contacting electrical wires, with the flames that damaged the envelope. Arc burning one of the occupants severely, requiring an arm amputation.   http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/10/us/new-mexico-hot-air-balloon-crash/  This long agonizing night they are spending in intensive care, is not envied. A fund is underway to assist in offsetting huge expenses incurred. As the Hot Air balloon flying sport matures, it is more organized and safer, still a high risk sport per capita of participants.

Ben Abruzzo’s (internationally famous balloonist) name is on the launch field museum. Abruzzo was originally an employee of Bob Nordhaus   http://www.sflivingtreasures.org/index.php/treasures/96-nordhaus-robert-.html  WWII veteran (10th Mountain Division) lawyer, the key financier of the Sandia Mountain Tram, ski areas (Abruzo family operated) and many other developments and amenities around New Mexico.

The balloon fiesta park venue is used for many activities and parties. Vendors booths line the main street, offering every imaginable form of food, clothing and gifts. The ongoing gatherings of individuals and special interest groups, continue throughout the week, as the continuous flights of balloons each morning, special shapes and ‘glows’ in evening, are the ongoing attractions. Cooler weather is the reason the balloons rise. Heating the air inside by ‘on board’ propane burners, causes them to become lighter than the surrounding air.

The city and state prospers by the massive yearly attraction, as many fans and participants remain throughout the week and beyond, to enjoy the ambiance and numerous attractions of the area. Hopefully buying a few items from the countless shops that cater to their whims. Naturally Albuquerque has lots of Traditional Mexican food with famous New Mexico Chile and other delicacies to entice dining out. Hotels are usually reserved and at times approach capacity during key days, such as the first grand launch of the yearly event.

Travel to Albuquerque New Mexico, to participate in the colorful exciting event and feel the ‘Enchantment’ of the state, within the United States of America, ‘One nation under God”.

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