Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta for the first time. To see the mass ascent, you have to be there at dawn, so a group of us went down the night before and stayed over. (So we only had to get up at 5:30 in the morning instead of 4:30!)
We had bought passes to the "Diamond Club", upstairs at the Balloon Museum (which is shaped like a balloon lying on its side). The curve at the top of the balloon houses a windowed function room and an outdoor deck which faced onto the field where the balloons were taking off. A catered breakfast (quite good!) was served, and there were heaters on the deck to help make it not quite so chill. (Even though it was close to 80 degrees later in the day, it was still in the 40s when we started our vigil at 6:30 in the morning.)
Hundreds of balloons ascended in front of us, many passing directly overhead, and a few going down in an open area just to our left.
According to the Balloon Fiesta's official website, the event started in 1972 when Dick McKee, general manager of KOB Radio, approached Sid Cutter (a charter member of the local balloon club) about flying their “Roadrunner” balloon to help launch festivities for the station’s 50th anniversary. Dick asked: “What is the largest balloon race that’s ever been held?”
Sid replied, “Nineteen balloons in England.”
“ Can we get 19 balloons here?”
“ I don’t know why not.”
Thirteen balloons eventually turned out for the first Fiesta, and 20,000 people showed up to watch. The following year there were 138 balloons, and the event just kept growing. I heard there were 650 balloons this year, which is down slightly from 2007.
What an amazing experience!!