I spent the weekend at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, the largest gathering of hot air balloons in the world.
You may scoff, if you like. You may suppose that hot air balloons are lame, that they are the domain of children and old people and anachronists, the sort of thing that stereotypical train-enthusiasts do in the off-season.
If you did decide to scoff, I couldn’t stop you, but you should know that you would have been dead wrong, because balloons are awesome.
I shall now elaborate.
The weekend began with a layover in Dallas and a fairly uneventful flight to Albuquerque.
The problems started when we landed. We were supposed to be staying with family in their camper in the lot by the fair grounds. Their pickup, however, had broken down in Las Vegas – Las Vegas, New Mexico. Yes, that is a place. It is a lovely place, but very small.
We therefore had no place to stay in Albuquerque. We also did not know for sure that our stranded Grahams had a place to stay in their camper, since someone – theoretically – was supposed to be working on fixing it. We wandered around Old Town Albuquerque until we knew that they were going to be okay before finally shelling out for a hotel room. Naturally, with the Balloon Fiesta in full swing, there was literally only one non-smoking room left in the entire city. Since all of us are quivering balls of allergic mess incapable of surviving a night in a smoking room, we took that one.
Now, because we were in a motel, we were no longer walking-distance from the park, and thus had to use the shuttle service. The cost of the shuttle service included the cost of general admission fare to the park – which we had already paid online. The result was that, if we wanted a ride to the park, we had to pay our admission fare twice, plus shuttle fare. Thus, we were standing in line in near-freezing temperatures at about 6:00 in the morning.
I tell you this to illustrate just what I am willing to go through to get to the Balloon Fiesta. The trip was complicated and difficult and just kept getting hairier, but it was worth it.
Despite being in line for the bus at 6:00, we missed the dawn patrol (the small number of balloons that go up in order to be the first thing in New Mexico to see the sunrise), but we were in time for the mass ascension. It’s difficult to describe a sky completely full of hot air balloons. It’s even harder to describe walking among them while they’re still on the ground, listening to a section of the park erupt in cheers as one lifts off.
We did finally hear back from our stranded Grahams and sprang into action, picking up a part she needed and delivering it in time for lunch. The truck was fixed in an hour, and we toodled on back to Albuquerque in time to enjoy the afternoon festivities. (That is to say, shopping. Like most conventions, the Balloon Fiesta consists of watching cool things and buying cool things. This year it was a lapel pin, a patch to add to my backpack, and two alpaca sweaters, which unfortunately won’t be of much use where I live, but were too squishy to resist.)
We settled down on the hill to watch the evening glow with a cup of hot chocolate.
We spent the second night in the Graham camper, got up into a bracingly cold morning, stuffed ourselves back into our layers and were back on the field before dawn for the morning glow, which we enjoyed with still more hot chocolate and some of the most amazing breakfast burritos I have ever encountered. (Green chili, egg, potato, bacon, and cheese. Mmmm.) And we snapped hundreds of photos of the ascension.
Then back on the plane, and back home.
Balloon Fiesta is where all the cool people hang out. That’s just a simple fact. I accosted several of them, and they kindly gave me permission to photograph them in all their awesomeness.
Now no one has any excuse for not going next year, because it is awesome, and it is where the awesome people go.