One of New Mexico’s signature sights is hundreds of hot air balloons “flying” over Albuquerque – their many shapes, patterns and colors contrasting against the vast blue canvas of the sky and the rich earthen colors of the ground below. New Mexico is home to the largest balloon festival in the world: The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Fiesta is an occasion to welcome hundreds of balloonists from all over the world, providing an opportunity for both visitors and locals alike to experience the surreal beauty of the balloons in the New Mexico sky.
If it were not for the pioneering spirit of Albuquerque balloon legends Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman, it is doubtful that the Balloon Fiesta would have become such an internationally recognized and celebrated event. These men were the first to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in hot air balloons – the famous Double Eagle II and V in 1978 and 1981.
Dating from the promotional efforts of ballooning pioneers like Sid Cutter in the 1970s, the Fiesta soon became a pivotal location for the burgeoning modern balloonist culture. Traditions such as the lighted Dawn Patrol (glowing balloons going up while still dark to scout the wind conditions for the other fliers), the mass ascension and the flight of playfully shaped balloons became an integral part of the culture.
There is so much to do, but be sure to see the Mass Ascension, usually scheduled for 7 a.m. when the winds are calm. Once the lead balloon with an American flag launches, balloon traffic referees in zebra striped shirts coordinate the launching of the hundreds of colorful balloons, creating one of the world’s most amazing aviation events. Another astonishing event is the Balloon Glow, when at night all the balloonists fire their burners simultaneously, creating a spectacular explosion (well, hopefully not) of shapes and hue. Following the Balloon Glow, a massive fireworks display continues the excitement and entertainment.
The entertainment and excitement of the Fiesta are also caused by the balloonist competition – an important part of the Fiesta culture. The earliest iterations featured “Coyote and Roadrunner” chases where a balloon decked out with an image of the familiar character attempted to evade balloons painted as its antagonist. This has become a far more regulated set of events and aerial competitions and races can make for exciting viewing.
One of the reasons for the Fiesta’s success comes from the meteorological phenomenon known as the “Albuquerque Box,” a set of wind patterns that occur when the weather is “just right.”
“Albuquerque’s location is crucial to even the possibility of the Box forming. The city sits in the Rio Grande Valley between the Sandia Mountains and the West Mesa. The Albuquerque Box is ‘essentially a valley wind pattern that develops under certain stable conditions.’ Temperature, wind and moisture all factor into creating this unique weather situation. Temperature is important because cooler air is more dense than warm air and the air that is more dense sinks below the less dense air…When the Albuquerque Box is working, tourists can then stay in one spot and watch the balloon launch, drift away, then drift back and land all from the same location.” -Allison Smith from Meteorologist’s Jeff Haby’s website.
The Inn on the Alameda offers an excellent experience for guests interested in the Balloon Fiesta. Feel free to call on our knowledgeable staff to help ensure first-rate viewing and even the possibility of ascending to truly experience the Fiesta like no other. No one should miss the sight of the balloons, which is one of the unique New Mexico elements that truly make this the Land of Enchantment. And be sure to stop at the Agoyo Lounge for a drink and dinner and a special toast to one of the world’s most spectacular events.