Postcard from Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta
Please join us in welcoming guest author Joel Frey, one of the Travelocity Roaming Gnome’s most trusted publicists.
There were two primary questions on my mind as my wife and I sped through the New Mexican desert last Friday afternoon to attend the opening weekend of the 39th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta: 1) What will it be like to ride on a hot air balloon? and 2) Will we make it back alive?
I’m happy to report that the answer to the second question is an emphatic yes. And while we were reminded that there are risks associated with floating in the atmosphere with nothing more than an oversized wicker basket between you and the ground, we also learned that the safety record of the Balloon Fiesta is held in such high regard that it is one of the only balloon events in the world where attendees are able to walk among the balloons and mingle with the pilots and riders prior to launch. This up-close access for everyone instantly impressed me as the Roaming Gnome and I anticipated our climb on board the city’s “Q” balloon, which is traditionally the first to lift off from Balloon Fiesta Park, marking the official beginning of this eight-day spectacle.
More pics of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on Roaming Gnome’s Facebook.
Regarding question number one, a balloon ride is unlike any other high-flying activity I’ve experienced. As we took off, madly waving to those below us, I was overtaken by serenity. Despite all of the flash bulbs popping nearby, my focus was on how peaceful it felt as we ascended. The only sound that briefly interrupted this tranquil state was our pilot periodically firing the gas in order to keep the air in the balloon at temperatures conducive to defying gravity.
Our flight on Saturday morning was part of the Balloon Fiesta’s Mass Ascension where, beginning slightly before sunrise and lasting about three hours, approximately 500 balloons of all shapes, sizes and colors lift off from the 78-acre launch field and take to the Albuquerque sky. It is an awesome sight to behold whether your feet are on the ground or in a balloon’s gondola. Mass Ascension takes place several times during Balloon Fiesta which, besides being the largest ballooning event on earth, is also the most photographed event in the world and the largest annual international event held in the United States.
On Sunday, following our 3 a.m. wake up call at the fantastic Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, the Roaming Gnome, my wife, a couple of colleagues and I met the team at Rainbow Ryders, the only balloon ride company authorized to take off from Balloon Fiesta Park during Balloon Fiesta.
We were on board for Mass Ascension with eight other riders and our pilot. Our ride was about twice as long as my previous flight and this time we went higher, topping off at an altitude of 3,000 feet. I will admit that at this height I was a tad anxious and thankful that I had my wife’s hand nearby to squeeze when necessary! Despite this, the spectacular views we enjoyed from all directions more than compensated for a few frayed nerves. Afterwards, back at the launch field, we were presented certificates to mark the occasion and also celebrated our safe return to earth with a champagne toast.
The 39th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta continues through Sunday, Oct. 10. For anyone looking ahead to next year, it will take place Oct. 1-9, 2011. Check out this helpful FAQ for more information. Balloon rides are also available in Albuquerque throughout the year, courtesy of Rainbow Ryders, and can be booked on Travelocity here.
Joel is also the author of Two Sides of a Cypress Wall, a coming-of-age tale about transitioning from college life to the real world. You can download it on your Kindle for less than a buck.
From time to time, the Window Seat publishes articles and blog posts written by guest authors to give you a fresh perspective on the world of travel.