The northern area of New Mexico has long been one of my favorite U.S. destinations. About 12 years ago, I attended a press trip that mostly took place in Albuquerque. Throughout several tour days, my favorite activity was to ride in a hot air balloon - for the first time ever:
A whoosh of hot air and whisper of breeze had ushered us into the early morning sky outside Albuquerque. With arm muscles bulging, Brooke deftly adjusted heavy-duty synthetic ropes that secured the rainbow-striped balloon to the passenger basket, and the burner that helps change the air pressure and balloon shape. Cameras clicked and whirred in every direction.
A smaller balloon to our right shimmered silver and blue against wispy clouds. The Rio Grande snaked below us, across the fall-colored landscape, and beneath a highway bridge where passing cars resemble ants. The balloon nearly skimmed the river’s surface before it rose to the treetops and traveled within several yards of upper branches.
Fifty-five minutes, three ground miles, and 1,700 feet in elevation later our driver, Brooke, slowly allowed hot air to escape through a vent in the balloon's crown so it could land in a field near where we started. We gently touched ground and departed the basket. Several passengers helped the crew squeeze air out of the spent balloon and then the festivities began.
There's nothing like bubbly and donuts after your first hot air balloon ride. Brooke offered both as he distributed flight certificates and lapel pins, and read the Irish Balloonist's Prayer aloud:
The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well that
God has joined us together in laughter and set us
gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.
My first hot air balloon experience led to my husband Mark, and me attending the Albuquerque international Balloon Fiesta with friends from Arizona. Unbelievably gorgeous weather made our trip even better:
My husband and I arrived several hours before our friends arrived, in time for evening festivities at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Flattened hot air balloons were lying beneath sun-tipped clouds and deep purple mountains. They puffed up slowly as the sun set. Hundreds of onlookers circulated amid the sea of rip stop nylon.
A balloon inspired by Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon plumped up when fiery air entered its mouth and a giant strawberry ‘ripened’ nearby. Balloon burners illuminated the darkening landscape and a ‘whooshing’ sound accompanied each air blast. Filled balloons danced like giant fireflies before finally collapsing in the dark.
The next morning, blue skies and mountain peaks framed hundreds more balloons. We visited the launch field just after sunrise, and walked through ever-expanding corridors of brilliant hued nylon. Before long, balloons traveled skyward, like popcorn as it cooks. For the next several hours the spectacle mesmerized us as my camera ran continuously.
This nine-day October event celebrates the city’s status as ‘balloon capital of the world.’ Each fall, the festival draws more than 500 hot air balloons manned by 600+ pilots from across the globe, with mesmerized audiences of close to 900,000 people.
Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum is a must-see spot, too. It resembles a hot air balloon laid on its side, with a two-story glass wall that overlooks 385-acre International Balloon Fiesta Park. Designed by an avid balloonist and Studio Southwest Architects/a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the building utilizes a recycled water system, recycled paving, and methane gas extracted from landfills, and focuses on habitat reclamation. The museum showcases inflated balloons plus flight simulators, history, technology, and adventure exhibits.
Note: As a travel writer, I received accommodations, entry fees, etc. while visiting this area, in advance of reviews and/or profiles. I do my best to remain impartial and offer full disclosure to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
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