Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one for the Bucket List
Besides Bugs Bunny’s missed left turn, Albuquerque is probably best known for hot air ballooning. Each year in October, hot air balloonists from all over the world, their crews, and balloon enthusiasts of all stripes descend en masse upon the Duke City for the world’s largest hot air ballooning event, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Started in 1972, the first Balloon Fiesta was a small gathering of 13 balloons. Forty years later, the tradition lives on with pilots representing more than 20 counties and upwards of 800,000 spectators. On weekend mornings during Fiesta, mass balloon ascensions include as many as 700 balloons filling the sky, which is one of the many reasons Balloon Fiesta is the most photographed event in the world.
In addition to the mass ascensions, other photo-worthy moments of the eight day festival include the night time Balloon Glow, where pilots fire their burners simultaneously, lighting up the night in a spectacular display. The Glow was created by Albuquerque balloonists in 1979 as a Christmas Eve thank you to local residents. It’s now one of the most popular events, second only to the Special Shapes Rodeo which showcases more than 100 balloons of interesting incarnations, like a family of bees, a pair of cowboy boots, and even pop culture icons, like Darth Vader and Mr. Peanut.
Shapes and mass launches are relatively new to hot air ballooning, which first took flight in 18th century France. The world’s first hot air balloon was made of sackcloth with three thin layers of paper inside. It was held together by 1,800 buttons with the outside of the envelope reinforced by fishnet. The envelope itself could contain nearly 28,000 cubic feet of air and weighed about 500 pounds. French papermakers, Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier publicly debuted their invention in an unmanned test flight at Annonay on June 4, 1783. The inaugural flight covered 1.2 miles and lasted 10 minutes, reaching altitudes of about 5,200-6,600 feet.
Hot air balloons and the sport of ballooning have come a long way since that famous first flight. Today, the envelope is made from nylon fabric and the mouth of the balloon, the part closest to the flame, is made from fire resistant material. While new materials have made balloons sturdier and safer, pilots still rely on good, old-fashioned wind currents to move their balloons, and this makes Albuquerque’s location in the Rio Grande Valley ideal. Our cool nights and warm October days help create what is known in balloon parlance as the “box effect.” The box effect is a predictable wind pattern that helps pilots “steer” their balloons. Low elevation winds tend to blow from the south, while higher elevation winds tend to be northerly. Balloonists use these winds to navigate in a vertical box: ascending slightly to move south, then ascending further to move north, descending again and repeating the box, or landing close to their original launch site.
Albuquerque’s box effect, as well as our 40 year love affair with ballooning make it the quintessential destination for hot air balloon culture. Our annual celebration brings out the best in the city and its people, while the crisp October air makes it the perfect time to visit the Land of Enchantment. If you haven’t been to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, my only question is: what are you waiting for? Come stay in one of our guest rooms and don’t miss your turn to get up, up, and away in Albuquerque.