Way back in the early 1970s a bunch of hot air balloonists came together to create the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. There is a tradition of ballooning in Albuquerque and atmospheric conditions and valley wind patterns make it a good spot for the sport. The idea caught on and hundreds of balloons took flight each year as the fiesta grew to be the world’s largest balloon festival. Kodak played a part in the early years by promoting the event and the many opportunities to burn up lots of film taking pictures of the balloons. Unfortunately for Kodak, digital photography was rapidly replacing film photography and Kodak eventually retreated as if in denial. The Balloon Fiesta was well on its way by then and has continued to grow for four decades. This year was the 43rd International Balloon Fiesta and there are still some great opportunities for photographers.
My first visit was in 1980 or 1981. My wife, Joanne, and I came to Albuquerque by train and spent a week or more visiting and camping in the Sangre de Cristos. The Balloon Fiesta was a highlight of the trip. We got up around 4 AM and trudged to the launching site…a dew covered grassy field. There were hundreds of balloons going up in a mass ascension just as the sun came up. There were thousands of people there too…all with wet socks and squishy shoes. Joanne had to go visit the long line of porta-potties and we made plans to meet up by a large red and white balloon. The ladies’ porta-potties had long lines and it was almost twenty minutes before she came wandering back through the crowd. Of course, our landmark ‘balloon was about 500 feet in the air and drifting away on the breeze.
Fast forward to 2014. I’m now living in Albuquerque. We liked the place so much that we decided to retire here but, sadly, Joanne didn’t make it. I live in a house up near the top of the western slope overlooking the Rio Grande Valley and with a good view of the Sandia Mountains. I also have a good view of the Balloon Fiesta balloons whenever the wind carries them north up the valley. This year the wind blew mostly from the north so the balloons were often carried south over the city. Some days the wind cooperated and brought them up the valley but not so close that they were landing in my yard or across the street as they did last year.
I’ve never been up in a balloon…I’m actually partial to blimps if I had my choice. It is on my list of things to do and I’ll be happy with either one. There is also a soaring airport a few miles east of Albuquerque and I’d like to do that as well.
Here are a few pictures I took from my front porch. It was a cloudy sunrise.
Coming out of the clouds…