The pages on the calendar show that it is time to start making your plans to attend one of the most colorful "feast for the eyes" that mankind has ever produced. It is the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico (http://www.balloonfiesta.com/ or l-888-422-7277). Even if you are not a person that has a "bucket list" of what they want to see or do before they die, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is an event that EVERYONE should try to see, if at all possible!! The dates for 2010 are October 2 - October 10. That is when thousands of hot air balloons from all over the world will be converging in the city and surrounding areas to put on a spectacle of Olympic proportions! Their website describes it as "the most spectacular display of sound and color in all of aviation", and I definitely concur with that statement.
It is not surprising that Kodak is a major sponsor of the event, considering it is a photographer's dream. The excitement a photographer feels while trying to capture all the colors, shapes, and activity that are going on during the Mass Ascension is beyond belief! And when I say "Mass Ascension", I am not referring to a Catholic religious service. Rather, the Balloon Mass Ascension is when hundreds of balloons are in the process of being filled with hot air just as the sun begins to rise over the New Mexico landscape. But leading up to this "uplifting event" the first day at 5:45am, is the "Dawn Patrol". That is when a group of about 12 balloons do an ascension that has been carefully choreographed to music. This group of balloons known as the dawn patrol are the "scouts" that judge the flying conditions, and the data from their flights is valuable to the other pilots who have yet to ascend. After the Dawn Patrol has reported their findings, then the first balloon of the Mass Ascension takes off, flying the flag of the USA, while the Star Spangled Banner is played over the loudspeakers, located throughout the balloon park. The balloons are divided into "waves" of ascent, such that the second wave cannot go until the first wave has lifted off, etc., etc. If you are thinking to yourself that 5:45 am is WAY too early for you to have your eyes open, don't worry, as you can still have an opportunity to see a fantastic hot air balloon event, called the "Balloon Glow". This activity occurs in the evenings, after dark, and is made possible by the bright flames from the gas burners used to heat the air, for the inside of the balloons. The flames give a warm glow to the inflated balloons and makes for even more photo opportunities, of a different sort. The first-ever Balloon Glow was held in Albuquerque in 1979, and has grown to be a major part of the ten day festival, followed up by a huge fireworks display.
Another day of the fiesta is designated as the "Shapes Rodeo". That is when balloons of every imaginable configuration come together to begin the process of being filled with hot air, so they can take to the skies and promote whatever product their special shape resembles. For example, the "Michelin Man" balloon and "Canadian Mountie" balloon in the first photograph, as well as this gigantic grouping of red chili peppers in this photograph, would be part of the Shapes Rodeo event. The first year I went to the Balloon Fiesta, I actually got to ride in one of the special shapes balloon, and it was the balloon designed to look like Mickey Mouse, and owned by the Disney folks. It was a great ride, that was made even more special by the place where we landed. Our very slow and gentle landing took place on the streets of a residential area, full of little children. You can imagine the screams of delight from the excited kiddies, as they exclaimed to their parents that "Mickey Mouse" has just landed in our neighborhood!!! Anyone who gets a ride in the Mickey Mouse balloon receives a special Disney Collector.s pin that resembles the Mickey Mouse balloon, and I still have mine, to remind me of that fun experience. Albuquerque educators have taken advantage of the fascination that children have with hot air balloons, and have started a program called "Aloft" that takes places at area schools on the first Friday before the balloon fiesta starts. Pilots take their balloons to designated schools and teach the kids about aviation, answer their questions, and if conditions permit, may even offer tethered (i.e. "tied down") balloon rides. Also, the balloon park operates a "Balloon Discovery Center" throughout the event, that is aimed at interactive displays and activities for children. It is no wonder that ballooning is such a part of the culture of that part of New Mexico. I remember that even the taxi driver we had that took us from our hotel to the airport, was a licensed hot air balloon pilot. He said he drove the taxi to support his ballooning hobby!
The great thing about getting to actually ride in a balloon during the Mass Ascension, is the bird's eye view you get of the entire park as you are drifting ever higher above it. This photo was taken from inside the basket of the balloon, on a different year that I attended the balloon fiesta, and I was able to ride in one of the first wave of balloons going up that day. Usually, only 3-4 people (depending on their weight) can ride in a standard size balloon basket, although a few balloons have been designed to accommodate larger groups. But even if you don't get to actually ride in a balloon, EVERYONE can be a part of the excitement by helping hold the balloon open while it is being filled, unwrapping it from its carrying bag, or otherwise helping the small crews that usually travel with a balloon. One of the postcards I purchased at the fiesta, had this "Balloonist Prayer", which seems an appropriate way to end this post: "May the winds welcome you with softness, May the sun bless you with his warm hands, May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth." Miles of smiles----Up, Up, and AWAY!! Tricia