There are few things as magical as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Watching over 700 hot air balloons fill the horizon, drifting on the invisible currents, is an awe-inspiring experience. It is a sight well worth making a trip, but we New Mexicans are lucky enough to have this happening in our own backyard.
And why Albuquerque? Well not only is our weather beautiful in early October (okay, it’s a bit chilly in the early morning when people begin to pile into the park), but we have a meteorological phenomenon that makes Albuquerque uniquely suited to hot air ballooning. It’s called the Albuquerque Box, in which northerly winds take the balloons southward, then once the balloons ascend to a higher elevation the winds take them back in the opposite direction, making it possible (in theory and when conditions are right) to land right back on the field.
As you can guess, this isn’t always the way it happens. You certainly don’t have to attend the balloon fiesta to watch the numerous balloons flying high over the city. Much of the time balloon chase crews end up driving around town as the balloons plunk their gondolas down in residential neighborhoods, land in any of Albuquerque’s numerous open green spaces, and occasionally drop into streets.
As the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta draws visitors from all over the state, country, and world, with over 800,000 visitors annually, which adds up to some pretty hefty crowds and equally heavy traffic clogging up I-25 morning and evening.
But with balloon glows morning and evening, a mass ascension on the weekends at dawn, fair-style New Mexican food chockfull of green chile, balloon flying competitions, and a number of family-friendly booths and activities, it is worth fighting the traffic, being jostled by crowds, getting up hours before the sun rises, and bundling up against the morning chill for at least one visit.
Or if you’re unfortunate enough to attend on one of the days where there’s a wind cancellation, like we were this year, it is worth doing it all over again the next weekend. Especially when the second time you’re blessed with perfect fall weather and such breathtakingly beautiful sights.