We have liftoff!

So here we are at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We arrived here Monday afternoon. The first event we planned to attend was on Wednesday morning. It was to be the Flight of the Nations Mass Ascension. Participating countries would carry their flag.

Jim and I went to bed by at 9:00 pm the previous evening, so that we would be bright eyed and bushy tailed at 4:00 am on Wednesday morning. Let's just say that we were up. (smile) We were out the door by 5:00ish, drove to Balloon Park (around 20 miles away), arriving within 20 minutes. We were surprised that we made excellent timing. It seems that we lucked out that the campground we were staying at is west and on the outskirts of Albuquerque. It seemed like most of the traffic was coming from the east, then heading north to the park. We blew past the general parking area, not knowing where to go. So we wasted 10 minutes trying to find the correct area. It started to rain lightly, but we were not discouraged. We had checked the website before we left, and the balloon launch was a go at that point. By luck we found the correct area to park, got pretty close, and made our way down a hill with other people in what seemed like the middle of the night to the balloon field. I could feel the anticipation of the crowd in the air. It was like a secret society. When I told Jim that he just laughed. There were many, many tents set up, one after another, offering food, gifts, balloons, windsocks, and pins.

Pins are a hot commodity. People trade pins.

There was a carnival atmosphere. I saw this one woman who I just had to get a photo of with a garbage bag on her head.

She told me that she had been coming to this event for years, the first time being in 1996.

Jim and I just walked around, browsing the shops, seeing what goodies they had to offer. We stopped by a huge air filled dome that we entered, and saw a short film on Texas. Then we played a trivia game afterwards, and everyone won a Garth Brooks CD. When we came out of this dome, the announcer was stating that the launch had been canceled. It had begun to rain, and we heard thunder off in the distance. We were so disappointed! But we chalked it up as a dry run for Thursday morning. Here is a photo overlooking the park with the threatening clouds in the distance.

Wednesday we went to bed early, arose at 4:00 am this morning, and were out the door by 5:00 am. The traffic seemed a little heavier, I assume because today was going to be a crowd favorite. Today was the Special Shapes Rodeo. By 5:30 we were parked, in the gates, and walking around. People were already claiming their spots. I found some bleachers and thought my best bet would be to sit on the highest seat to get good pictures. Jim wandered around on the field, which is great because you can mingle amongst the balloonist and watch them inflate their balloons. So my strategy was this - today I'd sit on the bleachers for the photo op of the rising balloons, tomorrow I'll walk amongst the pilots with their balloons. Before I made this decision I was very upset, wishing I could be in two places at once. Once it was settled in my mind, I relaxed.

It was still totally dark when the "Dawn Patrol" took off. That pilot is responsible for gathering information for the rest of the pilots on the amount of wind and its direction. How cool to see the bright flame light up the whole area and the night sky as the balloon lifted up.

Before long it was dawn and pilots started testing the flames for their balloons. We'd see a flame shoot up several feet in the air from across the field and hear that loud "whoosh" sound. There! To the left!

Look! Over there! All the way to the right! My heart was beating so fast!

Then, all of a sudden, I could spy balloons starting to fill up. It was SO exciting!

The balloons were so close to each other. Balloons as far as the eye could see. Jim and I would try to guess the shape and what the heck some of the balloons were going to be. We'd laugh and point and say, "Look at that! It's Nemo!" Or "It's the Ever Ready Bunny!" There was a total of 80 different shaped balloons. It was fantastic. I could hardly take it all in.

The Opening Ceremony started with two balloons rising while displaying American flags. A young woman sang the national anthem.

And then the balloons started to rise. Here are some in the sky when the sun is just starting to rise.

It was really neat to see the sun come up and shine on the balloons. The sky filled with all these odd shapes, large and small.

The Darth Vader balloon was something to see. It was accompanied by people dressed up like Storm Troupers, the Jawas, and Darth Vader himself. It was hysterical.

There were other balloons that were there to compete for a flying competition and to give rides. I spoke to one woman this morning who paid $350/couple for a ride. Yikes!

I loved to watch the people who attended the fiesta, too. There were some characters. I couldn't resist taking a picture of these people. They were very nice. It was their hats that drew me over. And the guy's long white beard. And maybe his Santa vest. And white hair. And....

I overheard a man say to his friend, while passing all the different food booths, "Wow! I can eat breakfast, lunch AND dinner all within 15 minutes!"

We left the fiesta by 9:00 am, feeling like we'd already put in a full day! But we had to pack up and leave the campground we had been at the past three days, and move across the street to the other campground for the remaining three days in Albuquerque. (We couldn't get the whole 6 days in one campground.)

The next post will have pictures of balloons landing wherever they can - we saw several while we were driving home. Friday we plan to spend the complete day at the park, from early morning to evening, weather permitting. Hope you enjoyed the day with me!
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