Last year, Larry and I had some more Shiny luck when we were selected in the the Airstream Club (WBCCI) lottery to attend a rally at the 2022 Albuqerque International Balloon Fiesta. I really had no idea what to expect and was not as excited as Larry was but that feeling disapated soon after we arrived. I must say that this was one of the most fun things I have ever been a part of. You are probably scratching your head at this point because, by now, you know that I like remote places with few people. But, there’s an exception to every rule and this was one of them.
Every year, almost one million people come to this nine day event which includes over 600 balloons and 700 pilots. It is the largest event of its kind in the world.
So, why did I like it so much? I really don’t know exactly except to say that for four days I felt as giddy as a school kid and that was fun.
This location is ideally suited to such an event because of the mountains and hills around the city which create a box-like flow of air that allows the balloons to slowly dance around the valley. Here is a diagram of the airflow.
An Airstream rally is an organized event in which a number of people who own Airstreams go someplace special. By joining this rally, we were able to park within several hundred yards from where the balloons launched. What a treat! Most of us met up at the rallying point the night before and headed over en masse to the grounds.
Everything was very well organized and you could tell that this wasn’t the organizers’ first fiesta!
Along the way we got stuck at a stop light and then we lost the group. Luckily, Larry had a sense of where were were going and remembered someone saying “look for the pink ladies”. We didn’t know exactly what that meant until we saw them standing at the entrance to the park!
We arrived without incident. An Airstream immediately pulled in beside us and Larry asked the driver if he had been following us. Without missing a beat, our soon to be friend replied, “Good looking fella like you, why wouldn’t I?”
We were thrilled to be parked next to friends we had met on the road and some folks who were soon to be friends.
We were all lined up like so many sardine cans!
The first big event of the Fiesta was called Dawn Patrol. You have to get up before dawn and get out on the field. Three or four test balloons go up to test the wind conditions at the higher altitudes. Hundreds of attendees, some of them having parked a mile away, shuffle on to the field, with flash lights, in relative silence. The balloon teams quietly ready for take off. Then, all of a sudden, the pilots of the three balloons ignite the propane vapor, sending a six-to eight-foot flame into the envelope, making a loud whooshing sound. The crowd erupts with cheers and whistles. I was filled with a feeling of excitement and delight that I haven’t felt since childhood. Here’s a slideshow of the event.
Here is a short video of the Dawn Patrol flying right over shiny!
Then, the next thing you know, the sun comes up over the mountains and the Dawn Patrol is over and the Mass Ascension is well underway.
Once the first balloons estabished that the conditions were good for flight, the other balloons readied for take off. It was amazing to see. Each balloon had a crew of 10 -20 people and there were 600 balloons all somewhere in the queue for lift off. The orchestration required for this event was beyond my ken. The Mass Ascenion was like a sight to behold and I felt an effervesent sense of excitement and giddiness – childlike wonder! Here’s a slideshow of some of the sights.
All day, for the next four days that we were at the nine day festival, the balloons drifted quietly overhead. They were silent except for the occasional woosh of the propane powered flames.
Our peaceful revery was disrupted for a bit when I heard a woman’s voice coming in from above saying in a clear, firm and calm way, “I need help here”. I jumped out of the camper and saw a balloon about 20 feet above us with a stout woman in the gondola. The balloon was coming in for a landing amidst all of the campers. In a flash, people, including our intrepid friend, Cathy, dashed to the impromptu landing site, grabbed the ropes at the side of the gondola , and eased the basket to a smooth landing. I was impressed by the pilot’s calm and even more so by the quick response of people helping someone in need. Moments like that verify my inherent belief in the goodness of human kind.
People watching was a fun part of every day.
The Special Shape Rodeo was a testament to creativity. We had a hard time picking out a favorite.
We were regaled with an amazing Skydiving event. Click on the word Skydiving to see a video of part of the event.
The Drone Light Show and Fireworks were another exciting part of the fiesta. Hundreds of computer operated drones ‘danced’ in the sky. What a show!
So, after four days of magic, we packed up and got ready for our trip east. We weren’t sad. We had met great people, had the time of our lives, and were on our way to see Connor, our grandson. South Carolina, here we come!