If you were planning a morning glow before sunrise and an afterglow after sunset where would you best accomplish this during the month of October?
There is only one correct answer – Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Why Albuquerque? Easy answer – Albuquerque is the site of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta that typically runs from the first weekend of the month through the second weekend. In 2013 that translates to October 5 through October 13.
So, what’s the morning glow and what can you do about it? Step one is to go to bed early Friday evening with plans to get up very early Saturday morning. The day begins with the Dawn Patrol – balloonists that fly before sunrise to check the wind and weather conditions to determine if it is safe to fly. They launch as early as about 5:45 a.m. and if you want to see the morning glow – that’s when the balloonists planning to fly in the first wave off the ground fire up their propane burners and light up the balloons – you need to be at the balloon fiesta grounds by about 6:30 a.m. or earlier. There will be lots of traffic and if you’d rather watch the morning’s activities from the ground rather than from your car sitting in traffic you’ll need to get an early start. Don’t bother fixing breakfast before you go. The fiesta grounds are famous for an astounding variety of culinary delights. You’ll find everything from breakfast burritos to fluffy cinnamon rolls to Belgian waffles . . . or, just about anything you can imagine. And, there’s a good chance someone will be giving away free food if you’re willing to stand in line for a few minutes. It seems that this is a favorite place for some of the large companies to snare a few new customers with their handouts.
At about 7 a.m. the mass ascension will begin. This is what you came for. With about 750 balloons launching it is an amazing sight. They can’t all lift off at exactly the same time but most of them get into the air at the same time. The officials (called Zebras because of the black and white striped uniform shirts) regulate the launching to make sure everyone gets off the ground safely. One of the reasons the launch is such a big attraction and so much fun is that you can actually walk around on the ground between the balloons as they are being inflated and as they take off into the sky. When it comes to photo opportunities this event just can’t be beat. Kodak used to be a major sponsor back when they could sell film.
You can even take off in one of the balloons if you’re willing to shell out the bucks required to lift off from the field during the mass ascension. You’ll have to check the website for an up-to-date price, but I can tell you that it is pretty expensive . . . and darn well worth it if you can afford it. The views are spectacular and it’s a rare opportunity to fly amidst hundreds of other hot air balloons over beautiful Albuquerque with the Sandia Mountains on one side and the volcano cones on the other.
And, the fiesta is not all balloons. If it were it would certainly be worth the visit, but there are plenty of other activities included. Just being able to sample the food would be terrific. A very good art show and sale will be going on. The Chainsaw competition is compelling – once you pick your favorite artist you’ll want to follow him or her through the competition to see the finished product and to see what prizes are won.
There is always a car show and you can get up close to the beautiful entries and even talk with the owners if you’re so inclined.
If you’re present the first evening of the fiesta you’ll be treated to a special event seen nowhere else – the start of the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race. These balloons are different from the hot air balloons – they are filled with helium gas so there is no propane burner and they fly farther, much farther. Some may fly all the way to the East Coast . . . or maybe, Canada – it all depends on the winds, the weather and the navigational and flying skills of the pilot. They might be in the air for days. Several TV stations broadcast from the event and you can catch the latest news by walking up to the broadcast area.
I should mention the fireworks shows after the evening glows – they’re always spectacular. And, one of the most important aspects of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and one of the reasons balloonists may travel from as far away as South America, especially Brazil, and Europe are the special shapes balloons. Some of them are so large and complex it’s hard to believe anyone could fly them. A favorite every year is Airabelle – a giant cow that takes a long time to inflate and sometimes doesn’t fly simply because by the time she is inflated the wind has kicked up to make it difficult for her to maneuver. But, you may also spot Elvis, Jesus, Smokey Bear, the Space Shuttle, a champagne bottle, a rental truck, the ever-popular bumble bees or any of a dozen creative balloons.
Make your plans now to visit Albuquerque in early October. It is a beautiful time of year with comfortable days, cool evenings and sometimes cold mornings at 5 a.m. So take your jacket and . . . Keep on Traveling!