The azure skies above the verdant Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico become a surreal canvas of color during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta which is held over the course of nine autumn days.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta creates a rainbow of mammoth balloons filling the sky, from the horizon to the stratosphere, while thousands of onlookers and travelers pepper the flats below. This event, which takes place each year at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just east of Navajo country and an hour from Santa Fe.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 with a mere 13 hot air balloon participants. This was set up at the Coronado Shopping Mall for 20,000 spectators in a roadrunner versus coyote style chase wherein one balloon in the lead as the roadrunner, while the others play the role of coyote.
In 1975, the World Hot Air Balloon Championships merged with the fiesta, causing its reach and size to expand. The fiesta grew steadily in size every year until 2000, when over a thousand entrants forced officials to cap the official number of balloons participating in the race at 750. This limitation emphasized the aesthetic of quality over quantity that has upped the ante for balloon design each year, yielding exclusively elaborate and colorful balloons for what has become the biggest balloon convention in the world.
Taking place every year at the vast 78-acre Balloon Fiesta Park, the site fills every autumn with something in the area of 100,000 spectators taking advantage of the perfect pocket of balloon riding weather known as the "Albuquerque Box".
Rise early and arrive at 5:45 am to witness the Dawn Patrol. As balloon lighting technology became sufficiently reliable for night riding, balloon pilots began this pre-dawn ride ritual. The sensation of watching dozens of enormous glowing lanterns float up into the dark night sky, touching down shortly after the sun rises, is a peaceful and beautiful sight.
The Evening Sessions revolve around the After Glow fireworks events, which officially start around 5:45 pm with the Balloon Glow. This occurs when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time. Perhaps the most spectacular single moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. The Balloon Glow is followed at 8 pm by New Mexico's most impressive fireworks display.
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