Hot Air

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Hot Air

Imagine a beagle 100 feet long, 50 feet tall, and 40 feet wide. The dog is hovering 10 feet above your head. Suddenly, one of his Prius-sized paws moves slowly toward your face. As you pull back and turn to get out of the way a scarecrow the size of a water tower is coming at you from the other direction. You turn again and a see a piranha with 10 foot tall teeth laying on its side, looking at you like he just found dinner.

It sounds like a crazy dream. It isn’t. It is the beginning of the Special Shape Glowdeo, one of the amazing, surreal sessions at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world. The festival grounds are the equivalent of 54 football fields. This year there were over 600 registered balloons. And, over 100,000 visitors attend some individual sessions.

Balloon Fiesta - Special Shapes Glowdeo
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Suzy and I have been watching the Balloon Fiesta with awe from the comfort of our couch for 13 years and we always feel a little guilty when the Fiesta comes on TV. Each year we say that next year will be the year that we go see it live. So, when my parents decided to visit us in October this year we knew it was the perfect time to make the trip. We were right.

Being the planners that we are, we got stared early. We reserved our hotel room three months in advance. We picked out the sessions that we wanted to attend, the Friday night Special Shape Glowdeo and the (early!) Saturday morning Mass Ascension, and bought our Park and Ride tickets in advance.

Balloon Fiesta - Mass Ascension
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The Glowdeo and Mass Ascension offer unique experiences. The Special Shape Glowdeo allows you to get up close to many different special shape balloons, feel the heat of the burners as the pilots keep the balloon envelopes off the ground, and witness the lantern effect as the fire lights the balloons from the inside. During the Mass Ascension you can stand just feet away as these huge balloons lift off and slowly make their way south, getting smaller and smaller as they drift up and away. Soon, hundreds of balloons are floating overhead.

As luck would have it our timing was just about perfect for the events. The temperature was warm and the winds light. There were tons of balloons including a record numbers of special shapes. Bonus: the “Albuquerque Box” was in effect for the Mass Ascension.

What’s the “Albuquerque Box”? It’s a unique weather pattern where the wind blows south at one altitude and north at another. Thus, the balloons can land very close to the original launch point. Not only is that good for them, it is good for the spectators who get to see the same balloons over and over again.

Of course, with an event that big, we ran into huge crowds and traffic. And the carnival-style food will make your stomach roll as if you were riding in a balloon during a wind storm. But, it was worth it.

Seriously. How often can you see a cow bigger than your house flying 100 feet in the air?

About Author


I'm currently the Interim Director of Web Services at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. I enjoy traveling, hiking, camping, gardening, reading and more.