Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

OK, time for a catch up post with photos from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta…we thought it was the Festival until we got there and found out that it’s a Fiesta instead.

We arrived on Friday morning to take part in an Escapees HOP…basically a mini rally centered around something…the Fiesta in this case. For our participation fee…we got a catered breakfast every morning and dinner most evenings, plus parking spaces and 4 tickets to the launch field…as I’ll discuss in a bit we only used two of the four we had available since mostly the balloons came to us.

The schedule was pretty much the same almost every day. Depending on the winds…the first balloons up were what’s called the Dawn Patrol…experienced pilots who go aloft to check the wind and for the existence of what’s known as the Albuquerque Box. Basically…with the box a balloon goes up and goes either south or north depending on the direction of the box today and after awhile goes higher and catches a wind going the other direction so they end up back at the launch field for landing. This makes it a lot easier for the ground crew to get to the balloon to help deflate and stow it away. 

Once the wind is verified…and mostly it needs to be 8 knots or less to safely launch…the Mass Ascension starts…this is a launch period of an hour or so when literally hundreds of balloons launch…Neil took an estimated count one morning and the total number he could see airborne was more than 300.

After the Mass Ascension…things sort of die down until the evening when there’s another display called the Sunset Glow…the balloons here don’t actually launch but are tethered to a vehicle on the ground and just inflate the envelope with what is called the glow burners…they have a lot more orange flame than the normal burners which are hotter, blue, and almost not visible.

A short description of a hot air balloon is probably necessary. There’s the envelope which is the bag or shape that holds the hot air. The envelope is connected to a basket…yes, an actual wicker basket…that holds the pilot and passengers along with 20 gallons of propane which gives them about 2 hours of air time. Mounted to the top of the basket is the burner assembly which consists of 4 burners in total. Two are rated at 1.5 million BTUs each and are the normal burners. When they light those suckers off you can feel the heat on your face 50 feet away. There are also 2 glow burners which burn with a less aerated mixture and make a more visible orange flame. The glow burners are only about 1 million BTUs each.

The envelope is nylon and is only about as thick as the stuff they make a parachute or day pack out of. It’s thin enough so that even the largest envelopes like the sheriff or Wells Fargo stage coach below would easily fit into the trunk of a car.

To inflate…and this entire process can be done from in the truck to airborne in 15 minutes if they want to…the envelope is pulled out of it’s storage bag and laid out on the ground on top of an old envelope that protects it while it’s inflating. The basket is attached with it’s burners and laid over on it’s side on the ground. The basket is tethered to a truck or car and a long rope is attached to the top to hold it still while it’s inflating.

Next…a large gasoline powered fan about 3 feet in diameter is started and aimed into the opening at the bottom of the envelope to do what is called “cold packing” of the envelope…essentially make it look like a balloon laying over on it’s side on the ground.

Next…the burners are fired up to heat the air in the envelope and it goes from laying on the ground to vertical in 30 or 45 seconds…it happens really fast.

Finally…the pilot and passengers hop in the basket, the tether is released and the pilot lights the burners to get aloft.

Saturday morning…we used two of our tickets to head over to the launch field and watch the setup and launch up close and personal as one would say. The Fiesta allows spectators right out onto the launch field and as each balloon is ready to go these guys in referee shirts blow their whistles, clear the bystanders from immediately downwind from the balloon and allow the takeoff.

This first set of photos is all from the first morning…we ate breakfast at 0500 and were at the launch field by 0540.

First launch.

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Even with a huge launch field…the balloons are inflated pretty close to each other.

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The group testing their burners at the official 0600 Grand Opening. Loud and hot.

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Getting ready for the Mass Ascension.

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Sometimes they pass directly overhead…about 50 feet up at this point.

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Cold packing…you can see the fan in front of the guy with the blue watch cap and the ground crew holding the envelope open for him. In the foreground are the main burners for the next one in line.

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Main burner right before liftoff…still a bit orange in the flame as the pilot doesn’t have it adjusted properly yet.

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The shapes were out as well.

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Attack of the killer spiders I guess.

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Keystone Cop.

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Darth made an appearance of course.

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As did Yoda.

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And the prisoner.

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Only you can prevent forest fires.

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The armadillo sheriff was our second favorite.

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Mexican lass.

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We never did see this one fly…got this as we boarded the bus back to the RV at 0745 or so.

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Evening Glow got weathered out…too windy. So the next morning after breakfast we just watched the Dawn Patrol and Mass Ascension from right outside our meal tent.

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Tall Steve the Penguin from New Zealand was our favorite…grand baby Alex liked him too.

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Did I mention there were a few balloons there?

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The Wells Fargo stage coach had a problem the first day and was deflated…they got it fixed by Sunday morning though.

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Yeah…a few airborne. About 100 in this shot and there were another two hundred at least. 

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Angry Birds.

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Pancho and his guitar and the Mexican girl got to know each other a little better.

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This one landed right in front of us to swap passengers. Neil went over and helped hold it and load the little old ladies out of and into the basket.

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Passing just in front of the sun.

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More than one landed right in the RV park.

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Except Darth who just flew down the row…he would have hit the rigs if he was any to the left or right.

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One day there was a bombing competition…the balloons had to take off at least a mile from the center of the field and then fly to a rowboat sitting in the middle of it and drop a marker. Closest to the mark wins. Several launched from the RV park…including this one right behind our rig. You can see it with the bike racks on it on the right side of the photo. They’re in the middle of cold packing.

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And on go the 3 million BTUs of heat.

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And up she goes.

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Yup…we wuz there.

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And we have liftoff.

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This one had taken off from the field I guess…but did a touch and go behind our rig…this was taken through the back window.

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And Tall Steve remained our fave.

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Commemorating the POW and MIA soldiers.

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Another one passing the sun…stopped and picked up passengers right behind our rig as well.

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And rinse and repeat…we did this for 5 days total.

A few thoughts on the Fiesta.

We had a lot better time than we thought we would…originally we were just going to visit and travel with Bill and Linda but the Fiesta was a lot better than we thought.

We are glad we went…but not being real balloon enthusiasts only staying the first half of the Fiesta was about right…we could actually have left a couple days early as each day was mostly a repeat of the day before.

Escapees HOPs are pretty disorganized overall…but then they’re run by volunteers. We almost parked in the wrong spot on arrival and meals weren’t as organized as they should be…but we parked, had fun, and got fed so overall it was just fine…albeit not as tightly run as we would have liked.

This is already photo intensive…so no interesting stuff this week…but I do have some nice shots from the Low Key Hideaway in Cedar Key that I’ll put up tomorrow.



About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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2 Responses to Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

  1. s says:

    diggin’ on yoda i am… POW/MIA too, lest we ferget (God bless ’em)…
    so lemme git dis righr – ya wanted ta ride one, but K wouldn’t let ya, right ???
    jus’ got signed up fer medicare + ss (so-called s’curity)… i kin change my name to Walter, right ? (y’know, da ol’ dude with the other fellas’ hand up hiz wazoo…)
    still no free viagra…
    hope yer HFA (humble flawda abode) still looks so peaceful, gladta see yall finly git home…

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      Nah. Never really considered actually going up in one. Cedar Key is real nice. Photos of it in next post. Lookin forward to getting to Fort Myers next week.


      The three kinds of stress…nuclear, cooking and a&&hole. Jello is the key to the relationship.


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