The Land of Enchantment, as New Mexico is fondly referred to, is famous for many things, but perhaps none more awe-inspiring than the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. My first sojourn to Albuquerque held many surprises, a tapestry of memories woven from its rich culture, the breathtaking landscapes, and yes, those vibrant floating wonders in the sky.
On a cool crisp morning during my stay in Albuquerque, my friend stirred me from sleep before sunrise. "You'll be grateful you saw this," she insisted. Although hesitant and still longing for the warmth of my covers, I dragged myself out of bed. After filling a tumbler with coffee and trying to shake off my doubts about whether this early morning excursion could be worth it, I headed to the fairgrounds, curious about what the day had in store.
Before I go on, it's essential to understand the legacy of the festival to appreciate its present-day grandeur. Back in 1972, a mere 13 hot air balloon pilots convened in a parking lot of an Albuquerque mall. With nothing but a passion for flying and the vast desert skies as their canvas, little did they know, they were sowing the seeds for what would become a global phenomenon. Today, the festival has burgeoned to epic proportions, with over 700 talented pilots maneuvering 600+ balloons, captivating hundreds of thousands of spectators over nine magical days in October. It's not just an event; it's an experience, a mesmerizing dance of colors.
That fateful morning, as the clock neared 6 a.m., the world around began to transform. The first hint was the "dawn patrol" – a select group of balloons rising gracefully from the dark, their ascent a signal of the marvels that were about to unfold. As these pioneers landed with the first light of day, another group illuminated the skies. Tethered to the ground, this second group of a dozen balloons twinkled like stars in the early morning sky.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the "mass ascension." Over the span of the next couple of hours, the sky turned into a riot of colors. Balloons of every conceivable shape and hue painted a spectacle so magnificent it seemed straight out of a dream. More than 500 balloons ascended into that morning sky.
The sheer scale and beauty of this spectacle is hard to put into words. It’s said that over 25 million photographs capture the festival each year, making it the world's most photographed event. But let me tell you, even the most perfect picture couldn't capture the emotion or the feeling of standing amidst such beauty.
Albuquerque’s autumn desert landscape serves as the perfect backdrop, the earthy tones juxtaposed against the vivid spectrum of balloons, creating a sight that sears itself into one's memory.
This year's International Balloon Festival kicks off in Albuquerque on October 7th. It's an event well worth a spot on your bucket list.