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Look Up! Flying High at Balloon Fiesta

by Darlene Fiske

A sky full of balloons. All photos by Darlene Fiske.

Every October, the International Balloon Fiesta lights the skies of New Mexico afire with gorgeous hot air balloons. Darlene Fiske checks it out.

Plaid pants

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – It all started with the plaid pants at the Austin airport. My trigger-happy fingers and my snazzy new iPhone 5 were just getting warmed up for the most photographed event in the world — the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

My nine-year-old son was off on Monday for Columbus Day, so we decided to seize the moment and accept the offer from my brother and his girlfriend to visit during the fiesta. Our plane landed at 10:30 p.m. Friday night, and we were told that we'd be leaving the house the next morning at 6 a.m. for the first "Mass Ascension" of the nine-day affair.

Apparently, this was a big deal. And since we were only there for two full days, we had to go for it. Thankfully, monogrammed mugs with filled with coffee and hot chocolate were waiting for us at the 5:15 a.m. wake-up call.

breakfast

But the wind had something else in store. It turns out that hot air balloons are very picky and require precisely perfect wind conditions to take flight. After waiting in the LONGEST traffic jam ever, we found out the morning balloon flight had been cancelled. We made a detour to The Grove Café and Market where fresh squeezed orange juice, scrambled egg sandwiches served on made-from-scratch English muffins, and CUPCAKES (yes, plural...) made up for my considerable balloon depression.

Twinkle Glow

After breakfast, we went back to my brother's house for a quick nap. If you still had some spunk, you could venture to one of the many side festivals going on, honoring things such as chocolate, Greek culture, and beer. Or you could visit the Balloon Museum, located on the edge of the 78-acre launch field at Balloon Fiesta Park. We slept, then went to the Twilight Twinkle Glow, wherein balloon conductors blast rivers of fire into the balloons to light them up. Gorgeous! But again, wind cut this event short. (Damn you, wind.)

I ate my weight in funnel cakes, burritos, and corn dogs. For some horrific reason, I could not locate one single sopaipilla stand — which should be illegal at any event in New Mexico. I triple-dog-dared my brother to eat a heart attack inducing donut burger — didn't happen. He said next year for sure.

doughnut burgers

I've never really thought much about wind. But at the Balloon Fiesta, it can be your worst nightmare. The next morning, we took our chance and left the house at 6 a.m. to zip through the gate, find a parking spot (and a breakfast burrito with hot chocolate), and watch the most jaw-dropping ascension of hundreds of balloons.

panorama

So very happy with my phone's panoramic photo capabilities.

Elvis

Elvis has left the fairgrounds.

Instagram balloon

My new BFF: Instagram.

Carousel

The Carousel balloon was my favorite. (My son got creative with the Color Splash app.)

Ascension

Mass Ascension did not disappoint.

Cows

The Special Shape Rodeo took place after we left. I'm sure Arabelle made an appearance.

Balloon Glow

Balloon Glow that night went on for what seemed like a few hours. An announcer counted down and all the balloons lit up at once. They did this throughout the evening as thousands of people lifted their phones to the sky.

Glow toys

Stay for the fireworks. I've seen many a show in my lifetime, but these were spectacular. And don't forget to bring light-up toys to make your own sparkles.

Rainbow

PLAN YOUR TRIP

International Balloon Fiesta takes place every October in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Group shot

Practice deep breathing before you go. The traffic can be horrible. If Mass Ascension doesn't happen, you must remain calm and trust that you will see something magical before you leave.

Download the Balloon Fiesta app. I received daily updates, including wind conditions every morning. And follow @Balloonfiesta on Twitter. They were the best source of news.

Check out other photos from the event with the hashtag #balloonfiesta on Twitter and Instagram. iPhones were definitely the camera of choice here. Apple should sponsor this event and provide charging outlets to recharge phones throughout the day.

I didn't go up in a hot air balloon. You can, but most people get enough action on the ground.

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Darlene lives in Austin, Texas, where she owns The Fiske Group, a PR firm, and works with a handful of clients that feed her travel, spa, food, art, and shopping addictions. You can follow her at @dfiske on Twitter and Instagram. She travels to escape from dirty dishes and the laundry — two things you NEVER have to worry about while traveling.

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