Saturday’s ride in a hot air balloon was special, but Thursday of Balloon Fiesta Week is Special Shapes Rodeo and that is also a not-to-be-missed event. The weather doesn’t always cooperate so we closely watched the forecast for the day and planned accordingly. Mass ascension is set for 7:00am. We were riding our bikes and it’s a 30-minute ride to Balloon Fiesta Park so that meant getting on the bike path while it was still dark. Even with bike lights, riding in the dark makes me nervous. I was relieved when the last couple of miles daylight started to creep over the mountains to the east and we could see without our lights.
Balloons were already going up when we got on the field, but most of the Special Shapes were still being inflated. It’s like being a kid in a candy store running up and down the aisles, not sure where we should stand to get the best views of our favorite balloons. The clouds didn’t clear until most of the balloons had launched. Photos aren’t quite as colorful without the light of the sun and the bright blue background of the sky. But weather conditions were great for keeping the aloft balloons from moving up and away too quickly. And the “box effect” brought many of them back over the field again in the opposite direction of where they had headed out. All in all, another memorable day at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Until last year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, I would not have said that riding in a hot air balloon was an item on my bucket list. Since moving to Albuquerque, Lee and I have enjoyed watching the balloons, both during the fiesta and throughout the year as they frequently fly close to our apartment. But last year as I stood on the field and thrilled once again at the sight of all the balloons going up, I had a sudden revelation of how special it would be if I were a passenger in one of those balloons. I made up my mind that this would be the year I would experience Balloon Fiesta in the air, instead of on the ground.
Deciding that you are going to be part of a morning launch is no guarantee that you will actually get to go up. Ballooning is totally dependent on the cooperation of the weather and we have experienced a number of disappointing mornings at Balloon Fiesta Park when the balloons were not able to launch. I scheduled my ride for the first day of the Fiesta, knowing that chances were better of getting rescheduled later in the week if opening day was a no-go.
But the weather this morning could not have been more perfect. I had to be at the check-in location at 5:00 am. The traffic into the park was already building up as Lee drove me to a spot within walking distance, but not too close so he could get back out. He was going to come back down to the park later to watch the launch, which gets underway at 7:00 am. We managed to find each other in the mass of people and walked down the field with our group.
It was just starting to get light as the balloonists worked on inflating their balloons. Our pilot was personable and knowledgeable, sharing with us facts about ballooning, as well as funny stories about things he has encountered over the years as a balloon pilot. He promised us a good time, and fulfilled his promise, keeping us in the air for a full hour.
The winds carried us north of the city, most of the time on a path that followed the Rio Grande River. At our highest point, the pilot said we were over 2000 feet above the ground. Partway through the ride he brought the balloon back down so that we skimmed over the treetops along the river. As our landing spot, he picked out a vacant lot in a Rio Rancho subdivision. Before the ride he had given us instructions on what to do if it was a rough landing but there was hardly a bump as the basket touched the ground. The chase crew was ready and waiting and we were packed up and on our way in no time at all.
What a glorious, wonderful experience for my first balloon ride. The photos can’t do it justice, but here they are: Balloon ride photos.