ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – Some people will do whatever it takes to cross items off of their bucket lists. However, this particular item cost me over 20 hours of traveling in a vehicle in two days.
But I can confidently say it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
For nine days of each year, the Land of Enchantment lives up to its name as its sky is painted with a multitude of colors and creatures on more than 500 hot air balloons in the crisp, fall air. It’s a canvas that draws eyes from all across the country.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with COVID-19 vaccinations readily available, this year’s event was finally able to return.
Attendees had a few ticket options -- general admission or a few other perks with different clubs that offered private seating, restrooms and some food options.
I opted for the Chasers Club ticket, which included private outdoor seating in a fenced-in area, breakfast, drinks and a close-up view of the balloon glow and launch. I really wanted to get the full experience during my trip, and with isolated seating from the crowd, this seemed like the best, most COVID-19 safe option.
My venture to the festival began around 5:30 a.m., Wednesday, as I dressed in layers of clothing to brace for the early morning chill. In case you’ve never been to New Mexico, their fall temperatures are not quite like Texas. So if you do visit, make sure to dress accordingly.
The morning glow was set for 6:30 a.m., meaning I had one hour to park, get checked in, be seated, and get ready for the action. To my surprise though, the process seemed flawless.
Traffic was heavy, but the lines went by quickly. By 6 a.m. or so, I had already parked and gotten to my seat as the balloons in the field were readying for the glow.
Despite a brief rain delay, it wasn’t long before the fires within the hot air balloons were fully ablaze, their bright colors glistening across the field. From afar, they looked just like holiday ornaments you may find on a Christmas tree.
Cheers erupted from the crowds as the balloons lit up every few minutes. But, little did I know the real magic would start at sunrise.
Just after 7 a.m., it was time for the mass ascension, when all of the hot air balloons took to the skies just as the sun rose, signaling a new day.
Hundreds of hot air balloons were spread across the grounds, all of them inflating and gradually floating to the sky and hovering above us. These once-massive balloons eventually went far enough above that they looked like little dots in the sky, almost like stars.
Every angle of the city was covered in hot air balloons in a matter of minutes, and it was breathtaking.
The rest of my morning was spent just wandering through the Balloon Fiesta grounds, as more and more balloons continued to ascend -- all of different colors, shapes and sizes.
To put it simply -- it was amazing. It was serene. It was a shred of positivity in the midst of the chaos that has been these last two years, and it was nice to have a sense of normalcy.
Even after leaving the Fiesta grounds, balloons were floating in the skies all morning long in the city of Albuquerque. So, even if you’re unable to actually attend the launch at the Fiesta grounds, you could still be part of the celebration from afar and bask in the beauty.
In closing, this is absolutely a bucket list item, one that I truly hope you’ll consider. Despite the long hours in the car, the early morning wake-up call, the trek was worth it.
If you want to get a taste of Wednesday’s balloon events for yourself, you can watch the coverage below:
To learn more about the balloon fiesta, visit its website here.