Albuquerque, New Mexico – Southwest USA Road Trip 2012 – Blast from the Past

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Southwest USA Road Trip 2012


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

In October 2012, Ken and I took a two week road trip around the Southwestern United States.  We flew to Albuquerque, NM and then drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico > Canyon de Chelly, Arizona > Moab, Utah > Monument Valley, Utah > Lake Powell, Arizona > Grand Canyon (South Rim).

This post covers our first stop, Albuquerque!

 

Two years ago this week, Ken and flew from Baltimore to Albuquerque, New Mexico to start a two week road trip of the Southwest USA. The impetus for the entire trip was the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, held every October (and is actually going on right now!). The Fiesta was a big item on my bucket list, and when I was researching the trip, I was trying to figure out what else to visit nearby. Well, “just a few days at the Fiesta” eventually morphed into a two-week long mega road trip hitting several stunning sites in the Southwestern USA.

 

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension

Let me preface this post by saying that the Mass Ascension at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is literally one of the most stunning sites I have ever seen in my entire life. I don’t want to sound like too much of a douchewaffle, but I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing sites during my travels in my life. So when I talk about the Mass Ascension being beautiful and amazing, you should trust me on that and go see it at least once in your life.

Mass Ascension at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Looking upward at balloons at the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque

But! The first day of our trip was kind of a fail. The “Mass Ascension” of the Balloon Fiesta begins at sunrise. It is probably considered the key event during the Fiesta, and it involves the ascension of about 500 hot air balloons into the sky over the course of just a few hours.

Every tip we read online said something to the effect of “Arrive early, dress warmly, and come hungry. Oh, and things can be a bit disorganized.” Our hotel was near one of the park-and-ride locations for the Fiesta. After our 4:15AM wakeup call, we drove to the park-and-ride, showed our prepaid tickets (you can also buy them onsite), and boarded the school buses being used to transport folks to the Balloon Fiesta Park. Everything was well organized. So far so good.

Well, we arrived early, found some seats at a picnic table, and bought some amazing breakfast foods at like one of the hundreds of food vendors.

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta | View from our picnic table seats at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta | Food Vendors including Breakfast Burritos and Hot Chocolate

And we waited for the hot air balloon festivities to start. And we waited. And we waited. Events were supposed to start at dawn, and there was nothing going on. I checked Facebook since I “liked” the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, and read an update that said the Mass Ascension had been cancelled for that morning due to high winds. Booo!

There was another one scheduled for the next day, but weather reports were predicting even higher winds the next day! And the next day would be our last day in Albuquerque. It took announcers FOREVER to announce that the morning’s events had actually been cancelled. I don’t want to sound like too much of a conspiracy theorist, but I assume they still wanted people to stick around and buy food and souvenirs.

Once it was finally announced, there was a huge exodus to the parking lots and other lots where we’d pick up the park-and-ride bus. It was a mess. Apparently there had been a major accident on the highway, which delayed every bus. It took a really long time for us to get out of that damn park.

Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension Crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park After Cancelled Mass Ascension

The bus took us back to the park-and-ride, we went to the hotel for a little bit to unwind, and then we headed to Old Town Albuquerque for a bit. (More on that below).

The next morning, despite weather forecasts that called for even higher winds than the prior morning, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta went off without a hitch.

When we were looking for a place to sit that morning, I found a picnic table and was like, “Oh, this looks like a good spot.” And Ken asked why. I just said, “I’m not sure, but there are a half dozen news reporters standing around here, so I’m guessing something goes on at this spot!”

Well, my intuitions were correct! We happened to be sitting right at the spot where the “Dawn Patrol” begins. We didn’t know it at the time, but dawn Patrol consists of a few balloons that take off before all the other balloons. Presumably, they report flying conditions for the rest of the balloon pilots. It’s a big, ceremonious starting event (which never took place the day before).

We saw a balloon start to inflate and glow, which we thought was the Dawn Patrol Balloon.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then we noticed there was another balloon inflating right beside that! (I cannot emphasize how dark it was at that park and impossible to see anything in the distance!”

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

And then, before we knew it, there was an entire line of balloons inflating and glowing right before our eyes. I can’t quite explain the excitement at the park at that moment. Everyone was on their feet. It was an amazing site.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then the Dawn Patrol Balloons started taking off one by one.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

And with that, the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta’s Mass Ascension officially commenced! Balloons started inflating and taking off all around us!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

We did not realize just how close we would be allowed to get to the balloons. You’re able to walk all around them as they take off. (Before the trip, I thought you watched everything from bleachers or something).

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

Although it wasn’t precisely defined, it appeared that balloons would set up in waves so that the entire field wasn’t filled with inflated balloons all at once!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

I had just purchased a wide angle lens prior to this trip, and it had a fully manual focus, which I was still learning to use. So forgive the blurriness of some of the wide angle shots!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico

It was such an amazing experience!

Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension | New Mexico

Considering the Fiesta activities started so early, I think we were heading back to the hotel by around 10AM. All the balloons had taken off, and we had to get back to the hotel to check out by the afternoon. We were all smiles for the rest of the day! I’m so glad we got to see it!

Old Town Albuquerque

So, let’s back up the timeline a little bit. The previous day, after the Mass Ascension had been cancelled, we went to Old Town Albuquerque. It was probably more crowded than it usually would be, thanks to the crowds in town for the Balloon Fiesta, but it wasn’t so crowded that it was unenjoyable or anything.

Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Ken joked that I carved grafitti into this cactus. I didn’t, but I still had to take a picture of Mel!

Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Balloon Glow

Another event that takes place at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is the Evening Balloon Glow. We attended that the evening of the failed morning Mass Ascension (so, not that long after our stop in Old Town).

During Balloon Glow, the hot air balloons do not actually take off. Instead, they stay on the ground and use the fuel / fire that would typically be used to make the balloons float to just “glow” instead in the evening dusk hours. (Sorry, I know there is probably a ton of information I’m not conveying correctly here, but that’s just a general understanding from my perspective! I don’t even know that that “flame” is called inside a hot air balloon, and I’m too lazy to google it!).

As dusk approached, the balloons started to inflate!

Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

As it got darker, the “glows” from the balloons started to become more apparent.

Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Evening Glow at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

And then, all of a sudden, the balloons all around us started to deflate. We asked around to find out what happened. Apparently the balloon pilots had all received some sort of emergency radio code that strong winds were approaching, and they all quickly deflated to avoid any fires or accidents.

And with that, the balloon glow ended fairly abruptly. Following the balloon evening glow, fireworks took place. They were decent, but nothing special.

Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque Fireworks at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for too much else in Albuquerque. We had planned for more things, but since we ended up having to go to the Mass Ascension two days in a row (since the first day was cancelled), that kind of threw off the rest of our plans.

But, we’ll be back. I think sometime in the future I want to go back to the Fiesta and actually fly as a passenger on one of the balloons. I just knew that for this trip, I’d be way too chicken! But, perhaps I’ll get calmer in the future.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to the balloon fiesta? What did you think?

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for too much else in Albuquerque. We had planned for more things, but since we ended up having to go to the Mass Ascension two days in a row (since the first day was cancelled), that kind of threw off the rest of our plans.

But, we’ll be back. I think sometime in the future I want to go back to the Fiesta and actually fly as a passenger on one of the balloons. I just knew that for this trip, I’d be way too chicken! But, perhaps I’ll get calmer in the future.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to the balloon fiesta? What did you think?


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