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2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Hot Air Balloons are something of a magical mystery. They're delicately beautiful and unbelievably graceful. Hot Air Balloons have long captured the public's imagination due to their unique flight characteristics and conspicuous uncommonness. Using gas and hot air to propel a paper-thin fabric aircraft into the big blue yonder in the day of the fifth generation stealth fighter and passenger space flights?

Absurd. Ludicrous. Silly.

And yet they persevere and flourish. The finest example of Hot Air Balloon gatherings in the world takes place right here in the United States each fall at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. New Mexico's state motto is "Land of Enchantment" and few places in the world enchant you so spectacularly as the Balloon Fiesta.

 The Balloon Fiesta traces its roots back to 1973 with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot and now boasts over 500 balloons launching each Fiesta at its custom-designed, 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. The size of today's event is staggering in scope and impossible to fathom until you experience it firsthand. In case you missed the opportunity to attend this year's event, no worries! I'd be more than happy to guide you through a typical day in the Festival with photographs and stories below.


The day begins early at the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

How early? Early, very early. 4am early. O'dark thirty early in laymen terms. 

Fortunately the event employs over 900 wonderful volunteers to ease the burden of your early morning stupor and get you where you need to go to see the most photographed event on earth!

Volunteers run the gamut of ticket-takers to information guides, safety operations and over 40 other positions!

It can be quite cold in the early hours of the morning so I recommend layering up and even bringing a pair of gloves and earmuffs to keep warm! Fortunately, if you forget something or need some coffee to warm you up there are 150+ vendors to fill your needs.

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The Balloon Fiesta is extremely gracious in their allowance of guests to walk amongst the pilots and balloonists as they are setting up to fly. Feel free to walk through the 78 acre launch field, ask questions to pilots and chase crews and snap some cool photos!

The Keller Family and the Balloon Fiesta were generously hospitable and allowed me to tag along for a ride! Cliff Keller and his wife, Jude, own the beautiful Lily (it's pretty much a requirement that each balloon have a name, not unlike naming your car. Owners get to choose their balloon's names and sometimes they reflect ad campaigns, characteristics of the balloon, company names, etc.) 

It's time to set Lily up! First the "burner" (think of it as the engine of the balloon) is attached to the basket of the balloon and given a quick operations check. 

The basket is then laid on its side in order to connect the "envelope" (what you think of as the actual balloon.) 

After carefully connecting the balloon to the basket the balloon is then pulled out of the bag and spread out in preparation to be filled.

Modern Hot Air Balloons are typically cold inflated by using a gas-powered fan before using the propane burners for final inflation.

The Pilot, Cliff Keller, then uses the propane burners to achieve final inflation of the balloon. The propane burner heats the air in the balloon, allowing it to slowly lift off the ground and stand upright.

After achieving final inflation it's time for that moment we've all been waiting for...lift off!

Taking off in a Hot Air Balloon is deceptively smooth. One second you're on the ground standing in the basket then you hear the rush of propane as the Pilot actuates the burner and you feel the pleasant warmth it offers, thinking: "ah, warm air, yes, come to me."

Then, VOILA, you're suddenly floating in air. 

FLYING! We're in the air!

It's a childhood dream come to life! Flying in a balloon is extremely peaceful, there's almost no noise except for the city around you and the occasional rush of propane gas. Just you and the sky...and several hundred other balloons. 

We even passed over the highway on our way down! 

You land where the wind takes you, being mindful of sensitive areas, power lines and busy streets of course! We came down in a Lowe's parking lot in between a Verizon store and a Mattress store. Cliff skillfully guided us down in between some light poles and a small tree. Our landing site was about 3 miles away from our takeoff site at the Fiesta. We spent almost exactly an hour in the air!

The next step is to pack up Lily gently and put her away! It takes the whole chase crew to deflate, or burp, her in order to lay her down flat on the ground. After gently putting Lily back into her case we load her into the trailer.

Time to throw up a Dab and head back! Another Successful flight in the books!

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta isn't just for early birds it's also a fiesta for night owls! The Fiesta hosts laser light shows, special shape rodeo glowdeos, and fireworks almost every night! So even if you don't feel like getting up super early you can still enjoy the magnificence of the hundreds of balloons! I made a timelapse of the special shapes glowdeo I attended (posted below.) The wind decided to play spoilsport a little bit but many of the Pilots soldiered on and at least cold inflated their balloons for guests to enjoy! I've included a video of the special shapes glowdeo from my visit last year below as well so you can get a feel for how special it can be when there are many more balloons lighting up!

Finally, I want to thank the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Media Team and the Keller Family for providing me with the opportunity to experience such a magical event firsthand! 

I hope you enjoyed this post, while you're here feel free to check out some of my other work. I'm always available for questions via comments below, or email at dickmacephotography@gmail.com