When Tom and I decided to go through New Mexico the second week of October, we didn’t realize that was also the week of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. When we called to make reservations at campgrounds around Albuquerque, they were full or only had one random night available. Finally we asked why all the campgrounds were so full in October, and the people told us “It’s the balloon fiesta!”
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the largest in the world. It runs for nine days the second week of October every year and is a very big deal in New Mexico. Over 500 balloons of all shapes, colors, and sizes come. Every morning (weather permitting) they lift off – mass ascension – and fly over the city. Every evening there is a “balloon glow” where they lift the balloon up without lifting off and people walk around among them. During the day there are events, balloon rides, food trucks, and musical entertainment. Over a million people attend at least one day of the fiesta every year.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a favorite among balloonists because of the “Albuquerque Box.” This is a wind pattern that lets the balloons take off and fly south at a low elevation, then increase their elevation and fly north, landing close to where they started. All the local weather stations have hours of weather during the fiesta because the events are so weather dependent.
Tom and I were able to get one night at a campground in Grants, three nights at the Albuquerque KOA, one night south of the city, and then five nights in Santa Fe. A little more moving around than we like to do in a small geographic area. Everybody at these campgrounds was going to the balloon fiesta, talking about it, and many were volunteering at it. The Balloon Fiesta requires an army of volunteers and a lot of RVers like to volunteer. It is a fun way to see the balloons up close without paying the high entrance fees. If you work on a crew all nine days, the balloonist usually takes you up for a free flight. The only drawback: if you are part of a crew you have to be at the balloon field at 4 am every morning!
Tom and I did not “attend” the Balloon Fiesta but we saw the balloons every day. Our closest encounter was a balloon that landed just a few hundred feet from the campground. One morning the Albuquerque KOA was on the box path. From the campground we watched over 100 balloons fly by at low elevation. We could hear them as they released gas to land. We could see the pilots and wave to them in the baskets.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is on many people’s bucket list. Tom and I saw it without even intending to and it was pretty awesome. The colorful balloons against the blue October sky were a beautiful sight.