Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Festival is truly the largest, most spectacular balloon festival in the world! Each year almost 600 balloons set sail in the skies above the city for this incredible nine-day event that attracts nearly a million visitors.
Additionally, many of the locals enjoy the event too, whether it be attending the festival or watching from the comfort of their own homes. It is truly a must-see event. So how did Albuquerque’s International Balloon Festival get started? And why has it grown to such a huge event? Let’s find out.
The Origins of the Festival
The International Balloon Festival has been an Albuquerque tradition since 1972. The local Albuquerque radio station, 770 KOB Radio, was looking for a way to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The station’s promotional director back then, Susan Johnson, found a man by the name of Sid Cutter flying a hot air balloon and asked him for help.
Sid was relatively new to flying hot air balloons at the time. He was a former Air Force pilot who accidentally drifted off in a hot air balloon when its tether was cut. He learned really quickly how to fly it and was instantly hooked. Sid purchased his first balloon in 1971.
Sid and Susan developed a plan for a balloon race, and with the help of other enthusiastic participants, they set about to create the largest hot air balloon race in the world. There were 21 balloons invited. Thirteen of them came along with somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 guests.
This first event was held in the parking lot of the Coronado Center Shopping Mall. Since then, the festival has continued to grow each year. In the year 2000, over 1,000 balloons were registered for the event, which now takes place on its permanent 350 acre home. So, what makes this event so dynamic?
International Balloon Festival Highlights
There are many reasons why New Mexico’s balloon festival has grown to the level of popularity that is it now. One of these reasons is due to the number of unique events that are a part of the festival. For example, since 1978, the Dawn Patrol has been a large part of the event.
Each morning during the festival, the Dawn Patrol launches at 5:45am. They have special lighting that allows them to fly in the dark. Not only is it fun to watch them, but balloon pilots find it helpful because it gives them a better idea of the winds for that day. There is even a choreographed inflation launch of the Dawn Patrol on the mornings of Mass Ascension.
What is Mass Ascension? It is when all of the balloons that are participating in the festival launch around the same time. The launch begins at 7am when a balloon carrying the American flag launches into the sky to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner. Next, the participating balloons launch in two waves filling the air with beauty, magic, and color.
The Balloon Glow events are probably one of the most popular attractions at the festival. The balloon festival hosts three of them throughout the nine days:
Twinkle Twinkle Glow™
Night Magic Glow™
Each of these events takes place at night allowing guests to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the balloons’ glow burners lighting up in the night sky. This event is usually followed by a grand fireworks display, called AfterGlow™, to finish off the night.
Another extremely popular event, especially amongst families with children, is the Special Shape Rodeo. The Special Shape Rodeo includes over 100 different balloons of all types of shapes. These include things such as Darth Vader, a flying gator, a large bunch of bananas, and even a giant sneaker.
Visiting the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival
If visiting this festival is on your bucket list, you won’t be disappointed. However, you will be amongst about 80,000 other people on any given day, so plan ahead. If you want to attend a morning launch, try to arrive at the gates no later than 4:30am when the gates open. For evening activities, gates open at 3pm and you should arrive no later than 4pm.
A schedule of all of the events for the festival can be found online. So do a little advance preparation and enjoy the show!