Get up and Away: At the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

September 3, 2019 Carlos Arreola

Want to learn more about ballooning? Visit the nearby Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum at 9201 Balloon Museum Dr. NE. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“The sky is awash with the pastels of dawn as you stand in the chill with your hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee”

At the launch site of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the aromas of green chile breakfast burritos, funnel cakes, and hot chocolate waft through the October air. Like the hundreds of balloon pilots, you await the decision of Dawn Patrol for the day’s mass ascension to begin.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will be held Saturday, October 5, through Sunday, October 13, at Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque.
As you congratulate yourself for remembering to wear thick socks and a warm jacket, hundreds of brightly colored balloon envelopes stretch out on the ground with teams of pilots and crew bouncing about preparing for the morning launch. The burning breath of heated propane blasts and generators running giant fans raise decibel levels, as hundreds of hot air balloons slowly stand up to greet the morning sun. The zebras in their distinctive black and white umpire costumes direct the balloons’ launch into the crowded sky.

Soon, the blue sky disappears between the more than 500 balloons from around the United States and the world. The rainbow of colors, along with many fantastical shapes, keeps visitors spinning around trying to see everything at once. Five mass ascensions will occur during the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta — October 5, 6, 9, 12, and 13.
If you have never been to the fiesta, plan your visit around at least one of the top three events: a mass ascension, a Special Shape Rodeo, and a night glow. Visit for the daily schedule of events.

In the 31 years of the Special Shape Rodeo, even pink pigs can fly. The special shape balloons include bees, astronauts, stagecoaches, penguins, lions, tigers, owls, frogs — as well as cats and dogs — and dozens of other fantastical shapes that showcase the craftsmanship and the creative artistry that allows these creations to take flight. The Special Shape Rodeo is the highlight on October 10 and 11

While the balloons are tethered to the ground for a twilight balloon glow, they are no less magical. As twilight descends, balloons are lit from within like party lanterns. The pilots create a light show by blasting blazing propane into the balloon envelope, keeping the balloon upright and showing off its colors. The pilots light balloons in patterns, waves, and twinkles. As the balloons are tucked back into their bags, the evening’s fireworks show, sponsored by Sandia Resort and Casino, takes over the night sky. Don’t miss the balloon glows and the afterglow fireworks displays on October 5, 6, and 12. The Special Shape Glowdeo lights up the evenings of October 10 and 11.

For the maximum experience with the ballooning sport, volunteer for a balloon crew. Chase crews help the pilot inflate and deflate the balloon for each flight. If you are interested in being on a chase crew, you can register online at, or visit the Chase Crew tower in the southeast corner of the launch field to sign up. Volunteering for a crew places you right in the middle of the excitement of the launch, chasing the balloon across the landscape, packing away the balloon, and the champagne celebration afterwards.

Between morning mass ascensions and evening balloon glows, the fiesta features three stages with live performances of Native American and folklorico dancers; a variety of musical performances from country and western to rock and roll; and magicians and other strolling performers. Saturday, October 12, features the Music Fiesta with guest stars Tylor Brandon and the Neon West Band, Cassadee Pope, and Justin Moore.
Each day of the fiesta features something different, from sky divers to chainsaw sculpting to a gas balloon inflation and launch. The fiesta’s main street features an array of festival food options, arts and crafts vendors, and official balloon fiesta souvenirs.

Among the souvenir choices is the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta pin. Each balloon team also has a pin representing their balloon. Collecting and trading pins from the festival and pilots is a long-standing tradition of balloonists.

Take the opportunity to visit the 7-Eleven Balloon Discovery Center. From the parts of a balloon to wicker weaving, the Discovery Center has interactive exhibits to illustrate the principles of lighter-than-air flight and the history of the sport. Children can “burn” the burners and simulate a balloon flight in a hot air balloon basket. Another exhibit demonstrates the “Albuquerque Box” effect and includes a weather station.

Relax and enjoy the excited crowd as this event unfolds before your eyes. Take home memories of one of the best days of the year in New Mexico. It is said the breakfast of balloonists is propane and champagne. After a day at the fiesta, this statement becomes clear.

Written by Jackye Meinecke • Photograpy by Cheryl Fallstead

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