Sunday, October 07, 2007

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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Thirty six years ago in 1971, I was walking across the 'Main Street' within the New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque. A small swap meet was being held there. A loud hissing roar would interrupt the silence every few seconds. Looking up through the trees, I watched as Sid Cutter, A local pilot who owned Cutter Aviation, floated down into a clear space with his new present from his wife, A brightly colored Hot Air Balloon.

This was one of a rare new toy for the 'well to do'. The entire world had very few of these innovative marvels at that time, possibly no more than 40. The basket was a sparse aluminum framed device with only a floor and railing. A single burner, that went out on regular occasions, was the heat source. Wooden matches were carried by the box. A CB radio was a luxury.

Time and interest later, a few more bright Balloons appeared over Albuquerque. Soon they became a somewhat regular apparition during the cooler weather necessary for flying. They encouraged dogs to start barking and howling. They landed in the streets, on rooftops, and sometimes got tangled in the overhead electrical wiring. The fire department was often called to rescue the unfortunate pilots. A few of which, sorry to say, do not survive their mishaps. It has happened this year as well. Their undaunted spirit survives.

Soon there were enough of them to form a small flying club of sorts (10)? Competition in 'balloonsmanship' of course quickly followed. The Coronado Shopping Center parking lot, in 1972 hosted a small early event (the first?) that we watched over, from the tenth floor balcony of the Landmark apartments. My wife's parents lived there at the time. A park near Kirtland Base was used at one time. It's close proximity to the airport was not really helpful.

Raven was one small company that built them, including Sid Cutters first one, countless others soon followed. Ben Abruzzo, The Sandia Ski area and Tramway 'promoter', with the financial support of Albuquerque 'Icon' Robert Nordhaus, of 'The Tenth Mountain Division" fame.

http://www.abqtrib.com/news/2007/feb/26/duke-city-icon-built-tram-founded-ski-areas-villag/

Ben Abruzzo eventually became an ardent balloonist and soon flew all over the world, setting many world records with them.

http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9003390/Ben-L-Abruzzo


After a while the New Mexico State Fairgrounds became the site of the first 'world' competition event. There must have been at least 50 brilliant colored balloons present at the time.

We watched from the surrounding streets as they drifted over the entire city. The Airport soon declared them as a hazard to aircraft. The move from the core city to the northern edge (at that time) solved the problem....for a while. The city grew past the balloon field and another move or two later, the city finally set up a special area for this event which brought tens of millions of dollars in business to the city in tourism.

http://www.balloonfiesta.com/

Now the new area hosts many other events, is fully equipped with many venues for entertainment as well as the annual event that started the whole thing. There is even an 'ER' on site with paramedics. The balloonists arrive from all over the world now, twenty two countries this year. This is 'The Premeir World Balloning' event. The current lower valued US dollar is making it very attractive for the world travelers to attend again. In many past years the lower valued foreign currency discouraged travel to, and investments in the USA. Now it's our turn for tourists to visit and spend 'their' money in the USA. It has already made a sizeable dent, ahead of schedule, in our foreign Trade debt. "It's A good thing", as Martha Stewart says.

The city has installed a, state of the art, watering system using water diverted from the Rio Grande River to irrigate the lush grassy field. The early days of New Mexico ballooning, meant dirt and weeds that tended to be detrimental to the balloons. That is all changed today and the pilots love it. The total attendance is reported to be over One Million, another "Good Thing". Funwise.

We drove the motor home out on thursday, a day early to get a good spot, and set it up for three days and nights. The family grandchildren have stayed with us overnight for the last three years. This is a big deal for them. Saturday morning arrives quickly with the 'flutter' and 'whine' of the News Chopper overhead at 5am. The children played together the night before, so slept in, until almost 7am. A breakfast of cinnamon rolls, sausage patties and hot chocolate prepared them for the mornings running and chasing.

The school buses circle the RV park every few minutes to shuttle us to the field north of the massive RV park. The children ran from balloon to balloon, collecting the 'cards' about each brightly unique balloon and crew. With 750 balloons (max limit now) inflating in waves all over the field, this involves lots of running around. The atmosphere is charged with excitement. This is the most photographed event in the world. Kodak supported it for years until the advent of the digital camera.

The launch used to be done in one 'mass ascencion' until the number of balloons approached 1000. The total chaos of the entire sky filled with these brilliant, colored ornaments, was fantastic to watch in the early years. Of course all fun must end some time. Now they are limited to one hundred per wave and regulated so that the, once common, mid-air collisions are rare.

This year we were treated to the new, all black of course, 'Darth Vader' balloon of Benoit Lambert and Benoit Michel from Belgium. A large number of the crew were dressed in real 'Storm Trooper' uniforms to maintain security. The crowd around it was fantastic, the kids were in awe, the mystique hung in the air. The regulars are always popular with their special shapes. The 'not to be missed' event called 'Special Shapes', draws a huge crowd.

The always popular 'Balloon Glow' in the evenings darkness, draws all back again and again. Fireworks displays are the finale to end many evenings. The Garduno's Mexican Restaurant, as well as many other food service venues are busy and fun with entertainment. The popular, Aztec Dancers performed on the Midway Stage during the mornings we were watching. The upper deck at Garduno's, provides a great view of the field, day and night.

Be informed to prepare for an overall high traffic event (tens of thousands). The temperature is usually very cool after nightfall. The temperature also can be quite warm during the day. Wear layers, carry a backpack to carry the layers and a plentiful supply of water, and camera gear, tripods?. The sky divers and the Aerobatic pilots doing their tricks seem to fill the time during the day along with many other attractions. The Grandchildren rushed over to see the landing of the military 'Blackhawk' Helo, and check it out.

The prestigious 'Gordon Bennett' as well as other helium balloon races, is also interesting to observe, with their scheduled evening lift-offs sometimes dropping ballast water or sand. The helium balloons are usually from Europe and the crews are different from the 'hot air' crews. this years event was 'The Americas Challenge'. The distance winner was 2Nd time winner, USA's Andy Cayton and Stuart Engle his co pilot. A total distance of 1,055 miles and landing in Kipling Saskacatchawan. #2 and #3 went about 450 miles.

Our military does special shows from time to time. I personally would enjoy seeing the V-22 'Osprey' up close, we have a flight of these 'super helos' usually stationed here at 'Kirtland' Base unless they are on a mission. I enjoy watching these 'engineering wonders' fly over my home on their daily flight paths.

Of course you can always buy any drink or food on the midway, along with countless other things, at many of the dozens of little and large, tent booths set up. If the weather co-operates, the vendors can see a very profitable event. If it doesn't, a financial disaster is possible for the un-initiated. Over all, the event is very much enjoyed by everyone. The Airlines are booked for weeks in advance, as are the popular hotels and motels.

The advertised, 'shuttles' with entry fee included, are the very best way to go. 'Park N Ride' removes the traffic anxiety as well as the ($10:00) parking dilemma. $6:00 more, gets adults in the gate, children under 12 are free. This can be tiring, so do not try it without some moral support to keep you going. Kids are the best.

Most of the walkways are paved so wheelchairs can be used. The grass launch field is wet in the mornings so wear proper shoes. In the evenings, the hundreds of launch sites are lit by little LED's in Green and blue. They are best seen from an elevated area and form a pattern similar to runway lights, pretty. this would have made a great 'Biplane' landing field back in the early part of the 1900's.

The 'Fiesta' is running from 06 Oct 07 to the following Sunday 14 October. One full week of events for all to enjoy. So far the weather has been beautiful. This is the first time in 7 years to have 9 days of great flying. If you get tired of balloons, the Greek Festival with it's always fun Greek Food, is on The 7Th of October (Sunday). Las Golindrina's (the Swallows) historic village, near Santa Fe, has a fall re-enactment of the past, again zesty Mexican Food is plentiful. The Sandia Tramway and Mountain Hiking awaits the adventurous.

Santa Fe is an attraction to be enjoyed often. It is nearly impossible to see all of this historic area during the one week of 'Balloon Fiesta'. Plan to return year after year to enjoy the Great American Southwest. We love you and look forward for your next trip.

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1 Comments:

Blogger blogengeezer said...

The motor home had an oil leak from the outer left wheel seal on the rear differential. I noticed it just as we took it down to the RV park. One call to WorkHorse certified, 'Big West' Trucks at 532 Menaul and they had it scheduled for the repair. I was impressed by the rapid availability of service during this busy time of numerous trucks and RV's in ABQ. The job was done promptly for a reasonable amount under 300 dollars. Big West also installed the factory recall fuel rail vibration retainer clip under warranty. These folks are the same techs that replaced the trip computer display under warranty several months ago. They place a floor runner and seat cover, to protect the interior from any dirt tracked in by the tech doing the repair. If any reader needs their services, I strongly reccomend them. Big West is also used by the filming companies for trucks during our film work in NM. Good job guys.

6:40 PM  

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