Since moving out West we have had a massive to-do list of places to visit and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was on that list. So for fall break, I drove the kids 8.5 hours to Albuquerque to experience this wondrous fall celebration. (See my next blog about driving the kids alone on desolate highways.)
For more than four decades, families have gathered in early October on a massive grassy field surrounded by low-lying mountains to watch literally hundreds of balloons ascend into the sky. There are two sessions each day for about eight days. The morning sessions begins very early. Everyone says you have to arrive by 4:30 or 5 A.M. to watch the balloons in “mass ascension.” The evening event begins around 4 p.m. and culminates with all the balloons inflated and tethered to the ground but lit from within glowing in the night sky. It is truly beautiful.
I didn’t think there was any chance I could get my kids to a freezing cold (Albuquerque has some altitude and can get cold.) field by 4:30 in the morning so I opted for an evening event. We got there around 5:30 p.m. and watched the teams blowing up their balloons. You can walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots. They are generally very friendly and often have trading cards of their balloons to share with the kids. You watch the balloon inflate and then rise from the ground into the sky. The announcer calls from above “all burn” and all the balloon teams light their burners and glow in the night sky. They do this off and on so you can walk around and look at all the lit balloons. There is no need for other lights really. (Although a light-up light sabre and sparkle wand helped me keep track of the kids.) Then the announcer calls for “flicker burn” and the balloon pilots turn the burners off and on.
The kids thoroughly enjoyed walking among the balloons and seeing the different designs and the baskets. They were not crazy about being close to the baskets when they would “burn.” It is very loud and flames shoot up.
The food at the fiesta is amazing of course. This is Hatch chile pepper country and New Mexican cuisine is fantastic. I love posole, which is a pork stew with green chiles and hominy. The kids love sopapillas, which are puffed out fried bread that you put honey and cinnamon on. (Santa Fe natives will tell you it’s best there because of the high altitude. It makes them puffier.) I had a fantastic vegetarian burrito at the fiesta.
The cost for the fiesta is surprisingly inexpensive. It was $8 for adults and all of my kids were free (12 and under are free). Although I did use a bus service which charged a nominal fee to transport the kids to avoid the traffic and parking charge of $10.
The night glow is the way to go with kids. It’s easy to attend and just the right amount of time.