Pros: Colorful, beautiful and worth the drive.
Cons: A little far to drive every year.
Yes, I really did. But not just any balloons. We traveled to see Albuquerque's Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. However, many of our friends, family and co-workers thought we were nuts to drive from Md to NM for a weekend.
The Balloon Fiesta actually runs for a week. Unfortuately, we didn't have enough leave to stay that long. So, we stayed as long as we could and took tons of pictures and have lots of great memories.
Our adventure at the Fiesta starts prior to going. The friends we were going to meet urged us to buy shuttle passes. My husband, who hates to not have his ride where he is, was very much against this idea. He wanted to drive to the parking area and keep his bike handy. I, on the other hand, am for anything the causes less stress and gives me more time for fun. A compromise was made....we buy shuttle tickets for Sat morning and see how the traffic really is. If traffic isn't bad, we drive back on Sun night. If traffic is bad, we buy another shuttle ticket. I sent the money to my friends to buy the tickets.
The plan, once there is to meet my friends at their motel to travel as a group to the shuttle point. Meeting time is 5:30am. For us, still being on east coast time, this is not a big problem. For those coming from the west coast, it was and many of them were dragging.
The gates open early on Sat morning. There is a "Dawn Patrol" that starts the day off. Actually, they start every day of the Fiesta off but we were only there to see it on Sat. So, as we enter the park for the Feista we see about half a dozen balloons rising and drifting away. It looks cool but looking past the vendors and into the dark field, you can see dozens of balloons being laid out and beginning to fill.
Unlike other balloon events, you can go down on the field and get up close and personal with the ballooners. So, with a friend who had been here before, we entered the field. We talked to a balloonist who balloons in a kilt. We observed balloons being off loaded. We learned that there are referees that tell the balloonists when they can lift off. It was awesome. Imagine being in a forest of color and light.
I don't know but when I think of hot air balloons, I think round and a few colors. This fiesta taught me that I didn't know anything about hot air balloons. I've never seen so many different colors and designs. Wells Fargo had a stagecoach balloon. Some dairy had a cow. Pepsi had a Pepsi can. There was a pirate, two bumble bees, a tree with birds on it's limbs, a stork and so many more.
Wave after wave of balloons went up during this mass accention. Soon, the whole sky was a sea of balloons.
By this time the sun was up and I took a look back the way we had come. There were lots of vendors. They were selling food, drinks, souveners and lots of pins. There were booths that had give aways. As I came to see balloons and not vendors, I really didn't do much more than wander by them. I did find out that each year teams design and sell pins.
Apparently these pins are highly tradeable and can be worth a lot more money than I expected. No, I didn't buy any but I was given one by the St Cloud VFW team. They had two balloons designed with the POW symbol. While down in the field checking out the balloons, we went over to talk to them. On my jacket, I have a patch that states I am an Iraqi Freedom veteran. They noticed and we had a little chat about my service. They then gave me a team pin which I placed above my patch. My friend that was taking us around is active duty Navy and had to pay for his!
We went back Sunday night for what they call a "Glow". We had no idea what exactly that was but were told not to miss it.
So, what is a "Glow"? This is where the balloonist, not all several hundred of them but a lot of them, fill up their balloons. They do not accend but their ground crew holds them on the ground. Don't ask me how but something about the hot air and ropes and physics which is beyond me. Anyway, darkness falls and then a count begins. Suddenly, all the balloons fire their gas lights and their balloons glow like big Christmas lights. Again, you can be down on the field with them and stand in the middle of these glowing balloons. It's beautiful. This goes on for about an hour and then is followed by fireworks. Personally, I don't think the fireworks are as pretty as the balloons.
So, what does all this cost. Enterance is $5. Parking is about the same. Each time you leave, you have to repay to park. If you buy your shuttle ticket on the day of the Fiesta, it's $20. Prepay and it's $15. If you have an RV, you can camp on the grounds for around $100 per night; full hook-ups are not available.
And our shuttle issue....We showed up at the parking area we were going to use. There are several spread throughout Albuquerque. No problems parking there. We get on a school bus. The general consenses is either the buses are getting smaller or we're getting bigger but the seats aren't as big as we remember. The buses have special priority getting into the Fiesta and their own routes. As we got closer and closer to the parking area, we could see the lines of cars waiting to get in. My friends were correct, the shuttle is the way to go and we got tickets for Sunday night.
A word of warning/caution....While the daytime tempertures in NM are pleasantly warm, it gets very chilly at night. Therefore, when going to the Fiesta wear layers. I was down right cold at 5:30am but as the sun rose, the clothes came off. I started the day with a tank top, a t-shirt, a flannel shirt and a jean jacket. By midafternoon, I was down to a tanktop. The layers started back on by the time the sun went down.
Also, don't forget to drink plenty of fluids. And, if you are like me and live below or at sea level, the altitude may bother you.
I had a blast. It was a long way to drive for a weekend but worth it. I can't say that I'll be back next year as I'll probably still be paying for this trip. But one day, I want to return and stay a little longer and maybe even ride in a balloon.