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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2011 - 40 Years Old

Balloon Fiesta 2011, the 40th year of this event. We had been here in 2006 and 2007, this time we had folks with us that had not attended in the past. Our journey started with an over night stay (Wednesday) in Santa Rosa, NM. Four of the other five couples joined us at the RV Park. From Santa Rosa it was about a two hour drive to the Balloon Fiesta Park.

 Santa Rosa RV Park

We are staying on the grounds next to the International Balloon Museum. This location is a short walk down onto the south end of the launch field and vendor area. In the vendor area you can get your hair cut, get shirts, hats, lamps, jewelry and just about anything else you can imagine, including any kind of food that you might want.

VIP RV Parking next to Balloon Museum
Of course the weather did not cooperate well. It was cool and windy. This kind of ruined our plans to grill outside. So, off to one of the favorite eating places in Albuquerque, El Pinto restaurant. We were not the only ones that thought El Pinto was a great place to eat. With a wait time of 45 minutes, we opted to eat in the lounge. After a great meal, we returned to our Motorhome and hosted all our companions. With 12 people, it was a little crowded, and got more so after everyone filled up on Deb's Pumpkin Bars, fresh Banana Cake, and Chocolate Cake.

Plans were made to meet at 6 AM (Friday) to go down on the launch field to watch the morning balloon ascent. Again the weather did not cooperate. About 3 A M, the rains came and it continued throughout the day.

Like every event, plans are always fluid, so it was decided to go to a restaurant called Weck's for brunch.

It is a chain of 10 locations throughout New Mexico. It serves "Home Cooking" and lots of it. It only serves breakfast and lunch. It was crowded, again a lot of other people had the same idea. After a short wait, we were seated at a large table and taken care of by a very attentive and capable waitress. After filling up on great food and coffee, it was off to Wal-Mart  to pick up the odds and ends that we ran out of or forgot. Then back to the Balloon Fiesta Park, for a short respite, before the next adventure.
After a short rest, about half the group decided to make a trek to Old Town  Albuquerque. Old Town is similar to the Old Town in Santa Fe or Taos. It is built around a common square, that has a Mission or Government building along one edge. The square is now, in most cases, a park that features entertainment during the weekend and holidays. Of course there is lots and lots of small shops featuring local artists selling everything you can imagine. Kind of like the Balloon Fiesta vendors.
The "Square"
200 year old San Felipe de Neri Church borders the "Square"
On the Boardwalk around the "Square"
Anything you can imagine
Courtyard along one edge of the "Square"
Street Vendors selling mostly jewelry

Then the rain started again and the events at the Balloon Fiesta scheduled for the evening were cancelled. So, we do what it seems like we do best, eat. Steaks on the grill with other side dishes prepared by the ladies in the group.

Outdoor Kitchen
Mike checks the steaks

After raining all night, the morning (Saturday) dawned clear and chilly. To the east the Sandia Mountains had a fresh coat in of snow that though very picturesque emphasized the chill of the morning.

After a cup of hot coffee it was down to the launch grounds for the morning activities. With more than 500 photographs at home from the last two balloon fiestas that we attended, I told myself that I did not need to take a large number of pictures. After all how many pictures of balloons does a person need? But, with a new camera and lenses, what can I expect? I took about 160 pictures on Saturday, probably about the same number that I have taken in the past (last count I took about 750 pictures total). This year there were a few shape balloons that I had not seen before, but pretty much all of the others were ones we had seen in the past. Of course the big draw was the atmosphere on the grounds. The noise, the excitement of watching the balloons inflate and take to the air.

 The Dawn Patrol is three or more balloons that launch and basically go up and check out the wind currents. The next balloon up is the designated flag carrier. This chore is considered an honor, as it signifies the start of the balloon ascent by the other balloonists. This balloon carries the American Flag, unfurled below the gondola, it is accompanied by the playing or singing of the National Anthem.

Kind of like a ballgame, once the flag is raised, everyone else launches, in a predefined pattern generally determined by wind direction. The sun came out just as the officials gave the approval to launch the balloons. As the balloons rose and caught the sun, the site was amazing. The colors were extremely vibrant and bright. The shapes and sizes along with the colors make it a very amazing site.

That evening, we watched the balloon glow. This event takes place shortly after dusk, and the balloons inflate and then turn on the burners to make the balloon glow. It is very pretty. Following the balloon glow are fantastic fireworks.

Sunday dawned chilly with scattered clouds. This being the farewell ascent, and with drier field conditions, there were many more balloons launching. This time, I was by myself and did not venture as far “down field” as I had on Saturday. The filed is marked in a grid with a series of pylons marking the rows. I only went about a 1/3 of the way "down field" and tried to get into a position to concentrate on the process of a single balloon launch. That project entailed a whole bunch more pictures that I will display here. but, I did take a few.

The Navy provided sky divers that carried the American flag onto the field. This occurred (weather permitting) in the morning or afternoon.

Where were were in the VIP RV Area, we had an exceptional view of all the balloons going overhead on Sunday morning. You really did not need to go down onto the field to see it all.

So, by about 10:30AM Sunday, the show was over and we were headed out to an RV Park west of Albuquerque for the night. After three days of "dry" camping, we needed to empty tanks and relax before our long drive home on Monday morning. As we left on Monday Morning we did see about a dozen balloons that had launched after the official event. It was kind of like a farewell, until the next time.

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