Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Watch as more than 700 balloons take flight around you
At roughly the size of a house, the average hot-air balloon is mighty impressive. Now imagine more than 700 of them all around you, slowly inflating and lifting off into the sky like the preamble to the world’s biggest birthday party. This is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot-air balloon rally. It’s impossible not to get swept away by the colour and excitement, even if it is near dawn and freezing cold.
Held every year since 1972, the Balloon Fiesta draws more than 80,000 people, who wander among the balloons on the 80-acre launch field and chat with the pilots as they prepare for lift-off. Nearly every morning of the 10-day event there’s a dawn patrol—selected balloons launch before sunrise, glowing like giant light bulbs—a little later comes a mass ascension of all the balloons, a wondrous two-hour polychromatic spectacle. Some pilots compete in events such as key-grabs (which involves fetching a set of keys from the top of a tall pole) and distance competitions, and two of the mornings feature Special Shape Rodeos, when balloons in fanciful forms such as mushrooms, witches, cows and stagecoaches are launched. Arrive early—perhaps by 5:30 a.m. on weekends—to beat the ever-growing crowds, and feel like you’re 12 years old again.
Learn more about the technology and history of the sport at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, opened in 2005. There’s a tethered balloon ride in the back, but if you just have to get up in the air for real, Rainbow Ryders offers balloon rides year-round.
Another option for gaining altitude is the Sandia Peak Tram, which at 2.7 miles long is billed as the world’s longest tramway. It runs from the northeast corner of the city to 10,378 feet at the top of the Sandia Mountains, with a panorama overlooking northern New Mexico. At the top of the tram you can hike on trails above the precipitous west face of the granite-topped range. Grab a bite at the High Finance Restaurant and Tavern, where you can enjoy a prime rib and local microbrew with your view.
This trip idea can be found in:
Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.