Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is held for 9 days every October in Albuquerque, and is the premier event for that city and probably all of New Mexico. It's grown from 13 balloons in 1972 to the largest hot air balloon convention the the world, with hundreds of balloons in attendance. I went to six Balloon Fiestas during my tenure in New Mexico, spanning the years 1999 to 2015. Honestly, it's one of the funnest, most spectactular, most enchanting events ever. People try to collect pins, patches, and/or posters from every Balloon Fiesta. Rumor has it there are even balloon trading cards. There are all kinds of things going on during Balloon Fiesta, both in the morning and afternoon and evening - art shows, entertainment, shopping, eating, drinking, fireworks, and of course balloon events. My favorites are Glowdeo and Mass Ascension (described below). The Park had a dirt field the first couple of years I went but was grassed over in the later years. You can get right out on the field and up close and personal with the launch crews. You might even get to hold a tether line if you're lucky.

The Fiesta was sponsored by Kodak for a while and there are indeed thousands of Kodak moments. In fact, I think Balloon Fiesta is probably the most photographed event on the face of the Earth. I know I got snap-happy every time I went. It was painfully difficult to limit the number of photos in this presentation, and I still probably included too many. I've arranged the photos in each section below more or less in chronological order (1999 to 2015). I was shooting film in the earlier years but had switched to digital in 2014 and 2015.

Click here to view the special shapes slideshow. May take several seconds to run.

Get there early

Attack of the red lobster

A smokin' deal

Albuquerque mounted police

Pair of 'pacas

Cruising "Main Street"

Very popular stop

Local media coverage

More media coverage

Trinkets for sale

Artwork for sale

Environmentally correct

New Mexico cuisine




Glowdeo is really an event for special shapes, but I use the term for all balloon glows. Balloon glows are held before sunrise and after sunset. The event involves several balloons tethered about 50 feet off the ground. The pilots fire up their propane burners to make the balloons light up (glow). Very cool.

Balloon glow

Balloon glow

Balloon glow

Balloon Glow


"Nelly-B" glow

Getting Ready

Once a balloon crew gets to its assigned spot the process of getting the balloon ready to fly commences. The gas bag, called the envelope, gets spread out on the ground. This is atttached to the gondola, which is a wicker basket that carries the pilot and one or more passengers (not much room). Next, the balloon is partially inflated using a large fan. Finally, the propane burner is ignited at short intervals to gradually fill the balloon with hot air. At this point the ground crew mans tether lines to hold the ballon down until time for liftoff.


Wicker gondola with
propane burner attached

Fan used to inflate balloon

Chase Vehicle

Interior of
partially inflated balloon

Almost there

Inflating balloons for
Mass Ascension


Mass Ascension is an event where hundreds of balloons all take off in a short period of time, a really spectacular site. Balloon takeoffs are controlled by launch officials called "Zebras" because of their outfits. I have to mention a phenomenon called the "Albuquerque Box". Air currents flow from the south at lower elevation along the Rio Grande and switch directions at higher elevations, coming from the north. This allows the balloons to drift north after takeoff, gain altitude, and drift back south close to where they started. They still have to land wherever they find a flat, open space - parking lots, vacant land, sometimes a street. The chase vehicles hopefully can then find them to retrieve the pilot and balloon.


Mass ascension

Mass Ascension





Enjoy the view

Pair of balloons

Enjoy the view


Show's over
Time to go

Special Shapes

The special shapes balloons are a really fun part of Balloon Fiesta. There are probably thousands of special shapes hot air balloons world-wide, and upwards of 100 show up each year for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Many are regulars that attend each year, and many come once and you never see them again. I, of course, tried to photograph as many as I could each time I went to balloon fiesta, and ended up with several dozen in my collection. I have several of the regulars pictured below, and if you want to see a lot more click on the slideshow in the introduction.

"La Ristra-ita"
"The Flying Chili Peppers"

"Flying Purple People Eater"


"Cent'R Stage"

"Smokey Bear"

"Koshare Gallup"


and "Triple Clown"

Special shapes

Booze Balloons

Warsteiner Beer balloons

"Whiskey Too"


"1800 Tequila"

"Korbel Brut"

Czechvar Beer

"Bacardi Real Fruit Mixers"

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