From its humble beginnings as a small gathering of 13 hot air balloons held in the parking lot of Coronado Shopping Center in 1972, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has become the largest annual balloon event in the world. In its second year, 13 countries represented themselves in the first World Hot Air Balloon Championships at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds, and in the 1978 event, 273 balloons participated.
Today, through the support and foresight of city leaders like former Mayor Harry Kinney, Sid Cutter, Tom Rutherford and Charlie Hines, hundreds upon hundreds of balloons are entered, at times topping the 700 mark, as hundreds of thousands of balloon enthusiasts and tourists representing all 50 states and more than 28 countries, and a host of locals take part in the festivities. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has truly become New Mexico's signature event, garnering media coverage from some 50 countries and hosting some of the most prestigious balloon competitions in the world.
And it's that time again. The weather has become perfect for hot air and gas ballooning, and the city is gearing up for its annual week-and-a-half of fame. This year, the Fiesta has been extended from nine days to 10, in part to recognize the 30th anniversary of the event.
As always, the opportunities to be entertained at the Balloon Fiesta are nearly endless—from live music and dance to social events, food, arts and crafts displays and demonstrations and plenty of retail. In addition, the Balloon Fiesta Discovery Center located at the north end of Balloon Fiesta Park will offer a host of special attractions that highlight the history and mechanics of hot air and gas ballooning, guest speakers, balloon simulation games, videos, puppet shows and, on Sunday, Oct. 3, and Friday, Oct. 8, at 9 a.m., hands-on classes will be given on the making of tissue paper balloons. Those interested in taking a ride in the real thing can do so by making reservations for a hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders, the only balloon ride company authorized to take off from Balloon Fiesta Park (800-725-2477, 505-823-1111 or www.rainbowryders.com).
Time to dust off the warm jackets, wool socks, gloves and stocking caps and head out butt-ass early for a unique taste of Albuquerque and hot air balloon culture. For more information, visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta website at www.aibf.org.