Travel feature: The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Special to the Daily
For many that live in the High Country, it’s easy to become used to being a vacation destination. For residents of Summit County, when it comes time to plan their own vacation, it’s hard to beat what can be seen every day in their backyard or driving to work. As locals consider their options to do more than a stay-cation, but less than a full-blown vacation, there are a variety of attractions ranging from national parks to camping sites that are all excellent and within driving distance. But for a truly memorable and budget-friendly vacation, where literally the “sky is the limit,” consider the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
NOT JUST A SPECTATOR SPORT
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is internationally recognized as hot air ballooning’s premier event. With more than 500 hot air balloons from a host of nations participating in mass ascensions (20 countries participated in 2016), the sights are literally astonishing. And don’t think it’s just a spectator sport, either. While visitors may not actually go up in a hot air balloon (unless they decide to purchase and reserve a ride), they can be an active participant in the festivities. In addition, there won’t be a need to worry about missing a morning workout or fitness class. For ascensions, balloon glows and fireworks shows, spectators can stroll the launch field, which is the equivalent of 56 football fields in size. Visitors have the opportunity to talk to the balloon pilots, touch the baskets, feel the warmth of the propane burners and even help layout or pack up balloon envelopes. The biggest challenge a newcomer encounters is how to take it in and see and experience all the Balloon Fiesta offers. To do that might require making the Balloon Fiesta an annual vacation.
Planning ahead is essential in order to have a variety of hotel and transportation options. Learning the way to and from the launch field, and taking advantage of park-and-ride options is highly advisable. The 2015 Balloon Fiesta attracted an estimated 955,700 guest visits during the nine-day event. The event costs more than $7 million to produce annually and is supported by more than 165 sponsors and organizations.
The balloons themselves come in every color, shape, size and variety — a visual kaleidoscope of colors and patterns decorate the launch field and the skies. There are also special shape balloons, designed to look like animals, comics, movie characters, stagecoaches (thank you Wells Fargo!), shoes, ships, fire hydrants and sports icons, you name it. For youngsters it is especially fascinating, since all of the balloons are giant sized and create a “Land of the Giants” feel while walking among them.
Festivities commence throughout the day and evening. The event is nine days long, with activities varying each day. On the weekends and some evenings, balloon glows are held at night. Balloon glows consist of the pilots inflating their balloons while tethered to the ground. As the sun sets, the balloons are illuminated from the burners within, creating a glow. As guests walk amongst them, many of the pilots will show youngsters how they light up their balloon, and for some visitors, the pilots may even invite them to help. Immediately after the balloon glow is an amazing “afterglow” laser and fireworks show that rivals some of the best seen on television for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Musical performances are conducted by well-known bands, guests can visit an artisan’s tent with handmade unique gifts and mementos and local cultural arts groups conduct performances. The Balloon Discovery Center has interactive and hands-on exhibits, and as visitors stroll around the launch site they can participate in pin and card trading, and sample a variety of festival food from vendors.
If one more reason is still needed to visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, here it is: guests can actually purchase a hot air balloon ride. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime or “bucket list” experience, Rainbow Ryders is the official Balloon Fiesta ride company. For more information on the event, travel and lodging, and even how to purchase a balloon ride, visit http://www.balloonfiesta.com. The 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is Oct. 7-15, 2017, and is easily within driving distance of Summit County. The drive takes about six and a half hours while winding through some of both Colorado’s and New Mexico’s most scenic landscapes. The Balloon Fiesta is considered the most photographed event in the world, so make sure to bring a camera. And just think, next year’s vacation could be lifting off into the big, blue yonder.
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