Saturday morning at 5:15 AM we boarded the Rail Runner transit train at its southernmost station in our town of Belen to ride to Albuquerque for the annual Balloon Fiesta celebration. The Rail Runner transit train was built about 10 years ago – it runs from Belen ninety-seven miles north through Albuquerque and ends in Santa Fe. It runs 7 days a week and makes 4 full length round trips each day except for Sunday with 3 round trips. A trip from Belen to Santa Fe takes from 2 ¼ to 2 ½ hours. It’s a really good service – the seating, appearance and cleanliness are nice. A senior full day pass to Albuquerque is only $2 and to Santa Fe $8. The gasoline for us to drive to Albuquerque and back is $7 – it’s a bargain. It was our first trip on the train – we’ll find uses for it again. A shuttle bus service picked us up at the stop in Albuquerque and delivered us inside the Fiesta Park for the Balloon Festival.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has been held each year for over 40 years and is the largest balloon festival in the world. It’s held beginning the first full weekend in October, runs for 9 days and draws visitors from everywhere. Saturday morning’s weather was perfect with clear, sunny skies and only a little breeze.
The Fiesta Park is full of vendors and we picked up a breakfast burrito and cup of coffee on arrival – the burrito was yummy with bacon, eggs, potatoes and a side of green chile to add to each bite. The huge grass field where the balloons launch allows full access to all, and so it is jam packed with people in and around all the balloons. The field is 78 acres and over 500 balloons find a way to fit into it and launch on Saturday’s opening morning. It’s a fiesta in the grandest tradition, and the mood is festive and alive with excitement. Beginning first light the mass ascension begins with balloons launching in waves from the field over the next 2 hours.
Maybe you can see from the picture the mass of people down on the field with the balloons. We brought camp chairs and set up on a wide walkway that connected the field with the huge RV campsite on a mesa above the field giving us a vantage point to take pictures.
I wish I could convey the wonder of the colors in the bright, morning, Albuquerque sunshine. I guess if you asked me what the neatest thing about balloons is I would answer the colors. As the balloons multiply into the sky the colors create an awe in the head that can’t be explained. You can see the moon is still showing in the morning light. I guess it is the harvest moon. It’s been huge – it was full a couple of nights ago – white and bright as it has risen early in the evening and then a yellow/gold tint before dawn in the morning as it is ready to sink below the western horizon.
The variety of caricatures made into balloons kept me chuckling to myself – from a mariachi player in a big sombrero to Darth Vader and Yoda. I suspect the cost of having a character balloon created is staggering. Some companies use it for advertising – you can see the Wells Fargo stagecoach – there was a big Dairyland cow and a huge Kawasaki motorcycle. None of those three left the ground – probably touchy to fly and maneuver a landing unless the air was completely calm.
The Balloon Fiesta is a great event. For those of you who live far away it is worth a trip to see. We had driven down from Pagosa Springs, CO in 2005 to see the Saturday morning mass ascension. Last year we drove up and ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel and sat chairs out in their parking lot to watch for awhile. This is the first year we attended at the Fiesta Park. It’s a big crowd with the inconveniences and waiting that go with that – but worth it for us in a fun way – right now I’m thinking we’ll ride up again next year on the train and do it all over again – God willing.
Despite the tragedies that occur in this world brought by a few evil hearts our fellowmen create wonders for us all over this planet – things that are amazing and that make us smile and which add a sense of adventure and joy to the living of life. God gave men and women that gift for our wholesome pleasure, and it is good we take advantage of opportunities for something like a fiesta. It helps us appreciate each other and smile at each other and escape the work-a-day routine. Saturday was a day of not only smiles from watching balloons, but also a sense of kinship with the world of people at large as I watched families with children small and nearly grown sharing a day of joy with each other. On balance we live in a world created with the potential for common good and joy – a fiesta day shows that in the best of ways.