Is there any good news in America anymore? The war in Iraq; the little girls killed in Pennsylvania; corruption in the government and in business; the shootings and killings in our schools; and another tired and never-ending scandal in the Congress!
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There IS refreshing and positive news that happens once a year in Albuquerque, New Mexico...and, it's called the Internation Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta, which has been happening for the past 35 years here in Albuquerque.
First of all, I am not part of the Balloon Fiesta in any way; I am not on the Board of Directors; I am not a volunteer; I am not a vendor or a sponsor, and I don't even own a balloon. I am not a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and I have no interest in the Balloon Fiesta whatsoever! I'm a citizen, who has watched the Fiesta for over 35 years, and I want to share it with the readers from all over the world.
Before I go any further, and for those around the world, I will place Albuquerque, New Mexico on the map for you. The state of New Mexico is located in the southwestern part of the United States, with our good neighbors to the east...Texas; our good neighbors to the north...Colorado; our good neighbors to the west...Arizona and our good neighbors to the south...the country of Mexico.
The metro city of Albuquerque has a population of about 500,000. (and, yes we do have running water and electricity) Albuquerque is located in the north/central part of the state, where I-40 (old Route 66) and I-25 (Pan American Freeway) come together, and is located about one hour south of Santa Fe, New Mexico the capital city.
The Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta started in 1971, with only 25 hot-air balloons, and was held at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. At that time, I lived only about a mile from the Fairgrounds, so I had never seen so many hot-air gathered in one place at one time in my entire lifetime! And, little by little over the years, the Balloon Fiesta has grown, so that by the year 2006, there were between 700 and 800 balloons participating from all across the United States and around the world.
I have seen newspaper reports over the years, that there have been over a million people who attended this event on any given year, and so the City swells with people in the month of October when the event is held. In the crisp weather in the first and second week-ends in October is when the event is held every year. If you're a person who likes lots of color...this event is for you!
How are nearly 800 hot-air balloons organized for a smooth take-off? The first 200 balloons are laid out on the ground, next to each other, and when the hot-air from the propane fuel lifts the envelope of the balloon, they are quietly standing there, almost toughing each other in a glorious array of colors! The visitor is lost in a sea of color as the balloons prepare to lift off. To descrive the feeling of walking among these colorful giants, is almost impossible. The a-h-h-h-h-h's and o-o-o-o-o-o-oh's from the large crowd, tells the whole story!
At 7:00 AM on the morning of the start, or the mass asscension as it's called...two hundred balloons lift off in the first phase on the opening of the Fiesta. Thereafter, and every 30 minutes, a group of 200 balloons...followed by another 200...until all the balloons are in the air. A sight you won't forget! Awsome; fantastic; incredible; unforgettable...and the words I use to describe this event. What a spectacular sight, as the balloons dot the sky all over the city and over the Rio Grande river valley. Color is everywhere!
My favorite balloons from day one, have been the special-shapes balloons. The creativity, ingenuity, and imagination, that goes into the manufacturing of these balloons is amazing. I never get over how creative these balloons can be. Special shapes balloons such as the following; Garfield; Boo-Boo Bear; the piggy bank; a stork/w baby; the Ark, with little animal characters looking over the side of the ship; a huge football; a huge soccer ball; a bottle of wine; an old tennis shoe; a folded newspaper; a bumble bee; a mainbox; a smily sun wearing sunglasses; and dozens of others. My favorite special shape balloon has always been the clunky cow from a local dairy. There are always new special shapes at the Balloon Fiesta every year!
YOU AINT SEEN NOTHING YET! During one of the ten days of the Fiesta, there is an event on the park grounds which is called a Balloon Rodeo...or Balloon Glow...or Glowdeo! Two hundred balloons are chosen for this event...and, it's held at NIGHT! The FAA does not allow hot-air balloons to fly at night, but there's no law against having a Ballon Glow...and that's what this is. Two hundred balloons are teathered to the ground, so they stay in place at night, as the envelopes are filled with hot air. The s-s-w-i-i-i-i-i-i-s--s-s-h sound of the balloon burners being turned on the off by the balloon pilot, to get the balloon to stay in an upright position!
The visitor sees a sea of orange, as the balloons are lit up in the dark sky. Candelight dinner, anyone? This event reminds me of Halloween, with the glow of the balloons in gold and orange and the darkness of the night. SPECTACULAR! When I saw this event for the first time, I was speechless!
During the ten day run, activities go on all week long at the Fiesta Park. There are all kinds of foods available from different countries; arts and crafts; the Balloon Museum and games and competition for the balloon teams. One campetition is as follows; there are five ...30 foot poles at the Fiesta Park...and on top of each pole, are prizes the balloonists can grab while in flight. This takes skill by the pilot, and he or she has to have the ability to manuever the balloon close enouth to the pole to claim the prize. The prizes include: keys to a brand new car; keys to a brand new truck; keys to a brand new motocycle and other prizes such as televisions and computers. It's exciting to watch how the winning balloons can get close enough to the poles to grab the prizes!
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Over the 35 years of the Fiesta has been incredibly safe, but like any large event there will be tragedy. There are restrictions as to where the balloonists can fly. They are restricted from flying near the military base; the airport; certain Indian reservations and they cannot fly near the mountains. The give you an idea how dangerous the mountains can be, was the catastrophy that happened years ago at the Fiesta.
The Sandia mountains, located at the eastern city limits of Albuquerque...rise to a height of 10,600 feet above sea level. (The word "Sandia" is Spanish for watermellon) The mountains are unusual as they rise gradually from the eastern side of the state, and when they reach the 10,600 foot level...they drop straight down...like a cliff...right at the eastern city limits. The Sandias support the longest tramay system in North America, and no vehicles can reach the summit or the Crest from the west side of the mountains. A person can get to the Creat only by trail or by tramway!
Because of the dangerous winds, which swirl and twist along the mountians, which are so unpredictable, balloonists are not allowed to fly near the mountains. Several years ago, a team of balloonists tried to go over the Crest and they failed! The dangerous winds blew the balloon side-ways...the balloon caught on fire, and the balloonists plunged to their deaths!
If there are 800 balloons in the sky...then there are 800 chase-crews on the ground, chasing the balloons wherever the balloon goes. The balloon might land in the river; downtown; at a truck stop at your doctor' office; near the ice cream truck...you never know where one of these balloons is going to come down. You can imagine all the chaos around the city, as the chase-crews are trying to keep up with their balloon, etc.
The end of the Fiesta brings what is called, the AfterGlow Fireworks Show, and that consists of fireworks exploding in the star-lit night! The most photographed event in the world comes to an end for another year! And, did youknow that the balloonists have their own prayer? It goes like this;
"May the winds welcome you with softness,
May the sunbless you with its warm hands,
May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth."
Isn't that neat?
For 35 years now, I have witnessed this event and never
get tired of it! And, because of this, I have never seen so many
"basket cases" in my entire life!