Originally written October 2005 -
"Fall break" for you who are not from New Mexico, is really the school district giving in to the "voice of the people" here. You see, we in Albuquerque are now in the final days of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! It is 10 glorious days of the largest hot air balloon event in the WORLD! Balloonists and tourists come from all over the world to see this spectacle.
Different balloon events are held at the Balloon Fiesta Park during this time. Hotels are filled to capacity. All kinds of languages are heard around the city. It's not unusual for local families to keep their kids home for a day here or there to attend the event. So, in an attempt to cut down on absences happening throughout the 10 days, the school district just decided to give the schools a day off, in hopes that families will just decide to go that day. And it works!
Each day a "mass ascension" is held, with approximately 400-600 balloons taking part. Thousands of people flock to the field at 5:00 in the morning, in the cold and darkness. The stars are bright and shining still. Concession stands line one side of the field, where you can buy and wrap your frigid fingers around a cup of hot chocolate, a steamy cinnamon bun or a green chili and cheese burrito to keep warm. People are dressed in wool hats and mittens and wrapped in blankets.
Small helium "test" balloons (the birthday party kind) are sent up to test the winds, and everyone waits to see if the winds will cooperate. Balloonists unpack their gondolas and lay
out their envelopes on the grass in row after row after row down the length of the field.
The "Dawn Patrol", the first balloonists to go up, inflate their envelopes and take a morning test flight. As they fire their burners and ascend, their envelopes glow starkly set against the black predawn sky. Excitement is building. Things are going well! The perfect breeze is blowing, enough to send the balloon riders on a beautiful ride.
The sky starts to lighten, and soon the sun sends its first rays of the morning over the east mountains. The word is given and everything is go! Burners roar and huge fans push the warm air into the envelopes all over the field as the balloons come to life. Crews and ropes and lines control each envelope until they are all standing upright, bobbing from side to side and bumping against each other, straining to leave the ground.
The huge crowd, men, women, children, seniors, babies....are out there too. No standing at the sidelines required here. Everyone is out there, amidst the raucous noise, the burners and the balloons, the radio announcer and the music, staring up into silk globes and feeling the warmth of the propane flames as they blast the balloons awake.
Special shaped balloons are there too. A cow, a bee, a sun face, a chili ristra, a dragon, a soda bottle, a tree, Noah's ark and the Jesus balloon, the Energizer Bunny....shapes you couldn't even imagine...as big as buildings....all creatively stitched together in rainbow colors of silk!
Then the word is again given. The first row to the south takes off! Then the second...the third.....the fourth....the fifth.....as all down the field row after row of balloons fly up each in their turn. After the first rows take off, the second wave of balloonists lay out and inflate their envelopes as the balloons to the north are taking off. New rows of envelopes bob and bounce against each other, crews straining to hold them to the ground until the given moment. Then the second wave takes off, row after row, until the sky is filled with color. The crowd on the ground watches and points and laughs and smiles in awe and takes another 20 pictures. As the sun warms the morning, coats and hats are peeled off. But the party is not over! Have another cup of coffee. Buy a balloon event pin to add to your collection, and wait for the balloon races to begin! Activity is a buzz until about mid-morning. It's such a warm, happy, pleasant atmosphere! You can't go there and not feel happy.
Last night my husband, Scott, had to work late, so I took Cole and Beana to the Glodeo. This is where only the special shapes are set up in the late afternoon.
Once again the crowds flocked to the field by the thousands. At night, the concession stands sell nachos, smoked turkey legs, and roasted corn on the cob. Envelopes and gondolas again lined the field, waiting for the sun to go down. Teen-agers, hired for the fiesta, hawked calendars, glow toys and a wide array of jester hats! As the sky started to mellow and the western horizon became ablaze in a pink, yellow and purple sunset, the burners and fans roared to life again as envelopes were inflated. But this time, they didn't take off. Tethered to the ground, the envelopes thronging the air around us, the crowd wound through the maze of balloons, collecting trading cards from the various balloon teams, trading pins, asking questions , taking pictures and greeting people.
The sun went down and the sky darkened. Individual burners fired here and there to keep the envelopes up and moving, giving off a warm, colorful "glow" against the night sky. But the best part....the most magical part....was when the announcer started the countdown. Then the whole crowd joined in...thousands of people counting in unison...
And every balloon on the field fired it's burner......every envelope filled with light.....and there we were......smack dab in the middle of 300 balloons.....all glowing and warm and jolly! It's like a huge, magical toyland.....supersized! A roar went up from the crowd as it shouted its approval! This same countdown happened 10 times or so over the next hour. It's quite a time!
Then, as propane tanks burned towards empty, envelopes were deflated. Gondolas were packed away for the night. Now all the people took out their blankets and found a comfortable place on the ground. Snug and warm as the desert night's chill started to settle in, hot chocolate in hand, sharp reports started to echo through the sky, and the fireworks began.
Ohhhs and Ahhhhs rose from the crowd with each blast of light and sound. Beana, Cole and I cuddled together on our blanket, watching this event with our stomachs full of smoked turkey. They had their share of comments to make about the fireworks. It was funny to listen to Cole's. For some reason, as the explosions blossomed in the sky, they reminded him of Beana's hair falling in braids around her shoulders. Numerous suggestions came from him such as....
"You should do Beana's hair like that, Mama."
"Ohhhh look at that one! It looks like a waterfall! That would be a nice way to braid Beana's hair....huh, Mama."
"Huh, Mama." Pronounced as "HUmuma", like it was one big word with the stress on the first syllable. Such a sparkling little boy. I like how he sees things, like his sister's hair as beautiful and tempestuous as fireworks! We snuggled deeper under our blankets, our bodies curled up together for warmth, sipping hot chocolate, as we settled in to watch the magic erupt across the darkening desert night.