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Stairway to Heaven: Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta

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Heavenly bodies on the horizon

I’m not a morning person. So when I saw the itinerary for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I did a double take. 6 a.m. start time! With a little coffee, I managed to make it through the early morning(read 4 a.m.) trips from the hotel to the park, all bundled up in my layers of thermals and wool. After learning from my hotel concierge that this was the largest ballooning event in the world, I was a bit curious…

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Piñon Coffee keeping this California girl warm!

Once I saw a few of these colorful globes take to the sky before dawn, all of my fatigue melted away. The few brave balloons, known as the “Dawn Patrol”, tested the wind patterns for their fellow fiesta goers still on the ground. This scene was absolutely stunning!

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The Dawn Patrol takes flight

What’s even better than the visual of the gas balloons set against the vista of the Albuquerque mountains, is the sound of them lighting up. The powerful “whoosh” of the helium and hydrogen flooding these giant globes is almost as magical as the sound of the crowds cheering them on as they lift up to the heavens.

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Leo lighting up the early morning sky

And what a crowd! I literally saw generations of families, young and old, groups of friends, couples on honeymoons, photography clubs, and every combination of group you could think of. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is fun for everyone. If you don’t marvel at this magnificent event, then there’s something definitely wrong with you!

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No filter needed!

My family decided to attend this annual display of color to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. In between balloon fiesta fun, we got a chance to sample some of the delicious cuisine in Albuquerque, known for its generous use of red and green chiles. If you don’t like spicy – ask them for super mild. Trust me on this one!

When we weren’t eating the tasty New Mexico treats(like sopapillas), we did some shopping in the town square and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. My favorite finds were a store called Masks Y Mas, which housed art, jewelry, and of course, masks. Then just a few doors down I discovered, Off Broadway, the most decadent vintage shop that had me pulling at my purse strings as I piled my dressing room with a number of gorgeous gems. I walked away with this wool coat – perfect for the brisk New Mexico breeze!

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Vintage wool from Off Broadway keeping me warm!

After some well-deserved naps, my family and I headed back to the park to witness what is known as “Balloon Glow”. This evening event is not to be missed, as the visual of vibrant balloons against the night sky envelops you. Everywhere you turn there’s some new wonder to be seen. It’s no surprise that this is the world’s most photographed event, with over 25 million photographs being taken each year!

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Twilight Twinkle glow!

Since the balloons don’t embark at the evening events, you’ll get to wander among them in all of their colorful glory. The hum of the gas lighting up these beauties gave me the chills! And hearing the oohs and ahhs coming from everyone around you, all of us in collective childlike wonder, is enough to give you goosebumps.albuquerque-balloon-fiestaalbuquerque-balloon-fiestaIf you want the true VIP experience at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, get tickets to the Gondola Club. And don’t wait until the last minute! We waited a bit too long and were only able to get them for one morning, but we’re sooo glad we did. A hot breakfast buffet, open bar, and fire pits greeted us as we descended on the park for another early morning of fiesta fun.

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Get your tickets early!

And when you’re ready to get up close to the balloons, there’s a VIP tram waiting to drive you closer to the action. This is one of the best Gondola Club benefits since the park is over 350 acres big. The highlight of that morning was watching Annabelle, the Creamland Dairy mascot, finally come into her udderly full glory. After the team tried for a couple of days to get her up, she finally made it to the skies and set sail with the rest of her balloon friends. The crowd went wild as she was set free!

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C’mon Annabelle – you can do it!
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There she goes!
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It’s raining ice cream!

These balloons are too gorgeous for words. No filter is needed for your photos! In fact, I spent very little time editing photos because the light and color of the New Mexico sky is just perfect. Pro tip – bring an extra memory card and a portable charger. You’ll be out there from around 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., so it’s good to be prepared. And bring a backpack or bag to hold your gloves, hats, etc. You’ll want to shed some layers as the sun comes up – it gets surprisingly warm!

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Space Odyssey – New Mexico style!
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The largest ballooning event in the world!
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Come back señorita!
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Star Wars action along the Albuquerque horizon
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Some of the 1,000 balloons represented!

Swirling in a serene symphony led by Mother Nature’s wispy winds, the balloons drift above your head and then eventually out of sight. The heavens, dotted with color, will leave you in awe. As I watched everyone gaze up at the sky, some of us snuggled next to our loved ones for warmth, I felt so happy to be here. What a unique experience!

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New Mexico True!

Even with the early mornings and bone-chilling cold, I would do it all over again. There’s nothing like gazing up at the sky and watching the balloons dance along the desert sky. Next time this California girl will pack her earmuffs. And I’ll make sure to get my Gondola Club tickets well in advance!

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Smiles from the most photographed event on earth!

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