Well, I have to tell you this one was EASY! One of the things on my "bucket list" was to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico and ride in a hot air ballon, AND be part of the whole Ballon Fiesta. After a 12 hour drive we made it there and it had been raining for 3 days, the balloons had not gone up yet and it was day 5 of the Fiesta. We checked in to our motel at 9:00 p.m. and RAN to get to the TV to check the weather. Now, you need to know that the Fiesta starts at 4:00 AM, so at 9 pm we have less than 7 hours for the weather to clear. I know that there are people all over the city who are waiting, just as anxious as we are. They say on the weather however, that it's supposed to quit raining at midnight and be CLEAR by launch time. Whew! It's like Christmas Eve for me, I can't go to sleep, know I have to get up at 3:00, and am so excited to get to do something I've wanted to do all my life! But at 3:00 we got up and after making sure we had coats, cameras, etc. we are on our way to the launch site. I had researched this whole thing, but for some reason the fact that 800+ hot air ballons are going to all go up in syncronized motion kinda didn't sink in. Don't know why, I just wasn't prepared. Anyway... the motel was accustomed to" gondola virgins" and gave us a map to the launch site, and we were on our way. We arrived along with 5,000 other people, and it's obvious that this has been going on in Albuquerque for a long time because from the interstate to parked is approximately 3 miles, honestly 5,000 people and more cars than I've seen in awhile in one place and we were parked in 10 minutes! It was amazing. We walked in to the Fiesta park and found the tent to confirm our Balloon Ride and are told to meet back at the tent at 4:30, so we have a little time to find the potty (we were on our 2nd coffee) and get our jitters calmed down! We ARE GOING TO DO THIS!!!! OMG!
At 4:30 we go back to the tent and find that we are grouped with a couple from Maryland and the gondola pilot who's single and not bad looking. We are taken to the balloon site kinda out in the middle of this football field with all these other people congregating in small groups. At 5:00 a.m. the "test" balloon went up. This balloon goes up so that they know which direction the winds are blowing up higher. Albuquerque is nestled just west and south of a mountain range which is "owned" (not the right word) by two Indian tribes. The Indians aren't extremely fond of the traffic or people that congregate for this, and do NOT want everyone coming their direction, so if the wind is going to blow the ballons east or north, then some changes need to be made by the team before lift off. Well, of course today the wind is coming from the southwest at 200-500 feet, then is from the southeast from 500-1000, so our pilot decides we have to start out farther south and west of the field that we were in. We load up in their truck and the "team" consists of the pilot, a young woman (probably 20's) and a young man (probably 20's also). They are talking and laughing in the front seat of the pickup while the rest of are squeezed in the back seat. (Imaging cramming 4 people who don't know each other in the back seat of a pickup.)
We actually got a pretty good tour of the west edge of Albuquerque, but we were glad we were left to ourselves, cause we were definitely LOST! Anyway, we go out to the new developement area where there are a lot of new homes, business, just a lot of empty lots and MUD. Everywhere. Yellow mud, red mud - no black mud here, their's is prettier. So we unload and find out that the young man and woman are there to help, that we are responsible for unloading the basket, propane tanks, and the balloon itself. Hmmmm, no one said it was a working vacation.... SO! We attempt to help, but with the mud it was very difficult. That, and I kept thinking "if this thing doesn't fly, is it my fault?" Ha! A couple of funny things to make this whole scene even better, is that as soon as we unload and start to get the balloon layed out and everything, we are spotted by several other teams who decide we have picked a good spot, so here they all come and before you know it there are 6 balloons laying out in this area. The OTHER funny thing is we are across the "street" (muddy area) from a Denny's which is packed with people eating breakfast, so people are coming out to watch. It is SO cool. Oh yeah, and by now it's 6:30 a.m. and the sun is hiding behind the mountains but you can actually see very well.
The basket is layed on its side and we hold the opening of the balloon open so the heat from the propane burner can get inside of it. This flame is probably 12" across and 6' high so you don't feel cold any more. When the balloon is large enough, everyone has to grab ahold of a rope so that the balloon goes up very gently and doesn't leave you standing on the ground watching it leave. That's where the young man and young woman come in, they hold the 2 lines the keep the basket upright and the balloon from leaving. They are also our pickup crew, and actually follow us around when we're up in the air so they can keep track of us. The pilot gets in the basket and shuts off the heat so that the balloon just sits there. One at a time we crawl in the basket, it has a foot-hole in the middle of the front so it's much like getting on a horse. When we get loaded there are 5 of us in the basket which is roomy but not ROOMY. I suppose it was 4'x3' (?) give or take 6". We have our safety instructions which was short but he had our full attention. Things like, "don't be afraid to tell me if you think we are going to hit something. I may miss seeing something and that would be ugly, to PLEASE yell if you are worried." Hmmm - sounds kinda important, huh?
I've always wondered how this works and I'm about to find out. There's a valve on the propane tank that is turned up for fire, down for none. Simple. But that's where simple stops. We have a GPS system, some type of CB radio, some other electronic equipment that tells temperature, wind speed, etc., etc., Kind of impressive. Do you remember in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy gets left on the ground and the balloon just gently raises up? Well, that's exactly the way it works. At 6' off the ground the wind immediately takes us to the east. Because we are out in an undeveloped area there weren't a lot of light poles or that kind of thing, but we passed RIGHT over the top of fence posts at first. A little boy ran out of a business and waved at us, it was so cool! Because we have the flame going, we are raising up, and level off at about 200' so we can kinda get comfortable. At 200' you can see a long way around you and so we were pretty quiet, just taking it all in. We are still headed east at this point and getting closer to the ground. The pilot asks if we would like to see the Rio Grande River and of course we all say yes. As we get closer you can hear the water because of all the rain and it is obviously running very fast. We continue to go lower as we get closer, and both edges of the river are lined with trees, mostly cottonwoods so you know they are big and tall and very full. At one point we are touching the top of the tree and one of us reaches down and picks a leaf off a limb. When we get over the river we are about 6' off the water and it's a little scarey. What we didn't know however, was that the cold air coming off the water is going to give us a thrill. In a very well timed move-as the cold air hit the balloon- the pilot turns on the flames and the balloon goes from that 6' to 2000 yes 2000 feet in about 65 seconds. We are going straight up at a VERY high rate of speed. We are just squealing! and the pilot is getting such a kick out of it. We level off and at 2000 feet we can see a LOT more of the city and surrounding area. At this time also as we look out, there are balloons of every shape, size, and color everywhere we look. It is so quiet at that height, no longer can you hear the traffic - it's just you (the other 4 people) and God. The wind at 2000 feet is from the east and very light, so we are going back west again, very gently, very quietly. In the west, there are some light clouds, but we realize that they are below us. As the sun comes up slowly over the mountains the shadow of our balloon shows on the cloud and there is a rainbow halo that surrounds the balloon shadow because of the heat. We don't care why it does it, just know that it was absolutely awesome.
We float back to the west for about 25 minutes, then our pilot begins talking to the ground crew. He has spotted a small area next to an intersection to land in. This spot doesn't look doable to me, but hey - I'm a gondalo virgin, remember? Now I'm like you. I've seen the "funniest home video's where the gondola lays on it's side and the balloon drags everyone for 200' before stopping, so I have this in my mind.... Anyway, with a little maneuvering we land, skip once and land solid. No tipping, now dragging, no hysterics. It's all good. We get out one at a time, and it kinda feels good to get our feet on the ground again.
It's a tradition to have champagne after your first balloon ride, so after everything is packed up, we are given a champagne toast, and a certificate with the Balloonist's prayer on it. Our ride is over and all in all we've been up in the air a little over and hour. Was it worth it? YES! Would I do it again? YES! Would I recommend it to anyone else? ABSOLUTELY!!!
The photos I'm posting with this were actually taken the next day. We went back out to the park again for the massive launch (800+) balloons and it was incredible. This is the best part though. You know, I'm a photographer? Well, my camera wouldn't work the whole first day. I have no photos at all of my experience that day in the balloon. So, guess I'll have to go again. YES!