It's that time of year again. Time for hot air balloonists from around the world to descend on Albuquerque for the International Balloon Fiesta.
As a local, it's always a mark of shame when I can't make it out to one of the nine days the fiesta is in operation. This year I didn't want to let that happen.
So I made plans with a friend to go out bright and early this morning. And by bright and early, I really mean dark and early. We were out on the field by 5:30 a.m., before the big crowds and before the sun had a chance to rise.
We wanted to catch the Dawn Patrol--the first set of balloons that take off before the sun comes up. They give other balloonists an idea of where the winds might take them that morning and make for a spectacular sight in the starry sky.
After the Dawn Patrol has lifted off, it's time for everyone else to prepare for the Mass Ascension. As a kid, the name always made me think of some religious service you might find scheduled at a Catholic church. As an adult I realize the Mass Ascension really does resemble a religious experience, with hundreds of balloons decorating the cathedral of the sky like stained glass.
One of the unique aspects of the Balloon Fiesta is the freedom everyone has to walk around the field as the balloonists unravel and inflate in preparation for liftoff. It brings out the kid in everyone.
If you've never been to a fiesta, even if you live in another state, you have to go. And if you're a local who can't find the time to go, make the time. It's worth it. Absolutely worth it.
More info: balloonfiesta.com