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Favorite Event: The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

At the beginning of October each year the skies of Albuquerque, New Mexico are full of lions, tigers and bears among other things: You name it and it's probably featured as a special shape or on a balloon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The ABQ Balloon Fiesta turned 50 this year, but by no means was it an instant sensation!

The Fiesta has come a long way in 50 years, starting with only 13 balloons and now topping off around 650 balloons each year. There is no other event quite so grand as the ABQ Balloon Fiesta! Yes, there are other wonderful hot air balloon festivals, and you should definitely seek out those events, but there is something quite unique and special about attending the Balloon Fiesta: It draws people and pilots from all over the world.

So why all the hype? ABQ has something that entices hot air balloon pilots more that most other locations: It's called The Albuquerque Box. The ABQ Box is a term that refers to the wind pattern created over the bowl like city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Let's talk logistics: Hot air balloons are at the mercy of the wind. The pilots can control the up and down movement of the balloon, but whatever wind direction is pushing the balloon is the direction the balloon will go. In the morning hours in October, winds at lower levels often move south while winds at higher levels are pushing north. This variation of direction creates a flying box for hot air balloon pilots to utilize when flying. Hot air balloon pilots rely on the wind to move their balloons. If the ABQ box is present and working then pilots can take off from the Balloon Fiesta grounds in the morning launch and go south, then they climb to a higher altitude and hit the winds that will take them back north. Sometimes pilots can take off and land from the same spot on the field where they launched, which is quite rare as they often end up landing far from their launch site.

The entire event started because of one person, Sid Cutter. According to the Albuquerque Journal,

Sid "flew a plane at age 10, soloed at 16, got his pilot’s license at 17, flew jets and cargo planes for the Air Force and even flew helicopters before returning to the family business and serving as its president from 1963 until 1974."

Sid came to hot air ballooning by accident, taking his first ride because someone let go of the tether. Sid said after that, he was hooked immediately on hot air balloons. He started the Fiesta as a personal hobby and it grew fast! In fact, the first few years of the Fiesta were entirely funded by Sid, quite a sizeable undertaking to fall to one person. Eventually a board for the Balloon Fiesta was formed and Albuquerque began investing in this event, but that took time.

Even the location for the Fiesta has changed a few times. It started in a mall parking lot, moving eventually to larger and larger fields, and eventually to the very established festival grounds of today. Shockingly for the desert environment of Albuquerque, the current balloon grounds have a lush carpet of grass that rivals the best lawns. Such grass in a desert is an extravagant use of water, something that is a luxury in ABQ since most ordinances forbid watering a lawn. Supposedly the people of Albuquerque originally disapproved of this green luxury until it was made known that the grounds would also be available for golfers. This somehow placated the people of ABQ and the new Balloon Fiesta grounds were carpeted in glorious green grass. Side note: The grass makes for a nicer landing for the balloon baskets.

The old fiesta grounds, all dirt and gravel, became the South RV lot. Camping on the old festival grounds, just south of the new field, creates an amazing opportunity for the ABQ box to push the balloons directly over the RVs in the South lot.

The Fiesta eventually put a cap on the number of balloons who could fly for safety reasons. One year the event hit over 1000 balloons flying, now they cap the number around 650. It is a logistical feat to behold watching how many balloons can go up at once!

The 2022 Fiesta experienced the most canceled events in its history due to wind and weather.

TIP: The longer you stay the more likely you will see more events.

Here is a 2022 Balloon Fiesta survival guide by The Albuquerque Journal

You can see the full special edition here: Special Edition Balloon Fiesta 50 Years

We absolutely LOVED the ABQ Balloon Fiesta and have lots more to share!

For More on the Balloon Fiesta Read:


Please note that these additional blogs and video contain information about our experience at the 50th Balloon Fiesta in 2022, every year of the Fiesta is slightly different.

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