49.5 2021 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

49.5 2021 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Some friendships last a lifetime and so it is with my oldest friend (oldest in the sense of how long we have been friends).  Damon and I became friends some where around the 4th or 5th grade.   

7 years ago we started going to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.  I kind of figured it would be a one time deal.  But the journey westward on a week long road trip has become an annual event.

2020 was supposed to be year number 49 for the fiesta but it was canceled like so many events due to the pandemic.  So the powers to be are calling this year 49..5  For 49.5 years hot air balloonist have gathered in Albuquerque to fill the sky with wonder.  What started as a small event is now huge with spectators from allover the world.


The morning happens early even before the first bit of light from the east.  There is a thing called the dawn patrol which lifts off while the sky is still dark.  Albuquerque has what is known as the box.  Normally winds move south along the surface of the earth and then several 100 feet higher they move north.  This allows the balloons to launch, stay low float south then rise and come back and often land nearly where they took off.  But these currents can vary as to how how.  The Dawn Patrol gives the fiesta officials an idea of what to tell the other pilots what to expect.  But for me, a glowing hot air balloon rising  in the dark is a stunning sight to see.


Once the Dawn Patrol have a chance to report conditions and as the sun begins to fill the sky with enough light that once could see Old Glory, one of the Balloons Launches carrying our Flag and the national Anthem is sung.  

And then it begins.  The rest of the balloons are filled with air and launched.  Its a stunning to see.  This year some 588 balloons were at the fiesta.  Coordinating that many balloons launching is a bit of challenge but with nearly 50 year of experience, the fiesta officials have it down to a science.

Often the skies over Albuquerque are clear but some times there is a real treat of the balloons launching in amazing sunrises or cotton candy white puffy clouds.  Regardless, when the balloons start to fill the sky, it is a wonderful sight to see so many balloons at once.  And it is easy to see, why so many people want to photograph it.

After 7 years of attending the Fiesta, photographing hot air balloons is one of my passions.  There is something magical about something that appears so big even though you know it is hallow and filled with hot air, rising off the ground.  And really the pilots fly only by understanding the winds which have their way with the balloons.  This harkens to the earliest of attempts of humans to break the bonds of gravity and look back at our world with new eyes.


49.5 because the 49th Fiesta got canceled due to covid. Next year, you can bet I will some where among all that hot air and color with my camera for the 50th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.