High Flight

High Flight

The older I get the longer my bucket list is.  One item on my bucket list has been photographing the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta from a hot air balloon.  In 2017 I was able to cross that item off my list.  Honestly, it was one of the most amazing days of my life.  Making it even more amazing was amazing was doing it with my longest and closest friend.  It started long before the sun rose.   We traveled to the Balloon Park in the dark of the early morning.  As the morning light began illuminating the field of balloons we helped inflate our balloon.  Everything I did that day was one handed, camera in one hand while I held the mouth of the Balloon open for the hot air.  It sounded a bit like standing next to a fire breathing dragon.  But slowly the balloon filled and stood up right.

We were cleared to fly and slowly the balloon lifted up.  It’s a most informal thing really.  The field at Albuquerque is filled with people.  Balloon enthusiast from all over the world gathers in Albuquerque.  There are no formal boundaries between the balloons and the spectators and in fact, part the of the magic is being up close and personal with 500 hot air balloons of every shape and size imaginable. 

Slowly we lifted.  At first, we were at the same level as the crowd and they simply parted as the balloon slid south. I was amazed at how fast we covered ground moving south. I guess I thought we would go straight up.  The sun had not yet crested the Sandia Peak and we slowly lifted in the morning sunless light.  Another thing that shocked me was how quiet it was.  I have been up in many small planes.  One thing about motorized flight is the sound. It is always loud.  Here other than when our pilot would engage the burner, it was silent. And the higher we climbed even the sound of Albuquerque faded till the only sound was the gentle breeze and our conversation.  Mostly we pointed out the sights. 


As we moved south from the balloon field we headed toward the downtown.  As I watched the taller building of Albuquerque, I was taken back as the sun crested the Sandia Peak.  The tops of the skyscrapers of Albuquerque caught the sun and as the shadow of the mountain to the east of the city dropped with the rising sun it the buildings seemed to come alive. Till finally all of Albuquerque was in the sunlight. 

It’s called the Albuquerque Box.  At lower altitudes, the wind moves southerly.   At higher altitudes, the wind moves north.  So a balloon can take off, glide south and then climb and come right back to the spot it took off.  Many balloons land right back in the park.  When we had gone south far enough, our pilot poured the gas on and we began rising.  As we climbed altitude, we slowed moving south and eventually completely reversed our direction.  Only we didn’t quite go due north.  We were not following a perfect box.  In fact, we ended up landing quite away from the park.   Part of the adventure for me was watching our pilot try to navigate the currents.  He would rise and fall trying to find the current that took him where he wanted to go. 

The whole trip I had my iPhone doing video in one hand and my camera in the other.   At one point I thought to myself if I drop my phone I will never see it.  

We flew for an hour and 15 minutes and landed with several other balloons a few miles north of the park.  While the takeoff was smooth the landing was not but it was not bad either, the gondola bounced a few times. And then drug along the ground as our pilot let the hot air out of the balloon.  Finally, we came to a stop, gondola on its side.  As the chase vehicle pulled up we began helping deflate the balloon and then helped pack it away.  It stuns me every time to see a balloon packed away.  The entire balloon part fits in a box the size of the gondola.

I am not a professional videographer by any means and I am only learning time lapse but you might enjoy watching the video on my YouTube Chanel HERE

Below are some of the photos from the flight.