Balloons over Albuquerque: A Magical October Moment

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

Bright blue skies filled with colorful hot air balloons dangling above in the early morning light. A magnificent site? Well, regrettably, not this year. The Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my home-town, is an annual event that started in 1972. Sadly, this is the first year that the organization has had to cancel the popular event. COVID-19 is the culprit yet again.

Even though the balloons did not launch this October 2020, I attended the fiesta last year and still have vivid memories of my experience, and loads of photographs to boot. Thus, I would like to share with you my reflections and photos of the event. That way I can relive it again.

You have to get up early if you want to see the balloons launch in Albuquerque. Also, I am not the only one excited to see the spectacular display, thousands of others brave the cold, dark mornings to get an early view.

I went with a friend and her daughter. We decided to leave at 5:30 a.m. With my alarm set for 4:30, I stumbled out of bed and donned my warm clothes, it is surprisingly cold in the early morning hours in Albuquerque but warms up rapidly in the afternoon. Layers of clothes are recommended. With a hot beverage in our hands, we wound our way through throngs of traffic to one of the mazes of parking lots surrounding the 80-acres launch field. Luckily, it was a relatively short walk to the field.

The Dawn Patrol was still out surveying weather conditions, determining whether the balloons could safely launch. We were in luck, it was an all-clear for lift-off. With all the hub bub and scurrying about by thousands of people, hundreds of balloons, launch vehicles, and all their paraphernalia, everything follows a rather orderly protocol.

A truck comes in laden with balloon baskets, the heater or burner that is fueled by propane and gives lift to the balloon, and the actual balloon. Laid on the ground to its full majesty, the laborious task of filling the balloon with hot air commences. But watching the filling of the balloons is anything but boring. As they slowly expand with hot air, visitors are free to mill about, dodging the balloons as they begin to take their full shape and float upward. One feels like they are part of the whole parade, not a spectator viewing from afar. As the balloon passengers take to the air, they wave to the adoring crowds below, who clap and cheer their appreciation and amazement.

Once the first dozen or so balloons fill the sky, one’s attention is drawn in a million directions. One after another, each balloon goes through the same process before liftoff. Its fun to weave through the crowds to see your favorite balloon float upwards and turn from a gigantic shapeless mass of fabric on the earth to a colorful full image in the sky. As the October sun comes up, it adds brilliance and magic to the scene, and its warmth seeps into cold hands and feet.

It is virtually impossible to describe the extraordinary site. One visitor from New Jersey enthusiastically commented to me that he was practically speechless, “You can actually freely get up close to the balloons, the site is just amazing.” Although I have been to the fiesta many times, it is always fun to experience someone’s first time at the fiesta. It is one of the rare events in which the actual experience is better than the hype. No one comes away disappointed!

Balloons continuously liftoff for several hours in the morning, as the sky fills with hundreds of balloons in many sizes, colors, and shapes. In fact, one of the most popular display at the fiesta is the launching of special shape balloons—ranging from cows, bees, wagons, cartoon characters, to a replica of the actual earth floating through space.

As the morning wore on, and those early morning hot beverages signaled they wanted out, we began to make our way back to the car. The scene from afar was equally dramatic but lost some of its personal, up-close magic. By now some of the balloons had drifted far from their home base and into the remote regions of the wide-open sky. Looking upward, these drifting balloons were a visual reminder that the day was truly enchanting.    

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences–teaching, scholarly research, personal reflections, and extensive travels–have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educations and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: TURN, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. TURN encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about TURN’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book, addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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