Albuquerque’s azure skies become a surreal sight in early October, as dragons, cows, princesses and even Darth Vader and Yoda take flight during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico.
Sponsored by Canon this year the themed "Where Dreams Take Flight," the world’s largest balloon festival and most photographed event on the planet sees more than 550 hot-air balloons from 18 countries and 45 states lift off daily during the first week of October.
Throughout the week, an estimated 500,000 people will attend the early-morning launches and evening balloon glows.
Yoda from "Star Wars" delights spectators at the 2014 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He, his friend Darth Vader and 548 other balloons – almost 100 of which are special shape balloons – return to Albuquerque the first week of October. — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
New for 2015, Parabatix is a group of international freestyle paramotor (motorized paragliders) pilots that will race and perform acrobatics above the balloon field after morning ballooning events.
Also new this year, laser light shows will take place mornings and evenings, with laser art using inflated balloons as screens in displays choreographed to music.
Throughout the week, balloons launch in waves beginning at 5:30 a.m. In the evenings, tethered balloons create a forest of glowing color throughout the 78-acre grass field, followed by fireworks.
Ballooning competitions test pilots’ skills as they compete for prizes, such as trying to hit ground targets with beanbags.
Hundreds of vendors offer everything from breakfast burritos to collectable ballooning pins.
Saturday, Oct. 10, sees the Music Fiesta headlining The Band Perry, with opening acts Gloriana and Two Way Crossing.
Music begins at 1:15 p.m., and Music Fiesta-goers are admitted to the following Balloon Glow and fireworks for no additional charge. Tickets begin at $8, with reserved seating at $50.
General parking is $10 per session, and admission is $8 per morning and evening sessions. Children 12 years and younger are admitted free.
Park and Ride buses avoid the traffic and take visitors directly to the park for $20 total. Free bicycle storage is available for those who’d prefer to pedal to this one-of-a-kind event.
Visitors should wear layered clothing, as the mornings can be cold. But it quickly warms up once the sun crests the Sandía Mountains.
For a new way to experience the balloons, consider a guided kayaking trip on the Rio Grande to see balloons drifting along the river, and avoid the traffic and get some exercise with the Routes Bicycle Rentals Balloon Fiesta Bike Tour.
After the balloons have landed, make sure to explore the rest of Albuquerque's many unique attractions, such as its Sandia Aerial Tramway, one of the longest in the world.
Or stop in at one of the best restaurants near the balloon fiesta grounds.
The 2015 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3, to Sunday, Oct. 11. For a complete listing of events, visit the balloon fiesta's website.