On Friday morning, we watched the Shape Derby event of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We're fortunate to have the world's largest hot-air ballooning event right here in our city every year, with nine days of ballooning events and a sky full of balloons every morning, weather permitting. The Shape Derby event is meant to highlight the hot-air balloons that are designed to look like something - the shape balloons, if you will. There were more regular balloons than shaped ones, which is always the case, but the shapes are always interesting - a scarecrow, a pig, a chicken, a cartoonish policeman. Darth Vader and Yoda often make appearances. We like to watch the mass ascensions from a city park on high ground. Come along with us!
It's usually pretty busy in the park. We arrive early and stake out a place to stand. It's cold in the early morning so we wear sweaters. The crowd grows quickly, as people fill in on the soccer fields and along the ridge at the highest point of the park (we have our backs to it in this photo). We like to stand sort of in the middle, close enough to the field in case a balloon lands there, but high enough to see everything. We bring cameras and binoculars and we walk (or run) around to keep warm while we watch. We're facing west here; the balloons launch from Balloon Fiesta Park, which is located near the Rio Grande. The balloons come up toward the east, for the most part, but they can spread out in any direction and can land just about anywhere. During Balloon Fiesta, balloon chase crews are a common sight all over the city, usually large pick-up trucks pulling trailers where the balloons are stored when they are not in use.
Some balloons will float right over us as we stand watching. You can see the flames and hear the gusts of hot air. This one was low enough that we were talking to the people in the basket!
This balloon had been traveling eastward when it started descending. It doubled back to land in the park and we were amazed to watch it sink lower and lower, aimed at the soccer fields in the park, just a few hundred yards from where we were standing. We were soon able to wave to the people in the basket. We could see them crouching low as it came down...
Gone. We all ran down to check it out. Everyone in the park ran toward it from different directions and there was soon a crowd on the field.
The basket landed on its side, which is normal. Everyone got out just fine, and the pilot took some time to talk to kids who had gathered around, explaining how he made the balloon land.
These are the burners that create the hot air to inflate the balloon. They gave off a lot of heat, even after landing.
This is the balloon as it looks deflated. It's basically a big bag made of thin fabric. Look at the background; there was another balloon landing just beyond the soccer fields at the same time. I think it was the pirate balloon you can see in this balloon's landing photos (scroll up). We left the crew to pack up their balloon, having seen another balloon getting ready to land at the top of the hill. We started running up there, but I was too slow to get a photo.
By the time I got up there, this is what I saw: the balloon had landed and the crew was letting the hot air out of the "bag." My Bears were all up there and they were all talking at once, telling me what they'd seen with this landing. They'd been within feet of this one, which was pretty thrilling.
We were all just standing around checking out the balloon when the Bear, who helps everyone, asked if he could help the crew. They said yes! They handed him the balloon strings to help release the hot air.
I took the opportunity to walk around and see what the balloon looked like as it deflated. It reminded me of a sail, or sheets on a clothesline. It was billowy and swishy as it deflated. The crew members were working hard to get it emptied of air and flattened out for storage. It basically gets sucked into another bag that goes into a big carrying basket. The Bear helped with this too; the carrying basket was heavy enough to require six or seven strong people, who carried it to the crew's waiting truck. Next, they carried the passenger basket, which took even more hands. He helped with that too; they gave him a very nice enameled lapel pin, a replica of their balloon, to say thanks.
This man is the pilot/owner. He is British, and comes to Albuquerque every year for the Balloon Fiesta. He was a very talkative and gregarious person who was delighted to talk about ballooning. We learned that his balloon is called "That One."
The LB held his dad's camera and a set of binoculars while the Bear helped pack up the balloon. He took about a million photos. They say the Balloon Fiesta is the most photographed event in the world; might as well start early.
Before they left, the crew gave this card to any children standing nearby. Every balloon crew has these cards for their own balloon and kids like to collect them. The small Bears added "That One" to their small collections of balloon cards, which they display on their bedroom bulletin boards. They were excited to get so close to a balloon and to watch their dad help with it too! We all agreed it was our most interesting Balloon Fiesta experience yet.