No, it's not Burning Man. It's dawn on the last day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, just before the mass ascension of over 500 balloons. Someone is testing their propane burner. The propane flames inside the balloon gondolas make the ascending balloons glow in the dark. Very cool.
The main reason we're here in ABQ is because of the annual American Dance Therapy Association conference. I attended on Friday and Saturday, presenting a workshop and visiting with friends and long time colleagues. I decided to take Sunday off so we could attend the Fiesta on its last day. Up at 5:00 AM, we rode a school bus to the Balloon Fiesta Park, getting there just at dawn. The Dawn Patrol, about ten balloons that go up to test the wind, had just ascended.
Balloonists and their crews were rolling out their balloons and setting up for inflation, which is accomplished with high powered fans, and then the propane torches in the gondolas. Here's one being blown up with the fan, the gondola on its side and attached to the balloon.
When it has enough air in it to come upright, the torches begin their job.
The balloons are very tightly packed together, lying right next to one another, and as they begin to inflate, they crowd each other for airspace. One of the best things about the event is that you can walk out among the balloons as they are inflating and taking off. You just have to watch your step and stay out of the way of the working crews. It's so much more exciting than sitting in bleachers or watching from a distance.
When a crew gets the signal from the zebras (the men and women who are the flight controllers of the ascension), the balloon is untethered and breaks free from the ground. The crowd around it cheers.
One of the first balloons to pass over our heads had an American flag hanging from its basket. I got all choked up.
The balloons were beautiful in the early light...
...and when the sun came up they were even more beautiful! You can get a sense of how many there were in this picture. The ascension went on for a couple of hours I think.
In addition to the traditional balloons there are some that are in fanciful shapes. This one is Noah's arc.
The ascension basically starts at one end of the 78 acre park and works its way to the other end, and the crowd follows. We kept hearing people saying "The Bees are coming up, the Bees, the Bees!" And then there they were.
By about 8:30 they were all up, and we headed back to the school bus. The mass of balloons had spread out across Albuquerque, some descending nearby, others drifting off into the dessert. As we rode home, we caught a view of the the Shark, the last balloon to ascend, carefully wending his way through the smokestacks and towers of a nearby factory.
Being completely surrounded by the masses of balloons inflating and ascending, then watching them rise into the sunshine and drift away was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a great way to top off our visit to Albuquerque. We'll be leaving soon, heading south to Carlsbad Caverns and then Big Bend by the end of the month.