I’ve always been fascinated by the International Balloon Fiesta that takes place each year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This year the event is scheduled for October 1-9, and I’d love to be in the city when this extravaganza is in full force. I imagine that it would be a magical sight. Being there is on my bucket list, but it is more of a dream than something that I think will one day become a reality. My biggest concern is that I don’t like crowds even when there is not a plague and I suspect that Albuquerque is bursting at the seams during this city wide celebration.
Last summer we visited Albuquerque and stayed in a wonderful RV park that advertised the annual event by boasting that is is a perfect site for viewing the festival of balloons. The ad suggested that we make our reservations early because the place fills up quickly and often requires reservations years in advance. I’m at a stage in life when nothing is certain and anything might happen. I do best just seizing the moment and serendipitously heading out on a journey without notice. Of late my track record with planned activities has been abysmal because of unexpected crises. I prefer now to just go with the flow.
Nonetheless, I am fascinated by those hot air balloons that so delightfully fill the sky with color and splendor. My imagination takes flight at the very thought of what such an experience would be. I marvel at the folks who navigate the craft and think of how brave the passengers must be. Part of me wants to be with them and part of me feels that just being an observer from down below is good enough.
I had hoped that I would see a balloon or two when we were in Albuquerque last summer, but I saw nary a craft gliding through the air. My cousin who lives there told me that there had been a fatal ballooning accident shortly before we arrived and the investigation into the incident had cooled the adventurous spirits just a bit. Nonetheless she agreed that seeing those incredible floating structures was delightful. She noted that she had seen hundreds of them over the years and the thrill never got old. She also confirmed that our campsite would be a wonderful place to see most of the balloons that come for the fiesta.
One summer long ago we were passing through Albuquerque after a visit to Mesa Verde. We had planned to camp in a nearby state park but the warnings that there was an infestation of rattlesnakes sated our desire to be in the great outdoors. Instead we reserved a motel room for the night inside the city. When we awoke early the following morning there were several balloons in the sky. We were fascinated and giddy with delight. The little taste of joy that I felt upon witnessing that sight has stayed with me for decades now.
I can’t explain my fascination with hot air balloons. I find myself wondering who would ever have thought of inventing such a conveyance. China is said to have developed hot air balloons as early as 202 CE. Their creations were unmanned lanterns that were designed as signals for the military. Much later the first “manned” balloon was conceived by a pair of brothers in France in 1783. They launched a craft with a sheep, a duck and a rooster as passengers. It floated through the clouds for fifteen minutes before abruptly crashing to the earth.
We’ve all learned that hot air rises. This is the most basic principle of a hot air balloon. Because the heated air inside the balloon is warmer than the surrounding atmosphere the craft ascends into the air. To return to earth the pilot brings down the temperature in the balloon and it begins to descend. The balloon can stay in the air as long as there is fuel to keep the temperature inside the balloon higher than the air surrounding it. Balloons can stay afloat around four hours. Certified pilots use the speed and direction of the wind to “steer” the craft. By taking the balloon to different heights they somewhat control its path through the sky.
On any given year there are around twenty balloon fatalities in the United States. Overall it is considered to be a relatively safe adventure. A person is far more likely to die in a car crash than in a balloon, but I wonder if that is because the vast majority of us ride in cars, but very few go up in the air in a hot air balloon. Balloons move so slowly in tandem with the prevailing winds that motion sickness is not a problem either. it would seem to be ideal for a risk averse soul like me, but I doubt I’ll be signing up for a ride anytime soon. For now I’ll just dream of one day seeing a fleet of those lovely conveyances passing over me in the sky.
I collect Christmas ornaments wherever I go. I have a special tree that features all of my lovely keepsakes from trips I have taken. It is my favorite holiday decor. It brings back the best memories of my lifetime. On one of the branches is a dazzling hot air balloon from Albuquerque. It whispers to me to be daring and make that reservation at the RV park for the first week in October so that I might sit quietly gazing up at the sky. That would be a fiesta for the eyes. Maybe it’s something that I need to do.