I can't say conclusively why it's such a big event now. It might be because Kodak started sponsoring it, or because Albuquerque's grown so much. Social media obviously makes events take on a new light. Whatever the case, I was surprised to arrive this year at the new, officially-set-aside park that even has a museum, and see just how big it's all become. All nine days have morning and evening programs, there's a gigantic food and merchandise vendor area, an artist vendor tent, a big play area with a zip line, and even a chainsaw carving contest. And if the park and the parking lots didn't already seem huge enough, there's a giant ramp leading into it for people who utilized park-and-rides all around town, and the police set up really nice traffic control leading from, and back onto, the freeways.
Garrett came up with an excellent plan to get the most bang for our buck, and despite a few kinks we couldn't do anything about, we had a great time.
We were already set to arrive very late Thursday night, and the plan was to head straight to my dad's and go to bed. Alas, our flight was delayed, and while they held the connecting plane for us and the 30-odd other passengers joining us from SLC to Albuquerque, Garrett's bag didn't make it to the next plane. That led to us having to hit up the 24-hour Wal-Mart at 1am to get replacements that couldn't wait, like toothbrushes and something for Garrett to sleep in. It was really weird to see how many people have their kids with them out at that hour, and the whole scene was very sketchy, but I wasn't scared because the security staff was pretty aggressive.
We got to Dad's house and spent about an hour catching up with him. He's at the point in his life where he can tell stories for hours on end, but we had to put the kibosh on it after an hour or so due to total exhaustion.
We got up about six hours later, and he made us an awesome breakfast. I probably shouldn't have asked him to make a batch of his amazing fried potatoes, because it took a very long time, and was very filling, and we had a lunch date. My good friend Traci, who'd join us with her mom for the Saturday balloon fiesta mass ascension, also had free passes and a parking pass to give us for the Friday night Special Shapes Glodeo event. We met her at a fancy burger place, which I later realized was a remodeled version of the scary burger and taco place in my old neighborhood that I never dared try. Just another example of how much everything around there has changed.
Anyway, enough blah blah.
One of the things that excites me about events like this is trashy food, and I was shocked to see just how much was available. I'm still disappointed that NM and WA don't have the crazy, inventive stuff that you see on shows like Carnival Eats, but I got to have a few awesome things. I've been eating half of my meals vegan for many months now, trying to get my blood pressure to behave, so it was fun enjoy vacation food. I had some fried gator, a fry bread taco, and a fried breakfast burrito the next morning.
Friday night special shapes glodeo (glow rodeo) balloons starting to inflate.
The darker it got, the crazier it got. What's unique about Balloon Fiesta events is that spectators are allowed to fill the field completely. You can walk right up to balloons as they're being inflated, and if they get blown over in the wind, you might have one lean right onto you. They've never really had any safety incidents on the field, so it continues as it always has. It's pretty great.
I don't really have any pictures that show the scale of the full nighttime burn, and the videos on my instagram barely scratch the surface. Oh well. There was also a laser show, which I couldn't get a decent picture of to save my life, followed by an awesome fireworks finale. We then had to spend quite a while waiting to get out of the parking lot, and got home pretty late. Not a huge deal, except that Traci and her mom were arriving at 5am to join us for the Saturday mass ascension.
It was pitch black when we arrived, so we grabbed some blankets at the pop-up Walgreens tent, and some breakfast. It wasn't too long before the first of the balloons were inflating and burning in formation.
Traci and me, reunited after all these years. The last time we saw each other before the burger joint on Friday was in St. Louis in 2006. The time before that was when she visited Seattle in 2005, and my mom happened to die during that visit, which was awful and awkward as hell.
I also managed to find Marq and Ed, some podcasters I met at Pride48 last year.
A few shots to convey just how many balloons and people there were.
We had enough time to get back to Dad's house, say goodbye to Traci, chill for a bit, and then head up for the second part of our trip, which was a nice romantic getaway in Santa Fe. I'll post about that later. There are tons more Balloon Fiesta photos on flickr and instagram, click over if you like!