In Photos: Stunning Scenes from Albuquerque's 2015 Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta
Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.
Balloons at Sunset
More than 500 balloons registered for the festival's 44th year. The first event was held in 1972 with 13 balloons participating.
Each day of the nine-day festival features a morning balloon acension, which is where the real spectator sport comes into play. Given the event's spectacular safety record, this is one of the only balloon festivals where festival goers are allowed to walk among the balloons and converse with pilots and riders.
Flying in 'The Box'
The 72-acre space that hosts the daily ascensions is partly bordered by mountains. The weather pattern in that area is known locally as "the box." At its prime, lower winds blow south and higher winds blow—this makes it easy for navigators to change directions while floating through the sky.
Tens of thousands of spectators flock to New Mexico to take in the sights every year. The festival is much more than floating balloons—visitors can also take in chainsaw carving competitions, laser light shows, fireworks, and more.
Similar patterns are far and few between at the Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta and each year seems to bring a new level of creativity. Some clever balloons we've seen so far: Darth Vader, a flying pig, and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Balloon Chase Crews
There are entire teams dedicated to chasing down balloons that get caught in a wind current. These groups are aptly called Balloon Chase Crews.
Themed balloons are celebrated every year at a number of different shape rodeos. Previous balloon shapes include an Angry Bird, and old lady in a shoe, Uncle Sam, and orca whale, Sonic the Hedgehog, and more. You can check out a history of balloon shapes here.
A Worldwide Event
Balloon pilots come from around the world to pay homage to this sport. This year, more than 20 countries are represented at this year's Fiesta, from France to Ireland.
Balloon Glows are when pilots light up their burners at the same time, resulting in an entirely unique light show. This tradition started abck in 1979 when local pilots set off glowing balloons on Christmas Eve. Now, it's one of the Fiesta's most attended happenings.
Many times, pilots will look to the wandering spectators for help inflating their rides. You never know what you're going to come across while weaving between the balloons.