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Old 09-28-2022, 11:13 AM   #1
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Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, a running trip report

The Balloon Fiesta is our absolute favorite even and is really the only event we’ve gone back to multiple times during our RV road trips.

We got here on Monday to get the closest spots to the launch field. The actual event doesn’t start until Saturday, October 1st.




View of the Sandia Mountains. Pretty soon, every one of those spots will have an RV parked in them.




The spots are something like 20’ wide x 55’ deep. You’re cozy with your neighbor.

In other areas (specifically the South RV Lot), you’re parked back to back with other rigs and it’s even cozier. We, at least, have a driving lane in front of and behind of our RV for some breathing room.




Looking past my RV, the launch field is just past that gate. Our view will soon be blocked, but we often will go up onto our roof for unobstructed views.




Here's what I'm doing temporarily for my Genturi. It is supposed to be a vertical exhaust stack for the generator. The issue is my camper has a slide above the exhaust so I need a horizontal extension first.

But to keep from gassing out my neighbors, I’m blowing it forward for now.




We've had impressive clouds roll in each afternoon and yesterday had one heck of a storm drop down out of the mountains:




Night time peacefulness. We know families who fulltime (aka live and travel in their RVs) in about 6-9 rigs near us through Fulltime Families and The Republic Of Nomads. It’s going to be a near 2-week party!

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Old 09-29-2022, 12:31 PM   #2
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Still waiting on the Fiesta to start, we drove up the Sandia Mountains yesterday evening to the Sandia Crest lookout. Pretty drive up the switchbacks but we did it late and it was a bit hazy/in the clouds once we were up there. And driving back down was nausea inducing for my wife (even taking Bonine- the dark, she was tired, and had just eaten something so her stomach wasn't at rest/peaceful).

First, this post on Imgur has a nice video of looking out over Albuquerque:


But, if you don't want to click that, someone stitched it together into a panoramic photo:



It's not the best photo due to the sunglare and atmospherics, but the Balloon Fiesta field is the oval in the upper 1/3 of the picture, about centered. Our RV is the blurry area just to the right:













And then, it was cold up there! > 70° down at the RV parking area and 49-50° up on the peak!

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Old 09-29-2022, 07:24 PM   #3
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Looks like a great adventure! Nice views!
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Old 10-03-2022, 12:52 PM   #4
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Ok, let's play some catchup. The Fiesta officially started on Saturday, October 1st.

Here's a very small smattering of pictures. Looks like I took more video than anything else. You can see all of that on Imgur (an image/video hosting site):

https://imgur.com/gallery/zmNWfh0


Saturday, my entire family woke up before our alarm sequences were finished and all 4 of us were up before 5am. If you know anything about our family, this is no minor feat. Before we got on, I thought I'd go up top of the RV and take a quick picture:




My son was too young to crew (ie, helping the pilots get ready for launching) the last time we were here. This time, dude is busting his butt helping out. Makes me proud.




The Zebras are dressed in black and white and are the launch directors of the field. Super cheery, but you don’t mess with the Zebras.




Looking up into Skaleidoscope. This is the balloon my daughter has been crewing on each of our visits. She’s a hard worker and the pilot + crew chief ask about her each year we aren’t here.




Walking back to the RV area, past the KOA balloon seemed fitting.




A quick look around from the roof. You can see the RV lot, field, and sky of balloons.




The folks in the registration tent deal with buttheads more than they will admit. We have taken them treats every couple of days, this time baklava from the Grecian Festival at the Greek Orthodox Church.

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Old 10-03-2022, 01:01 PM   #5
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The second morning of the Fiesta, the weather was iffy and the field was under a yellow flag. This means you can get setup but you can't inflate or fly. Fortunately just before 8am, they went to a green flag. Some pilots still bailed on the idea of flying, but a lot went up.

As usual, there are videos on Imgur:

https://imgur.com/gallery/ldAZY8p


Instead, we had pretty views of the mountains from about 5:30am to almost 8:00am:




A rainbow over the Carried Away trailer (which now holds the Skaleidoscope balloon):




When the green flag went up! And it went from a ho-hum morning to ALL THE ACTIVITY!




Looking down the crown line of a balloon. The crown line is to help the balloon from rolling over/around when cold inflating and then for controlling the balloon while it stands up during hot inflation.




Two balloons being inflated side by side. The left balloon is the balloon that my 10 year old son helps crew for, Fallen Heroes (aka the British flag/Union Jack balloon).




Watching the cold inflation of the Fallen Heroes balloon.




The kids work so hard when they’re crewing. The pilots we crew with are amazing with the kids. Involving them and treating them with respect.




Fire! Going hot!




More balloons going up.




Lots of balloons all over.

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Old 10-03-2022, 01:02 PM   #6
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Balloon Fiesta, day 2 continued:




VW Bus balloon, complete with a horn.




So many standing up and flying.




Walking around, we came upon the remote controlled balloons. I jokingly offered crewing help to one of the pilots and he was actually quite grateful for the help. Turns out, the Fiesta requires that he has 2 crew members and he hadn’t brought anyone. So my daughter and I jumped in.




They’re legit propane burning hot air balloons.




We did some minor cold inflation but the wind kicked up.




On this coming Wednesday morning at 8am, they're going to attempt at besting a world record of the # of remote control hot air balloons in flight at the same time. The current record is 55 balloons and they have 80 signed up to participate. Hopefully the weather gods smile upon us!
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Old 10-04-2022, 11:10 PM   #7
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Day 3 was essentially a washout. We still went down to the field but neither of our pilots even stood their balloons up. As we left, the commercial ride balloons were already driving out. You know it's a bad day when the commercial folks are heading out.

Day 4 started out drizzly but cleared up nicely. My kids headed out right away to be there for their pilots. My wife and I stayed in bed for an hour or so.. you know, making sure we weren't getting up for another rain out.

By the time we headed out, the view from the camper was pretty awesome.




That said, there wasn’t much wind at all. The balloons were basically going up without a whole lot of lateral movement. Lots of “kisses” of fabric to fabric. We even saw a polyamorous 3-way kiss at one point.

Fabric to fabric is OK. Basket to fabric is not.




Weird conditions for photos from my phone. So colors were oddly muted.




They have ballooning competitions where you try to drop flags/sand bags as close to a target as possible. I didn’t capture it on video but one guy legit floated in over the target like 10’ up and lazily threw it into the boat. He had crazy control.

I only have video, again- check Imgur on it:
https://imgur.com/gallery/OuKkLt5


After a while, we noticed a few remote controlled balloons were setting up. Turns out they were special shape balloons; small versions of the big ones.




Fire! Into the fire truck, at that. Feels ironic.




Another look at that fire truck with people for scale:




One of the R/C baskets had puppets from Jeff Dunham’s act in it.




Enchanted Model Balloon Club + Paw Patrol like balloon.




Back to the big stuff, this blimp took hours to inflate and then flew for maybe 15 minutes. It was still a hot air balloon, you can see the “basket” below.

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Old 10-04-2022, 11:10 PM   #8
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Looking up close- got those sponsor flags flying.




Here’s the basket. A 6-seater with comfort though I don’t know how much I’d like to be sitting when they touch down without having my legs for cushioning the impact.




The blimp’s van.




And finally, what's a post without a food picture! Breakfast this morning doesn’t look the greatest. But I’ve seen those “just add an egg” breakfasts cups at the grocery store. I made my own DIY version- I cooked up loose sausage yesterday so that this morning it was two eggs, a scoop of sausage, and some cheese mixed in a bowl. Microwave for 40 seconds, mix, and microwave for 40 more seconds. And then I put a bit of mild taco sauce on top.

High protein, low calorie. Would eat again.

And it was Eco terrible for an on the run breakfast. Paper/disposable bowl and plastic spoon meant no cleanup.

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Old 10-05-2022, 08:10 AM   #9
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Great pics and narrative! This has always definitely been a bucket list item for me someday.
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Old 10-05-2022, 08:39 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by norty1 View Post
Great pics and narrative! This has always definitely been a bucket list item for me someday.
It’s definitely a bucket list kind of thing! Only we are now on our 3rd visit, we love it that much.
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Old 10-11-2022, 10:59 PM   #11
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Day 5 was a rained out bust. We didn’t even go down to the field, it was that ugly. Wet, cold, and just yuck.

Day 6’s forecast was more of the same. When we went to bed at close to midnight, I never would have guessed that we would wake up Thursday morning to the kids dressed and heading out to go crew, to the sight of the Dawn Patrol balloons going up, and a text that said the pilot was taking my son up in the balloon!

It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get to fly when you crew. We love crewing simply for being there and helping and it’s just such a cool opportunity. But the perk of the possibility of flying is too cool for words. And today was my son’s chance!

The pilot and his co-pilot are inspecting the balloon as it’s being cold inflated (aka, being inflated with a gas powered fan).




My son looking on at his future sky chariot.




It’s time for hot inflation! Once the ballon is filled as much as possible with the gas powered fan, it’s time to apply hot air and start standing it up.




Standing up, it’s time for the fire!




My campsite neighbor owns this Raks Building Supply balloon. Nice fellow and his wife in an Airstream after a variety of different rigs.




The Team GB balloon is called Fallen Heroes and is the balloon the my son crewed for almost every day during the Fiesta.




The pilot jokes that it should be called “should have been a kitchen” as he bought it when his wife and he were talking about a kitchen remodel. They never did do the remodel and now own multiple balloons back in Wales.

Anyway, the picture here is part of the hurry up and wait. We got the balloon stood up and then had to wait for a launch director to get to us to give the ‘go ahead’ to fly.




We got it! But first had to walk the balloon out to a more open area for a safer take off. You can see the flight director in the black and white umpire-like uniform. Due to the black and white striped outfits, their called Zebras.

Zebras In Training wear all white with red hats emblazoned with “ZIT” across the front of it. And, they’re called “zits.”




A look back down at the launch field.




I went to chase while my wife and daughter got to go explore the special shapes balloons a bit. This is my daughter petting the puppy dog balloon.

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Old 10-11-2022, 10:59 PM   #12
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Cosmo Cowboy.




Dat frog! It landed near the Fiesta’s glamping tents setup by Outdoor Geeks. I got to interview the folks who setup + run the tents as well as the couple of "Navigators" (aka volunteers) who work as camphosts during the Fiesta. I'll have an article on them sometime soon while it's still a bit fresh in my brain.




Tourist penguin. I don’t know it’s real balloon name, though.




Jack o’ lantern (again, don’t know it’s actual ballooning name).




Spider pig! Spider pig. Doing whatever a spider pig does.




Out chasing, it was time to pack up the balloon into its bag. These things are remarkably heavy!




That evening, during the evening session, we are watching the skydivers come down. They had American flags and smoke streamers from their boots as they came down.




And then here’s the drone show from the RV roof. It’s amazing how good it looks from all directions.




And fireworks! These are setup literally right behind the RV parking area. For once, they video better than little dots in the sky! The iPhone’s slow shutter speed makes for some spectacular fireworks photos.




Sorry, here’s another. Love how this one turned out.

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Old 10-12-2022, 01:26 PM   #13
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Moving right along to Day 7 - beautiful morning, crewing for Skyleidoscope, and a rough landing!

We were on the field by just after 6am and got to see the Dawn Patrol balloons inflate and launch around 6:15am.




When my mother passed away 11 years ago, one of her lifelong friends and I got talking. Her husband told me that they were thankful how I kept them up to date on Mom’s sickness and treated her like family. She asked that we keep in touch and invited me to visit with them any time I want.

Anyway, all of that sappy to say that we’ve developed quite the friendship and try to see each other about yearly these days. They came out to visit us last night and stayed in the RV so they could see and experience a Balloon Fiesta morning.




Our balloon was low on crew, so I jumped in and helped with getting it laid out, inflated, and launched. This is my view from the crown line.

My job is to minimize it from rolling around during cold inflation and control its accent (as much as possible) on the way up.




When your balloons touch!




These cloudhoppers are wild- barely a chair with propane burner strapped to a balloon!




The seat rotates so they can see where they’re going. We were talking to a pilot who said as a kid he flew the cloud hoppers. He was laughing saying that "kids these days have it easy, back in my day- the chair didn't swivel and if you wanted to see where you were going, sometimes you had to look over your shoulder!"




Sorry, it was pretty cool. I liked it so you get a lot of pictures.




View of the sky. Today’s emphasis was on special shapes again.




Again with the light crew, I got drafted for the chase crew. Tracking our balloon by eye and the navigator in the passenger seat was using the Glympse app.




Lots flew today.

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Old 10-12-2022, 01:27 PM   #14
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Look at me, getting all artsy.




This is about the type of terrain they landed in, though from this picture to landing, it was quite a while.




Truck and balloon trailer down some small names dirt roads. Crystal, the crew chief/pilot’s wife is a heck of a driver. My last picture before their “sporty” landing, as Fred the pilot called it.

As expected, he pulled the top of the parachute about 10’ off of the ground. Not expected was the 9-10 mph wind pushed the balloon fabric back closed and he basically stayed inflated.

They banged and bounced for maybe 100 yards/meters while we sprinted to catch up and jump onto the basket to add weight to it. We barely helped, to be frank.




No one got hurt other than some bruises and bumps here or there. And one crew guy literally hung onto the basket while he was drug for quite a ways (through bush, yucca plants, cactus, you name it). He made the choice- but you don’t always think rationally when it’s your wife and kid in the basket with the pilot.




I went crewing with long john tights and jeans. He went crewing in overalls.

We came ended up the morning with him in my jeans, his overalls in the truck bed, and me in my tights.

There was just so much stuff poking his front and crotch in his overalls, he could barely move without pain.




The pilot and his wife treated us to breakfast at the Flying Star Cafe. Here’s my daughter’s drench toast.




And my Southwest-style Eggs Benedict.




And before long, we were back. The conditions on the field for landings were peaceful, gentle, and calm!

Heck, this is a little baby model/remote controlled balloon flying.

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Old 10-13-2022, 01:13 PM   #15
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As it turns out, day 7 was the first and only evening glow that they got off on the whole 9 day Fiesta and it was an abbreviated one, at that! The evening glows are where the pilots setup their balloons and keep them in one place. They look awesome after sunset with burners periodically going.




We got there and there was no wind. Just a stray bit of weather nearby which caused a hold. Actually looked like it might be a good night for a glow.




After a bit, the weather cleared and the green flag went up. Pilots were allowed to static display!




So my wife and I took a walk for a bit of a date night.




Lots of balloons setup.




This doesn’t show the crowds, but hoo-boy, there were a LOT of people. I wouldn’t have wanted to be crewing and managing a crown line while inflating with so many people. Not the best picture of us, but hey- I'm sure you wanted to see my ugly mug and beautiful wife.




And it was a special shapes focus. Which meant a lot of neat ones were standing up.




More balloons and more crowds.




You can see the VW bus (with headlights!), Smokey the Bear, the sun, and the 2-faced clown.




This sad face clown was right. Walking a little past this, I commented to my wife that the breeze had picked up and the balloons were starting to sway.

Unpredictable winds and static displays are how balloons get burned. There’s a time delay between the pilot letting go of the burner and the flame stopping.

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Old 10-13-2022, 01:14 PM   #16
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And sure enough, the clown was the first one we saw them pull down. We also noticed it was starting to drizzle.




And then within minutes, the balloons were dropping and the wind picked up even a little more.




Then, the drizzle turned to rain and lightning started. We collected 2 other families and beat feet for our RV. We got back, broke out snacks, and drinks, and had a bit of a storm party for a while. Just in case you were wondering, 13 people inside the RV wasn't as terrible as it sounds.

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Old 10-14-2022, 12:55 PM   #17
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The morning of day 8 was another bust. Wind, wet, and rain. We didn't even get out of bed to check the field. That evening the Glowdeo got a shelter in place warning as we were walking onto the field before the rain even started and sadly, the rain never really materialized- mostly because they were gun-shy from the mess on the night before.

My daughter had been mesmerized by the drone show:



She wanted to know where they were when they took off and landed and what that process was like. Since they had flown most nights even when the weather was iffy, she asked if we could go find them. I scoped out the situation on Google Maps and figured they were just beyond some volunteer RV parking on the western side of the field. So we took off walking.

We got to the end of the RV parking area and could see down into where the drones were all sitting:




I’ll be honest, I was nervous as heck crossing this make-believe barrier. I finally made my way down, showed my media badge, and asked if I could ask a few questions after the show (I emphasized the after, as they were buzzing about with some pre-show checks). The fellow I spoke with was super friendly and said after the show was perfectly fine.




I later learned the company is called Verge Aero and were on America's Got Talent, Extreme Edition.

They use a custom in-house built software for building the drone shows and executing it each show time. It highlighted drone issues and let them fix things in the pre-show preparations.

He said the design process could take simple PNG line drawings and map them out to a drone layout.




They did a few pre-show tests/flights. There's some video on this post on Imgur.




And then due to timing with the inclement weather, the drones weren't quite ready on time. The Fiesta did the fireworks first and we had a FRONT ROW view of the fireworks on the western edge.






After the fireworks wrapped up, the Chief Pilot I spoke with ended up having to clear a bunch of people out of the area where that first picture is from. FAA rules say that you're not allowed to fly drones over people and he had to move them back. My daughter and I were allowed to stay with the Verge Aero staff + Fiesta volunteers.

And then the drone show started! The balloons look great any direction. I think that's what impresses me the most about this drone show. You don't have to be at one specific spot for it to look best.




I will say, and I don't have pictures posted of it- that where we were, the words were backwards. So it's a shame for the folks in the neighborhood to the west of the Fiesta grounds.




The landing process was simply mesmerizing to watch:

https://imgur.com/I9I2vnT
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Old 10-14-2022, 12:56 PM   #18
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And then I did my interview questions and we got a quick tour:
  • The show includes approximately 300 drones. This is one of their biggest shows.
  • The show is almost exactly 12 minutes long. 12 minutes is about as long as they like to have shows due to battery power.
  • Each battery takes about an hour to charge; they have 72 charging stations. They laughed saying that they'll finishing up charging just about in time for the next morning's show.
  • They like to have 2-3 hours of setup time for each show.
  • The ground has a grid of spraypaint for laying out the drones.
  • When we were there, there was a team of 7-8 volunteers + 2 paid Verge Aero staff members.

Here's a glimpse at the battery charging station.




The drones come packed 8 to a "briefcase". A pallet holds 5 brief cases at a time.




The drones are built in-house.




And then we headed back to the RV. I got this nice picture of the RV in the dark.

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Old 10-17-2022, 02:01 PM   #19
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It's time to finally close this trip report out. The last morning's forecast looked great- no wind, no weather. Unfortunately, we woke up to the flags flying briskly.

It started a bit too breezy to fly but calmed down just a touch so that pilots could take off. Both of my kids are crewing for different pilots. One decided it was still too windy for him to fly and the other decided to go up. Interesting seeing the different risk tolerance levels.




Lots of pilots did decide to fly.




The commercial ride balloons are going to go almost no matter what. Their risk tolerance level is $$$. The ride prices during the Fiesta is easily 3x their normal fees and multiply that by 12 riders…. yeah.




I really don’t ever tire of seeing the balloons inflate. But man were they rocking and rollin in the surface winds. I would have hated to be on a crown line (the rope at the top of the balloon whose job is to keep it from rolling while cold inflating and then controlling its ascent during hot inflation).




My beautiful wife of 20 years and me.




She’s never framed one of these pics. I don’t know why.




More balloons going up.




They had this balloon almost fully inflated and then brought it back down. It was a mess going down in this wind. They fixed whatever the issue was and reinflated it a short time later.




Looking back across the field. So. many. people!




A few special shapes inflating and launching.

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Old 10-17-2022, 02:02 PM   #20
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And then, just like that- the wind turned off and a few who flew had beautifully long flights. I walked the 1-1.5 miles to the south RV lot to collect clothes we handed out to friends the other night in the aftermath of rain.




I eyed up these Navajo Tacos all week long. They looked so good! I got mine with red chile because they said the green was hot and red was mild. I keep forgetting mild to someone who eats hot is way too hot for me. It was tasty. I only ate maybe 1/3 of it (from being full, not from its heat- though it was just at/beyond my limit).




Once we were done with the festivities, we finished packing up the camper and headed on down the road. We are headed west and got into Arizona. We are just passing through. Holbrook, AZ was the destination for an overnight stop.

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