500 Hot Air Balloons

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3:45 am. Who voluntarily gets up this early? Answer: Photographers.

Roadtrip With Nik - Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Early on, I discovered an uncanny ability to get up at any unthinkable hour for a photography session. In particular, a photography session that had a sweet reward at the end. And, in nearly 100% of all known cases, the sweet reward is donuts. Yes, plural. And they never taste better than when they are freshest at 6am right after an epic sunrise photo shoot.

When our alarm went off at 3:45am for our wake up call, I had already dreamt multiple donut dreams and my stomach was growling.

So what the heck did we get up for at 3:45am when sunrise isn’t up until 7am and donuts don’t open until 6am? The one and only Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

It takes roughly 2 hours to launch five hundred hot air balloons and they have it down to a science. The process is so impressive, not to mention the size and shapes of the balloons themselves–two person balloons, fifteen person balloons, balloons in the shape of an elephant, a fish bowl, a shark, a pirate ship and even a bottle of gin. Winner! After 40+ years of annual balloon launching, their safety record is so impeccable that you can literally stand right next to any one of the hot air balloons as they launch. I’m talking feel-the-flame-heat-in-your-face close.

This particular festival in Albuquerque is sought after by balloon enthusiasts from all over the world because of “The Box”. It’s an airstream thing. Basically, a balloon can go up to a certain elevation and get carried by East winds. Then it can go up a little higher and catch a North crosswind to bring them back. Then they drop elevation to pick up the East wind again. Rinse and repeat and you form a box shape in the sky.

As we stared in amazement, we enjoyed a few spicy breakfast burritos, skipping the donuts this time around–and my thighs thanked me.

Roadtrip With Nik - Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

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