The week-long festival is one of the most photographed events in the world. It's no wonder with all the crazy shapes and sizes of balloons, camera buffs are snapping pictures non stop.
I had waited years to attend and capture some shots of the famous air display. Finally, we were on site at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic jams on the highway leading into Balloon Fiesta Park. The air was cold and we were bundled up in layers as several 'dawn patrol' balloons took off in the early morning darkness. These balloons were fun to watch as they glowed in the sky when the burners were fired to keep them aloft. These early risers gave the other balloonists an idea of wind speed and direction when the mass ascension lifts off later in the morning.
Deb and I walked around the grass covered field and watched the sun begin to rise. Pilots and crew members unfurled their colorful balloons. Our first day was the special shapes mass ascension. The imagination of the owners had no bounds on their creations. We saw close to ninety of these balloons from old favorites like Smokey the Bear to Star Wars creation Darth Vader.
One of my favorites is the giant Saguaro cactus which is quite a character. The Creamland balloon is a massive full sized cow named Airabelle. It took a lot of propane to heat the balloon envelope to get her airborne. The conditions were perfect that day, not a cloud in the sky and light winds pushing the balloons along.
My wife Deb liked the bees Joey and Lilly. They have since added a little bee named Joelly and the three ascend together with the crowds cheering them on.
Onlookers have unrestricted access during inflation with pilots answering questions while busily getting ready to launch. Thousands of people attend daily on the early morning and I enjoyed being in the crowds as part of the festivities. I'm shooting photos and suddenly my snapshot camera stopped working. This wasn't good and realized after taking photos all week from Sedona, Arizona to The Grand Canyon and places in between that I filled up the digital card on the camera.
What do I do now. I wasn't prepared for this and the special shape balloons were starting to fill up around me. That day would be the only time I'd get to see them. And then I saw a student carrying camera accessories, batteries and camera cards as a school fundraiser. I ran over to him and spent $20.00 on the biggest card he had and was back in business before the balloons took off from the field. I would have paid $100 not to miss shooting the colorful display.
The sun was peaking from behind the Sandia Mountains and the sky turned a vivid blue. What a backdrop to contrast the array of colors floating in front of me. I put the camera down to watch them puff over my head and enjoy the moment.
Friends we had met traveling asked if we wanted to go with them on an air balloon flight that same morning. We politely declined the invitation as I've been aboard balloons in the past. Deb and I made the choice to stay and watch from the ground.
I had flown out of Memorial Park during several 4th of July celebrations. Lifting off with the crowds watching and me waving back is exciting. The feeling of floating quietly across the sky watching the ground below is very peaceful. Of course, I was shooting photos for the newspaper those days.
Once the special shapes left the field there was a break in the action, so Deb and I walked along vendors row and purchased a breakfast burrito that looked the size of a small log. When traveling, we like to snack on the local food and weren't disappointed with our choice. The green and red chile wasn't too hot, at least I didn't think so, and combined nicely with the egg, meat, cheese, beans and and other ingredients. What a tasty way to have breakfast before more balloons arrived.
Hundreds of balloons at the mercy of the wind flew toward the field and the crews participated in a key grab competition. Deb was counting balloons as they went by and gave up at 250. Close to 500 balloons were in the air that day. The balloonists slowly descend toward large poles that are held up at different positions across the show grounds. The area is roped off to the public looking on for safety reasons. As the balloons slowly approach a co-pilot in the basket tries to reach down and grab a key that is fixed atop the pole. It is harder than it looks. We watched as one person grabbed one only to lose his grip and the key fell to the ground. Prizes are given to those lucky enough to get a key.
And just like that the last of the balloons floated off into the distance. It was a dizzying morning and I snapped many pictures on that day. It was probably one of the most enjoyable days of shooting photos that I've ever had.
|My favorite photograph from the balloon fiesta.|
And for me, I can watch dressed in pajamas in the warmth of my computer room. Maybe I'll make a breakfast burrito to take it a notch higher. But not too hot on the chile.