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VOL. 129 | NO. 185 | Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Lance Wiedower

Finding Inspiration at Dawn in Albuquerque

By Lance Wiedower

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There aren’t many things in life that will get me out of bed two hours before sunrise.

But on a chilly, predawn October morning in Albuquerque, N.M., there I was, purposely waking up a 6-year-old child at 5 a.m. to stand in the brisk morning air and watch the sun rise over Sandia Peak.

I admit, I had a little added incentive – a sky dotted with dozens of hot air balloons during the Mass Ascension on the final weekend of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Considered the world’s premier balloon event, the spectacle of multicolored balloons taking to the dawn skies over the beautiful New Mexican terrain is something to behold. It’s worth the early wake-up call, even amidst a gnarly traffic jam on Interstate 25 that had my family worried we’d miss the show. (We didn’t.)

As we walked through the gates to Balloon Fiesta Park, the “starter balloon” ascended into the slightly pink sky, and those early morning inconveniences were forgotten as we settled in for an unforgettable family experience.

International Balloon Fiesta has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to New Mexico every October for the past 42 years. For nine days beginning the first week of October (Oct. 4-12 this year) hundreds of balloons take off daily, filling the blue skies above Albuquerque with unique shapes and kaleidoscopic colors.

Balloons are visible throughout the morning across the city, but for the best experience, arrive at sunrise for the Mass Ascension. Imagine more than 50 football fields pieced together with balloon crews prepping their crafts for launch. Attendees can freely walk the grounds and even have opportunities to interact with launch crews as they work.

Soon, fires sizzle up as the balloons begin to fill and, once a crew gets the signal that it’s time for launch, the gathered crowd lets out a collective roar, cheering the crew as the balloon lifts into the sky.

The Mass Ascension isn’t the only highlight of this yearly festival. On weekend nights, “evening glow” events set the stage for a party atmosphere as balloon crews fire up an amazing light show that brightens the pitch-black night.

Other events include fireworks shows, balloon rides and concerts. My recommendation? Go for a weekend, catch one of the evening glow events and then wake up early to arrive at the park by 5 a.m. for a Mass Ascension. Have a tasty breakfast burrito on the grounds before leaving to spend the day exploring Old Town Albuquerque, riding the Sandia Peak Tramway to enjoy views from more than 10,000 feet above sea level or explore the shops and restaurants along historic Route 66.

If you have more time, consider driving an hour north to Santa Fe for its world-class art galleries, museums and shopping.

Whether you spend your entire visit in Albuquerque or split time with Santa Fe, both cities offer exciting food scenes with excellent New Mexican fare. Your toughest dining decision will be whether to order your entrée with red chile, green chile or “Christmas.”

Getting There: Several airlines fly to Albuquerque International Sunport, including American, Delta and Southwest.

Visit www.tripsbylance.com/2013/10/balloon-fiesta-inspiration for more details on attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Managing editor Lance Wiedower’s column appears every other Tuesday in The Daily News and The Memphis News. For more travel inspiration, read his blog at tripsbylance.com or follow him on Twitter at @tripsbylance.

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