I have flown as a guest of a balloonist in a hot air balloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico ~me, on my Already-in-the-bucket list.
When I was in public School I decided that I was going to fly in a private airplane, a helicopter and a hot air balloon — and hopefully get paid to do this. Two years after college, I was paid video crew in a helicopter over Long Island, and a guest in a private plane over NYC to Atlantic City. (Two of us, the pilot was my date.) Two decades later I was also guest in the 2-seat helicopter of a fellow computer author. The hot air balloon took about 25 years, but it happened!
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta®
Albuquerque, New Mexico is famous for its annual hot air balloon festival. My parents had gone to it as they drove across the USA and loved it. (And I loved the silver balloon earrings they gifted me.) So in 2001 as I was driving from LA to Albuquerque to visit some fellow tech writers, my dad checked in on me (our tradition as I travel) and told me the Albuquerque balloon festival was happening soon.
This was a “wow” moment for me. A year earlier Adobe had sent me to Santa Fe to teach “Your Website in a Week” and one of my favorite “students” owned a hot air balloon! I was so nervous to call him. And so thrilled that he received me so well.
So in 2001, my 2 hostesses (Turtle-Bear and Kris) and I were guests of balloonist Richard (Dick) Goss in a hot air balloon, Last Mango. Actually, we were his test passengers.
We arrived at or near the Balloon Fiesta Park field while it was still dark and proceeded to help unfurl the balloon per Dick’s careful instruction. He explained and taught us a lot as we worked. (Dick and his ground-crewman did most of the work as I recall.)
It’s been 20 years so my memory is hazy, but as I recall…
As dawn started to break, we position the balloon and basket. Soon we were entranced as Dick lit the hot air unit and a huge controlled flame roared and shot toward the opening of the balloon. A few other balloons were getting ready too, so here and there occasional extremely bright flames pierced the darkness.
We were the first balloon to take flight. It was hard to decide which direction to look. Above us our balloon carried us.
To the sides we had majestic Albuquerque scenery, mountains, river, and open sky. Below us, the ground and river appeared to descend into the distance. And below us toward the field a few more balloons made their way up into the air.
I remember the silence. Once the flame did its job, having heated the air to lift us, Dick would turn it off. Floating up there in the sky we were all surprised by the absolute silence and calm. For a while, none of us broke that silence… until our curiosity was too much and we had to talk. Whisper maybe.
As we flew, we learned about how the balloon works. We learned how Dick steered or controlled the balloon. And we moved from side to side in the basket as directed or as invisibly driven to.
The air is tricky in the earliest hours, which is why the paid passenger flights start later. So when we descended, our basket hit the ground and then bumped somewhat sideways and took us for a bit of a ride. I don’t believe this is common for the commercial flights. I loved this special adventure and we knew we were not in any danger.
Dick’s ground-crewman had the task of tracking us and driving out to us. We then all rode back to the original site.
Our experience wasn’t over yet though. Our ground-crewman (I hate that I don’t recall his name) explained there’s a tradition of getting your wings after your first balloon flight. He performed this for us. We did something like kneel on the ground, imbibe in a beverage, and with some special authoritative words, we each received our wings. A pin of a balloon with wings, that is.
Then it was time for the two men to set up for their commercial runs.
The field was quite full by now.
Turtle-Bear, Kris and I headed back to their car and home.
Although… that might have been the day they taught me about roasting and preserving (very) hot chile peppers. That’s another experience I won’t forget. There’s a reason you wear gloves to remove the seeds!
In October 2022, Dick flew in his 38th Albuquerque Fiesta. Whether with Dick or someone else, whether in Albuquerque or another fabulous location, I recommend the experience.
14 Top Hot Air Balloon Festivals in the World, US News, June 15, 2022.
I know that I will always jump at the opportunity or have a hard time saying no to such an experience. (Probably even when I’m too old to actually jump.) Perhaps I’ll be able to get a group together to fly with Dick at a 2023 festival.
I’ve only been to one other balloon festival since this, the Cathedral City Hot Air Balloon Festival but being too close to mountains, those balloons remained tethered. They were still fun to visit though and it was nice to be back in a basket feeling and learning about the intense flame and piloting stories.
NOTE: I wish I had a lot of photos to share because it was amazing, but I don’t think I even brought my camera and because I packed up my home, I don’t have the prints that Turtle-Bear and Kris mailed to me. Perhaps someday I’ll get to find and ad them.