Tom Crouch is Senior Curator of the Division of Aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum, and many Smithsonian Journeys travelers have had the pleasure of attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta with his knowledgeable guidance. Tom is now completing his latest book, Lighter than Air: A Concise History of Balloons and Airships. Click here to learn more about Tom and traveling with him.
There is nothing quite like Balloon Fiesta! For nine days every October, the sky over Albuquerque is filled with hundreds of colorful balloons in all shapes and sizes. There are mass ascensions, when as many as 600 balloons will take to the air in less than two hours. Visitors to the Fiesta watch as pilots compete to see who can come closest to a target. The intrepid aeronauts entered in the America’s Challenge gas balloon race will launch one evening, with the prize going to the team that flies the farthest before landing—often thousands of miles and many days later. Then there are the special shapes—balloons shaped like animals, snowmen, flowers, advertising icons—you name it. At the end of each day, Fiesta Park “glows” as hundreds of hot air balloons fire their burners and light up their envelopes while tethered to the ground. Fireworks cap the evening festivities.