We arrived at the AIBF on September 30; 4 days earlier than the official beginning. We booked a "site" at the Balloon Fiesta RV Park, directly across the street from Balloon Fiesta Park, from where the balloons lifted off.
At this time, the government was in the midst of its possible shut-down, and our next stop, after leaving Albuquerque on October 7th, was to be the Grand Canyon.
Since there was a possibility the big hole would be closed, Steve asked our parker, Dewey, if we might be able to add on dates and stay a little longer.
A few minutes passed, and Dewey came back with an offer to volunteer, and stay the entire time. We said yes right away.
And didn't regret it one bit!
Besides getting refunded our initial $150 for a week of dry camping, rally-style, we were given a site with the other volunteers, electric and water, and free twice-weekly pump-outs. Steve's shift as an RV parker at the 1800+ site lot was from 7am to 7pm. I would work 3-4 hours a day in the reservation shack with 2 - 3 great ladies. There was really nothing for the kids to do here, but they kept busy with schoolwork, wii, some outdoor play, and even met a few friends.
In addition to a free site and hook-ups, for two and a half weeks, there were happy hours, lots of donated food from the folks at the WIT group and Fantasy Tours. An AIBF jacket, pins, lanyard and name tag...free access anytime to the field for all events, including a concert with Darius Rucker (from Hootie and the Blowfish fame). We met great people and had lots of fun.
What was most exciting was waking each morning and hearing, just 10 feet over our rig, the WWWWOOOOOOSSSSSSHHHHHH of a flame as a hot air balloon tried to lift a bit higher.
The sight of hundreds of balloons taking off in mass ascension from Balloon Fiesta Field and traveling right over our RV park, landing in The Box, and, quite often, landing right amongst the RVs themselves was a treat for all.
Great fun is watching all of the Special Shapes balloons that appear!
So, if you have never experienced this event, start booking now.
The Premium sites at our park were $65 per day for electric and water. Pump-outs were a fee through a private company on site. Before the actual start day, that $65 is half price. These premium sites are the first to go. Keep in mind, this is rally-style parking. It is a gravel parking lot. No frills. Other than the fact that you are less than a mile's walk, or free shuttle ride, to Balloon Fiesta Park, and may just have the awesome experience of balloons flying all around you.
The Standard sites have no hook-ups. These do not fill as quickly but it is advised you do make a reservation. All of which can be done online at: http://www.balloonfiesta.com .
Across the street, right at Balloon Fiesta Park, are the VIP and Presidential sites. VIP have no hook-ups, and are a bit more expensive than Premium. But, you are at the park. Presidential were $150 a night this year...and have hook-ups. You overlook the field from these spots.
We may just be managing one of the VIP lots next year.
At the park itself, there are food vendors, craft vendors, demonstrations, kids' rides. Certain clubs have VIP type service, such as the Gondola Club.
Pin collecting is huge and there are many areas to buy pins. Or you can trade them. Pilots and chase crews will sometimes hand their pins out. As well as Balloon cards...another collectible.
Speaking of chase crews, many balloons are looking for chase crews during the Fiesta, and if you like arising before dawn, daily, and getting in on the excitement, you just might think about joining one.
Or, you can run onto the field and just help out.
7:30 am, after the Dawn Patrol heads up to test the winds. Pilots have a morning "meeting." Once the OK is given, the Zebras head to each balloon to give each pilot an OK for flight.
Then, it's lift-off. And what an amazing sight it is.
And for racing enthusiasts, the America's Challenge, begun in 1995, pits Gas balloons against one another for the longest distance win. Participants from all countries are welcome.
This year's winners were Team 1; Peter Cuneo and Barbara Fricke, a husband-wife team. They landed their balloon near White River, Ontario, Canada, traveling 1,429 miles and staying aloft for 60 hours and 19 minutes.
So, if you can find the time to get to Albuquerque, New Mexico, early next October, do it! You can rent an RV from a few different places if you do not have your own. There are always hotels, but to get the true experience, you need to stay at the RV Park at Balloon Fiesta Field. You won't regret it! Maybe we'll see you there!
*****Want to really enjoy the pictures? Click on one and see them in a slideshow format.