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Beautiful Balloons

Up, up and away in Alamogordo


It’s hard to believe there’s a place on this earth so quiet.

Technically, it’s not exactly on the earth.

I’m talking about the silence when you’re floating a few hundred feet off the ground in a hot air balloon. When the pilot fires the propane tank to heat the air in the balloon, well, that’s certainly noisy, but as soon as it’s shut off, the silence is deafening.

In October, people from all over the world will descend on Albuquerque for the annual fiesta there. If you want to fight the crazy traffic and the high hotel rates, be my guest.

However, Sept.15-17 in Alamogordo, you have the opportunity to attend a more manageable and, to my way of thinking, a much more beautiful balloon fest.

It’s the White Sands Balloon Invitational and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the event.

Why am I such a fan?

To start, I believe the most enchanting setting in all of the Land of Enchantment is White Sands National Park. Then imagine the added enchantment of a lot of colorful hot air balloons floating around out there. Then imagine you’re in Alamogordo, dealing with Alamogordo traffic and hassles, and NOT in Albuquerque, dealing with Albuquerque traffic and hassles.

Maybe you’re starting to see my point.

Alamogordo will be buzzing with balloon events the whole weekend. Many of the activities will take place at Ed Brabson Balloon Park, at 700 Lavelle Road, named for a longtime Alamogordo businessman and community advocate who was active in the founding and building of the invitational event.

Activities include a mechanical bull, chainsaw carving, custom-made cowboy hats, a dunk tank, folklorico dancers, inflatables, balloon animals and a performance by the band Crossin’ the Line.

The lift-off at White Sands National Park is 7 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, although I would suggest getting their earlier if you can.

The balloon glow event is at 6 p.m. Saturday at Brabson Park. And if you haven’t been to a balloon glow, it’s a great sight, with the balloons tethered in close proximity, lighting up in the twilight sky.

Sunday morning, Sept. 17, the balloons will lift off from Brabson Park.

My first White Sands Balloon Invitational was September 1995. I had only lived in New Mexico for just a couple of weeks, and was invited to crew a balloon. Crewing the balloon means you and others help unpack the balloon, set it up, then go chase the balloon after it lands, which is usually nowhere close to where you lift off. It can be a lot of work, but it’s also a great way to learn about ballooning.

Driving to White Sands while it was still dark, I began to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. Then I saw the sunrise, casting its glorious magenta hue all over the White Sands. If there could be a better “Welcome to New Mexico” moment than that, I haven’t found it.

As all the crews unpacked all the balloons, and they all started inflating, that was another beautiful sight. And when they all took off, well … it’s a sight that can’t be matched in Albuquerque.

Richard Coltharp is editor and publisher of Desert Exposure. One of his favorite things about ballooning is barking back at the dogs who all feel compelled to bark at balloons floating overhead.

White Sands Balloon Festival, White Sands Balloon Invitational