This past weekend I decided to check out the International Balloon Festival held annually here in Albuquerque. It's one of the largest, if not the largest, such festival of its kind in the world. The day started at about 4 in the morning as I got ready and made my way over to the park-and-ride location, which happened to be one of the largest churches I've seen that doesn't look like a church. For anyone who knows the Albuquerque area, the park-and-ride location was at Hoffmantown Church, which looks a lot like an old mall and has a large parking lot to boot. Anyway, after waiting a few minutes, I got on a yellow school bus and rode the way to the Festival location. The Festival is located in a large park on the eastern end of Albuquerque, actually rather close to where I currently live. It's occupies a large field about the size of a decent sized theme park. An enormous field of grass lay in the center of the park where the various balloon crews use to get their balloons ready for liftoff. Around the perimeter were numerous shops, restaurants, and porta-potties. You know, like a regular festival, I guess. Upon arriving, I quickly got in line to grab a traditional New Mexico breakfast: a breakfast burrito with green chili. People in New Mexico go absolutely bonkers about green chili. It's a mild spice pepper that is used in almost every dish. In fact, you could go as far as saying adding green chili into any dish automatically makes it New Mexican cuisine. Getting back to the burrito at hand, it provided a nice kick to the morning and the 40 degree weather. Of all the days I decided to go, it had to be the coldest. Go figure. >_> Shortly thereafter, I made my way onto the field and watched and waited as the members of the Dawn Patrol got their balloons ready in the darkness of 6:00 AM. The Dawn Patrol are a small collection of balloons that test the weather conditions prior to the Mass Ascension, which, even though it sounds religious and slightly like a term from Logan's Run, it's the signal denoting when all the other balloons can get into the air en masse. Now, all of the balloons are hot-air and use twin gas lighters that send jets of flame up to six feet to heat the air for lift off. In the darkness, it was quite the sight seeing all the balloons light up like lightbulbs as they turned on the burners for flight. Shortly after 6:30, the first balloon of the Dawn Patrol, a Wicked balloon with the phrase "Defy Gravity" (clever eh? :P), got going followed shortly by the rest of the motley crew of around twelve others. The go ahead for Mass Ascension was giving shortly thereafter and following the liftoff of the official Festival balloon carrying the American flag, the International Balloon Festival got going. Three more balloons got off the air and it became clear that most of the rest of the crews were waiting for the sun to appear over the tops of the nearby Sandia Mountains range before they got going. It was around 7:30 when the field began to fill with inflating balloons of all shapes, colors, and sizes that would soon fill the air of Albuquerque. I didn't stay for the entire show, as the Mass Ascension can last for hours and I was dead tired from having to wake up at four in the morning. I left around 9:00, but not before I got to see a Darth Vader balloon take off, along with Angry Birds, a rather feisty looking yellow jacket, hummingbird, and Smokey the Bear. Sadly, there was a rather large Cow that didn't quite manage to get off the ground. Anyway, got home around 10 and went to sleep for about six hours. Hooray for waking up early! Here's a collectionof photos I made during my time there. If you have a chance to go to the Festival, I suggest going. It was a blast.