What an experience!!! I'm just back from a week at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF), an extended stay at the Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid hotel, and all of it ties into a not-really-a-mini-TIPPLE story....
Oh, and I took some pictures. OK, I took a LOT of pictures, but more on that below. (Apologies if this post loads slowly, but ... it's chock full of eye candy....) Since there's no obvious place to start, here's an (in-flight) photo to give you a taste of what's to come.
OK, first ... a (highly relevant) side story ... a not-really-a-mini-TIPPLE event, but ... a great Marriott Insiders anecdote: So ... the balloon fiesta has been on my bucket list for many years, so ... a while back ... when I first saw nmballoonist pop up on the Marriott Insiders site, I reached out, and, over the years, we've exchanged a handful of messages about balloons and Albuquerque (and other stuff).
Anyway, here's nmballoonist (on the left) and ssindc (on the right), the afternoon before the Fiesta officially opened. (Ah, yes, this selfie is (obviously) a mobile phone pic ... unlike all of the others in this post, which are "real" Canon camera/lens shots.)
So, among other things, nmballoonist clued me in to the applications for the Canon event photography team ... and I applied (and got accepted), so ... armed with a (basically) unlimited amount of high-end Canon loaner gear (yup, grown up boys like their toys), I was off to Albuquerque. [And I can't thank nmballoonist enough for all of his support, inside information, and goodwill over the last week (and, frankly, months)...]
Anyway, over the course of the week, I shot any- and everything ... from balloons (duh) to people (staff, volunteers, performers, guests, families, kids) to ... skydiving.
OK, the evening precision sky-diving performances, featuring pyrotechnics and smoke and a 50-foot flag (see below) [by the Team Fastrax – Team Fastrax is the largest professional skydiving parachute demonstration team in the world.] guys were particularly impressive (and I really enjoyed chatting with their on-field team member before the demonstrations). [And special thanks to nmballoonist, for letting me know that the flag photo, below, later appeared in Ballooning magazine!]
The balloon fiesta itself is extraordinary, and the scope of the venue and the breadth of activity is ... mind-blowing. Among other things, the mass ascensions involve as many as 500+ balloons (no, not a typo). So, to try to put that in perspective, look at this photo (below) - it contains fewer than 25 balloons ... so, just multiply that by twenty, and you're almost there... That's a lot of balloons.
By comparison, I'm reminded that, when we flew balloons over the pyramids outside of Mexico City, I was impressed that there were three dozen balloons in the air at once... [Write up here: Mexico City Hot Air Ballooning: A Splendid Day Trip - obviously, a very different experience] Hah! Now I scoff at three dozen balloons... Give me hundreds, I say!
The next picture gives you a sense of field, in particular, the rows (which, on the grid, run from A (at the South End) thru W (at the North End) - the zoo shapes are all rising in a row (albeit only a partial row - the row stretches further, basically East to West); and the Rainbow Ryders (the passenger balloon folks) are also rising in a row. You can see at least two (but probably three) rows on THIS side (to the South) of the Rainbow Ryders balloons, and two or three rows on the far side (or to the North) ... so just (mentally) widen the frame and then repeat the sequence another four times and you'll get the idea...
Oh, and did I mention special shape balloons? There are LOTS (and lots) of them And, it's everything from Darth Vader and Yoda to the (wildly popular) family of bees to robots and dogs and owls and wolves ... and elephants and pigs ... and ... dragons ... and the (pest control) black widow spider to ... well, you get the idea...
And, once the balloons - conventional and racers and shapes - are up in the air, you've got to have your head on a swivel, and then, everyone's eyes are drawn to different things .... color combinations, shapes, patterns, etc...
One of my favorite experiences was looking straight up under balloons in certain patterns. Here's a quick example:
In addition to the early (6:00 am) launch of the "dawn patrol," each morning and each evening there were balloon glows (of varying sizes and types). Utterly captivating. During the glows, the balloons remain tethered to the ground, so the crowd is in-and-among the crews.... It's quite the scene. Here's a taste.
Oh, yeah, and (as mentioned above) I stayed at the Marriott Pyramid hotel in Albuquerque (a property I've really enjoyed in the past). It's a uniquely well-run property, and it's almost unnerving how nice everyone is from the front desk to the concierge lounge to the restaurant to the house-keeping and maintenance staff. My hat's off to manager Scott Cape and his team! I also saw the Marriott Pyramid Hospitality tent at the fiesta (in a premier spot at the elevated, north end of the field) - and it looked like everyone was having a great time - and enjoying plenty of food and drink. (I'm guessing that's where the Marriott Bonvoy Moments crowd was hanging out, but that's just a guess.)
I ended up eating a lot of meals in the hotel. A little snacking in the concierge lounge, late weekend buffet in the restaurant (most mornings I was up and out WAY too early for the concierge lounge breakfast), as well as multiple lunches and dinners in the hotel restaurant. (OK, I was culling and editing photos while I ate, so these were lengthy, leisurely affairs.) I can't say I ate everything on the menu, but I can recommend - without hesitation - the ahi tuna appetizer (delicious!) and the grilled chicken sandwich (on gluten free bread, but still really tasty). Also, in terms of stuff-I-love-when-I'm-travelling, I really appreciate the breakfast buffet inclusion of eggs to order (and, yes, I strongly recommend the egg white veggie omelette - nice!!!).
So, ... back to the fiesta ... as an event photographer, I took lots of photos of volunteers and sponsors ... and crews ... all of which were fascinating. Here's one of my favorite crew-during-inflation shots:
I also got to shoot more than a fair share of what I'd call generic eye candy. There was eye candy everywhere!
How about this detail from one of the (more popular) chase vehicles?
One incredibly popular (traditional) fiesta activity is pin collecting (and trading). Almost everyone has pins on their lanyards, and I met more than a handful of regulars who claim to own (and keep) multiple vests completely filled with the pins! The pin collecting and sales tent was unreal! Even though I made no real effort to collect pins, here's my haul (which includes an exclusive, particularly awesome pin, from nmballoonist!!!)
Tens of thousands of people were on the field daily, and the number and variety of sponsors was really something to behold. Heck, even the cable TV folks (including the CW) were vying for the massive crowd's attention.
There was lots (and lots) of media there ... and, back in the hotel, the Fiesta was constantly on the TV.
And, best I could tell, the local news crew broadcast the morning show directly from the Balloon Fiesta field.... It's a pretty big event in Albuquerque!
Before I wrap up (... yes, Virginia, there is an end to this post ... eventually), I just wanted to give a shout out to the balloon, experienced pilot, and friendly crew that carried me aloft at the festival. Here's the balloon I flew in (flying the following morning ... indeed, in the exact opposite direction we flew in):
On the day I flew, many (hundreds) of the pilots launched off site - a minimum of one mile away - and flew in to the fiesta site to participate in the competition (... and more on the competitions, below). Here's what it looked like as we approached the fiesta field from the Southeast:
Did I mention I took some photos this week?
On some days, I was down on the field for the competitions, in which (generally) pilots try to navigate their balloons into position over markers (X's, boats, "islands," or a beach) and drop their (numbered) streamer on the spot or grab rings or ... well, you get the idea. Here's a view of the competition field (from the air) on the morning I flew. (The folks in the red jackets are the on-field officials.) As you can see from the photo, on this day, a fair number of pilots got really close to the very center of the target....
Here's the guy who won the big competition the previous year (hence, he has the privilege of flying Balloon 001 this year), dropping the first (of only three) streamers that landed in the (small) boat on the first day of the competition.
The folks at the event claim it's the most photographed event in the world, and ... while that seems (to me) to be a dubious claim ... even if it sounds great, Canon invests heavily in the event as the lead sponsor (so it's no surprise that you see Canon's balloon, well, everywhere).
The Canon team is on site ... in force ... lending cameras (basically) to all comers, and offering camera cleaning and advice and tips ... and, of course, sales. At the Canon tent, if you were so inclined, you could try (and play with) high-end cameras - mounted on tripods - with $10,000+ lenses - not something most folks can just walk up and do at such an eye-candy-rich event.
One final digression or side note: Oh, yeah, and if iahflyr and his cadre of we-never-check-our-luggage true believers are reading - you know who you are [see here: Carry-on or Checked Luggage? Your experience sought!!! ], well, on this one, I checked my bags (yup, read 'em and weep ... 2 big/heavy bags), and I was glad I did. In fact, all that I carried onto the plane, was my (high-end, but not for the feint of heart) camera backpack with, basically, 30+ pounds of gear (not including my tripod and monopod, or chargers, etc., all of which went into my luggage).
OK, that's enough for now.
Maybe nmballoonist ... of some the Marriott Bonvoy Moments folks will supplement with their experiences.
Here's one last picture, because, well....