Oct 3, 2021
We had a nice quiet night in Frenchie’s yard and in the morning all the girls went to walk the dog down by the Rio Grande river. They had a very nice 4.5 mile walk and were able to see the many balloons that were part of the Mass Ascension of the Balloon Fiesta.
Frenchie, Bruce and myself were watching the balloons over the valley where we saw a low flying balloon not far from the house. We decided that we would balloon chasers and we quickly loaded up in Frenchie’s truck. It was a little difficult to predict where the balloons would land as we drove through the open sage brush land to the west of Frenchie’s house.
We finally found the landing spot of the Grape Escape. This was a family owned balloon that was piloted by Jim, who has been flying the Grape Escape in Albuquerque since 1974. Jim’s ground crew was his kids, grandkids and maybe a great-grandchild. They were very helpful as they answered our questions and allow us to help pack up the balloon and basket into their trailer. They even invited watch the launch the next morning.
After leaving the Grape Escape, we saw another descending balloon not far away. We found that watching balloons from even 1/2 mile away was a little deceiving. You think they are going down and chase in that direction, but when you crest a hill, the balloon is still 1/2 mile away and traveling a different direction. Also, since we were in the “rural” part of Rio Rancho, the roads were not always predictable in direction or length.
This second balloon that we chased was a Rainbow Rider balloon. This is a commercial balloon that takes up to 12 passengers for a flight. We found out that during the Fiesta the ride is $400/person, but other times it is around $200/person. We arrived at this balloon after the balloon had just settled on the ground. These guys had a little bit of a rough landing. The basket was dragged and fell on it’s side, and the passengers described it as a slow motion tip-over and they all sounded like it was the best part of the flight.
With the commercial flight, the passengers were all quickly loaded in vans at taken back to the launch site, and two ground crew members were left to load this huge balloon and basket. They had the job of collapsing the balloon, rolling it up and loading it into the bag.
We then helped them flip the basket up and get it loaded on the trailer. Since they were professionals, they had many tricks to get everything loaded with just the two of them, but we could tell they were very grateful for our help.
Later that day we drove back to the main balloon field to watch the evening activities. They started with skydivers that carried an American Flag to the ground. After that the balloons started setting up. The main event for the night was the “Twilight Balloon Glow”.
We were able to watch the balloon get laid out on the field and the basket attached. The next step was to use a large fan to fill the balloon with air. Once the balloon was filled with cold air, it was still laying on the ground. At that point the fired up the propane burners. It only took a minute or two for the air to heat up and the balloon to rise off the ground. When they start the process the basket is laid on it side. This positions the burner so it can heat the air in the balloon. As the balloon rises off the ground, the basket is stood up by the rising balloon.
The balloon glow is a beautiful site. As darkness falls, the balloon pilots light up their balloons with the burners. The balloons never leave the ground, but the entire balloon glows in the darkness. It was quite a sight to see with hundreds of balloons on the field. We were able to walk through the glowing balloons. It felt like walking through a thick forest as the balloon glowed high above our heads.
The evening ended with more skydivers and a very nice fireworks show. We watched the fireworks as we walked back to the car and it was a very quick ride back to the house where we ended the evening with pizza and apple pie.