The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta we know and love today hasn’t always been this big.
It started in a mall parking lot.
From just 13 balloons and about 10,000 people filling the mall parking lot at the Coronado Center in 1972 to 47 fiestas later, well-known pilot Sid Cutter is the man credited with this annual, week-long, breathtaking sight where the mountains, desert, and a river meet.
“It was chocked full of every kind of imagination a little kid could put together,” says Gary Bennett, former Fiesta President. “What we didn’t count on was how close it was to the military base, so that very first day, despite our promises to the contrary, all of the balloons went on to Kirtland air base.”
It was a bumpy ride, crafting the fiesta we know today, with stops at the fairgrounds and an open field before settling into the city’s Balloon Fiesta Park in 1996.
Balloons of cute, strange, and downright mind-boggling proportions, including the crowd favorite, didn’t launch until the 80’s.
“Airabelle, the Flying Cow, she’s a crowd favorite,” Balloon Museum Curator, Marilee Nason tells us. Nazon says pilots decided they were getting too serious and that how the special shapes were born.
From a Carmen Miranda inspired balloon, to the beloved bees, “people come up with just the most amazing ideas about what they would like to fly,” Nason adds. Now, almost one hundred special shapes fill the air each year.
Between nighttime events, where pilots fire up their tethered balloons, to live music and fireworks shows, today, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a smorgasbord of all things balloons – and New Mexico.