Hundreds of balloons took over the Albuquerque sky this Saturday at Balloon Fiesta Park as part of the 46th International Balloon Fiesta.
Albuquerque’s first Balloon Fiesta took place on April 8, 1972 at the Coronado Center with 13 balloons. Albuquerque native Jim Madden attended the first fiesta and has been enjoying the event ever since.
Over time, he was on chase crews, “riding with some of the wildest people you could imagine, especially one fellow from England, and he decided he could land anywhere he wanted. You weren’t allowed to land on the reservations or go over the zoo. Those places he wanted to do,” Madden said.
Today the event is the largest ballooning event in the world, according to Steve Stucker, KOB co-anchor and weatherman, who has been attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for nearly 30 years.
“This year there are 550 registered balloons,” Stucker said. “One year there were 1,000 balloons, but it was too many. The city has grown, so there aren’t enough places to land, and they tried to keep it 550 for the week.”
Stucker is considered by many to be the “king” of the Balloon Fiesta. He wears a Balloon Fiesta jacket and balloon-shaped, multi-colored hat decorated with pins from past Balloon Fiestas.
When asked how many balloon pins he had, he said, “I don’t know, but you’re welcome to count them. I’ve gotten to the point where I have so many that I give away dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, every year, especially to little kids that admire my pins and who don’t have one of their own. I love to give little kids their first pin whenever I can.”
Stucker said his favorite special-shape balloon is hard to pick out.
“They are all like my children,” he said. “I love them all. It’s hard to pick out a favorite. I have always loved the tourist balloon and the penguin with the sunglasses, but every year there’s new balloons that really just bring me great joy.”
Sandy Baldwin, who is from Las Cruces, said she looked forward to seeing the bee-shaped balloons.
Hot air balloons gave mankind its first chance to fly, and 234 years later, for veterans and first-timers alike, the sights, sounds and smells of the Balloon Fiesta add up to an experience beloved by many Burqueños.
Ludella Awad is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LudellaAwad.