Thousands of people gathered to watch the first Mass Ascension of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on Saturday, Oct. 7. Excited but sleepy-eyed children, families, friends, lovers and the balloons’ pilots and crews dispersed across the park in the early morning silence.

The quiet didn’t last long — the sky soon began to light up with the occasional burst of light from the propane fire under a balloon as it drifted up, up and away.

Pilots and their crews woke up hours before the sun rose to drive their balloons to the field and start filling them with hot air before lighting them up for all to see. The first wave of balloons starts on the north end of the field, and the launch moves south in rows, doubling back to the north and starting the pattern all over again until all of the balloons are in the air.

More than 500 hot air balloons were released during the Mass Ascension, which takes place around 7 a.m., before the balloons travel across the city and choose the perfect spot to land.

The Fiesta began with 13 balloons in 1972. Since then, it has grown to almost 600 balloons total and close to 1,000 pilots. It is now the largest ballooning event in the world.

Celia Raney is a photographer at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.