New Mexicans were able to experience some bit of normalcy amidst the ongoing pandemic on Saturday and Sunday as hot air balloons took flight in the crisp early morning October air.
Due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations, the 49th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was postponed to at least 2021, and all events this year were canceled.
The International Balloon Fiesta traditionally is a nine-day event which not only brings in hundreds of different hot air balloons from across the world, but also brings hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world to Albuquerque.
Canceling the Balloon Fiesta has led to economic fallout for local vendors and businesses. The Balloon Fiesta usually brings in $186.82 million to the Albuquerque metro area each year, according to a study done by Forward Analytics, a Pittsburgh-based marketing and research firm.
“Maybe small businesses like me disappear,” Old Town’s La Choco Salty & Sweet owner Carmen Ortiz said in an interview with KRQE. “No support, no business, no money.”
However, that did not cancel the local community spirit of the Balloon Fiesta as balloonists and officials came together to bring some much-needed hope given the dire circumstances.
City officials worked with members of the ballooning community in an effort to ensure the Albuquerque skies would be filled with balloons for the community to enjoy.
Balloons were launched over the weekend from a number of different parks, golf courses and other designated launch locations for balloon crews.
No spectors were allowed into the launch sites, and balloon crews distanced themselves from each other. They also limited the number of crew members to about five in line with COVID regulations.
Albuquerque police were present near the launch sites to ensure members of the community were following COVID regulations by socially distancing and wearing face masks.
As balloon crews lifted off at Ventana Ranch Park in west Albuquerque, they were greeted with applause and cheers from about two dozen observers surrounding the park.
The city plans to launch balloons at 7:30 a.m. for the next two weekends, with the last morning launch being Oct. 11.
Nick Romero is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nicromerophoto