It’s almost that time again. The time when the sky over Albuquerque fills with unique and colorful hot-air balloons. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of the most treasured events in New Mexico, and beloved around the world. For over fifty years, balloon enthusiasts have taken flight in early October to add their unique touch to the New Mexico skyline.
The concept for Balloon Fiesta was born when Susan Johnson, promotional director for KOB, was looking for an event to help celebrate the station’s 50th anniversary. She turned to Sid Cutter, founder of the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association, which today is the largest local balloon club in the world. Sid and Tom Rutherford of KOB, along with Don and Mike Draper, organized a balloon race to celebrate the station’s birthday. That year, 1972, thirteen balloonists from seven states launched their balloons from the parking lot of Coronado Center Mall as roughly ten thousand spectators looked on.
Today the balloons launch from their own special place at Balloon Fiesta Park, which covers over three hundred and fifty acres. Side events such as the annual Balloon Glow and the Special Shape Rodeo have been added to the fun. Hundreds of thousands of people watch each year, either in-person, on TV or through the livestream produced by the event. It’s estimated that over twenty-five million photographs are taken during the festival, earning the event the title of the most photographed event in the world. Balloonists from the US and other countries participate, bringing an international culture to Albuquerque.