I can see why hot air ballooning is so popular. You get to fly, in a beautiful object, on a beautiful day, and play with fire. People always look up and admire your aircraft. Balloonists are so venerated that they have carte blanche to land almost anywhere and be forgiven for whatever disruption they cause.
One of the big joys for balloon watchers is the “balloon glow.” The balloons are tethered to the ground, and the huge propane burners that make the hot air are fired at dusk, making the balloon into a giant incandescent light bulb.
Like moths, we were all attracted to the scheduled balloon glow last night. I was surprised to see that I was one of a few photographers out with a tripod, since without one it would be difficult to get good photos. Shooting a balloon glow is particularly tricky, since the constantly changing light of sunset and randomly-firing propane burners will confuse automatic exposure meters. I started using a bracket program (where the camera would fire off three quick shots at different exposures) but soon settled on an exposure that I set manually and adjusted every few minutes as the sun went down.
These events are so brief that it is like watching soap bubbles. For just a moment the sky is perfect and the balloons are all glowing. The people are cheering and smiling as they walk across the grassy field, and then moments later it is dark. The balloons all disappear and there’s nothing left but the fluorescent lights of the vendors off to the side.
Earlier in the day we visited the nearby Balloon Museum, which is small but interesting. It covers all the highlights of ballooning from the first flights by the Montgolfier brothers through Japanese WWII-era “Fugo” bombs and up to the recent round-the-world flights by Steve Fossett and others. But while the museum was worth a couple of hours, everything seems to pale in comparison to those fleeting moments when the balloons are inflated and flying nearby.
Since the Mass Ascension of Sunday (sounds like a religious event, doesn’t it?) was canceled due to rain, they held it this morning. Since many of the motorhomes which had been running generators at 5 a.m. have now left, we managed to sleep until 8, and awoke to find a virtual shower of balloons overhead.
On the whole, I think that I prefer to wake up at 8 and find balloons in the blue sky as I eat breakfast in my Airstream, than to get up at 5 a.m. and hike down through wet grass to watch them inflate in the dark. I may not be cut out to be a balloon pilot, since I assume that pilotage requires a lot of pre-dawn awakenings.
My major regret is that the Airstream was so disgustingly dirty today. Had I thought ahead, I would have washed it before arriving, so that it would make a better foreground for possible photos. The poor thing looks like it has been through a New England winter. We will have to make a stop for a truck wash somewhere along the way back to Tucson, because I can’t put it away in the carport looking as bad as it currently does.
This afternoon they’ve been inflating the large white gas balloons, which are filled with either hydrogen or helium. These big suckers take hours to inflate, but they can float for many days before landing. I’ve been told that a typical hot air balloon flight requires a few hundred dollars in propane, but a gas balloon takes many thousands of dollars worth of gas. They’re the long-distance racers of ballooning, and the few that are preparing on the field tonight will be doing exactly that over the next few days. One is already in the dark evening sky as I write this, and it looks like a floating moon.
Sadly, our time at the Fiesta is up, and we must leave the RV area on Tuesday morning. The event will continue for another week, so if you are within driving distance of Albuquerque you can still drop in. For our part, we only know that tomorrow we are going somewhere south of here.
Incidentally, we also need to evict a mouse. This week, probably as a result of falling evening temperatures, he scrambled into the trailer and has been living with us for two nights. Eleanor discovered the mouse’s presence by his tell-tale chew marks on the cornbread she was storing in the oven, and the resulting tiny mouse droppings. No doubt this is a happy mouse, enjoying the cornbread and warm surroundings on these cool desert nights, but his happiness will soon come to an end.
The first tactic will be to tow the trailer 200 miles south to a warmer climate. I suspect that mice don’t enjoy the rock-and-roll lifestyle of a moving trailer, and if this one is smart it will decide to bail out at a stop along the way. If not, he may be inclined to leave when we hit warmer temperatures in southern New Mexico. I am hoping these hints will be sufficient. If we can’t come to an amicable understanding with our rodent roommate, I may have to resort to harsh methods. I don’t have anything against mice as long as they are housebroken, but this fellow is clearly not.