Memories of the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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Rather than sharing just one person’s perspective, I asked those who wished to participate to send me their thoughts, memories, advice, and photos.

Ann and Andy Dudler (Iowa), VIP West

At the Annual Fall Rally in Winkler in September 2018, Dennis Thorig from the Southwest LTV Roadrunners approached several LTV Travelers Club leaders with an idea he had about a large group of LTVers attending the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He wanted to see if we could have a group of 100 LTVs attend. The Club leaders started contacting our members. We brought up the idea at our Heartland LTVers 2018 Fall Rally and there was some interest. A few weeks later, despite great difficulty with the website, several of us were able to obtain reservations while others were placed on the waiting list. Soon the waiting list grew to over 1,600! Throughout the subsequent months, many on the waiting list were able to obtain spaces, and in the end we had around 70 LTVs attend. 50 were in the VIP West lot, and the remainder were scattered around in the other RV lots on the grounds. LTVs from Quebec to British Columbia and from Washington State down the Pacific Coast and across the US to Georgia and Florida all traveled many miles to Albuquerque.

Our trip to Albuquerque was made even more special by sharing it with other LTVers. I scheduled our Heartland LTVers 2019 Fall Rally for the weekend before the Balloon Fiesta. Four LTVs from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Ohio left Mark Twain Lake in Missouri on Sunday, October 6. That night, at Canning Creek Corp of Engineers Campground near Council Grove, Kansas, we met up with another couple from Topeka. The five of us traveled as a caravan to Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico, where we were joined with several more of our group headed to Albuquerque.

The next part was a little tricky. Since we were unable to register as a “group,” the only way for the 50 LTVs parking in the VIP West lot to be parked together was to arrive together. About 30 LTVs met up at the Sandia Resort & Casino, just a few miles from the Balloon Fiesta grounds, and drove in a caravan to the entrance. The process went a lot smoother than expected, except that Andy took a wrong turn exiting the casino! Luckily John and Kathy Goddard are experienced balloonists and had been to the area before and led our group.

Some LTVers arrived early, others had to leave at various times, but most of us were there from Wednesday, October 9 through Sunday, October 13. There were no scheduled fiesta activities on Wednesday afternoon, so I scheduled a meet-and-greet potluck. It was great to get reacquainted with some, and meet many new friends.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we were up very early and made our way to the balloon field. It was COLD! Don’t underestimate how cold it can be just before dawn in Albuquerque. While we thought we were prepared, we visited several booths to purchase hats, gloves, and alpaca ponchos, and even coats for the pugs! While there was some downtime between the morning and evening events, we made the most of it by visiting with friends new and old.

Many of us would like to return to Albuquerque in 2021 for the 50th anniversary. Trying to get RV reservations will be a challenge. Andy and I did a “dry run” for 2020 and were unable to register a group for the VIP West lot. I am going to contact the coordinator at the Fiesta and see if there is something they can do to assist. If you are interested, watch for more information in October 2020.

Finally, my one piece of advice: the lot manager had told me to let people know that once the balloons were in the air (around 7:00 am) and until most had landed (around 10:30 am), RVs would not be allowed to exit the grounds. Upon hearing this, several in our group decided to leave early Sunday morning to avoid sitting in traffic. Just as we were headed to the field, the balloons started drifting right over our LTVs! It was amazing. So many balloons, many that we had not seen in the air until that moment, just kept coming and coming and coming. Unfortunately, many of the LTVs had already left, so I don’t have photos of the balloons flying out over our impressive line of LTVs. Once they were gone, we finished packing up and were on I-25 headed to Denver in less than 10 minutes! Traffic was not a problem.

Thank you to everyone who traveled with us, all the new friends we met, all the friends we saw again, and especially to LTV for helping to bring us all together. Special thanks to Randy Johnson for our group photo. It doesn’t include everybody, but we did the best that we could. It was an amazing event, but the best part was being there with our LTV friends. I really do consider it our LTV FAMILY!

Rob and Kim Kleinhans (Missouri), VIP West

Attending the 2019 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta crossed off one more adventure on our ‘bucket list.’ Here are some thoughts on our experience.

The first thing we think of is the gathering of LTVs, and being a participant in a caravan of 50+ vehicles driving single-file like train cars into the 360-degree balloon-viewing campgrounds. What a sight that must have been!

Later, it was a pleasure to attend the LTV social gathering on Wednesday evening and visit with new and old friends who shared incredible stories of their LTV travels and adventures. It was great meeting other Leisure Travel Van enthusiasts who generously offered invitations to visit and/or park overnight as we drive through their cities, states, or provinces across much of North America. We loved the camaraderie we felt with the other LTV owners.

It was an honor to see the first balloon of the day take off trailing the US flag while playing the Star-Spangled Banner over the loudspeakers. Then the fun came when all of the other balloons were launched. It was so exciting to see balloons quickly springing to life with every breath of heated air they could hold, and then listen to the crowds cheering as each balloon lifted off the ground and floated away into the clearest morning sky imaginable. It was simply amazing to see balloons of every color floating in the blue Albuquerque skies, reminding us of soap bubbles pushed up from a bubble machine. It was also exhilarating to be able to roam the balloon launch fields and get close enough to look up into the colorful, eye-popping balloon canopies as they were taking off or landing. It’s still hard to imagine seeing a stagecoach, armadillo, elephant, and even a pig flying, while Smokey the Bear, Papa Smurf, and Darth Vader balloons kept a watchful eye from high above.

Then, some of us had the unbelievable chance to ride, run, catch, and pull-down balloons on the very launch field they’d just taken off from. And, finally, during the evening, it was wonderful watching the balloon ‘flicker burns’ and fireworks up-close, first on the launch field and later from the cliffsides overlooking the balloon field. This event is a must-see for everyone’s bucket list. We can’t wait to meet up with the next LTV caravan for another adventure!

Kate and Jon Greif (California), VIP West

I’d wanted to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for many years, but the idea of awakening at Zero Dark Hundred and driving in traffic to get there wasn’t appealing. We live in Southern California and we live in traffic and try to avoid it while on vacation. When I read the post that a group of LTVers was going, I realized that this would be a perfect solution.

My fingers were poised millimeters above the keyboard just prior to the opening of the reservation website. I was lucky enough to get the nights I requested with no problem at all! All that was left to do was wait the 51 weeks until the festival!

I don’t know what I expected, but the experience was so much more; we were up-close-and-personal with the balloons! The balloons floated directly over the VIP West site for an extended period of time. It was a perfect location with a wonderful group of other LTV owners.

Kandace and Claude Laurendeau (Quebec), VIP West

We came, we saw, and we left totally in awe of the spectacle that is the Albuquerque International Ballon Fiesta.

Thanks to Dennis Thorig and Ann Dudler for setting and organizing the event. LTVs from Nova Scotia to California and from British Columbia to Florida made their way to Albuquerque for four days. It all started with a good majority of the participants lining up at a local casino so that we could caravan down Albuquerque’s streets. That alone was very impressive.

The early wake-ups and the cold morning weather were a bit of a shock to some, but the morning burritos had a way of making those feel better! They were also a good hand-warmer if you forgot your mittens. Except for our second day there, the winds were in our favor and the balloons flew right over us. However, you had to be down on the field to really appreciate the work that goes into getting the balloons up in the air.

The best part was obviously the Fiesta, but the gathering of so many people with the same interests was second to none.

Kelly Elefant (Colorado), VIP West

My first exposure to the LTV family simply blew me away. My fondest memories are:

Ann and Andy Dudler put in so much work to assemble the outing and the group happy hour. They then kindly pretended not to notice when my rescue dog tried to chomp all and each of the dogs in the LTV group. (Special thank you to Doug the Pug for putting up with my Sassy Mason).

Claude and Kandace Laurendeau embroidered me a tea towel with the LTV logo! Now when I tip anything over in my new mini-kitchen, it’s bringing me smiles instead of causing me to curse myself.

Bob and Judy Dumcum were very wise and had so many helpful thoughts!

Mark and Sara Sallanskyy virtually adopted me, and brought me coffee and swag from the Fiesta merchants; they let me crash their nighttime dates because I was traveling alone!

I’m so grateful for the experience and hoping for a speedy recovery to our LTV family member Barb who could not attend.

Gregg and Dale Shinemann (Georgia), VIP West

This was our first 3-week trip in our 2019 FX. We remain amazed by how smoothly this massive event ran. Every single person we came across was most kind and helpful. Our longest wait was 5 minutes one morning to clear security.

We took to heart the following packing advice we received before leaving 99-degree temperatures at home.

  1. Layers, layers, and more layers of natural fiber clothing. (Silk underwear is superb.)
  2. Warm socks, sturdy walking shoes, gloves, and hand warmers. Bring a hat and hooded jacket or earmuffs.
  3. Bring a comfortable chair (Nemo Stargazer Luxury Lounge is our favorite) and a lap blanket for when you are not walking the field.
  4. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm.
  5. Finally, don’t miss the Balloon Museum!

Wendy Uncles and Towney Sausville (California), VIP West

The 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was, for us, everything we had expected it to be and more, thanks to the mass ascensions, the tethered display of the special shapes, the night glows, the fireworks, and of course the camaraderie of dozens of other LTV families and friends! The highlight for us, however, was a ride in a hot air balloon on the last Saturday morning right in the middle of hundreds of colorful balloons rising silently up in the early morning sky!

We had been scheduled to fly on Thursday, but a cold front passing through in the night left the winds aloft too strong for balloons, so all flights for the day were cancelled. We were very disappointed, of course, but were mollified a bit by the special shape balloons that were given permission to inflate but stay tethered. We thought about getting up very early on Friday morning to see if we could get into a ride stand-by, but 250 other disappointed Thursday passengers would have been in line along with us. We just enjoyed the morning activities from the field and planned on being first in the stand-by line on Saturday with our fingers crossed!

As it turned out, we weren’t first in line on Saturday, but second! We found out at about 6:00 am that we were in, and were handed our boarding passes! Our fellow passengers gathered at 6:30 am on the field where we met our pilot, Moses, who promptly recruited several of our number to help inflate the huge blue balloon.

At the same time, other colorful balloons were growing and coming to life all around us. After instructions from Moses, the 12 passengers clambered into the basket and all of a sudden we were rising into the clear, lightening sky. The sun wouldn’t be appearing from behind the Sandia Mountains to the east for another 30 minutes or so.

The ascension was gentle. There were no bumps or grinds, just the occasional hiss of the propane flame keeping the air in the envelope warm enough to be lighter than the cool air around us. There was no wind – we were with the wind. It was noticeably warmer in the air than it had been on the ground. The giant balloon gently rose and descended. Because of the wind patterns that can set up around Albuquerque, we could go in one direction, north for instance, and then change altitude and we would be moving south. All the time, the balloon was slowly spinning, so we had perfect 360 views!

And what could we see from up there? There was the Balloon Fiesta Park, from which hundreds of colorful balloons were continuously rising, kind of like bubbles from the bottom of a glass of champagne. Thousands of people on the ground looked like tiny insects. We floated over our campground, and there were dozens of LTVs (and other RVs, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them!) all parked in a row. We floated over the Rio Grande River, and descended to 100 feet or less over the slow-moving water. We floated over residential areas and could hear the dogs barking (the sound of the balloon must confuse them). We could see downtown Albuquerque off in the morning haze, and then the sun rose from behind the Sandia Mountain peaks. In the distance was the New Mexico Desert.

We floated up and down, back and forth, around and around for more than 90 minutes! It was a perfect morning, but we went up so we had to come down, which we eventually did with just a little bump (but more than taking off). The van and trailer were there to pick us up, and after packing up the balloon and basket, we drove back to the Fiesta Park where we toasted our flight with the traditional champagne toast. A big check-off on the Bucket List.

Kelly and Rob Westphal (Minnesota), VIP West

We arrived on Wednesday and had a great time with the LTV group. We experienced a variety of temperatures during the day, so bring clothes for all temperatures, including cold weather clothes. It was really cold in the morning on the balloon field. We had an amazing experience with our LTV friends.

Marie Aliotta and Mark Welch (Colorado), South Lot

Day 1:

From the time we arrived on early Wednesday afternoon, October 9, we felt very good vibes with everyone we came in contact with. When we arrived we were given a personal escort to our campsite. The first one Ken offered us was not acceptable. Ken then let us choose our own. We found a nice flat space between two big Class As (think shade). We took the pups out for a walk as we wanted to know the lay of the land. With all of the thousands of RVs at this event, it could be a little dicey walking home in the dark, even with a flashlight.

We enjoyed a nice meet-and-greet with fellow LTVers in the VIP West lot. Kudus to Ann Dudler for totally organizing this event/rally. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet a lot of my fellow LTVers. However, it was great catching up with a friendship formed at a rally in New Mexico in 2018, saying hi to a couple from Quebec that we met at Algonac State Park in Michigan, meeting other Rocky Mountain LTVers, and getting to meet Ann and Andy Dudler and thank them personally for making this happen.

On our walk home in the dark we followed the sound of some pretty good country western music sung by a trio. An event organizer was having a concert for their attendees. We enjoyed the tunes from just outside of the tent. We went to bed to the sound of generators. Our earplugs did a job well done.

Day 2:

Up at 5:00 am. While walking the pups, I saw four buses picking up early risers and taking them to the Fiesta grounds. We got to the grounds by 6:00 am and were in awe of the lines to go through security and then the lines for tickets. Cash was king – no waiting.

This was shapes and kids day. The winds were a bit too much and the balloons were grounded for the morning session. The balloons were allowed to be blown up and tethered to the ground. It was so cool to see the balloons up-close-and-personal, and get a chance to talk to the balloonists. We really explored the grounds and even checked out all the RVs in the Le Mesa RV tent. I never had buyer’s remorse, and the streak continues.

That afternoon we read. We are starting our sixth week of camping and are enjoying this down time. The evening night glow session was grounded. There was a pretty fireworks show to end the night. Now I knew why I decided not to accept the complimentary VIP North invitation – the pups would not have been happy campers.

Day 3:

Up at 5:30 am. Everything was totally organized this morning – even our backpacks and what I was wearing, down to the socks. It was a cold morning and the sun wouldn’t be warming us up until two more hours had passed. I was totally prepared; John, not so.

The bus was too full so we had to wait. We decided to walk. Good decision, as we had the best view of the dawn patrol as it floated over the south lot. We proceeded to walk over to the bicycle trail – bingo! Perfect seats. There are so many great vistas on the fair grounds that can be your vantage point without having to pay to go inside. What an experience to watch those beautiful, colorful balloons fill up and float away.

This was LTV group photo day. It was nice to see everyone again, and we hung out until noon. The school bus we snagged to get us home was all decorated for Halloween – how cool is that? When we got back, the dogs needed walking, so I took them to the open field in the south lot. Balloons were flying overhead. Quite a few of them landed and many did a touch-and-go. During the afternoon I got my big black camera (The BBC) and went to the San Carlos Cemetery (also located in the south lot) and had a great photographic holiday.

We ate dinner early so that we could position ourselves by the VIP North area to watch the “glowdio.” This was a great place to watch from, you just couldn’t hear the music. We started walking home when the ski divers appeared. They did not disappoint with their pyrotechnic performance. We found great seats to watch them from by the Balloon Museum. We switched benches for the fireworks.

Day 4:

Up at 5:15 am. Lather, rinse, repeat. All good things must end. I hope that you all will get to experience this positive and fun environment.

Heartland LTV'ers

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