Positive Altitude

As one of New Mexico’s premier tourist attractions, The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta played host last year to an estimated 850,000 spectators. Courtesy photo.

By Helena Rodriguez

What: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
When: Begins at 5:45 a.m. Saturday
Where: Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque

Approximately 750 colorful, hot-air balloons, in a wide array of shapes and sizes, will brighten up the skies of New Mexico during the 2003 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which lifts off on Saturday.
Pilots from 19 countries — including Great Britain and Brazil — are expected to take part in this year’s event, which has become an international attraction, drawing hundreds of thousands of people each year.
“Last year we had an estimated 850,000 in spectator visits,” said Kathy Leyendecker, public relations manager for the Balloon Fiesta.
Two new events this year include Fiesta del Vino, a wine-tasting festival to celebrate New Mexico’s wines, which is set for 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. The American Challenge Gas Balloon Race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“We’re hoping folks will come to the wine festival to toast to pilots as they depart on their race,” Leyendecker said.
Participating vineyards and wineries will include Anderson Valley, Bee’s Brothers, Casa Rondena, Sandia Shadows, Sisneros-Torres, Tularosa, Wines of the San Juan and New Mexico Wineries..
The biggest attraction at the fiesta is always the helium-filled balloons, particularly those with unique designs and shapes.
Leyendecker said balloons this year will include two shaped like bumblebees, a sun and a piggy bank.
Other special events will include a Salute to New Mexico Veterans at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Leyendecker recommends that people dress in layers for the event.
“Early in the morning, it can be about 40 degrees and around noon it can sometimes turn to about 70 degrees or hotter,” she said, recommending also that people wear comfortable shoes.
People not wanting to take on traffic can catch rides to the Balloon Fiesta on shuttles from Coronado, Winrock and Cottonwood malls. Hoffmantown Church and Calvary Baptist, which are near the Balloon Fiesta Park, will also provide rides.