New Mexico welcomes annual international balloon fiesta

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Hot Air Balloon Festival in New Mexico Takes Flight

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Hundreds of colorful hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes and from all over the world are lifting off this weekend for the start of the 44th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

The nine-day fiesta — one of the most photographed events in the world — will begin Saturday just after the sun rises as wave after wave of balloons take to the sky as part of the first mass ascension.

"Having 550 hot air balloons up in the air at once, that just doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. So this is, absolutely without a doubt, the Super Bowl of hot air ballooning," said Scott Appelman, a veteran pilot and founder of the balloon ride company Rainbow Ryders Inc.

Then there are the special shape rodeos, balloon glows in the evenings, flying competitions, a cross-country gas balloon race, and splash-and-dash flights along the Rio Grande.

See the incredible moments from the fiesta below:

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Hot Air Balloon Festival New Mexico 2015
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New Mexico welcomes annual international balloon fiesta
Hundreds of balloons lift off to mark the official start of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta during the first mass ascension in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2011 file photo, spectators take photos of the hot air balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta before take off. It's that time of year again when hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world descend upon New Mexico to watch as a mass of hot air balloons takes to the sky every morning for nine straight days. Albuquerque's International Balloon Fiesta is among the world's most photographed events. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras,File)
A hot air balloon inflates as dozens of balloons lift off in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event will begin Saturday, Oct. 3, with a mass ascension. The fiesta attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Taylor Aldous, a commercial pilot with Rainbow Ryders Inc., inflates his new balloon in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event will begin Saturday, Oct. 3, with a mass ascension. The fiesta attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Hundreds of balloons lift off to mark the official start of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta during the first mass ascension in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Crew members of the hot air balloon dubbed "First Light," prepare to inflate the envelope during the Aloft event at S.Y. Jackson Elementary School, marking the first official event of this year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. The nine-day fiesta gets underway Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, with a mass ascension of hundreds of balloons at balloon fiesta park. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Hot air balloons fly during the opening day of the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
The pilot of a hot hair ballon prepares to land during the opening day of the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Hot air balloons fly during the opening day of the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Hot air balloons fly during the opening day of the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Special shaped hot air balloons fly during the opening day of the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Commercial balloons carrying paying customers launch in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
A balloon shaped as a fire hydrant stands tall, as other hot air balloons prepare to lift off during the first mass ascension at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Hot air balloons inflate for the mass ascension during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. The nine-day event, which wraps up Sunday, Oct. 12, attracts hundreds of pilots from around the world and tens of thousands of spectators. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
A pair of balloons are aloft over Balloon Fiesta Park during the first mass ascension of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
A spectator walks by as a hot air balloons is inflated during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. The nine-day event, which wraps up Sunday, Oct. 12, attracts hundreds of pilots from around the world and tens of thousands of spectators. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Hot air balloons lift off during the mass ascension at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. The nine-day event, which wraps up Sunday, Oct. 12, attracts hundreds of pilots from around the world and tens of thousands of spectators. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Crews inflate their hot air balloons in the early morning during the 33rd annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport Friday, July 24, 2015, in Readington, N.J. The festival which runs through Sunday, July 26, 2015, will feature as many as 100 balloons, including many large, shaped balloons of Darth Vader, Master Yoda, an American Flag, a giant whale, a Panda Bear, and a baby dinosaur. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
A hot air balloon passes in front of the moon as dozens of balloons lifted off in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event will begin Saturday, Oct. 3, with a mass ascension. The fiesta attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
A hot air balloon inflates as dozens of balloons lift off in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event will begin Saturday, Oct. 3, with a mass ascension. The fiesta attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Hot air balloons inflate in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event will begin Saturday, Oct. 3, with a mass ascension. The fiesta attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
A hot air balloon floats over Balloon Fiesta Park in advance of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The nine-day event will begin Saturday, Oct. 3, with a mass ascension. The fiesta attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 4: A hot air balloon flies above Albuquerque as the sun rises behind the Sandia Mountains during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA on October 4, 2015. (Photo by Leo York/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 4: The balloons launch from balloon fiesta field on the first day of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA on October 4, 2015. (Photo by Leo York/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 4: Balloons launch from Balloon Fiesta field and float above the crowd as they just take off during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA on October 4, 2015. (Photo by Leo York/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 4: Spectators gather outside of Balloon Fiesta Park to watch the balloons take off from Balloon Fiesta field during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA on October 4, 2015. (Photo by Leo York/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A pilot inflate his hot air balloon during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Spectators watch as hot air balloons are prepared for their lift off during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Balloons are filled with hot air in preparation for their lift off during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Hot air balloons line up waiting their turn to lift off during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
A hot air balloon flies as others are inflated during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
A pilot is assisted by his crew as he inflates his hot air balloon during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Hot air balloons fly during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Hot air balloons fly during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
A special shaped hot air balloon, named Willy The Little Cop, flies during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
A special shaped hot air balloon flies among others during the 44th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloonists and thousands of spectators from around the world. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR CANON U.S.A., INC. - The Canon U.S.A., Inc., hot air balloon takes off on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, during the first mass ascension of the 44th Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Presented by Canon in Albuquerque, N.M. The Company will be the presenting sponsor of the Balloon Fiesta for the next three years and has strong ties with the local community, opening a customer service call center last year. (Mark Holm/AP Images for Canon U.S.A., Inc.)
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Here are some things to know:

HANDS-ON

One of the big draws of the balloon fiesta is the ability of spectators to roam the city's 72-acre balloon park to watch the morning mass ascensions. Sure, you can find a spot on the grass to lay out the blanket or set up the folding chairs, but it's more fun to stand next to the roaring fans as the balloons inflate or be just steps away from the gondola as the propane burners ignite. It's also not unheard of to be recruited to hold a tether line as a crew prepares for launch.

THE BOX

A combination of factors make Albuquerque in October the perfect place for fiesta: typically clear skies; cool mornings; and what is known as the "box" that's created by the mountains that border the city's east side; and weather patterns. When the box is in effect, the lower winds blow south and higher winds blow north, meaning balloonists can travel one direction, then backtrack to land near their launch site by changing elevation. That keeps the balloons bobbing over the city rather than drifting away.

SPECIAL SHAPES

More than 100 "special shapes" balloons are registered for this year's fiesta, from the famous kissing bees and a giant spotted cow to a saguaro wearing sunglasses, a bright red stagecoach and a Darth Vader helmet. The fiesta started the special shapes rodeo in 1989 with just 28 shapes. The event quickly became a favorite.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The balloon fiesta began in 1972 in a mall parking lot. The early events were organized and largely funded by the late Sid Cutter, who soon enlisted friends, aviation customers and politicians to help sustain the event. The city bought into it, hundreds of volunteers signed up and 170 balloons showed up for the fourth fiesta. Nearly three decades later, the fiesta marked record attendance at 1,000 balloons, and the event has become a fall tourism staple for the state.

A LITTLE HISTORY

The Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum sits at the southern edge of balloon fiesta park. Inside are towering displays highlighting the equipment used by some of ballooning's pioneers, including the Double Eagle crew of Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman who spent 137 hours crossing the Atlantic in 1978. One of the newest installations is that of the Two Eagles capsule used earlier this year by Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia in their record-breaking trans-Pacific flight.

See more from the 2014 in the gallery below:

13 PHOTOS
New Mexico hot air balloon show
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New Mexico welcomes annual international balloon fiesta
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Storm Troopers with several hot air balloons in the background at the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hot air balloons lift off during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010. The annual event has attracted about 500 balloons and thousands of spectators. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Students surround Albuquerque pilot Steve Adams' basket as he operates the propane burner during the Aloft event at S.Y. Jackson Elementary School, marking the first official event of this year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. The nine-day fiesta gets underway Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, with a mass ascension of hundreds of balloons at balloon fiesta park. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Two hot air balloons inflate during the Aloft event at S.Y. Jackson Elementary School, marking the first official event of this year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. The nine-day fiesta gets underway Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, with a mass ascension of hundreds of balloons at balloon fiesta park. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2011 file photo, hot air balloons are shown at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta before take off. The world's largest gathering of hot air balloons is getting ready to kick off and organizers want to be clear: No drones allowed. Hundreds of balloon pilots will be lifting off around dawn Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, marking the first mass accession of the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras,File)
Crew members of the hot air balloon dubbed "First Light," prepare to inflate the envelope during the Aloft event at S.Y. Jackson Elementary School, marking the first official event of this year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. The nine-day fiesta gets underway Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, with a mass ascension of hundreds of balloons at balloon fiesta park. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Annual Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Annual Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Annual Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
FILE - This Oct. 6, 2012 file image provided by the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau shows the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. This weekend, more than 600 colorful hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes and from all over the world return for the city's 42nd annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau)
A hot air balloon gondola frames the pilots' tents at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010. Pilots and chase crews gathered for the annual event are mourning the disappearance of American balloonists Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis. A special tribute to honor the pair is being planned for Wednesday evening. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Annual Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
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