The Albuquerque Balloon Festival


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In October of 2010, we decided to drive to Albuquerque to see the Balloon Festival that had been touted by so many.  As we drive down Highway 99 between Fresno and Bakersfield, a long line of thunderheads were positioned along the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.  I’m talking about a long line – probably 50 miles or so of thunderheads. It was exciting to see and we didn’t worry about driving through them as they didn’t extend far enough south to intersect with our planned trip. What we didn’t realize at the time, was that they were an omen of weather to come!

First stop – Tehachapi Loop
Along the way, we stopped at the Tehachapi Pass Loop where a 4000 foot train will pass 77 feet above its rear cars in a tunnel below, as it winds its way around and under a hill.  Under the direction of Southern Pacific Engineer William Hood, it was completed in 1876.  Luck was with us that day – we heard the familiar sound of the engine whistle about to approach the loop.  While we watched, the train chugged around the hill and when it had completed a full circle, it dove into a tunnel and then back out on the opposite side of the hill.  By the time the front engine is exiting the tunnel, its rear cars are just starting the trip around the hill.  It was an amazing feat to watch and everyone enjoyed the show.

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The train was coming from the east. There are four engines at the front of the train and in this picture they are beginning the turn around the center hill.

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The train made the turn around the hill and heads toward the tunnel that will take the front of the train under the middle portion of the same train.

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The train is now in full circle and the middle cars are traveling over the engine and front of the train in the tunnel.  You can see the train entering the tunnel in the left side of the picture.

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The grey car is the last car on the train. At this point the front of the train has exited the tunnel and is continuing northwest on the other side of the hill.

Next Stop – Flagstaff, Arizona
One of our stopovers on the trip was in normally beautiful Flagstaff.  Normally I say because the largest single-day tornado and hailstorm event in Arizona history happened the day we were driving into the city – an experience that we would not like to repeat!  We were driving a small motorhome that was not able to withstand the onslaught of large hailstones; a waterfall began to flow from the air conditioning unit located on the roof into the vehicle.  Needless to say, that evening was spent bailing out the motorhome, laying out buckets and tubs, and purchasing as many cheap towels as we could find to fill the gaps and lay on the floor to sop up any residual flow.

Finally – the Balloon Festival
Not to be deterred from our goal, we continued on to Albuquerque, staying at a local motel and rising at 4am to get to the launch site for the Dawn Patrol, a before-dawn light show.  Our efforts to get to the Festival were not in vain.  The sheer number of balloons was staggering, the Dawn Patrol light show was amazing, the mass launch of hundreds of balloons was a sight to behold.  Here are some of the sights.
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Dawn Patrol
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Dawn Patrol
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Some balloons were familiar and similar
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Some were not
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Some were patriotic
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Some were advertisements and/or sponsored
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Most were fun
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Some were just goofy
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Most were beautiful
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the mass launching
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And then there was Tweety!

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