➤ Arrive early. On Mass Ascension days, it’s important to arrive before sunrise. “You might be sitting in line, but I think 5 a.m. is good,” says Neil Jackson, vice president of the Balloon Fiesta board of directors. Rather than driving, he suggests using the park-and-ride bus option.
➤ Walk the field. The launch field covers more than 80 acres, so there’s plenty of room to spread out. “People have a tendency to congregate along what we call the concession row,” says Judy Nakamura, president of the Balloon Fiesta board of directors. The western portion of the field is usually less crowded, making it easier to chat with the pilots, who are happy to talk about their balloon.
➤ Come hungry. Food vendors along the third-mile concession row begin early in the morning, and guests can expect a variety of fare—from green chile cheeseburgers to traditional fair foods—to satisfy their cravings. “You can’t miss a breakfast burrito,” Nakamura says.
➤ Dress smart. New Mexico’s desert climate sees wide temperature swings throughout the day. Dress warmly for the early morning and prepare to shed layers. “The minute the sun climbs over our beautiful Sandía Mountains, it’s going to warm quickly,” Nakamura says. Also, don’t forget sunscreen and lip balm.
➤ Pace yourself. Many out-of-staters are unaccustomed to the high-desert environment. Drink lots of water, and rest when needed. If possible, plan to spend a few days to take in all the activities. “This is a long event at mountain altitude,” Nakamura says.
➤ Catch a drone show. This year’s shows include 500 drones—the most used in any drone show in New Mexico history, according to Nakamura. At one event planned during the annular solar eclipse on October 14, NASA will hand out 80,000 viewing glasses to attendees.