For nine days during the first full week of October, every eye in Albuquerque is lifted to the sky to experience the splendor that is the annual Balloon Fiesta. It is the world’s largest balloon festival, and with 500 balloons seeming to lift the curtain from darkness to dawn over the Sandia Mountains, it is said to be the world’s most photographed event. The first event of the year is the famed Dawn Patrol, a handful of balloons that ascend to test and report the weather before the Mass Ascension.
Tips For Making the Most of the Dawn Patrol with Kids
1.Get up early. They don’t call it the Dawn Patrol for nothing. You will definitely be rewarded with the best views of the balloons, the majesty of watching the American flag ascend by dawn’s early light, and the rare uncrowded moments at the Fiesta. You can also expect plenty of yummy breakfast treats and lots and lots of coffee. There is a hushed excitement over the field at this hour and it is definitely worth the pre-dawn wake-up call.
2. Bring a flashlight. The ideal time to arrive at the field is between 4:00-4:30. That’s even before the sun comes up ya’ll, so you’ll want to have a flashlight to get from your car to the balloon launch sites.
~Bundled and waiting for the Dawn Patrol~
3. Bring a blanket (actually, bring two). There are a limited number of picnic benches and bleachers on the field, but the best views are closer to the launch area. Spreading a blanket on the ground is the best way to sit comfortably while you wait for the sun and the balloons to rise. Use the second blanket to stay warm in the chilly morning air.
4. Wear Layers. Although it will warm as the sun comes up, the morning temperatures will be around 20-40 degrees. Be prepared for the chilly weather with layers and other warm wear.
5. Bring a baby/child carrier. Balloon Fiesta Park is over 360 acres, with the launch area covering 80 acres. That’s a lot of ground to cover for little legs. Baby carriers work best to traverse the natural terrain, but a stroller will work in a pinch.
6. Understand the crowd. Shortly after the Dawn Patrol launches, the signal is given for the Mass Ascension. This draws crowds of over 100,000 and the relative calm of the Dawn Patrol is quickly replaced by hoards of packed bodies. This is another time when a stroller or carrier can be a savior to keep little ones safe, and it is particularly important that parents keep a close eye on children as the crowds increase.
7. Have a “Lost Child” plan. Temporarily lost children are a typical problem in the crowds of the Fiesta, and we were victims of this during our last visit. In hindsight, we should have picked a place to meet if we were separated (the main stage is a good, visible place for this) and discussed it with the kids prior to the crowds.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Balloon pilots are enthusiastic about their craft and most are more than happy to answer questions. We found that they were particularly willing to talk with the kids and give them a memorable experience.