At the first Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on April 8, 1972, 20,000 people watched 13 hot-air balloons take to the sky. Forty years later, more than 500 balloons soar every October, including special shapes and gas balloons, bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta calls itself the most-photographed event in the world.
In May 2011, Balloon Fiesta co-founder Sid Cutter died at age 77. Cutter founded the Balloon Fiesta with former state Sen. Tom Rutherford after Rutherford, who then worked for KOB radio, asked him to help organize a grand 50th anniversary party for the station. Cutter suggested a balloon race and the Balloon Fiesta was launched.
It took Tom McConnell, a retired pathologist and member of the Balloon Fiesta board, just a few days to get hooked on balloons. When he attended his first Balloon Fiesta in 1973, he planned to spend his days taking photos. After helping on balloon crews, he was sold.
“OK, this is it,” he told himself. “This is my aviation fix. It’s a lot cheaper than buying an airplane.”
The Balloon Fiesta has thrived due to a tight community and ideal weather, including predictable wind patterns called the Albuquerque Box.
In 2011, balloons from 42 states and 21 countries participated in the event.