We are hooked on Hot Air Ballooning and there is no better place in the world to experience ballooning than at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in early October in New Mexico.
We attended our first Fiesta in 2006 and we volunteered to “crew” – whatever that meant. We were assigned to a balloon called “Morning Star” where we connected with Pilot Mike Liberti and his wife/crew chief “T”. We’ve been crewing with them (and their sons Daniel and Chris and other pilots) each year since.
We started hosting the gathering of Escapees Boomers in 2008. As hosts, we publicize and recruit attendees and then get them together for nearly two weeks at Fiesta.
At the club’s annual gathering this past January at “Boomerville” (Quartzsite, AZ), I presented an evening slide show called “Balloons and Boomers – Doing it the Boomer Way”. We showed the group how we keep costs down (compared to club sponsored or organized tour packages) and encouraged them to “come early, stay late, and see it all”. They apparently liked what they saw and the registrations came rolling in.
Back in 2008 we reserved 20 spaces, but this year, we originally reserved 30 spaces, increased that to 40 spaces and by the end of Fiesta, we had 46 different RVs in our group. The rally was scheduled to begin on the Wednesday before the Saturday start of Fiesta, but the Boomers took our advice about “coming early” and many wanted to come in even sooner. The area we stay in during Fiesta opens the RV parking lot on Monday so we spent Sunday night at nearby Sandia Casino so we could be in-line at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning to work out the logistics with the Parking Team.
By 10 a.m., the Boomers started arriving and we had almost half the group onsite Monday and Tuesday with the remainder coming in on Wednesday. We secured nine spaces in a “5th Wheel” row and five spaces for smaller rigs so more units could be closer to our “Happy Hour” corner. Luke and Dick Reed became “our” parking crew and everything went smoothly.
We probably have the best area for parking – right on the “landing zone” and along the west canal roadway. We are parked on crushed pavement (no dust or mud when it rains), and not packed into rally-style, back-to-back grid parking. We pay $270 for “standard” dry-camping for 12 days (extra nights are only $15). We handle no money and everyone registers directly with the Fiesta RV Office. When they arrive at check-in, our folks just say they are with “The Boomers” and they are sent directly to us. The VIP and Premium sites overlooking the launch field pay up to $150+ per NIGHT. Even our parent club, the Escapees RV Club, charge over $1200 for six nights for their hosted rally. We think we’ve got a pretty good view with lots of action right where we are doing it “the Boomer Way”!!!
Part of the fun of getting Boomers together is that they are “do-ers”, so getting folks to volunteer as “crew members” is easy. In our preliminary correspondence we explained the various “jobs” that crew members assist with when it comes to setting-up, launching, chasing, and re-packing up the balloon. We ask our Boomers to attend a 30-minute safety orientation and then we escort them to the Pilots’ Tent for assignment and their coveted “Crew Pass” that allows FREE entry to all Fiesta events.
Crewing requires getting up VERY early (4:30-5:00 a.m.) and getting to the nearby launch field by the free shuttle bus, walking, biking, or catching a ride with their pilot by 6:15 a.m. After the Pilots Briefing the action begins and the crew help wherever needed, and, hopefully, score a free ride in a hot air balloon sometime during Fiesta.
ALBUQUERQUE ALOFT – TRAINING DAY
On the Friday before Fiesta begins, our pilots participated in “Albuquerque Aloft”, a community relations day where pilots take their balloons to local schools. The kids, parents, and school staff get their own Fiesta. We use this morning as “on-the-job training” where Boomers learn first-hand about crewing . On this day, oldest son Chris was able to launch, but winds came up so Mike kept his balloon inflated on the school grounds so the kids could get in the basket. The crew had as much fun as the kids.
On this morning, multiple crews erected a humongous set of parachutes and shade tents to create a festive Mardi Gras-themed tailgate party. Gumbo, jambalaya, queen cakes, and more.
BOOMER HAPPY HOURS
Traditionally, Boomer gather every afternoon for a happy hour (or two) than includes announcements, “checking-in” on what everyone did during the day, sharing recommendations for upcoming activities, and, of course, socializing around the goodies.
During Fiesta, however, the first few Happy Hours are learning sessions. Our Pilot Mike Liberti and Crew Chief “T” join our group to talk about what to expect on the field working with various pilots. On other days, I answer questions and give tips to supplement the written “stuff” they all received.
This is as close to a “group shot” of our 2011 Balloons & Boomers attendees. Finding shade at 4:00 pm was at a premium, thus the “classroom” setting.
Below: Pilot Mike talking to the Boomers about crewing.
NEXT: BALLOONS & BOOMERS – PART 2: UP, UP, & AWAY