One of the things I loved about living in Albuquerque was the annual International Balloon Fiesta every October. I lived about a mile from Balloon Fiesta Park and every morning before dawn I would see the glow of the Dawn Patrol as the hot-air balloons rose for a flight down the Rio Grande valley. It’s the biggest collection of balloonists in the world and it goes on for ten days. (KOB-TV in Albuquerque is offering a live feed on weekends if you’re so inclined to watch local TV news coverage of it.)
The Fiesta offers a lot of events, a lot of tchotchkes, and if you want to spend the money, you can take a ride in one. It’s a lot of fun; you basically go where the wind takes you, and you get a unique perspective on flying. For one thing, you don’t get that high off the ground — the one time I went we were probably 100′ up — and other than the whoosh of the air heater, it’s silent. As you float over houses and yards, people look up and gawk and take pictures. One interesting aspect is that a balloon flying over seems to drive dogs crazy. I don’t know if there’s a hypersonic pitch to the propane burner or just the sight of the big thing in the sky, but one of the things I remember the most about my one flight down the Rio Grande in a balloon was the chorus of barks drifting up to us.