Al­bu­querque

An­i­mals, aliens and fa­mous faces fill the desert skies.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

This month, the an­nual nine-day In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fi­esta, the world’s largest such event, will see more than 550 bal­loons from 22 coun­tries take to the skies above the New Mex­ico desert.

Among them will be about 100 ‘‘spe­cial shape’’ bal­loons – Elvis, Darth Vader, dragons and ze­bras have been sent sky­ward in pre­vi­ous years.

The city’s 1524-me­tre el­e­va­tion, wide open spa­ces and typ­i­cally blue skies make it ideal for hot-air bal­loon­ing – and hol­i­days in gen­eral.

New this year is the Can­dle­stick Burn, dur­ing which hun­dreds of bal­loons light their burn­ers in the pre-dawn dark­ness be­fore as­cend­ing en masse.

The Amer­ica’s Chal­lenge Gas Bal­loon Race is a peren­nial favourite – teams from around the globe vie for the hon­our of trav­el­ling the long­est dis­tance in a he­lium bal­loon.

The fes­ti­val is also a great chance to im­merse your­self in the unique cul­ture of the Amer­i­can south­west – coun­try and jazz mu­sic, the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fla­menco, Na­tive Amer­i­can dance, a gun-sling­ing theatre troupe and ‘‘chain­saw sculp­tures’’ all fea­ture.

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