We spent four days in Albuquerque on this trip and while we did do some other touristy things like visit Petroglyphs, this page is really all about the International Balloon Fiesta. We went to a night glow, a mass ascension (at the fiesta park) and also watched other mass ascensions from elsewhere in Albuquerque.
In 2019, there were between 500 and 600 balloons for the mass ascensions. In theory, the Saturday and Sunday launches are better attended (both by balloons and spectators). Certainly the traffic was much worse on Sunday morning than it was on Monday morning. The number of balloons didn't seem all that reduced on Monday though. It may have helped that Saturday's launch was partially canceled due to weather. It's worth noting that around 10 percent of events are canceled due to weather in any given year so if you're visiting, allow several days to see whatever it is you want to see (all of it).
During the week, special shape rodeos focus on unusual balloon shapes although you'll see plenty during the normal events too. They're scattered throughout these pictures, and yes, that does indeed appear to be a Christ the Redeemer balloon.
For the morning launches, a 'dawn patrol' of six or so balloons will launch while it is still dark out. This is actually quite scenic. Once up they'll test the winds at different altitudes and the report back will help determine if the main launch is going to happen or not. A big flag flies over the main entrance to the fiesta grounds. If green, it's a go. If red, it isn't. We found that often it remained red right up until launch time when it would switch over to green.
Out on the grounds there is a long street of vendors and then the grid-marked field the balloons launch from. For smaller weekday launches they will likely return to these grounds for assorted competitions and potentially landings as well.
There aren't a lot of restrictions when it comes to walking amongst the balloons. Most of it should be common sense, like don't get involved in the lines. For inflations, deflations, launches and landings there will be 'zebras' in black and white striped shirts who clear the area.
Thanks to the box wind patterns in Albuquerque, balloons that drift off at one altitude can often come back over the grounds at a different altitude. This is useful for some of the competitions that involve dropping an object as close to a target as possible (keep an eye on the sky during these, some of them aren't all that close).
There are lots of good areas to watch a mass ascension from if you don't want to deal with the traffic and the crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park. This is a mass ascension as seen from North Domingo Baca park.
This is Vista Del Norte park which is small but has a good view as well. What's more it's a popular landing zone as it lies almost due south of Fiesta park. In this general area, several balloons landed in this park but we also saw them come down in parking lots, vacant lots and even the road median.
Definitely worth seeing as well is a night glow. Balloons remain tethered for a night glow so they basically just inflate and then 'glow' in place from the flames.
There are sustained glows and 'flicker' type effects and the concerted use of these by a hundred balloons at once is really an impressive sight.