by K. L. Thompson
The Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association celebrated the holiday season with their yearly Jingle Bell non-Rally over the December 13-14 weekend at the Rio Rancho Balloon Park. The event is co-hosted by the Rio Rancho, New Mexico Parks & Recreation Department and this year AT&T joined with their sponsorship. Quad A uses this event to show their appreciation to the community, many of which welcome balloons over their homes and onto their land many, many weekends out of the year.
It turned out to be a beautiful weekend, albeit somewhat cold, and there was a festive atmosphere both days. A large tent provided by the city to house vendors, entertainers, pie-eating contests, and photo opportunities with Santa created a gathering site that added to the festive feeling as people gravitated to its warmth for the many activities including morning briefings. Santa made his appearance on the field in a balloon basket after the balloons were down and back on the field. He graciously posed for pictures with the children in spite of a tight holiday schedule. Registration fees for the event were wrapped gifts that were later donated to local charities on the club's behalf. The generosity of pilots and crews made for a lot of happy children this Christmas. That generosity extended to a raffle conducted for balloon rides donated by pilots and about forty lucky people took a ride, many for the first time. A "Deck the Hauls" chase-vehicle decorating contest encouraged pilots and crews to decorate their vehicles in a holiday theme delighting everyone. There was even a holiday recipe bake-off for balloon teams with samples for the crowd.
La "Ristra" ita and the ever popular Smokey Bear took to the air over the weekend adding to the festivities. La "Ristra" ita is especially meaningful to New Mexicans who love their chile. The balloon stands 110 feet high and has 54 bright red chiles making up the envelope. Not hard to see even with seventy balloons registered to fly on Saturday and nearly the same number on Sunday. The large turnout provided plenty of balloons to treat the estimated eight hundred people that came out to watch each day.
This event receives coverage from the local Rio Rancho press and the Albuquerque papers. It is a great way for Quad A to give back to a community that so generously accepts them as just another part of living in New Mexico.