Every autumn, the land of enchantment hosts a truly magical event that attracts a crowd from far and wide. In its 45th year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta truly embodied this year’s theme, Desert Kaleidoscope, offering up a full spectrum of shapes and colors to dazzle the senses. For nine days, events take place in the mornings and evenings, during which time the launch area, the size of 56 football fields, populates with hundreds of balloons and thousands upon thousands of spectators.

One thing that makes this event stand out among others is the field access given to spectators. At other ballooning events the launch area is restricted to pilots and crew, whereas here can you meander under the canopy of inflated balloons, admiring the constantly changing landscape. On-lookers are even encouraged to approach the pilots to ask questions or take pictures, and they sure do take advantage of it, packing in so close you can feel the heat every time the pilot ignites the burner.

Every evening as dusk approaches, pilots and crews prepare for a night glow. Nothing can compare to the flickering of flames from all around, illuminating vibrant patterns and funhouse shapes in every direction.

Flip through the gallery below to see what makes this event so darn popular, and why the parking lot fills well before sunrise. Mark your calendar for next year to be a part of this memorable experience. balloonfiesta.com

Balloon Fiesta Photo Gallery:

-John Lloyd is a Boulder-based outdoor adventure and lifestyle photographer. Seeking ideas for your next epic road trip? Make sure to check him out on Instagram.