From the festival founder's boast at a party in 1971 that he could fly his newly bought balloon, to an annual celebration that now draws more than half a million people to New Mexico, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a story of good times and friendships formed over decades of ballooning. An average of 700 balloonists from scores of nations participate in the October event, lifting off with the rising sun in the crisp Albuquerque air and floating against the turquoise skies and salmon-pink SandA-a Mountains. Traditional balloons mix with specially designed balloons such as shade-wearing suns and Darth Vader to thrill the tens of thousands of spectators below. The excitement continues into the nights with balloon glows and fireworks. More than 150 images capture the colors, crowds, and camaraderie that have made Albuquerque the ballooning capital of the world.