VIDEO: 45th Albuquerque balloon fiesta kicks off this weekend

Two hot air balloons inflate at Vista Grande Elementary School in Rio Rancho, N.M. on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, as part of the Albuquerque Aloft program that lifts balloons on school grounds as part of the 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The balloon fiesta is set to begin Saturday and will feature 108 special-shaped balloons representing nine countries. The event ends Oct. 9. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

NEW MEXICO (AP)—The 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is underway and is expected to attract close to a million visitors to central New Mexico.

THE BALLOONS

The 2016 festival will feature more than 500 hot air balloons and 108 special-shaped balloons with pilots from around the world. The theme is “Desert Kaleidoscope.” The fiesta’s morning mass ascensions launch both weekends, and on Wednesday. Other events include the Balloon Glows, Special Shape Rodeo and Music Fiesta.

How and when the balloons launch depends on the weather and pilots will have to take into consideration wind patterns to avoid landing on American Indian land. Balloonists at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will be able to land at Sandia Pueblo after all as the two organizations have reached an agreement. Both sides said necessary landings would be allowed on parts of the pueblo, a stark change from the all-out ban previously announced.

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CONTESTS

The Balloon Fiesta flying competition will begin Monday and continues throughout the week. In addition, the Balloon Federation of America’s US Women’s National Championship will start Saturday.

On Wednesday, the Flight of the Nations will get the mid-week mass ascension started, showcasing all countries represented at Balloon Fiesta. In addition to flying events, Thursday and Friday will showcase special shape balloons launching each morning and glows in the evening.

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THE SCENE

Besides balloons in the air, there will be plenty of things to do on the ground. Attendees will have the opportunity to try their choice of New Mexican breakfast burritos with green and red chile. The fiesta also will have a selection of shops selling New Mexico items from clothes to Southwestern decorations.

Attendees also will have the chance to check out a chainsaw carving and laser light shows.

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