Gallup: The Red Rock Balloon Rally

I visited the city of Gallup, in New Mexico, earlier this year. Not for nothing is it known as 'The Native American Capital of the World'. I was there to experience the Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial, a celebration that brought together more than 20 tribes from across The West. The event highlighted the city’s innate passion for the arts through Native American dances, crafts shows, parades, and more. I witnessed all this, and knew I’d return to Gallup. Months later, at the beginning of December, I did, this time for the Red Rock Balloon Rally.
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This story has been created in partnership with City of Gallup, New Mexico.

The rally began at 6AM on Friday morning, in Red Rock Park, where the pilots met to discuss the weather situation. After a jovial exchange of family-like greetings – it really does seem as if everyone is one big family in Gallup – the decision was made. “We can’t fly today, folks,” said Bill Noe, “I’m afraid there’s too much rain and wind.” 

A downer? Not in Gallup. Moods were not dampened and later that day, The Giant Glow in the Rocks would begin.

The evening came and so did the glow. It had a sci-fi feel to it, and scenes from Mad Max flooded my mind. Incremental bursts of jet-flames would eject into the black abyss of Church Rock Canyon, igniting the setting and balloons within. It was coupled with roaring sounds of combustion, and cheering from nearby observers. The whole thing felt more like a launch operation for a loopy space expedition than anything else. It was utterly brilliant.  

To the right of the balloon glow, a fire burned steadily, surrounded by a large crowd. A murmur of drums and singing could be heard reverberating off the canyon walls surrounding. The Gallup Real True Indian Dances were in full flow.

There’s not much like the experience of seeing native dancing and hearing their incredible music. It’s eerie and powerful, full of immense passion, sadness, and love. Even for the unspiritual, a mystical light is cast.

The following day was warm and windless – perfect for balloon flying. I arrived at Red Rock Park and awaited my opportunity to fly. Again, it was as if I was in a scene from Mad Max. Balloons were hoisted upright in every direction, some bunched together so tightly, that only a glimpse of the sky was visible – all this among churning engines, fans, and cheering.

Bill Noe was my balloon pilot, and he’s a master of the endeavor. He’s also one of the key event organizers at the Red Rock Balloon Rally, and many others. “I got into flying through taking photos”, he said – and it’s no surprise. Looking down hundreds of feet to the dry, desert floor and its protruding canyons is an incredible change in perspective, and you simply must snap away.

The experience of floating above Gallup was one I’ll carry with me for a while yet, and I can’t recommend it enough. Head to Gallup between December 1st-3rd for the Red Rock Balloon Rally – you won’t regret it.

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