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The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has once again taken flight, drawing in more than 500,000 visitors, representing 18 countries in the sky. More than 550 balloons inflate in the dark early hours of mornings of the nine-day fiesta to reveal the Sandia Mountain horizon glittered with vibrant colors and shapes. Albuquerque’s altitude ranges from just under 5,000 feet above sea level at its lowest point to nearly 7,000 feet in the Sandia foothills. This means that many visitors traveling from across the globe to Albuquerque may feel a little different when their feet hit the high desert, with less oxygen in air than they are accustomed to breathing. For some, the higher elevation brings an unwelcome visitor – altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness can occur when you do not get enough oxygen from the air when your body experiences a quick change in altitude. For fiesta visitors traveling from sea level, it can be a noticeable change – even if you don’t take a ride in a hot air balloon. From headaches to nausea, loss of appetite, dizziness, problems sleeping and feeling weak, altitude sickness can strike quickly and can be very serious.

When visiting Albuquerque from lower elevations, it is important to give your body adequate time to adjust. Do not try to do too much in your first few days in town. For example, if you are planning on attending the fiesta, do not schedule another activity, like hiking up to the 10,378-foot Sandia Peak observation deck, the same day. Drink plenty of water and take breaks to rest throughout the day. If you begin to feel faint and nauseated, Lovelace Health System has a free first aid clinic at the fiesta and can help with any medical needs. 

After your body adjusts, take advantage of the most photographed event in the world. It is the perfect backdrop for capturing moments like this – the 2012 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta/Nikon Photo Contest winning Grand Prize submission, giving new meaning to taking flight.

Photo Credit: Gene Manner, Grand Prize Winner

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