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BALLOON FESTIVAL GIVES ALBUQUERQUE A LIFT

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A bald eagle floated alongside a bright red Canadian maple leaf. A jack-o'-lantern drifted by, following a green pig wearing untied sneakers.

Hundreds of colorful hot-air balloons rose into an overcast sky Saturday to kick off Albuquerque's 25th annual balloon fiesta, billed as the nation's largest. A record 850 balloons and 1,200 pilots are participating in the nine-day event.The silver anniversary was marked by 100 balloons touted as "Special Shapes" - everything from a bespectacled bear and a dairy cow to a red cottage and Noah's ark, complete with animals peeking over the side.

The Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will again have the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, a distance event. In 1993, Austrian Josef Starkbaum piloted his balloon 1,138 miles before landing in Wisconsin. He was in the air nearly 60 hours.