Balloons return to New Mexico skies for annual fiesta after pandemic pause

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Oct 2 (Reuters) - Hundreds of hot air balloons launched into the skies over Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Saturday for the first time in two years, as the city's balloon fiesta returned following a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yoda, Smokey the Bear and the Creamland Cow were some of the notable balloons that took flight in the Mass Ascension that kicked off the 49th annual festival.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta brings millions of tourist dollars into the city but last year's event was canceled as a precaution because of the pandemic.

The event's website says 588 hot air balloons will take part and that nearly 900,000 visitors are expected to attend.

This year's nine-day extravaganza features balloon races, nighttime balloon launches and events including musical performances and a chainsaw carving exhibition.

While the event is not requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19, participants are required to wear masks indoors or at crowded outdoor settings.

Reporting by Ashraf Fahim; Editing by Diane Craft

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