More than 500 hot air balloons took to the skies for the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. Entitled Where Dreams Take Flight, this year's festival drew pilots from 22 countries around the world. Now in its 44th year, the nine-day event kicks off with a mass ascent.

A combination of factors make Albuquerque the perfect place for the fiesta: typically clear skies, cool mornings and wind patterns at various elevations that help keep the balloons aloft over the city. The mountains that border the city's east side and weather patterns help create what is known as the "box". When it is in effect, the lower winds blow south and higher winds blow north, meaning balloonists can travel one direction, then backtrack to land near their launch site by changing elevation. That keeps the balloons bobbing over the city rather than drifting away.