July 20 2009 by Claudia Kunkel
I saw the Disney-Pixar "Up" movie over the weekend. Besides the fact that my family and I absolutely loved the movie, it reminded me of the hot air balloon festival I went to years ago in Iowa. I thought the balloons were so whimsical, beautiful and breathtaking as they filled with air and slowly rose into the early morning sky. It also inspired me to do a little research into hot air balloon festivals around the country and find out just what it is about ballooning that draws such a huge following.
I was surprised to find out that there are quite a few hot air balloon festivals held each year and so listed below are just a few that peaked my interest. The fact that they hold any interest at all for me is amazing considering that my feet always need to be touching the ground and going up in a hot air balloon is really not very high on my list of things I need to do; however, joining in on the festivities with scores of balloon enthusiasts is a lot of fun.
I'll have to start with the first festival I attended and of course, that's the National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa. This year will be its 40th year of hosting the hot air balloon festival in Indianola. The festival is perfect for families and features friendly competition between the pilots, live music, great Midwestern food and lots and lots of balloons, obviously. The balloons fly in the early dawn and again at dusk where showmanship is always at its best as they compete in pole grabs or who can get their balloon off the ground in the fastest time. All this competition is closely monitored by the "Mesiter"- a seasoned hot air balloon pilot who closely monitors weather conditions and pilot safety. It's also surprising to see how many different shapes these balloons come in; believe it or not they don't have to be round! After 40 years of hosting this event, I think they have this down to a science.
Another hot air balloon festival that I've heard about for many years is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico held each October. This festival started in 1972 with 13 balloons and has now grown into an international festival with over 700 balloons participating in the event. Imagine the sky filled with these huge, colorful balloons and you have a photographer's dream come true as it's one of the most photographed events in the country. This festival is held at Balloon Fiesta Park and lawn chairs are welcome! The pilots compete in flying accuracy rather than speed in races with names like Blackjack, Key Grab and Balloon Fiesta Golf. Did I mention they serve roasted chilies and traditional Mexican food? That alone is reason to go.
Another hot air balloon festival that I'm familiar with, but never got the opportunity to attend, even though I lived there for ten years is the Colorado Balloon Classic held each Labor Day Weekend in Colorado Springs. This event has been running for 33 years and will host well over 100 balloons again this year. Imagine the spectacular sight of balloons of every shape, size and color silently rising up over Pikes Peak in the early light of morning or in the soft fading light of the evening with the mountains as a backdrop. Again, a great family weekend featuring the "Balloon Glo" where the balloons are filled with air at nighttime, but don't launch; they simply emit a lovely "glow" against the night sky. Lots of good food, competition among the pilots of the balloons and great family entertainment, this one sounds like a winner too.
If you've been to a hot air balloon festival and want to let me know the details, please leave a comment; I look forward to hearing from you.