Disclaimer: I am no expert on this subject and have never been in a hot air balloon (but I’d love to).
New Mexicans love hot air balloons. The annual festival in Albuquerque attracts hot air balloon fans from around the world to watch hundreds of balloons ascend. A hot air balloon is featured on our license plates. (More about license plates in a future blog).
The first time I saw a hot air balloon close-up was in the Palos Forest Preserve southwest of Chicago in 1972 or so. It was tethered and being inflated. The folks surrounding it told us that they were just testing it and had sewn it themselves. Frankly, at that time, I thought that this was a Darwin award in the making.
A decade later, I would occasionally see hot air balloons floating over the St. Joe river in SW Michigan in the evening while driving along US-12 returning from the golf course.
In 1989 I went to Sweden to work on a software development project run amok. I spent the first week in a suburb of Sweden. I landed at Arlanda on July 3rd. Stockholm is about 60 degrees north and at that time of the year, the sun sets around 1 AM. I was staying in a big old hotel with floor to ceiling windows and a great view of the Stockholm archipelago. Not quite recovered from jet lag, I fell asleep about 6 in the evening but woke up around midnight. I opened the shades to look out at the beautiful dusk and saw three hot air balloons floating across the city. The view was magical.
Now that I live in southern New Mexico, I see hot air balloons frequently in fall, winter, and early spring. Given the right conditions, one or two will be aloft over Las Cruces in the early morning on Saturday and Sunday. Right conditions are no winds and really cool air. We’ll see them at the dog park and some dogs really watch them closely. A friend’s retired greyhound starts shivering when he seems them and she has to put him back in the car. He was rescued from Albuquerque and we speculate he must have had an interesting encounter up close and personal at some time. One time, Pearl really freaked out and tried to run away (the balloon was probably a mile away and really high). This weekend she just followed them very closely.
The annual 2-day festival at White Sands National Monument occurs every year in mid-September. I attended it a couple of years ago. I live about 50 miles from the park. I left the house around 5:30 and arrived around 6:30. By the time I got there, at least 500 cars were already in the parking area. People had already claimed the great viewing areas at the top of the dunes. It was really nippy and the “sand” never warms up because it reflects away all the sunshine. There was a slight breeze and few pilots were inflating their balloons. They scrubbed the ascent for the day around 8:30 because it was too windy. (The announcer said that the winds had to be less than 7mph for launch). Similar conditions the next day also scrubbed the mass ascent but one more-daring pilot gave it a go. The balloon drifted into the missile range and landed in a restricted area because it’s on the range and in environmentally-sensitive zone. He hauled it out with an escort of MPs and park rangers.
The Mesilla Valley Rally was held this past weekend. As I was coming into town from Arizona around 2 PM, I saw a single balloon hovering over the valley. That surprised me because it was so late in the day but it was just cool enough for it to stay aloft (around 55).
Sunday morning ascent was scheduled for 7:30. As usual, the dogs and I were at the dog park around 7 AM. The ascent must have been delayed because the first balloons appeared around 8 AM. I left the park about 8:15 and counted 15 up and floating south by the time I arrived home on the higher mesa to the east of town. One of my friends got to ride during the Saturday ascent. Here is a small montage of her pictures:
Ballooning must be an expensive hobby. The Rally was cancelled in 2009 and 2010 due to the recession. And it’s probably not very green. Nevertheless, I’d love to take a ride.