“Daddy, do we get to ride in one?” Benjamin said.
“No, son. Most people who go to the Balloon Festival don’t get to ride in one,” I said.
“But I want to ride in one,” he whined.
“That’s not how it works, Ben,” Shannon said.
“But I want to ride in one.”
We repeated this conversation about three or four times that very long Saturday as the launch time slowly approached.
(veritable photo blowout coming after the jump)
Our plan was to watch the balloons launch and then go home, so we could get Benjamin to bed on time and he and I could report back early in the morning to see the sunrise launch.
We thought we had left in plenty of time to get to the hot air balloon launch, but then so did about 500,000 other people (give or take). Rather than trying to catch colorful snippets here and there from inside the car in stop-and-go traffic, I parked so we could at least watch from a parking lot. Lots of spectators with folding lawn chairs were content with a similar fate. Two or three balloons were in the air when we parked.
Shannon and I figured we ought to at least try to get closer, so we walked. Balloons two-toned and multi-colored passed silently overhead. Every few seconds another one climbed above the distant tree line and drifted our way. Most sported a recognizable brand name — All State, EDS Credit Union, ReMax — the kind of companies that can afford to sponsor a $35,000 balloon.
We walked a solid 45 minutes before reaching the ticket booth. Children scampered along a steep, grassy hillside to our right. Some rolled down it, their arms and legs tucked in close for maximum speed.
Oddly, we saw lots of people holding helium-filled Mylar balloons with the title of the show “Yes, Dear” emblazoned on them. I wasn’t aware that the show was enjoying a resurgence. In fact, I’m not sure it had a “surgence” in the first place.
The food alley (not pictured) was so densely packed with people that I could not take more than one step without having to turn out of somebody’s way. After about 10 minutes in the corn dog/cotton candy line, Benjamin and I ditched Shannon to scope the other eating establishments.
Mobile phones make these events much simpler for a family to manage. It was the first such event where we both had one, and they proved invaluable. Benjamin got his aforementioned festival food while Shannon and I enjoyed chicken tomatillo soft tacos from Blue Mesa Grill.
“So, I guess this means Benjamin won’t be getting up with me to see the morning launch,” I said.
“Ah, no,” Shannon said.
We were farther back than I had hoped, but once it got dark the balloons glowed brightly enough that it didn’t matter. Sometimes they glowed in unison, sometimes at random.
The show over, we hiked back up the hill, with one stop for Benjamin to pose with his mommy. Oh, and the new light saber he had picked out at the junk toy tent. I’m glad I got those pictures, because by the next morning he had smacked it inoperable.
I reported to Alvis’ house the next morning at about 6:20 a.m. and we made it down into the valley in plenty of time for the launch. In fact, we got there before they had rolled their balloons out of the baskets.
The mist hung in the valley as the ballooners (balloonists?) unfurled their colorful fabrics. Men with ropes, as if in some mighty tug of war, helped eased the balloons up as they filled with hot air. One by one the bulbous behemoths lifted off, at the wind’s mercy.
Alvis and I snapped away with our dueling Nikon DSLR’s. That early in the morning, I was not surprised to see more than a handful of other people similarly serious about their photos, and most sporting the same brand of camera.
On our walk out we met a man who gave us lens envy. He had a 400mm f/2.8 lens on a Canon DSLR. For perspective, imagine the camera lenses you see on the sideline of college and professional sports events.
“Oh, you’re shooting Nikon, I’m sorry,” he said and laughed. “No, just kidding. I have friends who use Nikon.”
“So, are you just a hobbyist, or are you shooting for somebody?” I said.
“I just do it for fun.”
He then told us that he had about $35,000 worth of camera equipment stolen while on vacation. Alvis and I left wondering what his day job was and how we could get one. Or, why the guy didn’t just buy his own hot air balloon instead of taking pictures of them.
(Note: the vignetting effect on these photos was unintentional. It was caused by my cheap, consumer zoom lenses.)