Taking Flight in the Big Blue Yonder


After over a decade, hot air balloons returned to the Farmington skies for the first annual Four Corners Balloon Rally, September 23rd - 25th. 18 balloons representing the Four Corners states managed mud and wind to jump-start what looks to be a yearly festival in Farmington. From candlestick balloon glows to actual flights, concerts and chilly mornings, the rally was deemed a success by organizers and participants alike. This story is sponsored by Traegers Bar and The Big Idea Makerspace at San Juan College

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Brightly colorful, hot air balloons danced across Farmington Lake and across the Farmington skies the first weekend of fall during the first Four Corners Balloon Rally. Balloons representing all four states, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah took flight and glowed across Farmington from September 23rd through September 25th. Although some of the flights were hampered by muddy ground and breezy mornings, the crowd gathered for each event still managed to make the event memorable. You're watching the "Local News Network" brought to you by Traegers and The Big Idea Makerspace at San Juan College. I'm Hayley Opsal.

So believe it or not, it's a childhood dream of mine. As a little kid, I said I'm going to grow up and be a pilot. Took a long time to do it, but I made it happen. It's just been a lifelong passion of mine to do it.

Most of the balloon pilots at the rally knew several of the others. Oftentimes, having met at previous rallies and festivals. The sense of community among the pilots and their crews is noticeable almost from the beginning. Wandering around to check on balloons, discussing how the wind looks, and asking which balloon the other brought if they own more than one. Each balloon has a name and a story that is distinctive as its design, and pilots are always happy to tell you the story.

It's bad luck to not name your balloon. You want to name it and you want to treat it like a lady. So this balloon here is actually named Concho. The name actually came from the previous owners, and they thought of a name and they came up with Concho. Well, when they went to go pick it up, they thought the balloon was actually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And it turns out on their way to Albuquerque, the balloon was in Concho County, Texas. If you look on the side of my basket, there's a little Concho belt on there. That belonged to one of their crew members that put that belt on there during one of their very first flights when they purchased the balloon. She passed away not long afterwards, so I keep that belt on there in memory of her so that she's always flying with us.

From a distance, it may appear that the balloons float effortlessly through the sky, but to get to that point, there is a lot of effort. Balloons like Concho are approximately 80 feet of material that is pulled out of a giant stuff sack and laid out on the ground. Once laid out, the pilot attaches the base of the balloon to the basket, and with the help of at least 3 to 4 other people begin the process of inflating the balloon. Most pilots use a giant gas-powered fan to begin filling the balloon with air until it reaches the point the burners on the basket can safely inflate the balloon the rest of the way, raising the material up off the ground and into the air. After the ride, the pilots will aim to land wherever there is enough open space to safely land. Contrary to what may appear in the media, there are hardly any balloon crashes.

So we will look for an open field like what we're standing in right now to land in or anything. There are two kinds of landings. There's a nice little soft, gentle, come down and touch the ground landing where you stand up. And then there's what we call sporty or high wind. Typically, you're moving a little bit faster then, 10, 15 miles an hour, sometimes up to 20. And what you do is you come down real low over the ground, pull out the top, basket will hit the ground, tip over, slide to a stop. Both are perfectly safe and perfectly fine, and neither of them are a crash landing.

Once the balloon is on the ground and deflated, comes the arduous process of wrapping the 80 plus feet of material back into its sack. Once again, a team of 3 to 4 people help tie up the balloon and wind it back into the sack, much like stuffing a sleeping bag into a stuffing sack. Of course, the material is still full of air, and so it is often necessary to have one or more people sit on the balloon as it's folded into the sack to help it fit fully in the sack. It may be a process, but for the chance to fly unhindered through the air, pilots like Backes know it's worth it.

Some of us do it for sport, fun, business, but no matter what, when we come together for events like this, we're all family, we're all friends. We all jump in. We all help each other.

Ballooning is very weather oriented, and unfortunately, the weather in Farmington was not always the most conducive to flights. On both Friday and Sunday, the morning balloon flights dealt with windy conditions that kept most balloons on the ground, and the balloon glows in the evening also had to consider the wind. That didn't stop the pilots from lighting up the basket and a candlestick and bringing families in to see the baskets up close. On Sunday, a retired balloon inflated on the ground to allow spectators to wander around inside. Next time you see a balloon fly, take a moment to stop and enjoy the view. And if you remember, recite an Irish prayer, said often at the conclusion of every flight to wish the riders a safe and peaceful ride.

The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with its warm hands. You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth and the crew.

Thank you for watching this edition of the "Local News Network". I'm Hayley Opsal.


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