The 38th annual Colorado Balloon Classic

Have you ever wanted to ride in a hot air balloon? You know… that kind of fun feeling like you’re hanging onto a ton of balloons and floating up, up and away? Or maybe you remember those RE/MAX commercials that features their logo of a hot air balloon? Alas, I am never going to ride in one. But I was able to do the next best thing… watch them up close as they set up.

It all started with a 1,000 piece Springbok jigsaw puzzle that my husband gave me back in the Fall of 2012. I enjoyed this one puzzle so much that I had it completed in 2 days! It was beautiful. After that, I decided,right then and there, that I wanted to see these balloons flying in person. Never would I imagine that I could actually see them up close and locally!

Photographer:  James Tandkiev. Steamboat Springs, CO
Photographer: James Tandkiev. Steamboat Springs, CO

Fast forward to today. My husband found it online. The 38th annual Colorado Balloon Classic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The largest balloon festival in the country was just an hour away from our house and taking place over Labor Day weekend. The 7am morning events brought a total of 78 hot air balloons to launch and have the best view of our Rocky Mountains. Score! This is the last festival that will be held there though.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling up to at 5am alarm to drive an hour to see them lift off at 7am. It was, after all, a 3 day weekend. But, they had a Balloon Glo that night. The Balloon Glo was a night of dozens of huge glowing light bulbs for everyone to enjoy. They stay on the ground at Memorial Park and light those balloons up with their propane tanks. It was so awesome! I felt like a kid for sure.

I’ll show the pretty colors. But first, let me show you what I saw prior to all the fun.

The balloon owners/operators lay down their basket or gondola made of wicker and leather once they get it out of their trailers. This one had three 10 gallon tanks in it for fuel.

Hot air balloon basket. How could you fit 2 people in here in the air?! Yikes!
Hot air balloon basket. How could you fit 2 people in here in the air?! Yikes!

Next, they lay out the envelope, a.k.a the gas bag, and attach it to the basket. They unfold it and get it all situated.

Sunrise Angel piloted by Bill & Michelle Dimmitt from Los Lunas, NM
Sunrise Angel piloted by Bill & Michelle Dimmitt from Los Lunas, NM

Then, they spread it out over the grass gently. The festival had volunteers to help assist with the balloon setups. That’s cool.

How can you not enjoy that beautiful sunset over the Rockies?
How can you not enjoy that beautiful sunset over the Rockies?

Now, comes the fun part! Inflating the balloon then watching the show!

Inflating the balloon isn’t hard. The envelope is made of reinforced nylon fabric treated with a polyurethane coating to make it airtight and withstand the UV rays of the sun. Don’t forget. We’re in Colorado… high altitude. You want your $25,000 and up balloon to last.

A large fan fills the envelope about half way with cold air, the outside ambient air. It goes through the mouth or throat, which is the opening at the bottom. Then they use the liquid propane gas burner to fill it the rest of the way. The flames shot 15ft in the air! Straight up above the basket the balloon rises. Most balloons are about 7 stories high. Some baskets also hold three 10 gallon stainless steel tanks or two 20 gallon tanks of fuel for about an hour of flight.

The whole process took about a half hour for each balloon. And my husband, my 2 teenage boys and I were on this field right next to them! So close that you could feel the heat! It was very cool.

Light it up!
Light it up! Cheaper Than a Wife piloted by Jason Gaines of O’Fallon, MO

You know I had to get a picture of this balloon, right? Everyone knows this balloon. It was the first one up. Quick tidbit: the highest a balloon can fly is about 12 miles. That’s when the pilot needs oxygen. Um, no thanks!

RE/MAX is piloted by Ken Tadolini from Denver, CO
RE/MAX is piloted by Ken Tadolini from Denver, CO

Next up… the lit balloons close-up. I know that you’ve been dying to see them finally.

The 2 front balloons on the right: Sunset Rise piloted by Al Lowenstein & Susan Wood from Albuquerque, NM. I couldn’t find the name or pilots for the one on the left. The 2 in the back from left to right are: Sunrise piloted by Rick Neubauer of Port Orange, FL and MARIAH is piloted by Mark & Anita Ibbotson of Grand Prairie, TX.

What happens is that the announcer starts a countdown and public joins in. After this countdown to 1, the pilots light up their balloons at different times to music or at the same time. It was fun.

Synchronized flares of propane gas.
Synchronized flares of propane gas.

The 2 in front from left to right: Cheaper Than a Wife piloted by Jason Gaines of O’Fallon, MO and TAMO piloted by Tamie & Eric Folley of Wellington, CO. In the back from left to right: Dark Sunrise piloted by Don Dougherty & Jen Rissman of Colorado Springs, CO; Hyggelit piloted by Dale & Katrina Pattyn of Albuquerque, NM and Honey Do II piloted by Bill & Linda Walker of Albuquerque, NM.

I just love the uniqueness of each envelope. All of the different colors and patterns are pleasing to the naked eye. It’s almost mesmerizing to watch.

1, 2, 3... hit it!
1, 2, 3… hit it!

Every single one of my pictures are from my Samsung S4 13MP camera phone. They aren’t as clear as a higher megapixel camera, but it gets the job done when I need something quick.

Remember, the nighttime Balloon Glo doesn’t launch the balloons. They only do that early in the mornings.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and learned a few things about hot air balloons. I know I did. Now, tell me… would you ride in a hot air balloon? If you owned one, what do you think your nylon fabric envelope would look like?

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