St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye

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Balloon pilots and enthusiasts couldn’t have asked for a more perfect morning this past Saturday.
At the 28th annual St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye, the day began clear, cool and calm. One of the event organizers, Grant Crawford, said the weather conditions were just about perfect on Friday and Saturday.

Balloons were grounded Sunday morning in the face of vicious winds sweeping across the state.

“On Friday, we had 14 balloons fly,” said Crawford, the director of the Valencia Flying and Retrieval Society. “Saturday, we had 38 in the air and of the six special shapes, four launched. Several pilots told me they ‘boxed’ over Los Lunas three or four times.”

 

Crawford said he was thrilled to have the Shamrock balloon, owned and piloted by Don Edwards, able to fly at the rally.

“It was special because the last time it flew was a year ago at the rally,” he said. “He landed in the same field too, just south of the News-Bulletin offices. Don said he loves the valley.”

As a whole, Crawford said the event was very successful. One highlight for many residents was entering for a chance to take a free hot air balloon ride.

“The pilots took up about 30 people from the community,” he said. “When they can come and participate, they really get involved.”

A local church, the New Life Fellowship, brought a group out for an early morning field trip, Crawford said.

“The kids helped us crew,” he said. “Everybody loved it and we’re looking forward to next year.”

Crawford extended a special thanks to the city of Belen, as one of the rally’s biggest sponsors.

“On Friday and Saturday, we had quite few big crews go out to local restaurants,” he said. “This really is bringing money into local businesses.”

The sky full of rainbows drew people in from surrounding communities, stopped traffic on the interstate and proved to be a draw to at least one family on the final leg of their vacation.

Lynn Cowan and her daughter, Valerie, from San Antonio, Texas, spent Valerie’s spring break seeing sights such as the Grand Canyon. They stopped in Albuquerque and took the train up to Santa Fe.

“Someone had left a paper on the train and we saw the (special) section (in the News-Bulletin). We just had to stop,” Lynn laughed. “We should be on our way back to San Antonio.”

A new experience for both of them, Lynn and Valerie agreed that the stop was worth the time.

“This is just great,” Valerie said before craning her neck back for another balloon picture.

Jason Klotz, of Los Lunas, and Stephanie Deckman, of Chicago, arrived on the field at 7 a.m. on Saturday.

“No one was here yet, but it was worth the wait,” said Deckman of her first ballooning event.

Klotz said he went to the rally several times when it was in Los Lunas.

“I remember one year, a pilot landed by my mom’s house,” Klotz said. “It was her birthday and he took her for a balloon ride all over the county.”

James Nettleton, an old hand at the balloon rally, brought Grace Boggus for her first time. Boggus got into the spirit of things, posing in front of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe balloon before it was deflated.

A crew member for the special-shape balloon said the complicated fabric envelop hasn’t flown for nearly eight years now — they brought it down to stand it up and show it off for the crowd.

And brother and sister, Charles Montoya and Crystal Bustillos, both of Belen, brought their children to the rally to let them see and experience the inflating fabric behemoths up close and personal.

Joshua Montoya, 5, said his favorite balloon of the day was the shamrock, while Gabriella, 7, and Rihanna Bustillos, 5, both agreed that the “boot,” referring to the Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe was the best one.

After a little coaxing, Nathan Montoya, 3, said he liked Smokey Bear the most. The real fire truck that was part of Smokey’s chase crew also got a thumbs up from the toddler.

“We’ve gone to the Albuquerque fiesta, but there are so many people,” Charles Montoya said. “This one is great for the kids.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.