Brilliant colors to fly in the sky


It’s going to be a weekend of fun, flight and film at this year’s 30th annual St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye.

Hosted by the Valencia Flying and Retrieval Society, organizer and pilot Grant Crawford says the event has come full circle.

News-Bulletin file photo: Smokey bear is just one of the special shaped balloons that will make an appearance at this year’s 30th annual St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye in Belen. There will be nearly 60 different balloons that will take flight this year.

“Who would have thought when we started 30 years ago at Baca Auto, we would end up in Los Lunas, then back down here at Eagle Park,” Crawford said.

Five years ago, the rally came back to Belen, after spending more than a decade flying out of Los Lunas.

This year’s event, which runs Friday, March 14, to Sunday, March 16, will celebrate 30 years of flight and introduce a new component to the mix: Belen’s long involvement in the film industry.

Movies ranging from the cult classic “Convoy” to the soon-to-be-released “Transcendence” have been filmed in and around the Hub City since 1970.

Crawford said the “film and flight” celebration was the first of its kind in the country, and hopes it would draw in even more community members to the weekend of flying rainbows.

“A lot of the younger kids, they were involved in a lot of these movies, so this is a great way to get them involved,” he said.

In the last five years, Crawford said the city has been a huge supporter of the balloon rallye, allowing the use of Eagle Park and helping to sponsor the propane for the pilots.

This year, the city has extended its assistance, Crawford said, handling pretty much all the event coordination except for the balloons themselves.

“Steve Tomita has been the driving force in getting the community more involved, and Brenda Gurule at the community center, has coordinated the whole thing — from organizing the sponsors, to traffic control, all the things that make this happen,” he said.

With Crawford in charge of the ballooning, he said there are 50-plus balloonists registered for the rally.

“We would have done more, but we ran out of space,” he said.

While most of the balloons will be the typical inverted teardrop shape, there will be a slew of special shapes making an appearance. Smokey Bear will be back, along with La Ristra, the massive red chile ristra, everyone’s favorite lucky charm, The Shamrock, and storybook legend Old Lady in the Shoe.

And making his Belen debut is Beagle Maximus, who lives up to his name as the world’s largest dog balloon.

Crawford said the giant canine will fly both days, Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. And some lucky ballooning fans could take a ride on the sky-bound pooch. Once again, rally attendees get a chance to enter a drawing for a free balloon ride.

If you want a chance to hitch a ride in the sky, Crawford said you should be there between 6 and 6:30 a.m. to sign up for the drawing. Winners must be present to claim their ride. And if you’re there that early, you might as well crew, he said laughing.

“We need all the crew we can get. And anyone who’s done it knows it’s a lot of fun,” Crawford said.

At 7:30 a.m., Friday, March 14, sponsors and media flights will take off from Eagle Park, so Belenites should look to the skies for a preview of the weekend.

This year, Crawford said flights are planned for both Saturday and Sunday mornings. In previous years, the balloons only flew on Sunday if they weren’t able to fly on Saturday due to bad weather.

Balloons launch at 7:30 a.m. both days. On Saturday, rallygoers are welcome to join the balloonists from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a tailgate party at the Eagle Park picnic shelter.

And for those not able to go for a balloon ride, or who prefer not to be that detached from gravity, Crawford said the VFRS is selling tethered balloon rides at the park from 1 to 2 p.m. The proceeds from the rides and the rally itself will go to the Belen Food Pantry. Last year, the society was able to donate $500 to El Ranchito de los Ninos.

“The tethered rides are sold for a donation, whatever you can give,” Crawford said. “And if you don’t have anything, we’re not going to turn you away. The city and community has been good to us down here, so we wanted to give back.”

Then the film festival and walking tour of various filming locations around downtown Belen will be held from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting at the intersection of Becker Avenue and Second Street.

That evening, at dusk, Crawford said several balloonists will be lining Becker Avenue with their gondolas for a candlelight burn. He said at previous rallies, the balloonists have done balloon glows on Saturday evening — standing up their balloon envelopes and lighting up the colorful globes — to varying levels of success.

“With a glow, if the wind comes up we can’t do it. With a candlelight burn, nothing but rain can stop us,” Crawford said.

On Sunday, the balloons will launch again at 7:30 a.m. and from 8 to 8:30 a.m., there will be a special shapes display and tethered rides, weather permitting.

“We just want to thank the city and community for everything they do for the rally,” Crawford said. “This is a community effort and we got a lot of support from everyone this year.”

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