BLOOMFIELD — The San Juan River Balloon Rally kicked off on Friday as nine hot-air balloons soared above Bloomfield.
The balloons, along with pilots and crews from around the state, lifted members of the media and event sponsors 500 feet in the air for a maiden flight on Friday morning.
Bright and early today and Sunday, six more balloons will join the fleet. Altogether, 15 balloons will take flight from the soccer fields along South First Street in Bloomfield.
At 5 p.m. today, the Chamblee Soccer Complex will host free family fun with a carnival, live music and a balloon glow at sundown. The festivities, which are now in their seventh year, are hosted by the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce.
Bloomfield resident Kaitlyn Brown and her two daughters came out early on Friday to see the colorful parade of balloons with friends, take pictures and enjoy one of the more popular — and visible — summer events in San Juan County.
"We come every year," Brown said. "We followed them to our house — we live on the east side of town — one time. Another year, the balloons started going east, but then they shifted around and headed to the west."
Her 8-year-old daughter, Megan Brown, did cartwheels on the lawn after the balloons, with playful names like "Bumpy" and "Giggles and Grins," sailed toward Farmington, bobbing on the wind and sparkling in the morning sun.
One of the pilots returning for a fifth year is Jim Hoidahl, a retired police captain from La Luz, who said he got "hooked" on balloon flying in 1996 as a volunteer crew member at the White Sands Balloon Invitational. Two years later, Hoidahl had his pilot certificate and flew his checkerboard silver-yellow-and-red balloon, "HSSS Too," in his first rally in Deming.
"The name is an acronym for 'Herpetology Simplified Science Shows.' My wife collects reptiles and volunteered for years at the Alamogordo Zoo. And I use the words 'Heavens Sailing Soaring Skimming,' and so it became 'HSSS Too,'" Hoidahl said. "This balloon fills to 90,000 cubic feet, or, like I tell people, it's big enough to fill it with 90,000 basketballs."
Hoidahl lifted off Friday and soared 600 feet in the air before splashing down in the San Juan River and taking off again. He and two members of the media flew a total of 7 miles west before landing on County Road 5478, just east of McGee Park.
"This is a good rally," Hoidahl said as he worked with his chase crew to "milk" the balloon — tying, folding and packing the balloon, basket and burners in a trailer hitched to his SUV. "We got to kiss the (San Juan) river today, but this thing will float."
Hoidahl enjoys the rally, as well as passing along the history of hot-air ballooning. After the flight, he held a ceremony back at the soccer fields for his first-time fliers by reading "The Balloonist's Prayer" and telling the story of brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier. The brothers were paper makers in Annonay, France, who in 1782 made history by sending a duck, rooster and sheep in the air in a hot-air balloon and, later that year, sending the first human aeronauts skyward.
Bloomfield made its own history in 2007 when Bloomfield Balloon Meister Doug Lenberg pitched then-chamber president Bernadette Smith the idea of having a balloon rally. Smith was in the park Friday to see the balloons. The event is her favorite of the year.
"The balloon rally is one of those events where everyone's so nice — happy to see those colors going up and up,'" Smith said. "Everybody in Bloomfield loves it. It brings people together and gives them another reason to be proud of Bloomfield."