Balloons take flight over Bloomfield

Annual San Juan River Balloon Rally continues this weekend

Brett Berntsen
Hot-air balloons take flight from the soccer fields at the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomfield on Friday during the San Juan River Balloon Rally.

BLOOMFIELD — Residents may wake up this weekend to see fleets of hot-air balloons hovering over their homes — and possibly landing in their yards.

As part of the annual San Juan River Balloon Rally, dozens of hot-air balloons will lift off early Saturday and Sunday morning from the soccer fields at the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomfield. Exactly where they will end up, however, remains to be determined.

"You can try and guess as much as you want, but you never know," said pilot Martin Adie today  while standing in a dusty field after completing the festival’s first round of flights. "We passed all this nice grass, and ended up landing in the dirt."

Lenny Steeves sets up a hot-air balloon on Friday during the San Juan River Balloon Rally in Bloomfield.

But drifting at the mercy of the wind is part of the fun for Adie and the numerous other balloon enthusiasts convening in Bloomfield. The event features synchronized take offs and an evening balloon glow, during which pilots use their propane burners to illuminate the colorful crafts.

Originally from Bristol, England, Adie said he was drawn to the activity when a company he worked for used a hot-air balloon for advertising. After learning to fly, he attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where he met his future wife, Carol Adie. The relationship — and the cloudless Southwest skies — were enough to make him stick around.

"I had a balloon and a woman, what more do you want?" Adie said.

The couple now travels around the region, flying their balloon named "Hopscotch" at various rallies. Adie said it helps to pick up locals for the crew, especially when it comes to navigating back roads when searching for a landing spot.

Brauck Springer, who lives outside Bloomfield, volunteered on the crew today . He said he has attended balloon rallies in the past and enjoys the peacefulness of the ride. While the Albuquerque fiesta offers an international allure, Bloomfield’s event provides just as much fun, he said.

"It's not as big, but sometimes smaller is better," Springer said.

Neil Johnson, a member of the Sun Dagger crew, helps break down his team's balloon on Friday at the San Juan River Balloon Rally in Bloomfield.

Flying over river-side neighborhoods, Adie described some of the challenges presented by piloting in an urban environment. Power lines and trees limit available landing areas, and pets and livestock often get disturbed when balloons pass overhead. There’s also the occasional irate property owner.

Being from England, Adie is prepared for those people. He said the tradition back home is to carry a goodwill bottle of wine or whiskey to calm angry landlords.

While nothing that eventful happened today, Adie carried on a similar tradition. After reciting the traditional "Balloonist’s Prayer" at the end of the flight, Adie and the "Hopscotch" crew shared a toast of champagne to officially mark the start of the festival.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.

Hot-air balloons fly over the San Juan River on Friday west of Bloomfield during the San Juan River Balloon Rally.

If you go

What: San Juan River Balloon Rally

When: Balloons lift off at 6:30 a.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Sunday. Balloon glow will take place at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Boys and Girls Club of Bloomfield soccer fields, 701 S. Second St.

More info: Call the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce at 505-632-0880.