Hot air balloons soar in the San Juan River Balloon Rally
BLOOMFIELD — Albuquerque resident Ian Whitling stood near a corner of the Chamblee Soccer Complex at the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomfield and released a balloon today.
As Whitling watched the balloon drift into the air, he monitored its reaction to the wind direction.
"That's good. That's great. That's what we want to see," he then announced it was safe to unpack his family's hot air balloon, Fruit Fly.
This is the second year Whitling is participating in the San Juan River Balloon Rally, which concludes on Sunday in Bloomfield.
"The area is really pretty. I enjoy being able to get out and fly in new areas. Be able to see new things," he said.
Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce board president Janet Mackey said the event attracts pilots and crews from across the Four Corners.
"The pilots love this rally because it's a small, intimate one compared to Albuquerque," Mackey said.
The rally is marking its 10th year with 18 balloons participating throughout the weekend, she said.
Mackey added a balloon glow will take place at dusk on Saturday at the Chamblee Soccer Complex at the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomfield, 701 S. 2nd St.
There will be activities, vendors and live music starting at 6 p.m.
Among those watching the balloons inflate and prepare for takeoff were members of the Huerfano Senior Center from Huerfano Chapter.
"They never been to an event like this and it's something good for them to see," Lucia Watchman, the center's driver, said.
Vira Harvey, the center's cook, said this was the first time the center transported five seniors to the vent.
"It's only 20 minutes away from our center. They don't have to walk, which is a big plus, and a lot of them have never been here," Harvey said.
"Yee-haw," said one of the seniors when the first balloon took flight.
New to the rally were Phoenix residents Philip and Sally Heinrich, who pilot the balloon, Patience.
Sally Heinrich has been a pilot for 20 years, her interest started after her mother purchased a balloon in 1976.
As Heinrich operated the balloon, which the couple purchased two years ago, near the San Juan River, she noticed another pilot do a splash and dash, a maneuver where the balloon basket dips into a body of water.
"My first time here, I'm erring on the side of caution," Heinrich said.
Pilot Blair Kaufman has been participating in the rally for nine years and flying for 29 years, including flights in Mexico, Germany and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
"It's a gorgeous valley to fly in," Kaufman said of his reason for continuing to fly his balloon, Sun Dagger, in the event.
"You get it in your blood. Some people do it once and that's the end. For me, I just didn't want to quit," Kaufman said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.