Slowly, majestically they rise into the air. Ever higher and higher until they are just a colorful dot in the blue high above. What is this lure of the “Wild Blue Yonder” that calls to all? Escaping the restraints of the earth below to glide above and look down on the majesty and beauty below?
The hot air balloon hobby draws wanderers from all over the land. Many of these gathered in Mesquite last weekend for the annual Mesquite Balloon Festival hosted by the Casablanca Resort. Balloonists came from California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Kentucky and Canada to share the comradeship and thrill.
Gayle McCoy, the first Mesquite festival Balloon Meister (or supervisor of the event), explained that, many years ago, a group had attended the Elko County Visitor Center get together. In the discussion, they had decided that Mesquite was just right for a Balloon Festival.
“Seven years later the event is still going great with 33 balloons coming this year,” said Christian Adderson, Corporate Sales Manager for the Casablanca.
“The weather is cooperating. There are morning and night balloon events, special entertainment and a popular champagne tasting party.”
Bryan Hill pilot of the balloon “Basket Case” from Page, Arizona, is the current Balloon Meister at the Mesquite event. The Balloon Meister runs the logistics and coordinates the event with the FAA, the Power Company and the Weather Bureau. He holds a Pilot’s Meeting reporting on all the findings, releases the Pilot Balloon to verify wind velocity and direction and gives the OK to start getting the balloons ready for lift off.
There are many volunteers that have come to help get those balloons in the air. The burner has been unloaded and tested. Then the 350 pound basket is set up on the ground. The crew unloads and spreads out the 260 pounds of tarp to protect the balloon (or envelope) that is laid upon it. All the cords are spread out and kept straight and at the correct angle then hooked to the basket which has the burner attached.
The burner, when turned on, could cook a steak medium rare in 1 second!
The volunteers hold the lines as the balloon is slowly filled with cold air. Then the burner is turned on. The balloon slowly begins to rise.
Who are these folks that get up before the crack of dawn to participate in this launch?
Keith Evans, the pilot of “Smiley’s Dream” from Santaquin, Utah, has been a balloonist for 22 years. He said that it is a family-oriented sport for him and his family. His wife Maryann is his crew chief.
The high-flying events occur only in the early morning, when the winds are likely to be most calm. That left much of the rest of the day for festival-goers to enjoy the other events that were offered at the Casablanca.
On Saturday afternoon, the resort held a special Champagne tasting in the Skydome Lounge. This gave everyone a chance to get together, talk about the fun of the day and enjoy socializing.
Every evening of the festival was a special spectator treat. Just after dark, the crews would set up their balloons in the southwest parking lot of the Casablanca. While staying anchored to the ground, the burners were lit and the standing balloons were set alight.
A large crowd gathered to mingle amongst the balloons and speak to the crews about what made them work. Kids even got a chance to climb inside the baskets and sometimes to pull the lever to set the burner alight.
Linda and Charlie Firestone had come from Las Vegas to enjoy the festival. They stayed overnight to see the Balloon Glow and the other entertainment that was going on. They summed up the general feeling in the area: “Fabulous!”