Frederick in Flight Hot Air Balloon Festival
June 29, 2017 / By Katie Hnatik
“A bayoon! A Bayoon! A Bayoon!” I shouted to my mom excitedly as we drove down the road in Anchorage, AK one late spring afternoon when I was only a few years old. In fact, there were several hot air balloons launched from an open field, and my mom pulled the car into a parking lot nearby so we could watch them floating above the trees. They had bright, colorful patterns, and seeing so many of them at once made it seem like something magical was happening, as if my every day world had mixed with some dream land and I was just delighted. I’ve been a fan of hot air balloons ever since, though in Alaska, hot air balloons seemed to fade into the past after the late 80’s. In Colorado however, balloons are still very much a thing of the present.
Chris and I have some big changes coming up, and a trip to Custer State Park in South Dakota that we’re planning for next week for our 10 year anniversary, so with all that’s happening, we’ve been a little tied down close to home. That doesn’t mean we can easily let the weekend go by without a little adventure and the Frederick in Flight Hot Air Balloon Festival http://www.frederickco.gov/239/Frederick-in-Flight gave us some close to home fun.
This festival doesn’t make it onto lists of biggest balloon festivals for the country, but it’s no slouch. With 30 balloons lifting off at daybreak, some vendors on hand offering fresh donuts and coffee throughout the day, and live music and a balloon Glow Party in the evening, it makes for a fun weekend outing.
We Set off from home near Denver at 5:30am and arrived at Centennial Park in Frederick at about 6:15. It’s a modest park next to a neighborhood, with a pond and open field. There’s a small parking lot that fills up quickly, but visitors can park on the shoulder along the roads lining two sides of the park.
Pilots launch from the field within the park and you get an up close view of them as they set up and inflate the balloons. Visitors are welcomed to walk around the balloons, but should be very cautious not to step on any part of a balloon and stay aware of their surroundings as balloons prepare to launch.
We approached from the parking lot to the west, arriving as the fist balloon was half inflated. A yellow balloon with rainbow stripes and hearts, it was a bright and cheery focal point on an overcast and chilly morning. Many more balloons were quickly inflating and as we neared the pond which lies at the edge of the field, their reflections shimmered off the water. This is a good way to start the day.
There were adults who came themselves and families with little ones all around the field. Some were camped out on blankets with with cups of steaming, hot drinks, some with folding chairs, and some walking around, like us, weaving between the balloons.
We watched 30 balloons ascend over a 45 minute stretch, all brightly patterned. A couple were unusually shaped: one seemed to resemble Humpty-Dumpty, with a smiling face, yellow bowtie, checkered shirt, and blue trousers, with dangling hands and feet; another was red and blue spider pig wearing black and white tennis shoes that looked plump and round as it floated away.
We stayed for another 45 minutes as the balloons drifted further away, heading to separate locations to land. I wish the morning had been a bit more sunny. Photos from the launch don’t do it justice with the low light and cloudy sky.
That memory from my childhood, of seeing those balloons and my mom seizing the opportunity to stop and spend some time with me in wonder, marveling in the excitement is such a happy memory for me. It’s one that stays buried much of the time, but seeing a sky filled with balloons brings it up, connects me to my childhood and reminds me that life is full of wonder.
More children’s events were scheduled at the park for the morning, including story time a d a magic show. Having no little ones of our own, we left and spent the day exploring other things, a nearby state park and the Denver museum of Nature and Science, but we came back for the Glow Party.
The evening festivities started at 5:00 with a live band playing some lively classic rock, food vendors, a beer garden, and a bounce house for the kids. The park started filling up around 6:00pm, with families scattered on the lawn with beach blankets and coolers. It was a nice setting, very family friendly, with some people playing frisbee in the open spaces.
A breeze began to pick up around 7:00. The balloon glow itself was to start near sunset. The balloons would be inflated with flames pulsed into them, giving the balloons the appearance of huge lanterns agains the evening sky. Vehicles pulling trailers with balloons started pulling into the field and setting up around 8:00. Several baskets were out and letting off bursts of flame as the balloons were prepared. We were about thirty feet from the nearest one and could still feel the heat from the flames.
By sunset at 8:30, the breeze turned into a more substantial wind. Two balloons were fully inflated while others were being prepped, but the wind was too much and the balloons were quickly deflated and packed back away. The balloon glow was cancelled.
Hot air balloon festivals are not a rain or shine event. If weather conditions aren’t safe, it’s in everyone’s best interest to postpone or cancel. Even without the balloon glow, it was still a fun and festive event. Most balloon festivals last for a full weekend, with a lift off scheduled each morning, Friday through Sunday. If you’re flexible, this gives you multiple chances to watch the launch if weather turns fickle one day. Mornings are also more reliable than evenings in many locations, with milder breeze in the early hours.
There are many balloon festivals throughout the country. A simple search for balloon festivals or rallies in your state may turn out some surprising results. For a list of some of the top events in the U.S. Check out: balloonevents.info
If you have little ones, or if you, like me just love the wonder and joy of watching these beautiful contraptions take flight, a balloon festival is worth the time and an early morning. These events are usually free or low cost and are very family friendly. Some festivals may offer paid balloon rides or some hands on demonstrations and they are usually coupled with food and live entertainment.
If you’re looking for something really spectacular, the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival http://www.balloonfiesta.com, held in October each year, is the largest balloon festival in the world. It takes place over 9 days and over 500 balloons are featured. This is on my to-do list for the near future!
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