Hot air balloons begin to take flight from Cielo Grande during the Old Timers Balloon Rally, Saturday morning. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Bright colors, little kids bundled under layers of coats running around and sounds of excitement paint the open field at Cielo Grande Recreation Area. Cold ears and numb fingers haven’t stopped people from waking up before the sun on Saturday to make it to the 26th annual Old Timers Balloon Rally to see nearly 60 balloons inflate and launch into a pure blue sky.
Locals and out-of-town visitors alike have gathered to witness the beautiful takeoff of hot air balloons. There’s AirRageous, a blue balloon with bold purple, green and yellow blocked stripes. Old Yeller, sponsored by Allied Key, is a statement of bright yellow. Hot Stuff, sponsored by CenturyLink, brought New Mexico culture to the rally with her chili pepper design. And another local favorite, To Be II, was sponsored by McDonald’s and was identifiable by an alien, for whom the balloon is named, hanging from the basket.
As balloons begin to inflate, the field becomes an obstacle course of balloon material, ropes and trucks with trailers trying to move in and out either to unload their gear or run off to chase down the balloons already in flight. Families pick at food or cover their ears to stay warm, and those on various crews walk with a sense of purpose and work faces.
Karen Brown has been involved with ballooning for 26 years and comes to Roswell every year for the Rally. She knows enough of the pilots from her years of involvement to be able to volunteer as a crewmember, and everyone knows she is capable of all the tasks at hand.
“I just love the colors and the noise and the people,” Brown says. “The people in Roswell are so nice, and we always have such a good time.” It’s a gorgeous day, and she says the high northerly wind current will lead the balloons to a variety of safe landing locations.
But not every helper is a seasoned vet. At 9, Preston McCreary is already learning the ropes. His job is to pull on the rope at the top of the balloon.
“I’m pretty nervous about this,” McCreary admits. “(It’s my job) not to let the balloon fly away.”
Adam Silas, who made his way from California to visit a friend, also found himself helping with balloon inflations.
“(My favorite part was) actually getting to work with the balloons and watching (them) go up,” says Silas, who held the ropes of the balloon while it inflated. And without hesitation he says his favorite balloon of the day was Spider Man.
“I saw that balloon and was like, alright, I like that one,” he laughs.
The Spider Man balloon was a big hit and also a favorite of 9-year-old Brooke Flowers, but so was the Pepsi balloon, favorite of Flowers’ 7-year-old brother A.B. Their sisters, Alika and Peyton, however, preferred a rainbow balloon and a grey balloon with red and yellow squares.
Although most of the on-lookers seemed content to stare up at the balloons from the familiarity of the ground, Levi Jackson would rather be up in the air.
“It’s a way of feeling,” Jackson explains. “It’s a weird sense of buoyancy. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.” And experience it he has after his family bought their balloon in November 2011. Now he helps with inflation for the Rally and waits for his next chance to fly.
As the dawn turns into morning just after 8a.m., the air begins to warm up, but it’s still only 41 degrees. And with the increasing wind, not only does it still feel nippy, but the half dozen or so balloons still on the ground probably won’t launch.
Still, the turnout of people and balloonists was a success, many people agreeing that this year was better than last.
“I would definitely come back,” Silas says enthusiastically. “I enjoyed it a lot.”