Fresh Air: The Beauty of Balloons

Balloons in Old Town Fort Collins (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Tim Van Schmidt

Some recent news photos of the annual International Balloon Fiesta held in Albuquerque, New Mexico recently took me back to one crisp morning when I attended a mass ascension there and fell in love with hot-air balloons.

It was so early. It was pretty chilly. The sun was just rising and then it happened — scores of colorful spheres started growing from the ground. As they each filled, they each let go of the earth until the sky was a playground of colors and shapes.

New Mexico Balloon Fiesta sunrise ascension (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Since then, whenever I see a balloon in the sky, I admire its simplicity and grace, in its own space literally far above the maddening everyday world. Their designs are often colorful and imaginative — and they don’t have to stop for red lights.

I saw them in the sky in Utah. Can you imagine how great it would be to see Moab’s stark beauty from up there? A hot-air balloon landed in the front yard of my parents’ desert hillside house in Tucson, Arizona one morning.

Ballooning in Moab (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

The Front Range must be a great place to balloon because I seem to see them a lot here. I’ve seen them from my front yard near the Fort Collins foothills. I’ve seen them from the highway all up and down I-25. I’ve even seen them in Old Town Square one night, for an evening event that was called “Balloon Glow”.

Most recently I saw them in the early morning skies in Windsor over the Labor Day weekend.

For me, part of my romance with balloons probably comes from the movies. An exciting early childhood memory is seeing the adventure movie “Five Weeks in a Balloon”.

NOCO ballooning (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

What about the end sequence of “The Wizard of Oz” when The Wizard floats away in a big carnival balloon? In “Waterworld”, the ragged crew escapes in a balloon. And recently, ballooning and its scientific possibilities inspired an action movie titled “The Aeronauts”.

It also didn’t hurt that the Fifth Dimension’s 1967 pop music hit “Up, Up and Away” was so tuneful.

The history of hot-air ballooning goes way back. The ancient Chinese used “sky lanterns” for military communication. A Jesuit priest demonstrated the possibilities of “air vessels” to nobility in 1709.

Fire in the hole (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

The first flights with humans: 1783 in France, tethered and then un-tethered. The French were also the first to use balloons for observation in war in 1794.

“Modern” hot-air balloons — with a heat source onboard — were being developed in the 1950s and successfully flown in 1960.

1991: longest flight — from Japan to Canada — with a 245 mph ground speed. 1999: first nonstop trip around the world. Record for the highest flight: 68,986 feet in India in 2005.

While I really admire the beauty of balloons, I’ve never been up in one. So I did a search for NOCO hot-air balloon rides — just in case I wanted to change my land-loving ways.

Here are some results:

In Fort Collins, Windtracker Balloon Adventures has stopped passenger flights for the year and will not resume them until May 2022, according to pilot Graham Luckett. I might be able to work up to that. That site is windtrackerballoons.com.

However, to get to it sooner, Loveland Flights of Fancy pilot Pamela Fancy reports she can fly any time of year, weather permitting. She does sunrise events, only one flight a day, and can carry 4 passengers. Of course, there’s a champagne toast and flight certificates afterwards. For more info and reservations, visit flightsoffancyllc.com.

Pilot C Debbi Waltman of No Worries!! Ballooning in Windsor is booked all the way through October but may have flights available in November, depending on weather conditions.

No Worries!! books flights in their “regular” round balloon, and also offers a unique creation called “Pondemonium”, a family-oriented balloon featuring “an array of fishes, ducks and other pond creatures” for special occasions. Contact them at noworriesballoon.com.

I’m not sure when I’ll ever really step into one of those baskets and take off in someone’s beautiful balloon, but I sure love to watch them float by — like a breath of fresh air.

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

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