Nineteen years and running – well, flying – makes for a pretty special Bluff International Balloon Festival. And it’s not just the fun balloon names like Breezy Rider, Basketcase, and Levity. So what makes this long-standing Bluff tradition stick? Each year, 25 or so pilots travel to Bluff over Martin Luther King Holiday weekend for three days of (fingers crossed) flights. Friday & Saturday are typically held in town with the piece de resistance falling on Sunday with flights over Valley of the Gods. But the balloon festival, like almost everything, started small. In fact, Steve Simpson of Twin Rocks Trading Post remembers the first year of the festival:
“At that celebration we had but one balloon. The pilot, who had been invited to come test the waters, elected to put up in Valley of the Gods. A half dozen Bluff residents, hopeful the flyer would enjoy our town enough to return with his friends, tagged along. As the balloon probed the spires of the valley, hopping from one to another, the Bluff citizenry stood by. In their faces the excitement and anticipation shown brightly. Each was anxious to hear what the balloonist would say when he landed. “Fantastic, beautiful, extraordinary,” he exclaimed as he put down, echoing the emotions we all held for this rugged land. It was then we knew we might have a winner.”Since then, balloons have been popping up all over Bluff on that brisk but typically sunny January weekend. Those Friday-Sunday early mornings start with warm beverages and bodies crowded in the Community Center to learn the weather from the balloon master: will it be a flying day? And because of our great weather, it usually is. Pilots launch from all around town for scenic flights over Bluff. Popular launch spots include Bluff Cemetery hill, the Community Center, the Twin Rocks Parking Lot and the Fairgrounds. Of course, the balloon pilots would be lost without their volunteer crews. Some of our sponsors return year after year to crew; and new friends and family step up every year to pay for their chance to crew and ride in one of the most beautiful balloon festivals in the southwest. Then they become the repeat sponsors because they’re hooked on the fun! Like any community event, it wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers! The Balloon Festival is also big deal to local school children: For years, one special child gets his or her balloon drawing selected for that year’s poster and t-shirt. Inside the community center, their vividly-colored balloons decorate the walls. And most importantly our pilots take the time to go to the school to help the students build and launch paper balloons to learn the science behind the flight. From spectacular sunset glow-ins to southwest recipe cook-offs, to a chili and ice cream social, the International Balloon Festival has seen and hosted it all. Check in soon to see what we can expect for the upcoming Festival January 13-15th, 2017. The wonder of the balloon festival is that our town is surrounded by towering, majestic bluffs and buttes - from our backyard cliffs to the towers of Valley of the Gods - and yet humans have found a peaceful, gentle machine to soar even higher than our geology. The awe at the annual Bluff International Balloon Festival is the celebration of elevation and taking our spectacular views to even loftier heights.