Pilots returning to Cortez for balloon rally

City has a reputation for welcoming participants

A hot-air balloon prepares to take off during a recent Cortez Hot Air Balloon Rally in Parque de Vida. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

A hot-air balloon prepares to take off during a recent Cortez Hot Air Balloon Rally in Parque de Vida.

Balloons will again fill the air over Cortez on Aug. 1-3 during the 10th Annual Cortez Hot Air Balloon Rally.

Most of the 17 pilots of years past will be returning, and organizer Cookie See is hoping volunteers – experienced and first-timers – will come out to get the balloons off the ground and chase them once they are airborne.

For new volunteer crew members, it is a visual overload, said longtime pilot Doug Lenberg.

“It’s going to overwhelm you, the first time you’re there,” he said.

Lenberg started as a crew member and helped get the original flying pink piggy bank in Albuquerque off the ground. For a while, he had no intention of piloting and preferred the camaraderie of being with the crews.

Crew members are needed to help hold the lines of the balloons, and the throat of the balloon as it is inflated. Once in the air, balloons are at the mercy of the winds.

“It’s like putting yourself in the hands of the angels,” Lenberg said. Despite the lack of direct control on the destination, balloon pilots are all FAA-certified, and all the pilots are extremely conservative and experienced, he said.

Crew members can ride in chase trucks or use their own vehicle to follow the balloons to their destination to pick up pilots and passengers, See said.

Over the years, Cortez has gained a reputation among pilots for its supportive community, which welcomes pilots with warmth, Lenberg said.

Colleen Johnson, one of many returning pilots, has been drawn back to the event for five years and made lifelong friends with a family of seven children who help crew her balloon.

“I believe the town of Cortez is the best small town flying in the country,” See said. To her point, she has a waiting list of pilots hoping to come to event.

Balloons will be leaving from Parque De Vida at 6:30 a.m. all three days of the festival. Two balloons will be leaving from the KOA Kampground at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 1. Volunteers are needed at both places and should wear enclosed shoes, gloves and long pants to the event.

If you would like to have a balloon land in your yard, lay out a white sheet and depending on the wind you might have company.

For information, call Cookie See 505-977-2679.