Balloons thrill spectators, train passengers

Color fills air at mass ascension

Skip and Debbie Howes of Colorado Springs and their crew prepare for liftoff at Saturday’s Snowdown Balloon Rally & Mass Ascension. There were 22 hot-air balloons that rose from the floor of the Animas Valley near Animas Valley Elementary School. Enlargephoto

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Skip and Debbie Howes of Colorado Springs and their crew prepare for liftoff at Saturday’s Snowdown Balloon Rally & Mass Ascension. There were 22 hot-air balloons that rose from the floor of the Animas Valley near Animas Valley Elementary School.

A few hundred spectators, including passengers of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, watched Saturday as almost two dozen hot-air balloons launched from Red Rock Ranch in Animas Valley.

The mass ascension was part of the five-day Snowdown 2013 celebration, better known by the area’s sober population as Durango’s annual bacchanal.

The balloons will launch again at around 8 a.m. today.

“The conditions are right for this,” said one area resident who didn’t want to be identified.

In fact, the sky was clear and the breezes right for the launch. The smoke from the D&SNG locomotive smokestack let pilots know which way the light breezes were blowing. The train had stopped to allow passengers to watch the ascension.

Jessica and Adrian Tillery of Durango brought their daughter, 2-year-old Josephine, to watch the balloon rally from atop her father’s shoulders.

It was Josephine’s second mass ascension, having been to the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta two years ago when she would have appreciated the event a little less.

The balloon envelope with snow-capped peaks was one of Josephine’s favorite balloons, until another colorful balloon was pointed out to her.

Still, the Tillerys were glad to be there because the balloon event was canceled the last two years.

“I’m glad they got to do it,” Jessica Tillery said.

This year’s event is sponsored by Tequila Rose and Tarantula Tequila. The lead balloon, operated by OTR Hot Air Balloon Adventures, was piloted by event co-coordinator Doug Lenberg, a former Durango resident.

“Everything was absolutely beautiful,” Lenberg said after the event. “It was probably the best mass ascension we’ve had because we launched in front of the train people.”

He said onlookers took pictures of the train as the train passengers took pictures of the balloons and spectators in the field.

Lenberg, who owns Real Green Building Systems in Farmington, said 22 balloons actually went up Saturday.

He also thanked all of the area donors, including hotels that provided rooms for three nights to the pilots, Selph’s Propane in Pagosa Springs for the heating fuel for the balloons and Ken & Sue’s restaurant for donating meals for the pilots.

One of the most unusual balloons was Keshane Gallup, from Gallup, N.M., which depicted what appeared to be a clown kachina that looked somewhat like a cross between Kokopelli and a South Park character.

Another balloon depicted gigantic tulips, and many of the envelopes were patchworks of bright or muted colors in various combinations and hues.

Lenberg said the next big event in the Four Corners will be the San Juan River Balloon Rally in Bloomfield, N.M., on Father’s Day weekend. Mancos will hold its balloon festival in September.

Lenberg said he hopes it might be possible to have another rally in Durango in the spring or fall.

rgalin@durangoherald.com

Some visitors take in the view of the Animas Valley and snap photographs from the air at the Snowdown Balloon Rally & Mass Ascension. Enlargephoto

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Some visitors take in the view of the Animas Valley and snap photographs from the air at the Snowdown Balloon Rally & Mass Ascension.