Under cloudy skies, 19 hot air balloons lifted off Friday from Parque de Vida for the 16th annual Cortez Rendezvous Hot Air Balloon Rally.
Light rain arrived in the area about 7:30 a.m. Friday and dampened flight times, said pilot Brian Hill, of the Basket Case crew from Paige, Arizona, but “even a short flight is a good flight.”
“We could see virga (streaks of rain that evaporate before reaching the ground) in the near distance, so we found a landing spot at Southern Bluffs,” he said.
Passenger Tharimae Jones, of Onward!, the balloon’s sponsor, enjoyed her first hot air balloon ride.
“It is so quiet floating through the air, and from that perspective you can see what a pretty town Cortez is,” she said. “We saw deer and fawns, and the landing was gentle.”
Setting up the balloons in the park was a flurry of colorful activity, and attracted families with excited kids and photographers.
Pilot Neida Courtney Bueno, of Albuquerque, and her “Neida Life” crew were filling their balloon, but canceled the flight because of rain.
“Rain causes damage to balloons,” she said. “The heat from the burner creates steam that can delaminate the nylon material.”
A veteran pilot, Bueno has been flying hot air balloons since 1972, and was twice the balloon meister for the Albuquerque Balloon International Fiesta in Albuquerque, which features 600 balloons.
“The Cortez festival is more relaxing, less hectic,” she said.
Her son Adrian explained the setup process. First, the balloon is rolled out, and everyone must wear gloves. The basket is attached, and a fan blows in ambient air. Then the burner is triggered, heating up the air, which sets the balloon upright and lifts it into the air.
“It holds 77,000 cubic feet of air and has eight panels,” he said. “Ours is a smaller balloon, but that makes it more maneuverable. You can’t steer a balloon and are at the mercy of the winds. If winds are above 8 mph, it is not safe to fly.”
Some balloons have turning vents that can be opened or closed, but rather than steering they work to spin the balloon, he said. When the air is cooler, a hot air balloon is easier to control because it rises and falls more efficiently when the burner is triggered on and off.
The portion of the balloon that holds air, called the envelope, is made of ripstop nylon with a square fiber weave. The upper portion is Hyperlast nylon, made to withstand the heat of the burner.
Cookie See, festival organizer and balloon meister, said pilots came from Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado to fly for the event.
“Cortez is small-town flying at its best,” she said. “The community is very welcoming. We love this park for takeoff, and the scenery on the flights is excellent. It is a beautiful place to fly.”
The festival obtains local sponsors for each balloon and partners with the Cortez Special Olympics group, which provides breakfast for pilots and crew as part of a fundraiser.
“When they landed in my yard in 2010, they learned who we were and adopted us into their family,” said Trish Peters, of the Special Olympics group. “We’re grateful for their generosity, and for the amazing balloon rides.”
The festival continues through Sunday, and the weather forecast shows good flying conditions.