24th Annual Bluff Balloon Festival arrives
The 24th annual Bluff Balloon Festival floats in over the weekend along the rock cliffs of Bluff and the banks of the San Juan River.
An expected 25 hot air balloons are slated to take to the skies in San Juan County this weekend at the event organized by the Business Owners of Bluff.
The annual balloon festival occurs each Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in Bluff, although the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered previous years the festival is back for the second consecutive year. This year's festivities run Friday through Sunday with the public invited to watch the balloons and take part in a variety of activities.
Speaking to Red Rock radio event organizer Marcia Hadenfeldt explained that they’ve been working to get the event ready since late summer of 2022, all leading up to this weekend events.
Flights are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Hadenfeldt explained that each morning of the event balloon pilots will meet at the Bluff Community Center for a pilot’s briefing to determine if the weather conditions are safe enough for flight.
“If all goes well with the weather report then they scatter amongst all the open spaces in town and they take off right here in Bluff. They fly whichever direction the wind takes them. When you’re standing near the balloons getting ready to take off that’s how you discover which way they’re going to go. You can follow, ride along in your car watching them or just find a nice vantage point and watch them go over.”
Most of the pilots are from the Four Corners region and many fly in the famous Albuquerque balloon festival. Hadenfeldt says most pilots come year after year.
“Most of our pilots are very accommodating to people watching and looking and being up close and personal to see how a balloon works as well.”
Balloon rides are Friday and Saturday morning in Bluff at 7:30 am and on Sunday morning 25 miles west in the Valley of the Gods.
Non-balloon festivities kick off Friday evening with a Navajo Taco supper from 5 to 7 p.m. The dinner will be held at the community center fire mesa kitchen and will benefit the Bluff Elementary School.
Hot air balloons will again fly over Bluff on Saturday morning. Following the flight will be a full day of activities starting with a breakfast at Twin Rocks Cafe from eight to noon. Profits from the breakfast will be donated to the Bluff Animal Rescue Committee.
Free events on Saturday include the art fair at the community center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with entertainment at the Bluff Fort at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Saturday evening’s event is titled An Evening of Fire and Ice from 4 to 7 p.m. Located at the community center, the evening glow-in will see several balloons blown up at dusk.
Hadenfeldt explained the event shows off the balloons as they remain tethered floating above the ground.
“The glow-in is spectacular. It’s just become dark and they light up. They blow their torches into their envelopes in a big circle. They just light up the night.”
The evening of fire and ice will also include an ice cream and chili social as well as live music from local DJ Neon Nativez.
Sunday morning a caravan of balloonists will leave the Bluff community center at 7 a.m. to drive south for flights in the Valley of the Gods to conclude the festival.
While viewing the balloons and participating in the on-the-ground events are open to the public, riding in a balloon is not. To fly in a balloon, you must be a festival sponsor. Those sponsorships have sold out.
“We have a wonderful array of 25 sponsors ranging from local neighbors to corporations who support us. We are very grateful to all of them because this wouldn’t happen without their financial support.”
While flights are scheduled each morning they may be pulled due to weather conditions. Each morning a pilot briefing is held to advise pilots on weather conditions for the day.
If weather conditions are poor, a decision may be made at the briefing to determine whether or not balloons will fly that morning.