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San Juan River Balloon Rally uplifts the Bloomfield community

Car show, vendors and balloon glow held Saturday night
The 18th annual San Juan River Balloon Rally brings out a large crowd to the balloon glow on Saturday evening. David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record

The 18th annual San Juan River Balloon Rally featured a balloon glow Saturday evening with 12 balloons, a car show, DJ and 32 vendors of food, crafts, T-shirts and more.

About 300 people attended the event, held 5:30 p.m. to dusk at the Chamblee Soccer Complex in Bloomfield.

Janet Mackey, Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce vice president, said the number of balloons this year is the ideal amount. There were 22 balloons for the ascension and 12 for the balloon glow.

“It is the perfect amount for this field to get them off because we just do one mass ascension,” Mackey said.

She said they had one pilot from Nevada, two from Colorado, two from Arizona and one from Texas. The others were from New Mexico.

Mackey said all but the Alien balloon from Edgewood, New Mexico, ascended Saturday morning.

She said the Smokey Bear balloon was tethered and rose a few feet to give children a balloon experience. A crew of 15, composed of members of the U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, San Juan County Fire and Rescue and the Bloomfield Fire Department, manned the ropes for about two hours of free rides.

From left: Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce tourism specialist Amy Garcia, City Manager George Duncan, Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce Vice President Janet Mackey and Treasurer Karina Camacho attend the San Juan River Balloon Rally. (David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record)

Chamber of Commerce Treasurer Karina Camacho said their Citizens Bank-sponsored balloon landed at Square B Ranch about 10:30 a.m.

“This is more of a tourism event,” Mackey said. “We have brought people in from all over as you can tell, so it’s really doubled the size of Bloomfield this weekend.”

“We appreciate everybody turning out,” said City Manager George Duncan. “We appreciate all the balloonists coming in and flying for us.”

Eye-catching classic cars and trucks
The San Juan River Balloon Rally had vehicles on display at the balloon glow on Saturday evening in Bloomfield. David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record

Alex Mohler was showing a 1973 Bronco, which belongs to her aunt and uncle. Her dad, John Mohler, helped restore the classic vehicle.

“He does a little bit of everything. He'll do body work. And he does restorative work as well as mechanic work,” Alex Mohler said.

John Mohler restored the front end of a 2014 Ford Mustang GT, with a 460 horsepower 5.0 Coyote engine, after they hit an animal on a return trip from Durango.

“The best part … is bringing back ones that were rusted (and) should have been in a junkyard, weld them back together and make anything look nicer,” John Mohler said.

From left: John Mohler, and Alex Mohler and her partner Julian Moore attend the car show at the San Juan River Balloon Rally. They make car shows a family event. David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record

Daniel Gonzaoez, who recently moved to Farmington from Austin, Texas, showed his all-original 1956 Buick Special, with a 322 Nailhead engine. He said the motor had to be rebuilt because the car sat for more than 30 years before he bought it a couple of years ago.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I like the balloons – brought my daughter here to check them out.”

Kristine Stoffel served as crew chief for the seven-member Alien balloon team. The typical maximum flight altitude is 1,000 feet. Flying higher than that is dangerous because of air traffic, and all flights must be reported to air traffic control, she said.

Stoffel said they have three 30-gallon-propane tanks onboard, supplied by Country Gas in Farmington. They use fans to fill the balloon with cold air, then turn on the propane burners to slowly warm the air.

The hot air balloon consists of three parts: envelope, basket and burner system. It's a fairly simple piece of equipment, and for what it delivers, relatively inexpensive when compared to other aircraft, according to planoballoonfestorg.

When it’s time to land, hot air is released from the balloon.

“There is a red line there. Nobody but the pilot touches that red line,” Stoffel said.

A deflation port line, usually called the rip line and colored red, extends from the top to the basket and is pulled by the pilot upon landing to effect an instantaneous deflation of the envelope. Pull on the line, and the hook-and-loop closure comes open, and the hot air rushes out, according to planoballoonfest.org.

Steve Grabiel, pilot of the Alien balloon who’s been piloting for about three years, was invited to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this year for the first time.

“It’s exhilarating,” Grabiel said when asked what ballooning does for him.

Grabiel explained in a phone call on Wednesday what happened as they prepared for Saturday’s mass ascension.

“Saturday morning I inflated and the balloon started to lift back and forth, and I applied some heat to stabilize it, and I ended up burning out a small hole in the envelope that ... made it not airworthy,” Grabiel said.

The hole was not big enough to hamper them from participating in the balloon glow, he said.

Grabiel described the standard landing procedure, which is known as a standup landing.

“You just come down and touch the ground and then everything's fine – that’s typically three to six minutes,” he said.

He instructs the passengers to when going into a landing to turn and face him, with their back toward the path of flight, to crouch down with knees partially bent.

“I'll count down so that they're not surprised at the landing, I’ll count until we touch,” Grabiel said, adding that they are told to stay in the basket because if someone gets out the balloon will relaunch.

“And when I come in to land, I pull the red vent line to allow it to stabilize on the ground,” he said.

The vent line (rip line) is attached to the parachute at the top of the balloon, so when pulled hot air is released from the balloon, he explained.

He said hot air is always released in order to land. In a high wind landing, called a rip-out, the pilot pulls the vent line completely out and the balloon will deflate and the basket will naturally drag a certain distance.

Grabiel confirmed that there is a lot to learn when piloting a balloon.

“But remember, there's only two things we have control of --- up and down. Up when adding hot air to the balloon, and down by venting the hot air out. And then we're at the whims of the wind.

Anita Burrito, owned by Anita Gonzales, served up fresh Mexican fare, including Navajo tacos, fry bread and Frito pie at the event.

Gonzales said they returned six months ago after setting up Mondays and Tuesdays in front of the Sky Ute Casino Resort, in Ignacio. She and her husband, Christopher Thompson, have operated the food trailer for three years.

Christopher Thompson and Anita Gonzales pose in front of their food trailer. David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record

“This is a real nice, man, a good thing for the families. … I like this,” Thompson said.

“She got tired of working all the time. I said, ‘Well, let's make something out of nothing,’” and they bought a trailer, stripped it down and turned it into a mobile food business.

The San Juan River Balloon Rally balloon glow captivates the crowd on Saturday evening. David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record

Bloomfield City Manager George Duncan started the glow about 8:30 p.m.

He counted down, “Five, four, three, two, one,” as 12 balloons lit up the night skies with a flicker burn, followed by a full burn.

The colors engaged the crowd for about 15 minutes.

George Duncan, Bloomfield city manager, hosts the balloon glow on Saturday during the San Juan River Balloon Fest. David Edward Albright/Tri-City Record