Last weekend was the 13th Annual Bluff International Balloon Festival in Bluff, UT. My husband and I went to the Balloon Festival last year and had heard that if you get there early enough there’s a possibility that you might get to volunteer as part of the crew and get to go up in one of the balloons. Well, it didn’t happen for us last year, but we still enjoyed walking around and watching all the balloons get ready and go up, and we left even more determined to get on one of the volunteer crews the next year!
The Balloon Festival runs Friday-Sunday and each morning all the pilots meet in the Bluff Community Center at about 7am and go over the weather and announcements.
Afterward, they find out which pilots still need crew members and then ask for volunteers. This year the organizers were able to find a pilot who was willing to let us go up with him! I was very excited but a little nervous too- I have a fear of flying (in planes) that’s been getting worse and worse over time, so I was worried that we were going to get up in the air and I was going to realize that I also had a fear of flying in hot air balloons! But luckily that didn’t happen- it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had- I really loved it!
We went outside with the pilot and everyone was standing in the parking lot looking up at a balloon (a regular balloon, not a hot air balloon) that had been filled with helium and let go. The pilot explained to us that they were watching to see where the different air currents were. If you keep watching the balloon as it goes up, it will move in one direction for a while, then it will suddenly shift and move in another direction. This gives the pilots an idea of what the air currents are doing and then they can decide where they want to take off from.
Once the pilots had seen what they wanted to see, we started filling up the balloon. We unrolled the balloon and got out a huge fan and started filling it up. My husband and I had the job of holding the bottom of the balloon open so the air could blow into it.
I was amazed how fast this process was. Once it was partially inflated the pilot turned on the burner and began to heat the air up. It didn’t take long for the balloon, which had been laying on the ground, to float up into the air and then we were ready to go!
The pilot had my husband and I get in the basket with him, along with his brother who is also a pilot, and then, almost before I knew what was happening, we were in the air!
It was a much different feeling than I was expecting. Actually, I really couldn’t feel anything. I think if I had closed my eyes I probably wouldn’t have even known we were moving. It was an absolutely beautiful day for our first balloon ride! It was clear and sunny and not too cold. You could see the Abajo (Blue) Mountains to the north, Shiprock and the Sleeping Ute to the east, and Monument Valley to the south.
I’m not sure how long we were up in the air, I’d say it was at least an hour or and hour and a half, but it flew by! When it was time to land, the pilot was trying to get us somewhere close to a road so that we wouldn’t have to haul things too far to load into the chase vehicle.
He did a great job and landed us just between a fence and the road so the chase vehicle was able to pull right up beside us. It took a while to deflate the balloon and pack everything up, but you could tell that they have a very good system- everyone seemed to have a job.
When we were all packed up and back in town, we thanked them and said our goodbyes, then headed into the Community Center to check out the Art Festival. The building was filled with vendors selling all different types of artwork, jewelry, and pottery. There was even a booth selling cards with pictures of the balloons taken that morning.
By the time we were done at the Art Festival, we were ready for lunch. I had already had our lunch spot picked out for weeks prior to the Balloon Festival- Navajo Pizza at the Twin Rocks Cafe! Before we moved to Monticello, when we were still just coming down from Montana to raft on the San Juan River, I already had a serious obsession with the Navajo Pizza at Twin Rocks- it is SO GOOD!
Right beside the restaurant is the Twin Rocks Trading Post. It’s a really nice trading post with tons of jewelry, Navajo Rugs, baskets, and other artwork.
The Bluff International Balloon Festival is held in mid- January every year in Bluff, UT. Each year the dates and information are posted on Bluff’s website. If you are planning on attending the Balloon Festival, be sure to make reservations well in advance- all the lodging properties in town fill up that weekend.
Distance from Bluff to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Bluff: 0 miles/0 km
- Mexican Hat: 26 miles/42 km
- Blanding: 26 miles/ 42 km
- Monticello: 48 miles/77 km
- Monument Valley: 51 miles/82 km
- La Sal: 90 miles/ 145 km