The 36th annual Taos Mountain Balloon Rally takes place Friday through Sunday (Oct. 26-28). This is a free public event. The balloons lift off from the field directly across the street from The Taos …
The 36th annual Taos Mountain Balloon Rally takes place Friday through Sunday (Oct. 26-28). This is a free public event. The balloons lift off from the field directly across the street from The Taos News office at the corner of Albright Street and Gusdorf Road, east of the Taos County Courthouse.
Approximately 30 balloons will take flight from the field in two successive waves. The passengers on the flights are paid sponsors or invited guests. This is a rally and not a commercial flying event. If you would like to purchase a private flight for you and your loved ones, please contact one of the commercial balloon companies in Taos.
Or, if you would like to take your chances and see if a pilot invites you to fly as a guest -- the best way is to introduce yourself and offer to help. The ground crew works on carefully stretching out the balloon envelope, ensuring no one walks on it, and assisting the pilot with his commands.
John Paul Mares is this year's balloonmeister. He, like others before him, was chosen by the previous balloonmeister.
"I am really honored because I was born and raised in Taos," he said. Mares still has family here, of the Chavez and Mares family, in the Ranchos area by Camino del Medio.
In this important role, which includes weather-monitoring and safety checks, the Balloonmeister thanks all of the supporters and volunteers who work to put the event together. He also thanks the town of Taos and Taos County for their support.
Mares got into ballooning in 1998 with his best friend; they owned a balloon together. He became a balloon owner in 2006 and a pilot in 2012.
This is his fourth year participating in the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally.
Mares said that he never though as a kid that one day he'd be flying over Taos. Mares said, "Not in a million years. It's really humbling that I can have this experience that a lot of people can't. The rural areas still look pretty much the same. I'm a Taos High School graduate; the high school has changed, the baseball and the football fields."
The Taos Mountain Balloon Rally is considered special by balloonists because of its intimate size. Pilots and community members interact freely.
Folklore has it that some Colorado balloonists were heading back after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and thought Taos would be a great place to fly. They knew some Taos pilots and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally welcomes pilots from all over the country, and they've even had one from France.
"Ours is an invitational, you have to be invited," said Dennis Manzanares, president of the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally Association.
The rally association works nearly year-round to ensure that this three-day event is provided to the community.
This year's board members are Carmel Manzanares, Peter Martinez, Scott McAdams, The Rev. Mike and Sandy Olsen, Ralph and Marcie Sweet, Teresa Tomashot and David Weaver.
"After the rally we take a week off, then have a celebration and debriefing, and then we go into the logistics of planning next year's," Dennis Manzanares said.
Committed volunteers who are willing to work throughout the year (not just on the rally weekend) are greatly needed. There are so many aspects to the balloon rally that need attention, such as the field committee, vendors, parade, fundraising and raffle, sponsorships, lodging, pilots and donations.
"Mornings are fun because it's the sense of 'Are they going to get off the ground?' And then once they're up, it's 'Whoa. Where are they going?'" Manzanares said.
A balloon cannot be steered; they can only go up and down. Using the propane-fueled burner, pilots fire hot air into the balloon envelope and let it cool as needed. In Taos, the balloonists can fly south, east, west, but not north onto Taos Pueblo land. Taos Pueblo is a sovereign nation with its own controlled airspace.
The bold, vivid colors of the balloons and the magical spectacle of flight draws a large crowd of community members and visitors each year.
What to expect
Friday morning (Oct. 26) at sometime after 7 a.m., the balloonmeister and pilots will launch a "pieball," a small disposable bag filled with hot air. They will watch what happens as it rises into the sky to determine wind speed and direction. If all appears relatively calm, the mini ascension will go forward. This ritual will be repeated the following two mornings of the event.
Following the mini-ascension, pilots offer tethered rides to local students. At 5 p.m., a Meet & Greet party will be held at the newly renovated Hotel Don Fernando de Taos, 1005 Paseo del Pueblo Sur. This is where pilots and sponsors register, too.
Raffle tickets and balloon merchandise will be on sale starting Friday evening and concluding on Saturday evening. This year's featured artist is award-winning local artist Charles Collins, who has donated a painting.
Every year, TMBRA awards high school seniors with scholarships funded by the proceeds from the raffle and merchandise sales. Last year they funded two scholarships.
"We want to thank the Hotel Don Fernando and all the venues who hosted the pilot reception in the past, such as Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, KTAO-FM 101.9 and the Sagebrush Inn. We also want to thank all of the lodging who donate rooms to the pilot. Without our local hotels, motels and B&Bs, we probably couldn't do it," Manzanares said.
Saturday (Oct. 27) the mass ascension begins in the rally - roughly at 7:45 a.m. Based on the experience of previous cold mornings, it's suggested that you dress warmly and in layers as the day warms up. Parking is available on the street. Please follow the directions of volunteer staff for traffic control and parking. Vendor booths will be set up on the field and will have various items for sale.
Please keep your eyes on the road while driving. Excited children are everywhere.
The Balloon Rally Parade begins at 1 p.m., starting at the field, traveling along Paseo del Pueblo Norte y Sur and ending in Kit Carson Park. Parade slots are still open for local dance, cheer and music groups. The theme, as always, is "Halloween."
Taos Mountain Balloon Rally has a balloon glow event that occurs at dusk on the field. The name of the glow is "Balloonmenshine," which is a playful reference to Taos Society of Artists founder Ernest L. Blumenschein, whose historic home and museum is open to guests on Ledoux Street.
Sunday (Oct. 28) has another morning mass ascension and closing ceremonies are at 11:30 a.m.
Please note: all scheduled events are weather permitting. Please leave your pets at home. Dogs are not permitted on the field.
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