Great Race: The one time of year in Reno when hot air is really a good thing

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The Reno Great Balloon Race 2017.

Words that only a rookie would say before attending the Reno Great Balloon Race: “So, we’ll see you down there.”

This annual hot air balloon event is so big and sprawling, your chances of actually bumping into somebody are mighty slim.

Trust me on this.

My son Brendan said he and Cami and grandson Brody were going to the balloon launch site before the sun rose for the popular Sunday morning “Dawn Patrol” — scores of hot air balloons glowing fiercely and colorfully as they rise gently into the sky.

My response was, “So, we’ll see you down there.”

The Reno Great Balloon Race 2017.

How would I know there would be more people spread across the open fields than the Los Angeles Chargers can draw to an NFL game? Over the three days, the festival draws as many as 120,000 people. Reno loves the hot air balloons. So, not surprisingly, we didn’t run into them.

We did see some really spectacular balloons.

This free event has been lifting off from a site a few miles north of Reno since 1982. Annually in early September, it draws as many as 100 air balloons.

I can’t begin to explain the race aspect of it, but the visual appeal of majestically rising balloons, combined with stirring music from the sound system, makes a newcomer almost giddy.

There are colorfully decorated traditional balloons, some that are novelties — like the Darth Vader, Liberty Bell, Smokey the Bear, and some Disney characters — and there are the commercial plugs for Remax, Wells Fargo Bank and the like. They all intermingle I don’t know how they don’t all bump into each other but they seem to manage all right.

The only freak-out moment I noticed was the launching of a drone within the balloon airspace. And that is really understandable.

I can only imagine what it must feel like to break free from the din and distraction of Earth and simply float free, far enough way to feel otherworldly if only for an hour or so.

This little bit, called the Balloonist’s Prayer, sums it all up nicely:

The Balloonist’s Prayer
The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well
that God joined you in laughter
and set you gently back into
the loving arms of Mother Earth.

Amen to that!

Coming in for a landing at The Reno Great Balloon Race 2017.


The crew had already started inflating “Tic Toc” from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” before we arrived.

Tic Toc from Beauty and the Beast comes to life.

It is surprising how many people are needed to lay out the silks, untangle lines, stop people from smoking around the silks,  and keep the public from thinking it  is some sort of inflatable jumping castle.


The gaping maw is first filled with forced air, after which the blast furnace pours in the heat.
Tic Toc, time to wake up!
Our paid professional model pokes a fully inflated Tic Toc balloon. He also sports a shirt from a popular well-known dining experience on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Thank you, Truck Stop, for covering all my expenses in return for wearing your shirt at iconic events across the West ….(Kidding … just kidding …)
The Darth Vader balloon rises up over a ridge as we arrived. This is as close to a celebrity ballon as you will see here at the Great Reno Baloon Race.
Part of the Darth Vader balloon act, I suppose. The kids on the ground were being held on suspicion of wearing animal-themed onesies in a public place. On the other hand, they were probably quite comfortable in the pre-dawn hours.
The lady in this balloon was giving endless demonstrations and answering countless questions about the operation of hot air balloons. Bless her.

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