Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2019

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Up, up and away: Mesquite prepares for annual balloon festival

Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival

Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

A balloon passes over a neighborhood during the Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival Saturday, January 27, 2018, in Mesquite.

Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival

Spectators line a ridge to watch balloons during the Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival Saturday, January 27, 2018, in Mesquite. Launch slideshow »

A Humpty Dumpty-shaped balloon, pilots from across North America, a nighttime light show and thousands of tourists. The Mesquite Balloon Festival is back.

Returning for the eighth straight year, the three-day event Friday through Sunday is helping sell out hotel rooms in Mesquite during an otherwise slow tourist weekend. Balloon rides are not for sale, but the event is free to attend.

“We try to make it fun for both people in Mesquite and our tourists,” said Christian Adderson, spokesman for Mesquite Gaming, the event host. “Our locals have formed very strong friendships with some of the regular festival attendees over the years.”

As many as 40 hot air balloons will float above the city. Flown by pilots from Canada, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Kentucky, Wyoming and California, they’ll stay in the air for over an hour, with two or three volunteers and VIP guests riding in the baskets with them.

Adderson spoke with the Sun about the basics of launching a hot air balloon and what to expect at this year’s event:

How much time goes into getting a hot air balloon off the ground?

Typically about 30 minutes. The pilots will bring out the basket from a trailer and attach the burner to the basket. They’ll lay a tarp down on the area they’re launching from and take out what we call the balloon but what the pilots call the envelope.

They’ll blow a fan to open up the balloon a little bit; once they have a big enough opening, they’ll kind of shoot flames into it to start getting hot air into it. They just don’t want to catch the balloon on fire. While that happens, we have crew and volunteers holding the balloon to make sure it stays stable as it raises with air. You have other volunteers once that balloon is standing upright, so it doesn’t take off.

On average it’s three to four people helping the pilot. It just depends on the pilot and how big the balloon is.

What are the ideal weather conditions for making the event a success?

Cold and no rain or wind. We’ve had to cancel parts of the event in years past when we’ve had rain and strong winds. It’s disappointing to our locals as well as the people who come to visit, but it’s really not safe for the pilots to fly in those conditions. We want to do everything we can to ensure everyone’s safety.

What is the night glow event?

It’s a nightly demonstration on Friday and Saturday that really brings out the colors and beauty of the balloons. It’s most spectators’ favorite part of the festival, too. The pilots keep their balloons grounded and light them with the burners as a DJ plays music. Others just fire the burners without the balloon attached. They call that a candlestick. It really brings a nice environment for people to come and enjoy everything the balloons offer when they come to town.

Is there anything new at this year’s festival?

We wanted to have three morning launches, and we used to do just one night glow on Saturday night, but we also added one on Friday night. We wanted to give spectators and people that are coming to Mesquite to see the festival more opportunities to see the balloons.

So there’s no charge for someone to come watch and volunteer?

Exactly, it’s free to the public to come watch and spectate. If you’re a volunteer, we don’t guarantee you’re going to ride, but our pilots do their best to get them up during the event.

What’s the impact of this event on tourism in Mesquite?

During the morning launches, you look around ... and see people standing everywhere to take it in and watch the launch each morning.

People that may not otherwise come here fall in love with the small-town and laid-back atmosphere that Mesquite has, and we hope it encourages them to come back during a future weekend to get away from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas or elsewhere.