But the surprise of Mesa Verde was only a prelude to even more exciting news: Dave Lopushinsky and Leslie Manion, ballooning friends from British Columbia, posted on Facebook that they were attending a balloon fiesta in nearby Mancos and that our Alaskan friends Duane and Jean Mathes, whom we had met at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in 2015 were also attending the festival with them!
Never ones to turn down an offer to crew on a hot air balloon, we joined them Saturday morning to help launch Dave and Leslie's balloon, "Pi." When we arrived at the park, it was dark, but as we started laying out the balloon envelope, dawn crept over the park, and Kathy paused to enjoy the rosy colors:
We soon turned to our labors in inflating the balloon. One of our tasks was to hold open the throat of the balloon while Leslie directed a fan to begin the inflation with cold air. David and Jean really seem to be enjoying this part of the job!
At our pilot's and crew chief's signals, the balloon rose away, and we had a chance to see Pi in all its glory:
While Dave Lopushinsky piloted Pi to a graceful landing on a nearby farm, Leslie, Duane and Jean drove the rest of us as chase crew to reach the balloon and help secure it. Young people from nearby homes rushed over to help, and with their assistance, Dave and Leslie's pilot friend Dawnna had the balloon envelope in its bag and well under control:
Many balloon pilots have a tradition of hosting a tailgate party back at the launch field, to honor their passengers and crew. Here, Leslie (on the left) and Marilyn, Dawnna's crew chief (on the right) show how a celebration spread should be presented:
On this Saturday, our honored guests were Ella and Henry, who took their first balloon ride with Dave and Pi. Henry had surprised Ella with the balloon ride as a birthday present, and you can see how pleased she was at his thoughtfulness:
Sunday was the second day of balloon flights at the Mancos festival, and Pi launched early. Further, the festival balloons - perhaps 11 or 12 of them - were all able to launch within seconds of each other, so we had the pleasure and excitement of seeing them all rise into the morning sky at the same time:
Kathy snapped this close-up photo of Pi with compatriots in the background:
Transported by the same gentle winds, Pi and its fellow balloons drifted lazily over the farmlands south of Mancos, headed toward successful landings:
Here is a view of Pi as it drifted down past the trees toward its resting place on a farm field, the morning sun lighting up its transluscent envelope from behind:
On this Sunday morning, Charles and Tom, two brothers, were Pi's honored guests. Back at the traditional tailgate party, pilot Dave, on the right, and crew chief Leslie, to the left just behind Chuck, toasted their guests. Dawnna added her huzzah in the background:
Having had two successful days of flights, all of the festival participants returned to the city park in Mancos at sunset to celebrate with an evening glow. In a glow, the hot air balloons inflate until they are upright in the sky, but they do not rise up off the ground. Festival visitors are treated to the sounds of many dragons breathing fire as the pilots fired their burners to light up and heat the air inside their balloons to keep them afloat.
Here, Pi gives us its warm, glowy, evening greeting, complete with fire from the burners reflecting light off the pilot and crew:
All in all, it was a successful and joyous weekend celebration. We drove back to our campground in Cortez, tired but grateful that we had had a chance to join our good friends for a weekend of work and celebration. Our next stop is Albuquerque and its Balloon Fiesta. While Albuquerque's event is much larger, we'll remember the Mancos festival for its intimate, personal, friendly atmosphere.