Animas Valley skies were filled with vibrant hot air balloons Saturday morning on the second day of the 2021 Animas Valley Balloon Rally. Balloons launched around 8 a.m., and by 10:30 some still hung in the air above U.S. Highway 550.
Twenty-eight pilots were featured at the three-day festival. The Saturday morning mass ascension took place in a field along Hermosa Meadows Road.
The rally was the last for balloon pilot Ted Maes, who has more than 300 hours of flight time and has piloted hot air balloons for more than 20 years.
Maes said his favorite part of ballooning is the people he meets.
“To me, the people, the smiles and the children (are the best part about ballooning),” Maes said. “I had a kid come up today, he was legally blind and they put him in the basket. And emotionally, that kind of got me.”
Maes, whose balloon is called the “Val’s Mustconetcong” stayed in the field as other balloons drifted away into the skies because he wanted to be there to give children tethered balloon rides. A tethered ride is when the balloon rises 15 to 20 feet into the air while three handlers hold onto ropes it’s attached to.
“I learned about ballooning when I was 2 years old with the same sort of setup where people were tethered,” he said. “And that’s how I got my passion for ballooning. I figured this is an opportunity to take care of a bunch of kids, locally or from out of town, to indoctrinate them to ballooning.”
Maes is from Albuquerque, and he’s attended every balloon fiesta there, he said. Albuquerque is home to the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, which took place in early October.
He said he’s been to every Animas Valley rally organized by Doug Lindberg. Maes said the valley is a fantastic and cool place to fly, but when conditions are “a little bit more perfect” it’s unbelievable.
He said the area has become a bit more challenging to fly in because places to land are more limited because of new housing developments that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
“You don’t want to land on someone’s house, you don’t want to land on someone’s property,” he said. “So as soon as you get over 550, you really have to land pretty quickly unless you fly into Falls Creek, and sometimes that’s an iffy thing because you can get stalled over the ridge.”
Another balloonist, Tim Taylor, said he most enjoys flying at the treeline because it requires precision and control.
“Contour flying, that’s where all the fun is,” Taylor said. “Yesterday, I was flying and came between these two trees, right through the middle, dropped down the other side, came to a house, contoured down the side and landed right there.”
Taylor said his passengers’ eyes were wide but doubled down on the thrill of contour flying.
“Once you’re in the air, you’re in the air,” Taylor said. “All you do is look around. ‘Yep, this is the sky.’”
Taylor’s first experience ballooning was when he married his wife in a balloon 33 years ago. He bought the balloon and has been flying ever since.
“I’ve been telling everyone I’ve got a wife, balloon and a crew chief,” he said.
About 1,000 people attended the balloon glow Friday in downtown Durango, and about 500 people went to the mass ascension Saturday morning.