Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic

Well, the best laid plans…I have been busily working with local business mom’s and arranging interviews and mini photo sessions, but as mom’s, we know that our kids come first and sometimes they get sick and our plans change! So, this Tuesday I will feature another great local event that I went to for the first time this past weekend. Next Tuesday we will be back to our business mom summer spotlight with Kat Hollowell from Santa Rosa Macaroni Kid and Designs By Kat!


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In the two and a half years that I have lived in Sonoma County, I have absolutely LOVED all the fun events that go on here all year long. There are so many, and often multiple events on the same day, same weekend, it is hard to do it all.  One event I have wanted to attend for many, many years, even as a kid growing up in Ukiah and seeing the signs along 101, was the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic!  This past Saturday I was able to attend and it was fabulous! More than worth the $6 admission fee and early morning trek!

I have never personally been up in a hot air balloon, but have always wanted to.  Growing up in the area, I remember early morning drives to swim meets and bike races as a kid seeing hot air balloons floating gracefully over Santa Rosa, and sometimes even launching or landing from fields visible from the freeway.  My younger sister went on a ride on a local balloon a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Some day I will get up there!  The next best thing was definitely attending the balloon classic though!as finally able to go and it was wonderful!

Not only was it not foggy (which we all know can put a cold, damp, dreary wrinkle in outdoor plans), but the air was completely still, no wind at all.  The announcers mentioned this over and over on Saturday morning that it was some of the best weather ever in the 23 year history of the event.

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Held at Keiser Park in Windsor, just behind Windsor High School, this is a quintessential Sonoma County event that you simply must go to!  I woke up even earlier than my normal 4:30 am, and headed up to Windsor in the darkness to be there, park my car and on the field by 5am for the “Dawn Patrol” balloon launch.
I was very amazed at how efficiently each crew worked. Many of the members were volunteers who undergo training in the weeks preceding the balloon classic and are then ground crew for the many balloons that take off over the weekend. It was also shocking at how quickly they worked, and in such a small area.  Keiser Park does not have an enormous field, it is sizable but when you consider the gas filled behemoths that have to be unrolled, laid out and then literally “blown up” with fans run on generators before any propane heated hot air can be blown into them, it was just stunning.  Also, the intricate dance of ropes and the ground crew members who had to keep the thronging masses of children, stroller pushing parents, and camera toting paparazzi (that would be me, and hundreds of other excited photographers), off of the ropes that could potentially tangle your feet, or send you skyward, it was amazing that balloons even made it into the air, were it not for skilled and patient crew and pilots.It was really interesting to listen to the announcers talk about the different aspects of ballooning and to watch the crews on the ground drive up in pick up trucks, some with trailers, some without, unload a comparatively small amount of gear, and within 30 minutes, have a giant balloon full of 90,000+ cubic feet of hot air floating up into the sky!

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The three “Dawn Patrol” balloons launched a few minutes after 5am, and there was an impressive crowd on the ground already, sipping coffee and bundled in warm blankets and fleeces. I learned that the balloons that launch in semi-darkness are given a special blend of propane that burns a bright orange flame so that the flame is highly visible and produces that beautiful glow.  Once these balloons landed and came back to launch again later in the morning (which all three of them did, I believe) they switched to a standard fuel that burned more blue as it didn’t matter if the flame glowed or not.
Due to the perfectly still wind conditions, the balloons were able to ascend and just float around directly above the park and the swelling crowds, and this provided everyone with a fabulous view and great photo opportunities! The announcers commented that in previous years when there has been a lot of wind, the balloons make a very fast ride from Windsor to Sebastopol or are blown all hither and gone around the county! It was great to just watch them from the ground, and I’m sure it was much easier on the crew too not to be battling winds or to know that they would disappear into the fog, not appreciated for very long.

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From a photography standpoint I was absolutely floored at how many photographers were there. I should have known that an event that is so beautiful and colorful would draw photographers (getting some great shots was a huge part of why I was there!), but it was really funny to observe so many people with cameras, nice cameras chasing after giant balloons!  I was reminded that good etiquette, saying please and thank you, taking turns and not shoving people can go a long way!

I highly recommend attending this event next year. Kids of all ages will love it! I saw infants in front packs, toddlers in strollers, unruly 5 year olds running all over the place, and lots of happy kids, even at 5am!  After the main launch they offer tethered rides on certain balloons for $5. The balloon goes up about 40 feet in the air while still tethered to the ground. Sounded like a ton of fun to me! There were also a number of local food vendors, fun inflatables for kids to play on and other craft and gift vendors too. Definitely something for everyone! Next year I will bring my daughter!  I was really excited to finally attend this event, I hope you enjoy a small smattering of the photos I took!

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