Motorists and pedestrians stopped Tuesday near Craig Middle School to gape at a man in short sleeves standing in a field of snow flying a kite.
It wasn't like the kite one might see a youngster tugging on during a windy spring afternoon. It wasn't hundreds of feet in the air. It didn't have a tail. It didn't bow to the whimsy of the wind.
It was a stunt kite. It dipped and twirled and stalled under the direction of its pilot, Chris Botelho, who held the two strings anchored to the kite's sail.
Botelho is a Californian who saw snow for the first time in his life on Christmas Day in Craig.
The next day, he unpacked his kites and looked for a place to fly them in the wintry Colorado skies.
Botelho came to Craig with his wife, Cassandra, to visit Cassandra's uncle, John Long. Long married the couple seven months ago in California.
Two days before Christmas, aiming to beat a cold front and avoid driving through two states of snow, the couple packed their car at four in the morning and headed east to spend Christmas with Long.
Chris decided to bring his kites.
"A lot of people think I'm nuts taking my kites everywhere I go," Chris said.
His wife was among them.
"How are you going to fly?" she said. "It's supposed to snow."
"I'll fly in the snow," he told her.
Unseasonably bad weather in California has grounded Chris on many recent weekends. He said he packed his kites "just in case" he got a chance to fly in Colorado.
"That's him," Cassandra said, chiding her husband playfully about the hobby that has turned him into a "fanatic."
But she's not immune to the sport's pull.
She's fluent in kite-flying terminology. She takes the strings herself occasionally. And while Chris flew his giant "Prophesy" -- a stunt kite with a 98-inch wing-span and a $350 price-tag -- Cassandra was quick to point out changes in wind conditions and provide commentary on her husband's technique.
"Chris is going flying in the snow again," she dictated into the video camera while filming her husband and his kites.
Since the couple was married in March, Chris' enthusiasm for kite-flying has taken off. He bought his first kite while honeymooning in Mexico.
It started as a bargain bet-ween the couple.
"She bought a silver necklace. I said, 'I want a kite,'" Chris said.
After arguing with a vendor who sold him a broken kite, Chris decided not to buy another kite until he returned home to California.
"When he came back, he wanted a stunt kite and that's where it all started," Cassandra said.
He bought a basic model and headed out to the kite-flying nirvana at Seal Beach, Calif., where the wind speeds hover near 10 mph -- ideal flying conditions.
That day, he learned his first trick, crashed for the first time and got hooked on flying.
Since then, he has purchased six more kites, including models that can be flown indoors, as well as Prism Kites' top-of-the-line competition edition. He now owns a host of accessories, including wind gauges and linesets of different weights for different flying conditions. He also joined the Seal Beach Kite Club.
Chris even takes his smallest kite with him to work and flies it in the park on his lunch break.
In his first attempt at flying in Colorado, he braved the freezing gusts on the
football field at Moffat County
Wind speeds reached 30 mph and higher, far beyond the kite's limits.
After that, he grabbed a lighter model, made some adjustments to account for "low wind," and flew his kite in the gymnasium at the Craig Intermediate School.
The wind speed was zero.
With a tug on the lines, the kite jumped into the air and breezed by the rafters as Chris gently backpedaled just fast enough to hold the kite aloft.
The first few flights were short-lived. The kite crashed at various angles into the hardwood floor while Chris struggled to master the new conditions.
"That's called the 'Walk of Shame,'" Cassandra said, as her husband approached his fallen flyer to position it for another takeoff.
Within minutes, Chris found his game, and was standing at half-court spinning in place while the kite traced wide circles in the gym's airspace.
Flying indoors appeased him for awhile, but soon enough Chris was craving longer lines, bigger kites and outdoor flying. He grabbed a kite and headed outside, but the weather was uncooperative. The snow fell straight down in the absence of a breeze.
Chris tried using progressively smaller, lighter lines. He took shelter against the school's brick wall and waited for any sign of wind.
The afternoon whiteout continued and slowly blanketed the field and the kites. And when Chris gave up, he did so reluctantly. He held the kite strings a few feet from the sail and ran backwards, doing a last little bit of Colorado flying before he packed it in.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org