As the sun rose from behind the mountains east of Craig on Saturday morning, the sounds of blowing fans and the rustling of several crumpled silk balloons could be heard at the Craig-Moffat County Airport.
The sounds indicated the eight balloons participating in the first Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival were preparing to launch into the cool, summer morning air.
As the balloons took to the sky one by one, marked by the gasps of the crowd and the occasional burst of propane flames, one balloon remained: Ham-let, a balloon shaped like a pig with wings.
When Craig resident Kacey Snowden, 23, stepped into Ham-let’s basket shortly before it left the ground, she had no idea what awaited her on the journey, she said.
At 500 feet in the air, Snowden’s boyfriend, Craig resident Kyle Lyons, 26, proposed to her after about six years of dating. The two met while Snowden was enrolled at Moffat County High School.
“It was awesome,” she said. “But the funniest thing was he was trying to talk to me but the balloon guy had to run the hot air.”
Despite Snowden having a hard time hearing what Lyons was saying, she could make out the words ‘Will you marry me?’
“Once we got up in the air, it was the coolest thing I have ever done,” she said.
On the ground, Starla Durham, of the Williams Fork area, was heading back to her car after watching the hot air balloons take flight.
“It was definitely worth waking up at 5 a.m. for,” she said with a laugh.
Durham said she was excited to have witnessed a balloon festival launch for the first time.
“I have never made it to Steamboat (Springs for its balloon launch), and my mother-in-law has been down to Albuquerque to see the big launches down there,” she said. “This was fun.”
Durham said she enjoyed watching the process of the balloons filling with air and hearing the reactions of the youths in attendance.
“There are so many kids down here just saying, ‘Ooo,’ ‘Ahh,’ ‘Look at them,’” she said. “And the expression on all of the kids’ faces, adults too.”
The festival featured another balloon launch on Sunday, but only four balloons launched due to unstable wind currents, festival committee chairman Ray Beck said.
The balloons were scheduled to launch from the Wyman Museum east of Craig, but were moved to the airport due to high winds in the area on both days.
Beck estimated about 175 people attended the balloon launch on Saturday and about 40 on Sunday.
The balloon launches weren’t the only events during the festival, however.
Throughout the three-day festival, several vendors sold items like hand-made jewelry and crafts at the Wyman Museum. Other events were hosted at the museum including camel and helicopter rides and a tractor pull hosted by the Yampa Valley Antique Power Club.
On Saturday evening, Beck said about 450 people gathered to watch a balloon glow, eat barbecue and listen to the band Cabin Fever at the Wyman Museum.
The balloon glow featured four balloons, which would light up against the night sky when propane flames filled them with hot air.
Among the crowd watching the balloon glow were Craig residents Dean and Lynne Malizia.
“It was neat, you know,” Dean said. “It is something you don’t see every day. That’s why we wanted to come out and see it.”
Lynne seconded her husband’s thoughts.
“It is in our own backyard, we may as well patronize it,” she said.
Dean said the event benefits the Craig community and was pleased to see the amount of people attending.
“It is nice to have things to do in the community you can do here; I think that is the (greatest) benefit of it,” he said. “We don’t have to travel to Steamboat to see something like this.”
Al Luksik, pilot of the hot air balloon Pondemonium, said he and the other pilots he had talked with enjoyed flying their balloons in the Craig area.
“It’s a new area that a lot of us haven’t flown before,” said Luksik, who lives in Denver and has been flying balloons for 26 years. “I did (fly here) 20-odd years ago, but things have changed. So it is just a new area, a new rally.”
Luksik said he enjoyed seeing the wildlife in the area as he piloted his balloon.
“Just the amount of deer, antelope, foxes, of course horses and cows, but those are everywhere,” he said. “… It’s really green and real pretty.”
Beck said he was pleased with the turnout and success of the event.
During a meeting Sunday morning, Beck said the pilots participating in the event rated it a nine out of 10 for a first-time festival.
“We took that very humbly in terms of them even committing to coming over here for a first-time event because from a pilot’s standpoint, you never know what you are going to get,” he said.
Beck said the committee that organized the festival is hoping to host another, but has some things they would like to improve before next year.
“When you throw all the elements in there, it was a huge success and we were pretty excited and happy about that and hopefully we can have an even better event next year,” he said.