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Balloons fly high on last day of Moffat County balloon festival

14 balloons lifted off on the last day of the 2021 Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

It was still dark outside when pilots and crews arrived at Loudy-Simpson Park on Sunday to see the final flights on the last day of the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival.

After balloon meister Barbi Hann released the small helium pilot balloon (“pi-ball,” according to the pilots) to see where the winds were blowing, crews scattered to their respective trailers to unpack baskets, envelopes (the colorful part of a hot air balloon) and burners. 14 balloons were launched on Sunday by pilots from across the West. Home states included Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California and Nevada.

Jeff Griego and Kirke Rose fly on the last day of the Moffat County Balloon Festival.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press.

One of those pilots was Jeff Griego, who flies the American Beauty balloon. He said he’s been flying for eight years and has flown in smaller festivals, like this weekend, and large festivals like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where around 600 hot air balloons can lift off at the same time. Griego placed 7th in Albuquerque, winning him $1,400.



Griego said that he loved everything about flying and couldn’t choose just one aspect of the sport.

“Every flight’s different,” he said. “We were chasing deer (near the Yampa River) yesterday. We had a golden eagle on the side of a pond over there. (Ballooning) is so spectator-oriented. No other show can get you this close to the vehicle or to the aircraft.”

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Hot air balloon pilots arrived at Loudy-Simpson park at 5:45 a.m. to fly on the last day of the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

A small crowd formed on Sunday morning to watch the balloons. Many of the pilots were out throughout the morning, moving back and forth across Loudy-Simpson.

Friday’s launch was canceled because of bad weather, but balloons went up as planned for Saturday’s festival day. Saturday’s events also included a cardboard boat regatta, a car show hosted by Colorado Cruisers Car Club and a rubber ducky river race organized by Northwest Colorado Health.

Though smoke from the west came in over the weekend, it didn’t stop pilots from flying; luckily, they said, the smoke did not affect visibility to keep them on the ground. In perfect conditions, weather for balloon flying is ideal at sunrise and just before sunset, when winds are low and there is less risk for clouds and rain to fly in.

Pilots come from all walks of life and across different regions of the United States, and many gathered before Sunday’s flights to catch up or reminisce on festivals past. Griego — who also crews for the Smokey Bear balloon — said that ballooning brings together people you would never expect to be all in one place.

“That’s another thing about the sport,” he said. “You get all the way from housewives to a Supreme Court justice from New Mexico as a pilot. In fact, that’s who I’m going to Michigan with Smokey next week for a couple weeks.”

Balloons begin lift off on the last day of the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

Griego’s crew included two newer pilots, Natalie Lovato and Kirke Rose. Lovato has been involved with hot air balloon crewing since high school and said that the ballooning community has kept her interested in the sport.

“Honestly, though, I think the best part really is the community here,” she said. “Everywhere we’ve gone, you know, they asked, you know, from our boom, another one is, because I’ve been driving around with the trailer.

To keep licenses current, pilots must fly every 90 days, which means many pilots fly around once a month.

Albuquerque-based pilot Jeff Griego gets ready to unfold his balloon's envelope before Moffat County's balloon festival last weekend.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

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