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THE GREAT RENO BALLOON RACE
Hot Air Glow in the Desert Dawn

Balloon Heaters photoWhere can you find an annual event that attracts 150,000 spectators called “the great” anything, that’s free?! Well, if you’re willing to get up at the crack of doom, wipe the dew of sleep from your eyes before the sun even hints to creep over the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, you can find it at The Great Reno Balloon Race. For a three day weekend in early September, bags of colorful hot air light the dawn over the Dawn Pilot Reno photoRancho San Rafael Regional Park just west of the campus of the University of Reno Nevada. A “race” in the loosest sense of the word, the hot air balloons numbering up to about a hundred of varying shapes and forms, rise and drift on air currents to toss bean bags at designated targets on the desert ground, the closest to the X earning points over the three days of flying to determine the winner. Perhaps more aerial carnival than race, but what a grand and glorious carnival, and requiring a great matter of skill. A hot air balloon has no rudder or propeller, the skill of the pilot is principally in the modulation of the heat injected into the balloon envelope to ride the air currents.

Dawn Patrol at Reno Balloon Race photoThe Great Reno Balloon Race was first held in 1982 with 20 hot air balloons participating, and has since grown to about a hundred, drawing balloonists from across the spectrum. During the three days, other events are held for the spectacle and entertainment of the throngs of fans who come from Reno and around the world. The “trademark” of the Reno event is the “Dawn Patrol”, held on Saturday and Sunday, when a handful of balloonists rated to fly in the dark, fly to choreographed music as their balloons glow and twinkle in the pre-dawn. Beginning at 5 am the “Glow Show” of balloons the lights illuminating from inside like Chinese lanterns guide sleepy attendees walkingRena Balloons photo from the parking lot at the university to the park. In “Balloon Blackjack” inspired by the nearby downtown casinos, pilots compete to throw markers from their baskets dangling over the field to hit “21” on giant cards on the earth below. And especially for the participation of kids from local schools, on Thursday and Friday, student hand-made tissue paper balloons are launched. Tethered balloon rides are also available at the park on Saturday and Sunday for $5 a pop. – Oops, maybe not the most appropriate choice of words. A five dollar donation to charity gets you an aerial view of the scene, suspended under the great envelope of treated nylon and the heat of flame from the gas jets in bursts ate the hands of the pilot rise you aloft into the peaceful air, while ropes to the ground keep you from drifting off to somewhere in Utah. For a real balloon ride over distance, you have to become a sponsor.

Great Reno Balloon Race dates for 2011 - Sept 9-11

Balloon Race Park photoThe Great Reno Balloon Race is basically one big party. Officially. On Saturday morning is the “Pajama Fest”, billed as the world’s largest pajama party. If you’re going to get up at 4 in the morning, why bother to get dressed. The Pajama Party is accompanied by the “Bed Head Competition” with prizes awarded for various categories of best and worst bed head hair. The contest ends at 8:30 am so you can comb or put on that hat. Recently the first balloon wedding was held at the event. Arrive early on Saturday and Sunday, in time to watch the Glow Show at 5 am and Dawn Patrol at 5:30 am. Offered on a bid basis, the once-in-a lifetime (not a guarantee) wedding includes a balloon ride after the ceremony, wedding planner, honeymoon package, catering, photographer, and all the extras. The winning wedding bid in 2009 was $10,000. Bidding closes about the 1st of June.

To get to the Great Reno Balloon Race, take I-80 through Reno and get off at the Virginia Street exit. Go north 1 mile to the Lawlor Events Center on the university campus. The Rancho San Rafael Park is two blocks from the campus. The Balloon Race is held the weekend before the Reno National Air Races, so if you go for the color of hot air, try to plan to stay for the thrill of propellers and jet fuel.
© Bargain Travel West

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Reno Balloon Race


These articles are copyrighted and the sole property of Bargain Travel West and WLEV, LLC. and may not be copied or reprinted without permission. Some photos courtesy Great Reno Balloon Race.

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