Previously from Letchworth Balloon Rallies: Balloon Festivals, ... Third Time was The Charm, 13th Annual Letchworth Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, 13th Annual Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, Letchworth State Park 2014, 14th Annual Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, Letchworth State Park 2015, 15th Annual Letchworth Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, 16th Annual Letchworth Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, 2017
Colorful Ballon AbstractLetchworth 2017 The Memorial Day weekend 2017 marked the 16th run of the Annual Red, White, and Blue Ballon Festival in Letchworth State Park. It brought a lot of excitement and expectations as we have been following the event for several years. And each year brings a new experience! How many of the six scheduled launches would be successful? Only time would show. Ballooning is very weather dependent. The wind has to be just right, not too slow, and not too fast, and worse, it also needs to take the balloons in a direction where they can safely land a short while after launching.
The forecast looked really unfriendly from the first time I checked it on Friday. Clouds, rain, and an unusual wind anywhere from northeast to southeast, which would take the balloons away from the gorge, a hallmark of the event allowing the balloons to dip close to the Genesee River before continuing east. However, for that one needs westerly wind, which is prevailing in the area, but clearly not guaranteed. There was, however, a glimmer of hope as Sunday morning looked promising before the weather would turn bad again.
Unfortunately, the forecast was dead on and the weather remained very hot air balloon unfriendly this year. It looked so miserable that we actually did not even drive over to Letchworth to try our luck on Friday night. Instead, early to bed it was for an attempt on Saturday morning despite the forecast.
In the Fog by Big BendLetchworth 2017 The alarm was supposed to go off at 3:45 a.m. Instead, I woke up on my own at 5:15 a.m. (the alarm was set for p.m.), hopelessly late to catch a sunrise but still alright to see the balloons should they fly. The forecast remained iffy but it seemed there was a chance. Within 15 minutes we went from waking up to sitting in the car and heading east. We drove through some fog that was not just at ground level but hanging down from the cloud layer. As we crept closer and closer to the park it was becoming clear this would not be a ballooning morning. When we did not see any balloons in the air approaching the park entrance, yet, met a few chase vehicles leaving the park, the news was clear.
What now? Our backup plan kicked in. There were other events happening in the park and one could always hike. We hiked trail #3 and a small portion of trail #2A and discovered some wonderful bogs. More on those another day as I had a blast photographing those off-the-beaten-path areas that did not scream Letchworth but were beautiful in their own way. Afterwards, we joined in for the Learn to Catch a Fish, a family picnic event featuring games, activities, educational workshops, and free fishing (no license required). We managed to stay all throughout the day and headed back to Archery Field for the 6:30 p.m. launch time.
Ballons over a FieldLetchworth 2017 Getting to the area and parking was a bit tough as more and more people come see the event every year. It was really crowded. But hope was in the air! The heavy clouds scattered and we could see spots of blue sky with light puffy clouds floating about. In the end, it was a no go nevertheless due to bad wind direction that would take the balloons southwest over wooded areas with nowhere to land. The crews still put on a show though and set up many of the balloons anyway to lower the crowd disappointment. A gigantic dragon balloon, probably twice as tall compared to the other balloons, was the center of attention.
After wandering about for a little bit and checking out who we knew and was new we headed home knowing it would be another early morning the next day, with Sunday morning forecast still looking very promising.
Having corrected my alarm setting error we were up at 3:45 in the morning on Sunday, forecast still looking good, just the wind direction instilling doubts. This time, we arrived well ahead of the actual sunrise and could enjoy the wonder Mother Nature often sets up in Letchworth. Again, a topic for a future post, hopefully soon. When the sun rose, back to Archery Field it was for us. The first captain meeting resulted in a go but with a delay due to dense fog. The second meeting, maybe 20 - 30 minutes later confirmed the go despite the wind mostly blowing towards northwest. The test balloon showed various wind directions at the lower levels before heading NW once higher.
Ballon over a ShedLetchworth 2017 Balloons came out of their bags, got spread out, inflated, heated, and off the ground they launched. Only very few, maybe four, managed to clear the tree line and get over the gorge, which is to the west from the field. Normally a hallmark of the event, the gorge did not get filled with hot air balloons this morning. And the few that made it in were hard to see as the fog was really thick. All the other balloons got blown right out of the park towards Castile, NY and over farm land.
Into the car we went to chase the balloons and see them land, preferably CT Ballooning, another tradition established over the five years of following the event. There was a really nice view of the balloons over the fields right by the park entrance with many of them visible in a fairly constrained area. Observation and reading the map on our GPS became our next activity as we tried to catch up with the balloons. What can normally take quite a while was a rather short activity. After one right and couple lefts we saw CT Ballooning and other ballons very low to the ground and by the time we got there they were firmly landed. No drama of finding an acceptable spot this time, as several landed on a large parking lot of a church.
Over the years, we have met several of the balloon crews and they were always nice, ready to share their experience with us, complete strangers, answer our questions, and let us be part of this fun event. Special thanks go to Jim Regan of CT Ballooning who we have successfully chased to landing for five straight years now and also to Sean Quigley of Balloons over Letchworth for organizing this whole fantastic event!
Enjoy the beauty that surrounds you! (#etbtsy)
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