Balloons make colorful decorations at birthday parties and anniversaries, and the really big ones look great soaring over the open desert found near Laughlin, Nevada.
Laughlin's third annual RiverFlight got a cool morning kick-start Friday, October 18th with over 25 hot air balloons participating in the "fun flight" that initiated the weekend.
The original plans for Friday included a "Fly for Fun" competition that involved the pilots trying to "land" foam toy planes as they passed over a kiddy pool placed in the desert earlier by an official. However, the early dawn winds were a little too brisk for the event and festival director, Betty McCreless, cancelled the competition.
The pilots were given clearance to fly at their on discretion and those present decided to take advantage of the crisp fresh air, regardless of the cancelled competition.
I teamed up with Dale Wong of Rancho Cucamonga, California in his 65,000 cu. ft. Aerostar named "Baby Bear" and blissfully drifted toward the banks of the Colorado River. The threatening winds that had cancelled the morning's competition quickly dissipated and the hour long flight was a delightful journey. Watching the flight pattern of the balloons that launched before us, Dale caught a wind current that took us over the casinos and in perfect position for several splash and dashes in the Colorado River. What a thrilling experience it is to be a passenger in a hot air balloon as it slowly descends from the sky toward the flowing currents of a sparkling river! Then feeling the rush of adrenaline surge through your body as you splash the surface of the water and quickly jump on the side of the basket to prevent your feet from getting wet! I think it is that "rush" that keeps me, and others like me, coming back to festivals like Laughlin's RiverFlight, for the opportunity to experience an invigorating splash and dash!
Several hotel-casinos hosted "mini" balloon glows Friday night, clearing a large area in their parking lots along Casino Drive to house the glowing giants. In addition to hosting the "glows," properties like the Colorado Belle, Edgewater, Ramada Express, Gold River, Flamingo Hilton and Harrah's offered plenty of casino action and special shows for the thousands of balloon enthusiasts visiting Laughlin.
Laughlin Chamber of Commerce President Tom Jenkin said Laughlin was thrilled to see the number of balloons at RiverFlight double from 1994 to 1995, then increase again this year by another 15 percent.
"RiverFlight is a unique event for Laughlin and we're pleased to see it return," Jenkin said. "With the variety of attractions, including an outdoor concert, the event continues to grow and attract an even wider audience."
Although Saturday morning's mass ascension had to be canceled due to high winds heading in from Las Vegas, legendary pop-artist Smokey Robinson performed a concert under the stars in a 5,000-seat amphitheater on RiverFlight grounds Saturday night. As they have been doing for decades, Robinson's love songs touched the hearts of the listeners as he sang classics like "Shop Around," "The Tracks of My Tears," and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." "My songs are about love, and it's an everlasting subject," expressed Robinson. "If you write about dances, about cars or political situations, then sooner or later your material sounds passť, dated. But love always has significance - it never goes out of style."
With its growing reputation as an ideal location for ballooning, RiverFlight '96 attracted almost 100 pilots from around the globe coming for the three day event sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Laughlin Tourism Bureau.
Even though blustery conditions interrupted the competition scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, there was still an impressive flight Friday morning, followed by illuminating "mini-glows" that night and a starry evening with Smokey Robinson on Saturday!