After arriving in Bluff, settling into our....... interesting hotel. (Think FEMA portable housing re-purposed as a hotel. But hey it was clean, had hot water and enough beds.) We went to the Senior/Community Center to eat Navajo Tacos and Navajo Fry bread and watch a program of the local indigenous tribes singing and dancing (Kind of fun actually!) we crashed and prepared for the sunrise fly of the Hot Air Balloons we were there to see!
6:45 am pilots briefing came early, after, we proceeded up to the cemetery that overlooks the town. There was some absolutely stunning color on the bluffs west of town, with our friendly setting moon hanging around to add something to the sky. I have to say that my biggest hardship was the lack of character in the sky, "Severe Clear" is great for the balloons but not so much for photography.
Some nice cumulus would have changed this panorama from "Nice" to "STUNNING!" rather quickly. It still captures a moment of great joy to me, poised to experience the ethereal beauty of Hot Air Balloons flying, camera in hand, anticipation building.
With a bit more telephoto, the landscape could be brought closer to hand, and interesting compositions could be had. I look at this photo and I can feel the utter stillness I felt simply gazing across that lonely town towards the west.
Despite the number of photos included here, there are more to see from this morning and the next, here.
Watching the choreographed movements of the teams laying out and filling the balloons was a sight to behold. They are first connected to the baskets while lying on their sides. Air is blown in by gas powered fans to partially inflate the envelopes. Then the burners are lit off to begin filling the balloons with hot air.
The heat can be felt from many feet away and the sound is a physical presence.
The basket is pulled upright by the balloon as it rises, I was quite nervous about the flame catching the envelope of the balloon on fire, but apparently the burner swivels and the pilots tend to be careful about where they aim.
The crews were nice enough to allow me to poke my camera into several balloons from the top as the fans were filling them. It seemed to me that I was poking my head into a bubble of stained glass, illuminated by the rays of the rising sun.
Crowding is apparently OK, the proximity of the balloons to each other was a little startling to me as an uneducated noob.
As more balloons made their exit, flying slowly to the East, it became apparent that we needed to get ahead of them to get the best light. We jumped into our trusty Pilot and headed east on UT Route 162 (also labeled "Mission Road") where we stopped at... wait for it... a church by the side of the road (I think it was the mission referred to) where we were able to see the balloons as they came to and past us.
It is not often that you get to see that many balloons at the same time.
Many of the balloons skimmed close to the cliffs. Almost too close for my comfort at times. I really need to arrange a ride in one of these some year!
As the sun rose higher the light grew harsher which posed some challenges to me as a photographer. Exposure became more critical, and protecting highlights a must!
The best skies seemed to come with the sun almost 90 degrees off axis from where you are pointing the camera.
Balloons landing ON the road while convenient, must be somewhat disconcerting to a driver who doesn't know what is actually going on. Though I doubt anybody in the county was not aware.
The sandstone makes a fabulous backdrop to the colorful balloons, I really find myself strongly inclined to go back and take my entire family next year.