Hot Air Balloons in the Black Hills!

The alarm wails and wakes you from a deep slumber, it’s 4:30 am…you stumble out of bed and feel for your clothes through sleep-blurred eyes.  The dog wonders if you’re crazy for being up before the sun.  A short drive later and you park along the roadside in an ever-growing line of vehicles, strap a headlamp to your brow, and set-off for the mile-or-so-walk to the Stratobowl as, ever so slowly, the darkness perceptibly lessens.   

This weekend we enjoyed another activity that’s been on our Black Hills Bucket List for some time, as we attended the Statobowl Historic Hot Air Balloon launch.  Unfortunately for us, the South Dakota wind proved too much that morning for the balloons to fly safely, but we were able to watch them be inflated, and fly, tethered, several hundred feet above the ground.  

I discussed the Stratobowl hike in a previous post.  If, however, you’ve never visited this site, one of it’s unique aspects is that one of the valley’s residents mows a peace sign into the same field that is the site of the launch.  It fits the tranquility of the site–and the Hills in general–well.  It also complimented the kaleidoscope of bright colors that adorned the balloons.

Only four balloons participated that morning, but it was still a sight to behold.  The rainbow of colors from the balloons were set against the dark green backdrop of the Black Hills National Forest, where the aspen trees were just beginning to take on their autumnal, yellow hue.  As the sun rose, its light slowly unfurled over the tree-covered Hills to the west.  The *whoosh!* of the flame-heated air rushing in to fill the balloon reached your ears from the basin far below.  

If you’ve never see a hot-air ballon, a large propane tank is attached to a basket.  At regular intervals (as controlled by the pilot) the tank springs to life and rushes hot air into the balloon.  A fan also helps with the initial inflating process.  Hot air rises, so, once it’s full enough, the balloon does as well–yay science! 😝  The pilots can control the altitude of the balloon using this device, allowing for a safe landing, but they can’t control where the wind blows (Someone Else is still in charge of that department). 😉  A “chase vehicle” follows the craft to collect it from whatever field it finally lands in.   

I have fond memories of hot-air balloons from my childhood in Indiana.  There were several pilots around the local area where I grew up, so these inventions were a regular site in the sky.  We also enjoyed several mass-launches at the County Fair in the summer. I have one, specific, memory of a ballon flying over my grandparents’ pool so low to the ground that we were able to talk with the pilot (he ended up landing in the field across the road).  

This is another opportunity to enjoy the simple things in life.  A family-friendly, free activity, less than a half-hour drive from Rapid City, that requires only the small sacrifice of parting with some sleep.  But it allows us to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us in a unique and easy way.  So again, strive to seek out these simple, everyday opportunities that are present in your local neighborhood (farmer’s markets, county fairs, free events downtown or in local parks, etc.).  You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have, (and its frugal too!) 🤑

Below are some pics from our sunrise excursion:

Our view from the Stratobowl rim.  If you look closely enough, you can see the “peace sign” mowed into the grass.
This gives you an idea of how far below you the valley floor is
You can see the tethers on the dark blue balloon, anchoring it to the ground


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