Fly Like an Eagle

July 06, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

The Teton Valley Balloon Rally is a longstanding part of this area's Independence Day festivities.  

Pilots and their crews travel to Driggs, Idaho from around the country to participate in the four-day event, with the fairgrounds serving as the launch site. I didn't take the time to count but would guess 20 balloons took part in this, the rally's 42nd year.

If you're not into early mornings, it might require a jolt of caffeine to get you to the field on time. You must also accept the fact that Mother Nature has the final say regarding what will take place each day: the ultimate air traffic controller, so to speak. 

Go anyway. Starting the day with hot-air balloons is bound to put a smile on your face.

It's a 77-mile drive from my house to the fairgrounds. I always hit the road for this event at 4am because I want to be there when the gates open (at 5:30 - though they let me in when I show up earlier than that). 

The sky was clear and the stars shone brightly when I left the house on Day One: right in line with the forecast. About halfway to Driggs, though, I noticed a small cell to the north with a shadow of rain falling below it. Since there were no clouds in the vicinity of the mountains, this renegade activity seemed rather isolated and benign - until I thought I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. Lightning? Maybe, or maybe I was just seeing things. 


The crews were just beginning to assemble on the field when I arrived, but they weren't moving too quickly. Hmm. Then a ten-minute hold was announced. That cell I'd noticed on the drive over appeared to be drifting closer to our location. Clouds started to form locally. There were occasional flashes of lightning: no thunder, though. It was still too far away for that.

At any rate, threatening weather was near enough that the balloons were grounded for the morning. So much for that forecast. Happily, they ended up doing a static display - meaning all of the balloons were inflated but remained on terra firma. This made for a lovely, colorful sight. Here you can see a few of the participants along with Grand Teton peeking through in the background:

As soon as they announced there would be no flying, I knew exactly what I'd be doing the next morning. Wash, rinse and repeat.

The second time was a charm. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was a beautiful day to take to the skies. Out-of-towners were perhaps a bit surprised by the air temperature: 39 degrees. Welcome to summer in the Rockies! In July the shivers typically don't last; those who didn't come prepared just had to tough it out for a while. By the time the last balloon launched just before 7am it was already eleven degrees warmer.

The process from unpacking to liftoff is interesting to watch. The basket is unloaded and the propane jets are tested. An enormous tarp is unfolded, onto which the balloon is unpacked and extended. The balloon is filled with cool air from a large fan, after which blasts from the jets heat the air. This enables the balloon to be raised upright. While the pilot is readying for liftoff, other crew members roll up and repack the tarp. Finally, it's up, up and away. Meanwhile, the chase crew takes off to follow the balloon. They wait near the anticipated landing spot and pack the balloon up once the flight is over.

Following are a few more photographs from the 2023 rally.

The beautiful green valley, the colorful balloons, the Tetons providing a stunning backdrop...

Plan ahead for 2024! July 1-4 at the Teton County (ID) Fairgrounds. 

Teton Valley Balloon Rally

In Local News

Construction on Gros Ventre Road has begun again, which makes getting from GTNP into the Atherton Creek Campground (in Bridger-Teton National Forest) and beyond to the red hills a challenge. Expect up to 30-minute delays Monday through Friday through the end of September. 

Sadly, yet another vehicle has caused the death of one of the park's large animals. This latest incident occurred last week when a yearling black bear was struck and had to be put down due to the extent of its injuries. According to one of the local papers, the bear was likely one of the triplets recently weaned from a family group which many had the opportunity to observe this spring. The driver fled the scene. 

Three deer were also hit on park roads during the last week of June.

In an average year, between 75 and 100 large animals are struck by vehicles within Grand Teton National Park. This includes one of 399's cubs, killed by a car a few years back. Is speeding always the cause of these collisions? Perhaps not, but it isn't going out on a limb to speculate that all too frequently, it is. Speeding within the park is common; I witness it all the time. I'm often passed when driving the posted limit. OFTEN. Reckless disregard for the safety of wildlife is inexcusable and unconscionable.  

Finally, a damaging thunderstorm rolled through Yellowstone on Monday evening, uprooting several hundred trees in the southern end of the park near Lake Hotel, Lake Lodge, and the Bridge Bay Campground. It was short in duration but packed quite a punch, with wind gusts up to 76 mph. There were no injuries but it definitely got everyone's attention.   


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