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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: March 5, 2015

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

Balloons and Tunes elevates Kanab

Kanab’s First Annual Balloons and Tunes Roundup was a big hit with everyone, even though the weather did not cooperate on Saturday and Sunday. Nineteen balloons took off from Coral Cliffs Golf Course on Friday morning, with most of them landing at the Kanab Airport. Photo by Dennis Brunner. More photos on Page 9.

By Dixie Brunner

While I’m dating myself, the first time I ever saw a hot air balloon was when I was young and my family traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, and saw the play, “Around the World in 80 Days.” How exhilarating it was seeing the colorful hot air balloon! Many of us attending the outdoor performance hadn’t seen such a wondrous vehicle of flight! The balloon and story conjured up such wonderful destinations and sights – so far away from our midwestern reality. What an extraordinary experience, and something I’ve always remembered.

Saturday morning, I got to experience another life memory, when my husband Dennis and I were given the opportunity to fly in a hot air balloon. There was a good sized crowd on hand at Coral Cliff Golf Course to watch the launching of the 19 balloons that had come to Kanab for the inaugural Balloons and Tunes Roundup weekend. I visited with several couples who had come in for the weekend to attend the balloon event and the battle of the bands.

Former Kanab resident and balloon event coordinator Bryan Hill had always wanted to bring a hot air balloon event to this area. Himself a winner of the famous Albuquerque event, Hill had started balloon events in nearby communities. He wanted to do the same here – both to share his love of ballooning, and to show off the beautiful topography of southern Utah/northern Arizona.

While there was the standard unpredictable spring weather, the event did get off the ground … albeit briefly, and gave a thrill to area residents and visitors alike. The Kane County Travel Council, Volunteer Center and Economic Development all worked hard to make it happen.

We were assigned to the Izia Balloon, flown by Nick Meleski of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s embraced ballooning and is a seasoned pilot, after retiring from a UPS career. Besides for pleasure, Meleski also flies the Smokey Bear balloon (which cancelled out of the Kanab event due to weather concerns), and the Angry Bird balloon. He recently flew that balloon in India for the company.

The balloon crew was his wife, Mona, accompanied by the very apt Kanab residents Wim and Thea Van Ball, and a gentleman from Mesquite. Also on our flight was Kristy Wilcken, and nine year-old Jacie Pratt, from Cedar City. They had won the balloon ride on a promotional event from a radio contest through 95.9 The Hawk.

“This will be such a great experience,” said Wilcken, prior to the flight. “My husband works away, and was jealous that we got to go.”

As the balloon was inflated and you saw the small wooden basket you were going aloft in, you wondered whether this had been a good idea or not! As several of us crawled into the small vessel, that thought was reiterated! But pilot Nick was reassuring with words that this might be doomsday. What a great pilot –much expertise and light humor made for a wonderful flight.

As we ascended, it was an exhilaration like none other! We went above several trees near the golf course, went higher and began flying over Kanab! As Nick fired up the balloon, we rose and could see all the Kanab businesses and landmarks. (My first observation here was – goodness, Kanab residents need to clean up their properties!) The skies and red rock mountains were amazing, however. It’s what we’ve all known to be true, but seeing it all from this height was different. We’ve got such extraordinary scenery, and most anyone seeing it would be astounded!

It seemed like the balloon had control on raising and lowering, but not so much on the steering part. And that made it much more of an adventure! It would appear that we were drifting too far down near a house roof, and then we would raise up. Power lines worried me, but it would rise above them as well.

Nick had determined a field near Stampin’ Up! would be the best area to set down, and then he would subsequently fly Wim and Thea, who had been riding in the support vehicle. We landed hard, and then went up and then down again. But here’s the good news – we stuck the landing!

Our group jumped out, while Nick took off with the others for the second leg of the trip. They went up, and we followed in Nick and Mona’s truck. What I learned is that the balloons are definitely sensitive to winds. While the pilot appeared to focus on a certain spot to land, that seemed to change with every breeze. “We’ll land there...maybe there...the airport grass is the focus.”

During the time we followed Nick in the balloon, his wife Mona told us how much they enjoy the sport. “We meet so many great people when we go around the country for the balloon fests. And we have such a close camaraderie with the other balloonists. We’re all just one big family.”

“I loved the ride, it was so exciting,” commented Thea, when Nick and the Van Balls landed. “I almost talked myself out of it before I got in, but it was wonderful!”

The next thing that happens is once the four-story tall balloon is deflated, the heavy material must be rolled up, tied up and packed away. That’s no small job! But what was amazing is that everyone pitched in to help, and we quickly made short order of the work! With the balloon packed neatly away, we drove back to the golf course. Once there, Nick and Mona Meleski poured champagne to toast a safe flight, and gave pins to the first timers.

We gathered in a circle to compare our adventures and then hear a short history of hot air balloons. “We want to celebrate the fine sport of ballooning,” concluded Nick. Here! Here!

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