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Balloons prepare to launch from the airport at Alpine during the annual Big Bend Balloon Bash. The event is scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday this year, with balloons typically launching between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Between 15 and 30 balloonists from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are expected to participate.Alpine hosts high-flying Labor Day event By GEOFF FOLSOMFile PhotoOdessa AmericanAlpine Alan Yancey has trouble getting enjoyment from hot-air ballooning in Odessa.“There’s sure a lot of mesquite trees, telephone poles and pumpjacks,” he said. “A couple weeks ago, I left Schlemeyer and ended up in Goldsmith. I was hoping to find the (Monahans) Sandhills but didn’t make it. I did find that mesquite bush, though.”So, Yancey will be heading south for the Big Bend Balloon Bash, scheduled Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Alpine. He said this would be his 10th time to attend the festival in its 11 years, missing only last year.“I like the people; I like the weather up in the cool mountains,” he said. “If I can stay out of the cactuses, it should be fun.”The cooler mountain air makes a significant difference, Yancey said. Extreme heat can cause damage to balloon material.“I have to drive the temperature up so high to get that balance,” he said.Between 15 and 30 balloonists from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are expected for the festival, Big Bend Balloon Association president Kenneth Clouse said. Last minute additions and cancellations make the number uncertain.“These people have to bring these things from 500, 600 miles away,” he said. “That’s not an easy task.”Even though the balloon bash shares Labor Day Weekend with the nearby Marfa Lights Festival, Clouse said there is no rivalry. The balloon events take place largely in the morning, while the Marfa lights are an afternoon and evening festivity.“There’s really not a competition,” Clouse said. “The two help each other more than anything. It gives people something to do all day long.”Clouse said that one of the highlights of the weekend is the Fire Concert, which takes place at 8 p.m. Sunday at the football stadium on the Sul Ross State University campus.“You can really see the balloons because of the fire in them,” he said.Most balloons are expected to launch between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. each day, Clouse said.“The best part is when they all start going up,” he said. “There will be four or five about a half mile in the sky, four or five on the ground and four or five way up in the air. It fills the whole sky with bright colors.”For those who stay behind, rides on helicopters, paragliders and ultralight aircraft are available. The free event also features vendor, souvenir and refreshment booths.Yancey looks forward to ballooning and its 4-mph speeds.“I’m totally scared of heights,” he said. “I can stand on the side of a building and get totally nervous. In a balloon, I don’t get that way.”
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