Hot air balloon festival ends in Palo Duro Canyon

A Palo Duro Canyon sunrise made for a picturesque sight Sunday as the Up In The Air hot air balloon festival came to an end.

Pilots from all over the country came to the Panhandle to fly their balloons, all of different colors, shapes and sizes. Most of the pilots are members of Black Sheep Squadron, an organization for hot air balloon pilots who dedicate themselves to the passion of what they do.

"Ballooning is one of the unique events that allows everyone to come together, all walks of life," Pilot and Black Sheep Squadron Founder Todd Monaham said. "What I love most is you see a lot of kids out here right now and it's, like, six o'clock in the morning."

The pilots fly in festivals all over the country. The Amarillo festival is held once a year, usually the week after the festival in Albuquerque.

This year's festival began with a balloon glow Friday night at the Don Harrington Discovery Center. Saturday's event was a mass ascension at High Plains Children's Home. Sunday's sunrise ascension at Palo Duro Canyon was cancelled due to high winds above the canyon. The balloons can fly in winds of up to 10 mph. Unfortunately, Sunday's winds had already risen to 25 mph, and the National Weather Service said that speed would continue to increase.

Still, hundreds of people came.

"We knew, probably, the balloons would not be able to launch out of the canyon this morning," Palo Duro Canyon State Park Superintendent Cory Evans said. "But just to have them here and have them glow and have them up, it draws the crowd, anyway. "We filled up the parking lot at the amphitheatre, so it was a good crowd."

Sunday's crowd consisted of people both young and old. Children rushed to the baskets to meet the pilots. Parents stood back with cameras in-hand.

"The kids are up around the balloons," Black Sheep Squadron Texas Chapter Member Buzz Wills said. "People go up, they get to talk to the pilots, they get to touch the balloons and touch the equipment. So, it's a good, good participant-type sport with everybody. We also grab people, help them crew."

Ascension or no ascension, the festival was a hit. And pilots got to share their passion of the skies with families from the Texas Panhandle.