Every year over the past 26, Monroe (Wisconsin) has served as host to the Monroe Balloon Rally which is coming up at the end of this week (June 15 & 16, 2012) at the Green County Fairgrounds. An opportunity for balloon enthusiasts to get up close and person with hot air balloon and their pilots, the two day event is a great family affair.
This year in advance of the rally, Monroe also hosted the first of two competitions being conducted as the US Open National Championships with 22 balloon pilots/teams participating. I was fortunate to be able to get down to Monroe (approximately 120 miles from Milwaukee) to take in the early Sunday morning competition as that evening's event plus Monday morning's had to be canceled due to weather (mostly unsafe high winds).
As I approached Monroe from the east, my heart quickened when I saw a few balloons in flight, moving from my left to right. I immediately turned off the highway, to head off in the direction that the winds were taking the balloons. I was able to use my sense of direction to estimate their general flight path.
At one point, I cleared a narrow rural road to see them moving across my field of view, now right to left. I stopped to shoot a few photos and then moved on further down the road. At the next intersection, two pick-up trucks with balloon company logos passed by. I turned and followed in the direction they were heading assuming they were the landing chase crew. Fortunate for me, when they turned into a farmer's barnyard, I saw a line of a few cars observing the balloons as they approached.
It was fun to get out and talk with others who were either local or had come in from neighboring communities to follow the balloons. I also received some great tips for the barn quilts' tour I wanted to do while in town later in the day (between the balloon competition sessions).
The US Open National Championships determines their standings based on each balloonist accomplishing a number of predetermined tasks including the dropping of "bean bags" onto the designated targets. Based on the location of the various targets, each pilot was responsible to plot their flight path to include launch and landing sites.
Because some of the teams work together with a common crew, the two landing sites that I stumbled upon handled several balloon landings. It was exciting to see them approach and then drop down, reducing altitude dramatically to land. One came in pretty quickly when the wind kicked up, spilling the basket upon ground contact. I was told that was a pretty typical landing and that the pilot was not injured.
From their take off at approximately 6:15am until the final balloon landed, the entire session lasted just under two hours. It was unfortunate that the evening session was cancelled as I had planned on over-nighting and taking in the Monday morning flights as well.
I mentioned that the Monroe event was the first of two. Their second US Open National Championships event will be held near Peoria, IL next month. For additional information including scheduling, check out their web site at: http://www.open-championships.com/ .
And if you are interested in attending the Monroe Balloon Rally, they also have information posted at: www.monroeballoonrally.com.
Both events also have Facebook pages so you can look them up there as well.