November 19th, 2011 was a busy day, to say the least. After taking photos for the Desert Song Yoga Art Festival, Jan and I drove from Central Phoenix, South to Wild Horse Pass Native-American Reservation, the location for this year’s Arizona Balloon Classic, but only after stopping for dinner at the FiredUp Grill, in Chandler, AZ (…more on the FiredUp Grill in another post).
We arrived at the Balloon Classic around 5:30 p.m., while mother nature was displaying an amazing array of fire-red colors while the Sun began to drop below horizon. Turning left after the I-10 exit to the Wild Horse Pass Casino, we could see the lanes ahead were blocked, leaving left-turn only as our next move. After about 15 minutes, we realized we were in a cache of cars going absolutely…NOWHERE. With no other immediate options available, we tried our best to take pictures from the vehicle, which–in the end–turned out to be quite gratifying, despite our ultimate disappointment with the overall event management (from a spectator’s point of view). Another 15 minutes passes when we spot a gentleman walking the road between the two lanes of traffic bound for the parking lot. When asked if he knew what the hold-up was, he said “…it’s going to be another 45 minutes or more before you’ll get to the parking lot: we were already late for the opening of the evening program.
Another 15 minutes and 100 yards down the road we gained access to a turnout leading back from where we started. We turned around, but instead of leaving the facility, we drove to the casino’s four-story parking lot about a half-mile away. On the top floor of the parking lot we discovered a nice view of the Balloon field and the site for the evening’s planned fireworks. While it didn’t cost the advertised $10 per-head cover at the main venue, we got a bird’s-eye view of the evening glow, illuminated sky divers (with American Flag-type parachutes), and a glimpse of the fireworks. You can see the photos (or lack thereof) on my Picasa Album.
The firework display lasted almost 15 minutes. The “Evening Glow” was seemingly disorganized with only four balloons glowing for the majority of the time, and two joining much later in the evening. Several attempts by the announcer to “count down” so that all balloons would simultaneously “Glow” failed, so I, along with other displaced spectators, felt the Arizona Balloon Classic was, although a start, a failed attempt to gain anything close to parity with New Mexico’s annual event. Although disappointed, we remain optimistic regarding the future. Surely, there is talent available here in the Phoenix area capable of planning and executing an event worthy of the title “Arizona Balloon Classic.”