By Diana Hammell
Every first weekend in December a little bit of magic comes to Caledonia. The Bluff and Valley Balloon Rally provides idyllic scenarios for watchers and heart-stopping excitement for those who fly.
The unique sensation of flight in a hot air balloon is beyond the physical… it seems that one’s heart takes flight as well. Balloon flight cannot be compared to airline flight in any way except that of being off the ground.
The weekend begins with a lyceum at the elementary school where aerialists explain to the fourth graders the science and technical aspects of hot air balloon flight. Then all the students assemble outside to see up to three balloons take flight over their heads. Friday evening, the Winter Wonderland parade takes place down Caledonia’s main streets. The parade features floats, flashing lights and aerialists in their balloon baskets who fire off their burners causing gasps from the crowd. Besides relishing the spectacle, parade goers enjoy the welcome warmth.
The balloonists, crew, passengers and all lovers of colorful, majestic hot air balloons gather Saturday morning, weather permitting, at Caledonia High School for a balloon launch. Another launch is scheduled for mid-afternoon. A Sunday morning flight may take place if weather interferes with Saturday’s plans.
Ed Chapman, owner and chief aeronaut at Balloon Ascensions Unlimited in Jordan, Minn., is a balloon pilot and a big promoter of Caledonia’s rally. Chapman is a member of Caledonia’s balloon committee and is the rally’s balloon meister. Chapman’s “Fire and Frost” balloon, among others, can be seen quietly floating across the Caledonia area’s rural landscape in December.
“If you fly in an airplane and you’re lucky, and you have a window seat, you’ve got one window to look out of. But in the balloon you’ve got 360 degrees of view all the way around… it’s a spectacular view,” Chapman said.
Passengers experience no turbulence and no wind. The earth falls away and spins while the balloon seems to stay stationary. The balloon is traveling with the wind. The balloon is the center of the universe.
Chapman has flown balloons all across the U.S. as well as the Austrian, Swiss and Italian Alps, France and Russia. “The Caledonia area is just a knockout over all the places in the U.S.,” Chapman says. “It’s tough to beat the Alps, but the Caledonia area with its bluffs; it holds its own against anything.”
The Bluff and Valley Balloon Rally likes to welcome as best they can the amazing men and women who fly these contraptions and are willing to share them with us. Jim Borchert, an aeronaut from Bloomington, said, “Every time I come here it’s like coming home for the holidays.”
You can contact Diana Hammell at [email protected]