The Great Falls Balloon Festival wakes up from a long slumber on Friday morning

Hot air balloons take off Friday morning from Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. It was the first day of the Great Falls Balloon Festival 2022. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

There is a quiet energy here.

There are the pilots and their crews; passengers and spectators.

I hear soft voices all around me at Simard-Payne Memorial Park – a tone almost respectful of the silence of dawn.

At 5:30 a.m., the grass is still wet with dew and the sky is still a hazy grey-blue. A cloud cover struggles to break.

I watch the crews take out their equipment: the gondola, the nylon balloon.

The crowd of a few hundred people stares at the pilots who, until the last minute, watch the wind overhead, looking for signs that takeoff is about to take place.

Suddenly the roar of fire breaks the silence and ignites new energy. Anticipation turns to excitement.

The hot air balloons begin to fill up, slowly rising as if awakening from a long slumber.

The air is buzzing now. More people are coming.

To my left, some children watch in amazement, their parents now seeing in the children’s faces that the early morning trip was worth it after all.

To my right, a couple wonders aloud how it will be up there: cold, windy?

In front of me, a group of festival volunteers express their gratitude and relief for the impending take-off: “Thank God the weather has held up this year. We needed this.

Then, almost as if nonchalantly descending for a brisk walk, the first ball is in the air. It goes up fast – faster than expected. Rise, rise as it floats just above the trees and towards the windmills and the street of Lisbon.

One by one, eight balloons fly away.



The crowd smiles collectively – phones up in the air and pointed at people waving goodbye from above as they reach higher and higher into the now bright, clear blue sky.

Back on the ground, a balloon is still flat on the grass – someone says there was a problem with the propane tank and it wouldn’t fly.

Another, in the shape of a sloth, is inflated but won’t take off today either — I hear the wind is too strong for the specially designed balloon.

Word spread that a pilot was unable to make it to the field.

Some would-be passengers ruminate, waiting for a sign that they might soar into the air. They won’t – not this morning, anyway.

Someone near me said, “Unfortunately, that’s the nature of hot air ballooning. There are always challenges. If it’s not the wind, it’s something else.

A few passengers can take a lift on another balloon, recuperating their long trip to Lewiston from Connecticut.

Despite the setbacks, the take-off was successful.

Right now, above us, floating above the Twin Cities, several dozen people are circling their lives.

To the east, a bird’s eye view as the sun breaks through what remains of the clouds.

Morning breaks on another Great Falls Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Marla Hoffman is editor-in-chief of the Sun Journal.


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