The hot air balloon towered above the crowd. The pilot tugged the ropes and turned a propane lever to fire a few more flame blasts into the balloon. The blue sky set off the envelope’s hues of yellow, red and orange.
“Come on over, Chase,” balloon pilot Chuck Mitchell of Longmont, Colorado, called to 7-year-old Chase Limmer.
The boy pulled himself to top of the wicker rim and hopped inside the basket with a soft thump. His grandfather, Terry Limmer, stepped in as the boy flashed a wide grin.
“Chase, if you see people on the ground waving, make sure you wave back at them,” Limmer told his grandson.
The balloon lifted off the ground and floated into the sky Saturday morning above the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds.
“Goodbye!” the boy called as he waved to the balloon crew and others clapping and cheering below.
Another balloon prepared for takeoff and several more hung and drifted on the calm air during the second day of this weekend’s Casper Balloon Roundup.
The 14th year for the Casper Balloon Roundup features 15 balloons and pilots from about eight states, co-chairman of the event Matt Krum said.
The three-day event continues Sunday morning, weather permitting, with a mass balloon launch and chances for kids to take free tethered balloon rides.
“It’s so much a family activity — kids at heart and kids for real,” Krum said.
Gentle currents carried balloons through Casper skies Saturday morning as pilots took local sponsors, crew members and volunteers for rides.
Karlita Miller, 9, and her family helped a pilot from Reno, Nevada, at Friday night’s balloon glow and were invited to help another Reno pilot, Jeff Haliczer, during Saturday’s launch. That’s how the girl ended up in his balloon with two other passengers and the pilot’s dog, Bandit.
She pointed to the ground, chatted and laughed as the balloon took off Saturday morning.
Karlita was a little scared at first, she said later. But then she looked down and sights, including family of foxes, horses in a pasture at the “a unicorn deer” with one horn, she said.
“I learned that it wasn’t that scary to fly in,” Karlita said.
They touched down in a west Casper backyard, where a couple woke their children to see the balloon, Haliczer said.
The pilot flies in events across the county, including the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Casper Balloon Roundup is one he hasn’t missed for the past few years, he said.
“It’s just the people, and the community is wonderful,” Haliczer added.
One balloon happened to land back at the fairgrounds with couple Kodi and Reed Merschat, who were treated to a ride as Casper Balloon Roundup sponsors through her business, K&L Storage.
“The winds actually cooperated very nicely today for us,” said Boulder, Colorado pilot Michael Gianetti, who’s also the pilot coordinator for the Casper Balloon Roundup.
Many onlookers from below waved and called to them as they floated overhead and took in the views.
“It is a very relaxing experience,” Kodi said.
Chase and his family, who own Limmer Roofing, were invited to fly as customers of one of the event sponsors, Roof Depot, manager Justin Wagner said.
The boy spotted wild turkeys, horses and fish in the river, he said after his trip.
“It was nice and quiet wasn’t it?” Limmer asked him.
“Peaceful,” the boy agreed. “It felt really relaxing — just standing up, it felt good.”
A tailgate party followed the balloon rides at the fairgrounds, where pilots told the story of the first hot air balloon and gave toasts to celebrate passengers’ first flights.
A group gathered to hear Mitchell tell Chase and his grandfather about two famous Parisian paper makers, the Montgolfier brothers, who invented the hot air balloon in 1792 after watching burning paper scraps fly up the chimney. They successfully tested hot air balloon flight with three prisoners — who landed safely, but had to be rescued from frightened farmers who destroyed the balloon.
“So they said ‘We know we can fly, but how do we prove to our fellow Frenchmen that we’re good spirits and not evil spirits?’” Mitchell said. “Well in France, what’s a better way than handing them a bottle of champagne? That tradition stands even today.”
That morning’s passengers can thank a flyer yesterday who caught the cork, which bodes a gentle landing for the next flight, Mitchell said, as he held a champagne bottle and popped the top off. Chase dashed for the flying cork, but it bounced at his feet.
Then Mitchell asked the pair to kneel while his wife, Nancy, read the “Balloonist Prayer,” written by a monk in Ireland for the brothers and fellow aeronauts visiting the country, he said. She set out a requested cup of soda for Limmer and water for Chase.
The pair remained kneeling for the customary post-flight toast, which required them to pick up the cups with their mouths and drink hands-free.
“Alright, that’s the way to go Chase,” the pilot called as the boy stood and wiped his mouth.
Limmer stayed on his knees for a moment and patted the boy on the back. The two looked at each other and grinned again.