My wife and I had set our vacation plans to include the Albuquerque already when I learned of the Plano Balloon Festival which was happening the week before we were to leave. This was not too far from our home so I decided to go and get some practice in for the “big event” later.
I did a little research before I left and found that parking close to the event was $10 while parking a little ways away was $5. I decided to save a couple of bucks and parked at the Plano Centre at the West entrance. I had an opportunity to go there on Friday afternoon just as they were opening. In fact I was so early that they did not even charge me for parking as they did not start charging until 4:00.
What I did not realize was just how far of a walk it was going to be. There are much closer places to park. So now you are informed about parking if you go there.
This was held in late September at Oak Point Park in Plano, Texas next to the Collin College. That small sign in the middle says 3/4 mile walk to event entrance. This did not include the ¼ mile or so from the parking lot or the event area itself. Be prepared to walk.
It seemed that I was the first one there. Admission was $5 per person. If you are over 65 it is $4.
Just past the entrance gate was more walking until I got to the event area. I was met with numerous food and gift booths set up in 2 sections.
Since it was early I was able to get lots of pictures without many people. The balloons were not going to fly until 6:00 or so. This gave me time to walk the grounds.
One of the most notable features of the area was the hillside along the southern side of the area. This made for a great viewing of the balloon field.
The fair was filled with all kinds of food. There were the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, turkey legs, corn-on-the-cob, etc. They even had wood fired pizza. While waiting for the balloons I had the fried curly potatoes… yum. There was also a stage with live bands scheduled to perform. They were playing music over the PA system when no band was playing.
Finally the show was starting. The first balloon up was the Re/Max balloon above. It turned out that this was inflated as a marker for the parachute team above. I did not get pictures of them because I had a phone call that needed my attention at the time. All of the other balloons were assembling on the field during this.
This is the part where I need to explain about balloon festivals (in general). The festival was food, entertainment, kid’s rides, and souvenirs. The balloon part (as you are warned on signs throughout the venue) is subject to the weather cooperating. I was really looking forward to the balloon part but as it got closer to the flying time the wind started to pick up a bit more.
It turns out that there are several parts of the weather that affect ballooning. One is the wind. They will not fly in winds above 10 miles per hour. They also cannot fly after dark. Unfortunately, the winds became a little too strong the closer it got to sunset. This resulted in the balloon liftoff being called off… bummer. It also meant that there would be no tethered balloon rides either. I was looking forward to going up – albeit a “short” up – in a balloon to get the experience and some interesting pictures. No such luck.
They did announce that they were going to still do the balloon glow around 8:00pm. They were also going to shoot off fireworks as well. I mulled over staying for a couple of more hours or going home. I decided to go home and skip the glow and fireworks events. In hindsight I maybe should have stayed but I was a bit tired and wanted to beat the traffic home (which I didn’t). I did see it on the news later.
For those that do not know what the glow event is here you go. It is when they inflate the balloons without the prospect of takeoff. Once inflated the operators ignite the gas burners that make the balloons into giant lightbulbs. In the evening (or morning) hours this is a pretty amazing sight. The roar of the burners can be heard throughout the venue which only adds to the display. They have links to some YouTube videos through their website (link at bottom).
One thing that caught my attention as I was leaving was the number of people coming INTO the event. For every one person leaving there were around 10 people going into the event. It turns out that a lot of people – especially those with young children – go to the festival part without any concern for the balloons. I would say that the majority of people that were attending were there because of the festival and not the balloons – although there was the balloon glow later.
There was a large kid’s fun zone area with balloon slides of all kinds, face painting, a community stage, arts & crafts, etc. The local animal shelter even brought out a few dogs and cats.
Even with my disappointment from Friday I kept one eye on the weather patterns. Saturday was very poor weather so I stayed home. However, Sunday looked promising as the winds were estimated to be 8-10 miles per hour. Around midday Sunday I decided to head out to the festival grounds again determined to see balloons fly.
While they did get a couple of balloons inflated – including the City of Plano balloon – the winds picked up to over 10 mph just around the late afternoon. So once again no balloons flying. You can see the troubles they had just to try to get the balloons inflated on the ground. The balloons that did not inflate set up their baskets with burners to entertain the crowds.
Of note was the fact that many of the balloon participants had left for their respective homes by late Sunday. If you want to see the best variety in balloons your better off attending Friday or Saturday.
Ultimately I was personally disappointed not to see balloons lifting off the field and ascending to the sky but there was a lot more than just the balloons to this festival. This is especially true for families with small children. This was just like taking them to a small intimate fair. The child ID program helped ensure that they would be safe if lost. Well worth checking out all that this event has to offer.
In addition to all of the mentioned events are the 1K, 5K, and half marathon events on Saturday and Sunday.
For more information here is the website: