Up at midnight; out the door by 12:30 am. Why? Because we were going to the Great Reno Balloon Race, which is not really a race but a free (no admission) hot air balloon festival.
With the glow show at 5:00 am, getting out the door by 12:30 to drive up and over the Sierras was critical to ensuring that we got there in time while saving money on the crappy hotels in Reno; we would also save a ton of frustration and time sitting in traffic along with the Friday after work getaway traffic.
Yet getting there at 3:50 am after gates open at 3:30 was still a mess getting parking unless you had purchased VIP parking passes or were coming from the north so the turn into the public parking area would be a right instead of a u-turn into the traffic from the north.
Getting into an argument with a University of Nevada at Reno parking lot rent-a-cop about why the website for the event said we could park there but he said we couldn’t didn’t help a quickly souring mood.
Eventually, I drove away from the site into a neighborhood a mile away where I could freely park and then hike into Rancho San Rafael skirting as much as possible the slow moving crowd ambling through the dark like molasses.
On the way to the field, I spied a gazebo up on a ridge overlooking the field. Having never been to the Balloon Race, I had no idea where the better vantage points were. So I continued on and settled on the top slope of a gentle rise.
I stayed all of five minutes before I resolved to go back to the gazebo. I doubled back against the stream of people until I found the trail thanks to google maps. When I got to the crest of the ridge, it seemed that a few other people had had the same idea. But even still, it never got very crowded at all. And though the vantage was not that great for the glow show and dawn patrol launch as the balloons lined up along the line of sight off the hill, once the balloons were airborne, the elevated viewpoint proved its worth.
Still, nothing compares to the mass ascension at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, where you feel as though you are on the deck of an aircraft carrier that is scrambling anything and everything that flies.
By the time that all the balloons that were going to fly that day launched, most of the people had left. I stayed if only because Daughter’s Cafe where I was thinking of eating breakfast only opens at 9:00 am.
I am glad I did because–amazingly–several of the balloons that had launched earlier and flown away managed to make their way back to land or go around again, providing another photo opportunity that those that had left surely missed, this time against beautiful blue and cloudless skies.