USA’s first hot-air balloon event of 2022 is in the Gila Valley this weekend

The Plaid Pixie floats above homes in the Safford area Tuesday, as seen from the Flying Awaysis balloon. - Contributed Photo/Vance Bryce

SAFFORD — Hot-air balloonists are starting to make their way to Graham County, for the inaugural Gila Valley Balloon Extravaganza, Dec. 30-31 and Jan. 1-2.

Twenty balloon owner/operators are coming in from Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, as well as Arizona.

Weather permitting, the balloons will take off from the field near Ruth Powell School in Safford each morning at 6 a.m.

“If the weather looks a little too windy, as long as it’s not pouring rain, we can do what’s called a static display,” said Susan Lindsey, with event organizer AZ Air Ventures. “A static display is when all the balloons still inflate on the field, and you can go up around them and you can see them as they’re hot inflated. They just may not fly a particular day if it looks like rain is going to start shortly.”

In the evenings of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, there will be balloon glows. Eight balloons will inflate and people walk among the balloons, observing and learning about the sport. On Friday the glow will take place at Mt. Graham Golf Course from 6-7 p.m., and at Pima Soccer Fields on Saturday from 6-7 p.m.

The Just Ducky hot-air balloon makes its way over the Gila Valley at sunrise. – Reed Richins Photo/Gila Valley Central

To volunteer as a balloon crew member, go to Gila Valley Balloon Extravaganza: Home Page.

“Crewing for a balloon is just a lot of fun. We just need people that are willing to be dependable, show up and show up on time because we don’t wait,” Lindsey said. “They don’t need any training . . . If you sign up to crew, then when you show up, we’ll have you assigned to a pilot.

“What’s really fun about chasing — yes, you help with the balloon inflation and that’s exciting — it’s sort like a treasure hunt,” she continued. “You don’t know where the balloon is going to go, you don’t really know where it’s going to land, and your goal is to get in front of it and sort of predict its direction.”

Sponsors for the Gila Valley Balloon Extravaganza include: AZ Air Ventures, Matlock Propane, Best Western Plus, Springhill Suites Marriott, Quality Inn and Suites Safford, Tierra Antigua Realty, Keyhole Properties, Ash Creek Financial, Cakes with TLC, Ice King, Extraordinary Women United, CMI and the Graham County Chamber of Commerce.