Lake Havasu City, AZ: Up, Up and Away!

The Lucky Charm’s first 2017 road trip took us to the beautiful shores of Lake Havasu and the Colorado River in Eastern Arizona. Destination: 7th Annual Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair!

We knew the Lucky Charm would be close to the action with this trip, but no idea THIS close!

During the mass ascensions, balloons lifted of at roughly the same time all over the city. The ones lifting off from the festival grounds flew RIGHT OVER the RV area! We were literally having normal-volume conversations with the pilots as they drifted by!

There were over 100 balloons in this festival, and they made a magnificent sight in the pink early daylight of the mountains surrounding Lake Havasu City.

 The first balloon of the day goes up carrying the U.S. flag, while the national anthem is sung.  This is how we started the day … lying in our cozy RV bed with the dogs, coffee cups in hand, listening to a stirring rendition of a patriotic song, and seeing this first thrilling sight through the RV window.  I got a little misty!

Ballooning is not a hobby for everyone. You have to be cheerful and awake at o-dark-thirty in order to lift off in the early morning hours, which is peak flying time in barometric terms (also late afternoon).

You have to be rich.  The most basic small balloon, to carry only 2 people, starts at $22,000.  Balloons that carry the pilot plus 4 passengers run $35,000-$45,000.  The largest balloons and specially-shaped balloons can run $100,000 or more … not including any ground support equipment or chase vehicle.  These suckers are HUGE — look at the tiny basket below the fire truck (which is probably holding 6 adults) and compare that with the balloon size!

You have to like road trips — balloon crews run all over the country to where other balloonists are, and to the good weather.   Some of the balloonists here came from as far away as Calgary, Canada. And you need to have a group of friends with big muscles who take orders well, to make up your chase crew and pull that sucker down when the fun is over.

The small print said “all events weather permitting,” as any breeze over 7 MPH means the balloons don’t fly.  The weather was not great this weekend, and many liftoffs had to be scrubbed, but the ever-changing weather, low hanging clouds, and full moon made for some magnificent sunrises, sunsets, and scenery!

Many of the balloons had fun touching down into the water – jusssst the right amount to get the basket wet, but not to go fully into the drink!  It seemed to be a competition amongst themselves and between each other.  “How close can I get?”

Many balloons come down from the sky by throwing a rope to a boat waiting below. Many boats were buzzing all around the lake, just hoping to be chosen for this fun and important task!  See the line from the balloon to the boat below?

Some of the balloons came out of the water in this way through a small gulley RIGHT NEXT to our RV! Wowza!  Out of all the places we could have parked, we sure got lucky!  The balloons would be drug to the edge of the lake, where they would carefully, carefully make their way to flat ground to be deflated.

Pulling it down.  Wah, wah.  Party’s over.

We learned from one of the captains that they come out in this particular area, because just a slight bit further to the west, they would no longer be in Arizona (the other side of the lake in the photo below, is California!).  AND, there is no direct route for their follow-crew to get to the other side, so they would have to drive 85 miles way around the lake to pick them up!

The shaped balloons are crowd favorites. Some of them flew up, but many did not and were inflated just for photo opportunities. Which is your favorite? The lovebirds? Fish-face? Bumblebee trio? Can you guess which one is Philip’s favorite?

I liked Peg-Leg Pete best, mostly for his snazzy accessorizing.  Gold earrings, back-strap sword, little skull and crossbones on his cap, sculpted wings and actual peg-leg … what’s not to love?

In the evening (“weather permitting”), many of the balloons are tethered and lit up for the “Night Glow” event. This photographic event unfolds as the balloons are inflated and kept on the ground to glow like they are on fire!

It was truly beautiful and we were shocked to be allowed to wander freely amongst the balloons, as close as we wanted to get, with no ropes or barriers or people yelling at us or demanding credentials. That is one benefit to attending a smaller festival, as compared to, say, the famous Albuquerque balloon festival, where crowds are thick and rules/restrictions are plentiful.

Because the balloons only fly twice a day (daybreak, sunset), that leaves a lot of free time in between, so balloon festivals generally have lots of other activities, including crafts, vendors, food, and tons of different kinds of entertainment. We enjoyed ….

Carnival rides

Dog agility shows

Skydivers and ultralights buzzing by

If it’s too windy for balloons, then it’s perfect for kite flying!

Paper balloon launching (and chasing!)

There was continuous live entertainment of every variety, including an Eagles tribute band, two country music artists I actually have in my Ipod (Bryan White, Lila McCann), and our favorite, Chuck E. Bumps & The Crocodiles with their fantastic brass, jazz, blues, and most importantly – distinctive looks!

When the balloons weren’t flying and we couldn’t possibly eat even one more deep-fried churro, a trip to the London Bridge was in order.  This iconic landmark was moved to LHS from Thames, England as a tourist draw by Robert McCulloch, of McCulloch Chainsaw & Motor fame, to bring interest and development to this sleepy little town.

McCulloch had bought 26 square acres of land that is now the center of Lake Havasu City in 1963, adding a landing strip to bring in prospective land buyers. (The developer in Philip perked up at this part of the story.) But clearly a landing strip was not gonna be enough. He teamed up with C.V. Wood, master planner of Disneyland, for help. He needed something interesting, something different, something famous. Hmmm, how about a widely-known and possibly haunted bridge?

At the end of the 18th century, the old original London Bridge needed to be replaced. It was narrow and decrepit, and blocked river traffic. It was replaced, but the new bridge had not been designed to withstand 20th century automatic traffic and thus, immediately began sinking at an alarming rate. The City of London put it on the market in 1968, and McCulloch bought it for $2,460,000. 

Each of the 10,246 granite stones was meticulously numbered before the bridge was dismantled, though not in any obvious order that I could tell on the diagram below (!!).  The blocks were shipped overseas through the Panama Canal to California, and trucked from Long Beach to Arizona. It was reconstructed in LHC and including the expense for relocation and reassembly, the total cost of the bridge was $5.1 million (in 1968 dollars).

The entrance gate to the English Village where the Bridge is located is also famous. It formerly resided at the grand Italianate palace of the Earl of Dudley, who fell out of fortune with the king in the 19th century. The house was sold multiple times (after catching on fire at least once), and was purchased by a salvage dealer in 1954 to be completely dismantled. Everything – and I do mean everything – was sold: marble chimney pieces, heavy plate glass form the conservatory, statuary that had adorned the gardens, and even the roof materials. McCulloch bought this beautifully ornate wrought iron gate and shipped it to LHC.

As cool as the bridge was, and as beautiful as the balloons were, my favorite part of EVERY trip is always lots of wonderful downtime, and time spent at the Lucky Charm’s lakeside campsite for both humans and doggies on this trip was no exception. Our hearts are full and our batteries recharged!

Upside of the trip: totally cool experience with unbelievable access to the complete ballooning experience. Downside of the trip: can’t stop humming that 70’s classic song by the Fifth Dimenson, “Up Up and Away” … yes it’s a beautiful song, but arghhhh make it stop!!!

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?

Would you like to glide in my beautiful balloon?

We could float among the stars together, you and I

For we can fly, we can fly

Up, up and away

My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon

It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon

We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky

For we can fly, we can fly

Up, up and away

My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

In 2017, hoping you let your heart soar and your dreams fly high!

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