This year, we celebrate our tenth anniversary. Most balloon festivals, for one reason or another, are not able to sustain themselves over this amount of time. Initial local enthusiasm wanes; balloonists lose interest and a sustained, coordinated effort becomes overwhelming. Yet, here we are ten years later with one of the most popular ballooning events in the Southwest still going strong and some of the reasons we expect to celebrate many more.
Big ideas typically start with small flashes of inspiration blinded by a healthy dash of ignorance because you have no idea into what you are about to become involved. A few local business people; Howard and Gene Brundage of the Cottonwood Steakhouse, Cindy and Amer Tumeh of the Desert Rose Inn, and Steve Simpson of Twin Rocks Trading Post, thought a balloon rally in Bluff would be a grand event. In January of 1999, as core members of the Business Owners of Bluff, they hustled and scrambled and cobbled together our first ballooning event with a grand total of one balloon attending the event...one balloon.
Yes, one balloon, but it was the right balloon. Bill and Jennifer Lee, then of Gallup, New Mexico, drove their ErLee Riser balloon three hours north to this blip on the Four Corners map. Fortunately, their well-deserved skepticism was overwhelmed by local enthusiasm as they experienced a healthy portion of the local community pitching in as crew. Bill looked down from his basket while flying in Bluff and saw a couple of things he liked very much; beautiful, unencumbered red rock flying and a mass of excited Bluffoons enthusiastically chasing his balloon. He signed on as our balloonmeister, the pilot who coordinates the other balloonists, for an additional six years.
Eternal optimism is a prerequisite for successful business operations in Bluff. Counting our first year with one balloon as a roaring success, the Business Owners of Bluff, set forth on a steadfast path toward an annual ballooning event. Cindy Tumeh chaired the event during its first half decade until turning the reins over to Marcia Hadenfeldt, co-owner of Far Out Expeditions. Marcia further refined the event before passing the balloon burner torch to Steve Simpson of Twin Rocks Trading Post.
The Bluff International Balloon Festival is an invitational event, meaning balloonists must be extended an invitation to participate in this event. Limiting the number of balloons to thirty has created a clamor in the ballooning community to garner an ask to the Bluff event. We have a corps of pilots who have been with us almost from the beginning. Bill Lee made a point of building the pilot group to include those flyers who keep safety, community involvement and fun, as their guiding principles in the sport of ballooning. Several years ago, Bill turned the balloonmeister crown over to Albuquerque pilot, Cookie See, who like Bill, wholeheartedly contributes to the ongoing success of this festival.