What: San Juan River Balloon Rally

When: 7 a.m. for the balloon rally and 7 p.m. for the balloon glow on Saturday. 7 a.m. for the balloon rally on Sunday.

Where: Bloomfield Soccer Fields, 715 S. First St.

What to do: Watch balloons take off during the rally, or come by at sundown for the balloon glow, featuring live music, face painting, free cotton candy and other activities.

More info: Call 505-632-0880.

BLOOMFIELD — It's an indescribable feeling -- leaving the earth, joining the sky, watching the city grow smaller by increments.

Hundreds of feet up in the air, the hustle and bustle of the early morning lies far below. You notice the utter silence first, punctuated only by the occasional, jet-like burst from the burner.

This isn't flight. It's a balloon ride.

Bloomfield's sixth annual San Juan River Balloon Rally kicked off Friday morning with six pilots taking members of the local news media for a short, aerial tour of the valley.

For pilots and passengers alike, the experience is always unique.

"You never have two flights the same," said Carol Bair.

She and her husband, Ray Bair, have flown in the Bloomfield rally for the past four years. She takes the helm in the chase vehicle, while he takes to the sky.

"It's a real family sport," said Carol Bair. "My two sons are also commercial (balloon) pilots. I love the camaraderie you have with other pilots. They come from all walks of life."

The Bairs have been involved in the hot air balloon community since the late 1970s, after they first attended Albuquerque's International Balloon Fiesta.

But as exciting as large balloon events are, the Bairs say smaller festivals like Bloomfield's offer a valuable experience and a unique sense of camaraderie.

"It's a while different kind of flying," said Carol Bair.

And Bloomfield offers a special experience, added her husband.

"We just keep coming up here," he said. "The town is just super balloon friendly. We seek out small rallies like this and fly in the Fiesta in Albuquerque, so we get both ends of the spectrum."

Cynthia Atencio, office manager for the Bloomfield Police Department and Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce member, joined Carol Bair in what is known as a chase vehicle. Together, they followed Ray Bair's balloon from the ground and picked him up after it landed along U.S. Highway 64.

Volunteers Pam Wright and Kimberly Elliott assist with hot air balloon preparation during the San Juan River Balloon Rally on Friday, June 14, 2013, in
Volunteers Pam Wright and Kimberly Elliott assist with hot air balloon preparation during the San Juan River Balloon Rally on Friday, June 14, 2013, in Bloomfield. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

"This was our first time at the rally," Atencio said. "It was awesome. It was a little hard work, but really an experience to see."

Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said the balloon rally helps bring a special identity to the community.

"I think it's a great family event," he said. "Hopefully it continues to grow. I think it's indicative of our community. Everyone seems to jump in the spirit of helping."

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.