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Eden's beautiful balloons

EDEN — "I should be up there."

It's an easy thought when you see 19 traditional hot-air balloons and one giant pink Energizer Bunny lift off from the ground and float up to the sky.

The roar of the propane-fueled flames fades as the balloons ascend from a grassy field, but it's still audible from 500 feet below.

Hundreds of balloon watchers take pictures and marvel at what appears to be a peaceful flight.

Eventually, the breezes aloft carry the balloons northward from their staging location to a landing site, where pilots compete for prizes by trying to hit a target from above with bean bags.

Through Sunday, balloons will be taking off from the field in Eden as part of the annual Ogden Valley Balloon and Artist Festival.

This year, the festival's 15th, offers balloon launches Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday morning, weather permitting.

Admission to the festival is free, but preferred parking near the field costs $5.

Balloon rides are still available Sunday for $175 per person.

Festival spokeswoman Nancy Seraphin said most balloonists during this year's festival are from northern Utah. In past years (and better economic times), balloonists have come from California and the balloon mecca of New Mexico, which hosts the largest balloon festival in the world every October.

"Plan to get here around 6 a.m.," Seraphin advises balloon watchers. Balloons may not be taking off right then, but it's best to get to the site early.

Friday morning, all of the balloons were in the air by 7:45 a.m. But Saturday's event depends on how the wind cooperates.

Friday's flight was awesome, said John Ware, a 21-year pilot from Salt Lake City.

It's not the kind of sentiment you'd expect from a guy who says he has a problem with heights, like tall ladders, rooftops and glass elevators.

"In the envelope, it doesn't bother me," Ware said.

The Ogden Valley is a great flying location, he said, because it has a microclimate that is protected from the Wasatch Front's weather patterns.

"It's good spectator flying," Ware said.

Glo Kehoe, who piloted the 166-foot-tall Energizer Bunny balloon, is a 29-year balloonist from Albuquerque.

Kehoe said she loves keeping her balloon between 500 and 1,000 feet so people can marvel at it.

"Sometimes, I feel like the Pied Piper," she said.

Often, when Kehoe looks down from the balloon, she sees a line of cars following her flight.

But having a balloon twice the size of other balloons means a lot of work. It takes an hour to set it up and inflate, an hour to deflate and a volunteer crew of 15 to 20 people to make it happen.

Kehoe said she also needs to be careful where she lands.

"You have to have enough space to lay a 16-story building on its side," she said.

Though challenging, the Energizer "Hot Hare" balloon isn't the first of the special shape balloons Kehoe has flown.

Others include a beer bottle, a Burger King Whopper, a Swatch Watch, Sea World's Shamu, soft-drink cans, a cake and boy and girl piggy banks.

For her first time in Utah, Kehoe said, the views of Pineview Reservoir and the Ogden Valley were wonderful from the sky.

"It's a beautiful place to fly," she said.

Once the balloons land and are put away, the rest of the festival continues at Wolf Creek Utah Ski Resort's Nordic Valley in Liberty. Exhibits, crafts, a bungee and climbing wall, chairlift rides, food and drink booths and a mountain-man rendezvous will be available, as well as musical entertainment.

Directions and information about the festival are available at www.ogdenvalleyballoonfestival.com. The festival closes at 2 p.m. Sunday.

e-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com

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