His balloon is called “Ajuua Dreamer.”
Tom Gardner of Albuquerque explains:
“One time when we were in El Paso, we met some ladies from Juarez who made a toast by saying ‘Ajuua’ and they said it referred to a circle of friends and a circle of good cheer,” Gardner said. “Balloonists are very social, so we thought the name was great. We’re out here to have a good time and we hope everyone else did, too.”
If the laughter was any indication, more than 100 balloon watchers had a good time Sunday as Clovis’ Pioneer Balloon Jubilee completed a two-day run with a dozen launchings.
Most balloons traveled 10 miles or more and flew toward the northwest, with the furthest flight Sunday at 17 miles, according to event balloonmeister Russ Grantham of Albuquerque, a pilot of 14 years.
A Portales couple — Daniel Hackett and Jill Chandler — were married in the basket of a red, white and blue balloon called “Cricket’s Dream.” Theirs was the first balloon to launch Sunday from a field west of Plains Regional Medical Center.
While most onlookers focused on the colorful balloons lifting off and gliding through space, back on the ground a flurry of activity shifted into high gear for the people on the chase crews.
Llano Estacado Boulevard and Curry County’s rural dirt roads northwest of Clovis were full of stop-and-start traffic, as pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles tried to keep up with the balloons they were chasing.
For as quickly as a hot air balloon can launch after inflating, sometimes coming down happens even faster in what can be a bumpy ride.
“It hurt when we landed,” said 12-year-old Caiden Thomas of Texico. “They told us to just hold on.”
His sister, Kylynn Thomas, 8, agreed the abrupt landing was painful but she had a human cushion.
“I landed on my Dad’s back,” she said. “It was fun.”
Their father, Chris Thomas, said he was more worried about his children as the 90,000-cubic-foot balloon bumped the ground hard, tipped a bit and then touched down in the middle of a field near the intersection of Curry County Roads S and 13.
“The landing was a little rough,” he said. “I was worried about the kids falling out of the balloon.”
Rough landing aside, however, the three — who ended up in a happy heap with their dad sandwiched in the middle — were grinning from ear to ear as they recalled their inaugural flight for their mother Kye and the chase crew.
“It was so quiet,” Chris Thomas said. “You can’t even tell the winds are blowing when you’re up there. And it’s really warm up there.”
“I didn’t think we would go so far,” Caiden Thomas said of their nearly 10-mile balloon ride. “It was really cool, too, because the fields were all different colors and shapes and stuff from above.”