Today I’m featuring a superb photograph of ballooning in Taos, New Mexico. Taken by Jim O’Donnell from Around the World in Eighty Years Blog. Jim is a great photographer and you can admire his great work on Jim O’Donnell Photography. Twitter and Facebook will help you to stay in touch with Jim!
Picture Story: Ballooning over Taos, New Mexico
Just before sunrise a light breeze picked up and raced along the ground rolling miniature tumbleweeds, swirling dust and bringing a shudder to the sagebrush.
“Too much of these drainage winds and we can’t stand the balloon up. Too little and we can’t get into the gorge,” explains the bearded pilot, his head topped with a cowboy hat.
“If you’re not paying attention or you’re not patient enough you ‘ll miss the right moment.”
This is flying in my home of northern New Mexico. If you’re not paying attention you’re in trouble.
We stood on the sharp volcanic rim of the Rio Grande Gorge about ten miles north of Taos, New Mexico. The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was before us, spreading north all the way to the Colorado border. The river, eight hundred feet below, runs south. The sky was a crisp blue.
Taos sits at the bottom of the San Luis Valley surrounded by rugged peaks. At night, the air cools over the high country. Then, just before sunrise that cold air sinks down the San Juan range on the west side of the valley and runs along the valley floor towards Santa Fe. These are the drainage winds that make hot-air ballooning in Taos technically challenging – and ridiculously spectacular.
Our goal was to see some very difficult to see ancient Native American petroglyphs. When to balloon lifted off we floated to the rim and then sank to just a few feet above the river. Most of the petroglyphs string along waterways and into deep canyons. Others lie out on the open range as, presumably, territorial markers. Some of these petroglyphs are 10,000 or more years old.
“You’re always looking for certain winds and working them – not just going with the flow,” the pilot explained. “The wind currents down in the gorge are similar to the river currents. There are swirls, eddies, rapids and so on. When you’re down here you have to be aware of what the unpredictable winds are doing to you. You get distracted and you will fly into the side of the gorge.”
After thirty minutes we got up over one thousand feet above the mesa. We can see hundreds of miles in every direction. Straight down I can trace how the water moves across the land, cutting paths here and there when it rains, pooling where pines or juniper grow in tight clusters.
The light wind blows us northwest where Smith drops us gently into a dusty field.