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PHOTOS: Hot air balloons grace the Reno skies in yearly tradition

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It’s a yearly tradition: Reno residents wake up bright and early in September, right as the weather starts to cool, and head up to Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, where hundreds of hot air balloons ascend above the city.

As the brightly colored balloons filled the morning sky, spectators marveled at their beauty during the three-day event spanning Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Great Reno Balloon Race has been a community staple since 1981, when the event only featured 20 balloons. This year the gathering — billed as the “world’s largest free hot-air ballooning event” — brought balloons (and balloonists) from across the country. The balloons themselves came in all shapes and sizes — from the classic teardrop shape to more exotic ones in the form of Darth Vader or a blue armadillo, aptly named “Sheriff Airmadillo.”

With smoke from the Mosquito Fire settling into the Reno basin and worsening air quality, some feared the event might be canceled, but despite the smoke, the colorful behemoths took flight.

The event started with the “Glow Show” in the early morning period before the sun peeked out.  A select number of balloons lit their flames, and the balloons glowed beautiful colors in the early morning dusk.

The “Dawn Patrol” followed, with eight balloons lining up, glowing and taking flight as the sun started to rise. Then the “Mass Ascension” occurred, as scores of balloons inflated, rose in the sky and competed in a race to drop a bean bag as close to a target as possible and fly near certain GPS coordinates.

Multimedia Editor Joey Lovato was at this year’s event with his camera. Here are a few photos:

Balloon Chromatica, piloted by Cindy Heinrich during the “Glow Show” at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Pilot Cindy Heinrich firing the burners in her balloon at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Silhouette of a balloon on the Reno skyline in early morning at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
“Dawn Patrol” balloons fly in the early morning at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Battle Born, piloted by Pat Irwin, at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Inside a hot air balloon inflating at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Inside a hot air balloon inflating at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Lillian’s Dawn, piloted by Chad Eckerman, at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Beach Ball, piloted by Stanley Robertson, at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Pilot Cindy Heinrich starts to inflate her balloon with the burners at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Crowd below balloons inflating and ascending at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Wanderer, piloted by Russ James, at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Citrus in the Sky, piloted by Karalyn Mumm, at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Chromatica, piloted by Cindy Heinrich, takes off at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
A ballon race official drives a quad through a field at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloons in the sky at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
A desert-patterned balloon rises above two other balloons at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Smokey Bear, piloted by Elizabeth Wright-Smith, in the wildfire smoke at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloon Sheriff Airmadillo, piloted by Joe August at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Balloons dot the sky above a northwest Reno neighborhood at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Hot air balloon with pilot and passengers above Reno at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
Hot air balloons start the “Mass Ascension” at the Great Reno Balloon Race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Joey Lovato/VT)
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