Photo: Molly Dempsey, Natchez Democrat


The festival grounds dropped away below me as my balloons carried me out over the Mississippi.




I watched the hot-air balloons trying to maneuver over the target on a barge in the river.



I drifted north up the river. To my east, Natchez was spread out on its bluff like a toy city. After the tension of the inflation and launch, it was a great relief to be in the air.


Watching the other balloons, it looked like the lower winds were headed northwest, toward Louisiana, but the upper winds were headed northeast, back onto the Mississippi side -- an ideal situation for maneuvering. I split the difference for a time, heading north up the middle of the river. The Mississippi was very impressive: a wide ribbon of brown cutting through the green of woods and fields, flowing down from the horizon to the north, and away to the horizon in the south. Clouds cast drifting shadows across the water and the woods.

A few miles ahead on the Mississippi side, the thick trees gave way to yellow-brown fields, which I guessed was the recommeded landing spot at Anna's Bottom. I called Larry on the radio and confirmed that he was on his way there.




Photo: Molly Dempsey, Natchez Democrat

It was a beautiful day for ballooning.


After another twenty minutes, Natchez was growing distant to the south, and Anna's Bottom was much closer. I went a bit higher to get back over the Mississippi shore, and passed over the one of the towers that held an electrical line over the river.

Looking south at Natchez




Larry and my local crew had arrived at Anna's Bottom, and were driving around there. He confirmed that he could see me off to the southeast.

I released a few balloons for my final descent. At that point, I was still flying over dense woods. I had allowed myself to get east of Anna's Bottom, allowing for the lower wind that I knew would take me back to the west as I descended. However, that lower wind no longer seemed to be there, and I continued to head northeast, deeper into the woods.

I continued to descend. Finally, at a hundred feet up, I began to swing west, toward Anna's bottom. I finally leveled out right at the tree-tops, where my track was almost due west. Up ahead I could see the end of the woods, and the start of the fields. Larry was waiting there with the truck. I cleared the last of the trees, and dropped in for a landing.




It's not all that often that you have a huge bunch of helium balloons to play with, so my crew from Natchez took the opportunity to do a little tethered flying.





It was getting dark by the time we had finished putting my gear away and headed back from Anna's Bottom to Natchez.


He don't plant taters,
He don't plant cotton
An' dem dat plants 'em
Is soon forgotten,
But ol' man river,
He jes keeps rollin' along!


Celebration XXV

Crew Chief: Larry Vandenberg

Special Thanks to: Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, Cappy Stahlman, Sally Durkin, Bill Campbell, Laura Godfrey, Peter Burns, La Fiesta Grande restaurant.

Photography: Sam Jones, Molly Dempsey (courtesy of the Natchez Democrat), Larry Vandenberg, John Ninomiya.











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