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O#13: Alliance, Nebraska
OJune 26, 2005


Outside the small town of Alliance (population 8,959) a mysterious monument rises from the Nebraska plain. Its purpose is shrouded in mystery. Astronomical observatory, shrine to long forgotten gods, portal from another dimension, -- science can offer no rational explanation. The monument itself stands mute, save for the wind whistling through its circled gates and columns: Ford and Chevrolet, models ancient beyond all memory, stacked and buried in the desolate prairie....



I first read about Carhenge on the Internet, and was both amused and intrigued by the notion of someone recreating Stonehenge with "vintage American cars" instead of huge stones. The will to embark upon such a project, whether in pursuit of some personal creative vision or as a painfully laborious practical joke, struck a responsive chord with me, and I decided that Carhenge would be an excellent place for my Nebraska States of Enlightenment flight.


Carhenge was built in 1987 by Jim Reinders and his family. The project was a memorial to his father, who had lived on a farm on the site. It is a faithful full scale reproduction, and accurately replicates the astronomical alignments of the original Stonehenge.

Later, guardianship of the site was assumed by a local group called the Friends of Carhenge. I spoke to Liz Lee, the current President of the Friends of Carhenge, and explained my desire to fly from the site. She was very supportive of the idea. I suggested that I fly on the summer solstice in June, but as lackadaisical latterday druids, we decided that the gods would be satisfied by a sacrifice on the weekend before the solstice, with the weekend after as our back-up date for bad weather.


Weather turned out to be an issue. There were no hot-air balloonists in the area to talk to about local flying conditions, but Liz referred me to a man at the local airport, who wrote in response to my e-mail inquiry "WE NORMALLY ARE USE TO THE WIND BLOWING SOME AND I CAN NOT BE AN EXPERT ON EXACT WIND SPEED BECAUSE WE NORMALLY ARE USE TO THE WIND BLOWING". In early June I began watching the hourly automated reports from Alliance available through the National Weather Service, and in a two week period, I saw calm winds (under 5 knots -- what you want for ballooning) reported for a total of three hours. Peak daily wind gusts in the 20's, 30's or sometimes 40's were reported. Severe thunderstorms with "damaging hail" also appeared to roll through the area regularly.

Based on the forecast, we postponed the flight from the weekend before the solstice to the weekend after. Neither of my regular crew chiefs could make it on the back-up date, so I would be trying to coordinate the whole thing myself. Luckily, Liz Lee's husband Dennis had had some exposure to hot-air ballooning when they lived in Colorado, and volunteered to try to fill in.


I flew into Denver early Friday, and drove five hours up into the Nebraska panhandle. Liz Lee was an indefatigably cheerful lady, who immediately set about feeding me; her husband Dennis was a huge bear of a man who operated and repaired equipment for the railroad. I did my initial prep work for the flight that afternoon. I explained how the whole inflation process was supposed to work to Dennis, who to my relief turned out to be pretty much a master of all things mechanical.


On Saturday it was blowing 20+ mph at 4 AM, when we were to have started the inflation, with lightning on the horizon to the east. The wind gradually died, but by the time it had dropped enough to blow up the balloons, it was already close to dawn, the intended launch time, so I decided not to proceed. Spectators showed up at 6 AM, and were surprised and disgruntled by my failure to fly on what was by then a calm and clear morning. As it turned out, the wind began picking up again at just the time I would have been ready to launch, had I started the inflation when it first calmed down. It seemed that whatever nature spirits rule the weather at Carhenge were in a pissy mood.

We rescheduled the flight to Sunday morning.


I spent the day driving around the countryside near Alliance. Dennis' father, Dobby Lee, gave me a tour of "Dobby's Frontier Town", an eclectic collection of buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries that he had moved into his (very large) back yard and furnished in period decor. He'd taken up this hobby when he retired, and twenty years later, it was still growing.

Cabin of first black homesteader in NE

Saloon and house of ill repute

First gas station in Nebraska

Nebraka moonshine machine