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SPLENDOR IN THE DESERT SKY
Paula Phelps
December 24, 1979
Like seven-story Christmas tree ornaments, they waft over a New Mexico mesa, their pilots riding in wicker baskets suspended beneath sheer nylon "envelopes." On landing, the hot-air balloonists stuff their big bags into little bags, hoist the gondolas onto pickups and roll to the next launch site. At $9,000 a balloon and $100 an hour for expenses, it isn't a cheap avocation, but those who do it say it's worth every cent. Turn the pages for more views of a grand gathering at Albuquerque, where the winds are fickle but fun, and an appreciation of the lift one gets from hot-air ballooning.
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December 24, 1979

Splendor In The Desert Sky

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Now, on mass ascension day, the first pink flush of dawn pervades the desert, and thousands of spectators shuffle dust into what becomes a haze. Crews bustle in preparation for the launch. Inflators rasp, burners roar. Willing hands tug at limp and lifeless cloth until it billows fat and round. The smiling face on the Great Pumpkin appears, and the patchwork quilting of Raggedy Ann, then a peacock, a unicorn and Cat Balloon. A blast of gas igniting is heard, then another, and one by one the balloons rise, like Christmas ornaments, majestically, mysteriously, floating in air.

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