Gila Valley bringing in 2022 with hot air balloon festival


Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Jillian Bartsch

The Lindseys’ dream is coming true. This New Year’s Day there will be 20 colorful hot air balloons in the sky being flown by pilots from several different states.

Susan and Greg Lindsey, the owners of AZ Air Ventures, invited a few friends to fly their hot air balloons in Safford last December and hoped one day they would be able to have a balloon festival in Safford. This December their dreams will become reality because the Gila Valley New Years’ Balloon Extravaganza will held Dec. 30 through Jan. 2.

Each day at 6 a.m., everyone will be welcome to watch the pilots set up their 7-story-tall balloons at the Ruth Powell Elementary School in Safford and take-off toward the sky.

There will also be food vendors and a DJ at the event for people to enjoy, according to Brooke Curley, the marketing assistant at the Graham County Chamber of Commerce. There is no registration process and the event is free to the public.

“I am excited to have a balloon extravaganza in Graham County again; we used to have balloon launching back in the early 2000s. We haven’t had one for years it seems like, so it is great to see these amazing, basically, air vehicles come back,” Curley said.

Susan Lindsey plans on having two glows during this event, which is when pilots light up their balloons in the evening, but remain grounded.

“Since we are launching in Safford, we are going to try to have a glow in Thatcher and one in Pima, but we still need to get permission from those city councils; the [Chamber of Commerce] is working on all the permissions,” Lindsey said.

The Lindseys are the balloon meisters, meaning they will be in charge of all the balloon activity at the festival.

This will be their first-time being balloon meisters and Lindsey said the nice part about it is getting to pick pilots they trust and know have good records.

She got her start in ballooning after seeing the Albuquerque balloon event in 2007. She recalled falling in love with the balloons and telling her husband she wanted to do ballooning. She soon started helping pilots set up balloons, land and pack up.

Her husband was a fixed wing pilot and didn’t like the thought of ballooning because they can’t be steered or controlled like an airplane, she said.

“I went through breast and ovarian cancer in 2012 and he would go out and help me crew because I didn’t want cancer to take that away from us,” Lindsey said. “In 2016, he woke up one day and didn’t think I was breathing, and he was like the only thing she’s ever wanted her whole life is a hot air balloon.”

He woke her up and told her they should get a hot air balloon. She recalled immediately asking for the phone so she could get one before he changed his mind. He got his license in 2016 and she got hers in 2019. Now a few years later, they will be hosting their own balloon event.

“This event is worth getting up for, there are only about 3,000 balloons in the U.S. So, to have two in the hometown and 20 coming to the hometown, it is a unique opportunity,” Lindsey said.

People don’t realize the magnitude of what an event like this can do for the community, Lindsey said. Over the years she hopes they will be able to build tourism opportunities.

During Pinetop’s annual event they sell out of hotel rooms three months beforehand; more than 5,000 people attend.

“That’s what ballooning can bring to a community, and that is what we hope we can start to build. We hope to get people excited and have people coming in from outside of Safford to come see the balloons,” Lindsey said.

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