Put a little color in your travels and arrange your next trip around a hot air balloon festival, watching dozens of huge, colorful balloons soaring across the countryside. And these days you can do that in just about any quarter of the country, from the Northeast to the West Coast and including the well-known annual extravaganza at Albuquerque.
There's a Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival in Foley, Ala., on June 16-18. Their Web site is still a work in progress, but "Visitor Info" at the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce has a directory of motels and RV parks, plus nearby "Places of Interest" such as the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Fla., and Alligator Alley, where you can feed the big reptiles.
Looking for a gathering with a little refreshment? Off Interstate 15 between San Diego and Riverside, the 16th Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival supplements the colorful spectacle with tastings of wines from the valley and elsewhere in Southern California. Click on "Wine" to learn about the participating wineries. Most of the visitors' info is listed under "About the Festival," including directions and accommodations.
They're not the only ones with a friendly libation. On the East Coast, try the Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon & Wine Festival coming up in October at Millwood, Va., about 60 miles west of Washington.
There's a slide show of some of the past novelty balloons on the welcoming page of the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, scheduled for the last weekend in July at Readington, N.J., between Philadelphia and New York. They plan mass ascensions twice a day, plus concerts by the Charlie Daniels Band. Click on "Ballooning" for facts and a quick history of balloons, plus a short photo gallery.
In New England, events include the Great Falls Balloon Festival near Portland, Maine. Look under "Contests" for pictures of previous years' winners.
When the mountain air starts cooling off in the fall, balloon crews and fans head to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico on Oct. 6-15. You'll want to take a few minutes to browse through their big array of photos, arranged under "Gallery" and "Panorama Gallery," and then make plans for taking your own pictures with the photography tips under "Guest Guide."
While you're there, you can help celebrate Albuquerque's tricentennial. The local Convention & Visitors Bureau has links to information on that and other events, plus places to stay, tours and promotion packages.
If none of these events fit your travel plans, surf to Hot Air Ballooning and look for "Find a Festival." It's arranged by region, so you can find a balloon gathering in your own part of the country. The schedule is two years out of date but you can click on each event's Web link to see what their plans are this year.