Sonoma, June 2012 - Hot Air Balloon Festival in Windsor, Guerneville, Austin Creek, Sonoma Coast
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Dawn patrol, early Sunday morning 17 June 2012, filling the balloon with hot air before ascent at the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic, June 16–17, 2012.


17 June 2012 Sunday:
We had a scare. No, not with the flames from the balloon. No, it was with Willie, our three-legged cat. Friday, we were by the vet that he might have a tumor in his stomach based on the ultrasound. We canceled our motel reservation for Saturday evening. We managed to get an appointment with a larger facility in West L.A. for the following morning. The doctor came back, and rather calmly, stoically, told us that he tried several different angles with the ultrasound and couldn't find anything. The mass could have been gas. Slowly it dawned on us: Willie was okay. Willie was okay. Willie's belly may have been half-shaved, but he was okay. He was okay!

That Saturday afternoon, Lisa, Curious George and I decided we'd drive up to Sonoma anyway, and left in the middle of the afternoon, hardly stopping except for the all-important Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella.

After four hours of sleep, we awoke to a nice cool dark morning, exhausted but excited to be driving up to Keiser Park in Windsor to see five hot air balloons participate in the dawn patrol, dramatically turning their flames on simultaneously to light up the balloons, glowing in magnificent contrast to the dark skies.

(I'll name the balloons if I can identify them from the SCHABC website).

Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at ISO 1600, 1/125s @ f/5, handheld.

Early morning lift-off with a sliver of moon as a backdrop. Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic, Sunday, 17 June 2012, with the beautiful contrast of the lit balloon against the still-dark morning sky.

Dana Thornton's balloon "Free Spirit" (San Jose, California).

By 6:30 in the morning, many more hot air balloons appeared.

This was the first hot air balloon festival I had ever attended. Everyone always mentions that we should see the festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is manyfold larger than this relatively small one of 25-30 balloons. But even with this amount, there seemed to be a great deal of activity.

Mike Kijak " Keep Dreamin'" ( Windsor CA)

By 6:30 am, the crowd had swollen, chattering, gathering around balloonists as fired up their burners, filling the balloons with hot air in preparation for their eventual ascent into the Sonoma sky.

Left: Mike Kijak, "Keep Dreamin' "(Windsor CA); right: Katie Griggs "Sushi "(Dayton NV).

Left: Mike Kijak, "Keep Dreamin' "(Windsor CA); right: Katie Griggs "Sushi "(Dayton NV).

John Cavin's fine balloon "Spunky" floats up (Indialantic FL).

According to Wikipedia - just to let you know about my extensive research - the hot air balloon is the oldest successful technology that can launch humans aloft. In Paris, France, 21 November 1783, the first untethered manned flight was made by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes in a hot air balloon created on December 14, 1782 by the Montgolfier brothers. My guess is that the balloon didn't look like a skunk or sushi.

Jay Schuler "Pencil Boy" (Reno NV), fired up a brand-new balloon that unfortunately never lifted off due to sudden winds, but was nonetheless a huge hit with the crowd, urging literacy and education.

Spread out below Pencil Boy is another balloon, giving you a sense of the size of these balloons, between how much space it takes up flat and how immense these are compared to the people and baseball fences in the back.

Terri Ratkoviak "Party Panda" (Etna CA). This is an older balloon that I believe had intended on giving tethered rides, but could not due to the aforementioned winds suddenly picking up. The day before, the announcer had said, had been the nicest day for hot air ballooning in 22 years of the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic.

Still a little tired from lack of sleep, the long drive from the night before, and a day of wondering whether Willie was okay, we hung out at The Treehouse, a rustic wooden cabin near the Russian River in Guerneville.

18 June 2012 Monday: The next day, we met up with our friends Adam and Jill and their lovely two kids. Adam drove us to Salt Point Beach along the Sonoma Coast, splashing around on the beach.

Seals at Salt Point, Sonoma Coast, wondering if we have any fish to fling their way.

Sonoma, The Timeless Sea 1 - long exposure photoDuplicating the fun from our last visit to Sonoma, Adam wanted to take more long exposure photos by the coast. This is a six-second exposure, Adam and his kids making sure they stay very still. I forgot to bring my Gorillapod tripod, so this photo was taken by placing the camera on a rock.

Geeky info: Nikon D90, 18-200mm Nikkor VR at 32mm, F/29 ISO 200 for 6 seconds, two Tiffen 0.9 neutral density filters, flat rock (I forgot my tripod!).

Sonoma, The Timeless Seae II - long exposure photo Salt Point, Sonoma Coast. This one was also taken in the same manner as above, and is also a six-second long exposure. I like the ghostly motions of the visitor sitting up.

Geeky info: Nikon D90, 18-200mm Nikkor VR at 27mm, F/25 ISO 200 for 6 seconds, two Tiffen 0.9 neutral density filters, flat rock (I forgot my tripod!).

After Salt Point, we drove up the coast a short way to Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve.

This reserve contains second-growth redwood, Douglas fir, grand firs, tanoaks, and a plethora of rhododendrons. In April and May the rhododendrons burst into bloom, their brilliant pink blooms offering a dramatic contrast to the deep green of the forest. Since we were there in the middle of June, we caught the last of the blooms. The large amount of is a direct result of normal plant succession patterns following a severe fire that once occurred here. Today, the regenerating forest is gradually overwhelming the rhododendrons.

Adam's daughter wants to know if you want to make a salad out of rhododendron. We politely declined.

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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Sonoma, June 2012 - Windsor Hot Air Balloon Festival, Guerneville, Austin Creek, Sonoma Coast
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