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The 2011 Great Reno Balloon Race marks the 30th year of this spectacle. Billed as the largest free balloon festival in the world, this 3-day event features almost 100 hot air balloons. It is a particularly guest-friendly event, and the guests are permitted to wander amongst the balloons, talk with the crews, and get some amazing photo opportunities. The “standard” balloons come in every conceivable color, which makes the mass fly-away an unforgettable experience. And there are also some quite unique balloons, which vary each year but this year included Darth Vader, a giant Stagecoach, and several wonderful animals.

The event runs Friday through Sunday; and, on Saturday and Sunday, it starts at 5:00am, with the “Glow Show,” a music-coordinated light show provided by five balloons, while still on the ground. Then, on those two days, the five Glow Show balloons take off at 5:30, in what is called the “Dawn Patrol.” They cast off into the pitch black night and provide an expanded, music-coordinated light show. The highlight of the three days is the 6:45am “Mass Ascension,” in which all balloons, totaling almost 100, take off in a scramble that is absolutely dazzling . . . and extraordinary. And what is most amazing is that spectators are right in the middle of the scramble! Bring a good camera; this is an intensely target-rich environment!