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It’s the 39th annual Red Rock Balloon Rally

The skies over Gallup will soon be filled with an inviting sight, one that signals the arrival of one of the staple events of Gallup. One, then dozens, and finally hundreds of hot-air balloons will dot the sky when the 39th annual Red Rock Balloon Rally takes flight from Dec. 6 to 8 over Red Rock Park and surrounding areas.

“We expect about 135 balloons this year,” Balloon Rally Co-Founder Peter Procopio said Nov. 25. “Balloons and pilots are coming from all over. We have a pilot coming from England named Graham Bell. He’s in his last year of flying.”

Bell, who hails from Malvern, Worcestershire-Great Britain, has previously flown in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He is one of the pilots who came to Gallup for the rally after it earned international appeal at the start of the century.


Procopio, along with Lionel McKinney, Michael Siebersma and Karl Lohmann, are credited with establishing the Red Rock Balloon Rally in 1981.

What began as a small effort by these four individuals to share the unique flying challenge and landscape offered in the red rock formations east of Gallup, has turned into one of the largest balloon rallies in the United States and across the world.

In a previous interview with the Sun, Procopio recalled the beginnings of the Red Rock Balloon Rally.

The first rally saw a small group of people meet at the old Ramada Inn on Gallup’s west end to plan and troubleshoot the event. Procopio said at the time the first rally saw about 50 balloonists come out and that number doubled the year after.

The idea that evolved from observing a now-gone balloon rally in Farmington, is now one of the world’s biggest in terms of attraction and number of participants, according to Procopio.

This growth in international appeal happened in 2002 after a pair of articles and photo spreads was published in the monthly fashion magazine Harper’s BAZAAR and took the rally to new heights, Procopio said. Writers and photographers spent a week in Gallup gathering information, researching, and interviewing people for the articles.

The rally has received numerous accolades, including “Best Balloon Event in The West” from Ballooning Magazine; “Most Outstanding Event” from the New Mexico Tourism Association; and “Outstanding Community Event” by the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce.

According to Procopio, to date the Red Rock Balloon Rally has been canceled only once, in 2011, due to heavy snow and fog.


Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Lee said he is very excited about this year’s event.

“We’re hoping for great weather and for next weekend to be a great weekend for ballooning here in Gallup,” Lee said.

Procopio said this year’s schedule looks to be as packed as that of previous years. He has previously flown a balloon named “Koshare Gallup,” a reference to a sacred clown of Native American Pueblo origin, which will be seen in the skies at this year’s event as well.

The morning of Dec. 7, the anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor, is one moment Procopio wants to highlight.

“We’re going to do a special salute with a Presentation of Colors where we have a balloon lifting off before the others with the American flag,” he said.

Procopio also provided a rundown of other events visitors can look forward to, including Native American jewelry and art vendors; Native American dance performances; the Christmas Parade in downtown Gallup; an art show; and nightly balloon glows.

Procopio extends his invitation to readers to come out to the rally. There is no admission charge for the event, except for a $5 parking fee.

“It will be a lot of fun for everybody,” Lee said. “Just the sheer number of balloons in the sky over Gallup and Red Rock Park is enough to get people excited.”

“People can come out, walk around the balloons, talk to pilots. It’s a pretty open event,” Procopio said. “Bring your cameras and dress warm.”

Pilot and crew registration begins Dec. 5 at the El Rancho Hotel, 1000 E. Hwy. 66. Procopio said anyone who is interested in being part of a chase crew should contact the Balloon Rally Association at (800) 242-4282.

For more information on the Red Rock Balloon Rally, visit http://redrockballoonrally.com/.

By Cody Begaye
Sun Correspondent