Sleepy people of all ages walked toward a beacon of glowing balloons in the middle of Rancho San Rafael Park for the 35th annual Great Reno Balloon Race that began Friday, Sept. 9, and continued through Sunday.

The breathtaking view of nearly 100 hot air balloons dancing in the sky draws an average of 120,000 spectators, making the event a beloved community tradition. The Great Reno Balloon Race has won many awards, including “Best Special Event in Reno” and “Best Special Event in Northern Nevada,” and remains the largest free hot air balloon event in the world.

Before the sun rises audiences experience  Dawn Patrol, a trademark of the Great Reno Balloon Race. This show features six experienced pilots specially trained to fly in the dark. This is a dangerous task; pre-dawn atmospheric conditions can be unpredictable, but the balloons twinkling against the dark Nevada sky is a favorite among many attendees.

As the sunlight begins to spread over the field of spectators, the Dawn Patrol pilots land their balloons and prepare for mass ascension. Guests are allowed to walk among the balloons as pilots and their crews prepare for flight.

Giant fans blow cool air into balloons of all shapes and sizes before the fiery propane blaze helps them to rise. Two balloons carrying the Nevada state flag and the U.S. flag take the sky as the singing of the national anthem marks the official start of the Great Reno Balloon Race.

“Standing out on this field is like a momentary escape from reality,” said Jeff Haliczer, a balloon pilot assisting with inflation.

Cheers erupt all around the field as one vibrant balloon after another rises into the early morning sky.

Memorabilia, warm food and drinks, and handmade crafts also await attendees on Balloon Boulevard, where a portion of all sales go toward the funding for future events.

“The balloon race is one of my favorite events in Reno,” said spectator Taylor Chase. “You have to wake up early, but it’s worth it once all of the balloons start to go up. It’s a spectacular sight.”

Emily Fisher can be reached at and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.