True to this year's theme, about 40 hot-air balloons should soon start "Lighting up the Skies."
Weather permitting, the annual event gets up, up and away Friday at 6:30 a.m. with the first official flight of the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede Presented by Gesa Credit Union.
Pilots plan to take off from the following area schools: Assumption, Berney, Blue Ridge, Davis, Garrison, Green Park, Liberty Christian, Lincoln Alternative High School, Meadow Brook, Pioneer, Prospect Point, Sharpstein, Walla Walla High School and Walla Walla Valley Academy.
Two or three balloons will be launched at most of the sites as has been the case for the past few years.
Two other 6:30 a.m. flights, on Saturday and Sunday, will originate solely from the traditional Garrison Middle School launch site adjacent to the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.
Spirits will soar the rest of the weekend for the thousands attending the longest-running balloon stampede in the Pacific Northwest and the first rally of the season.
Admission to the fairgrounds, the primary site of the festival, is free. Hours are Friday from 3-9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Entertainment is scheduled Friday afternoon and evening. A "meet the pilots" community reception catered by Jacobi's Cafe is planned for 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the fairgrounds Community Building. Admission is $20 and tickets must have been purchased in advance at the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, 29 E. Sumach St., by April 30. A free dance party with music by Feedback on the Serenity Point Stage will follow from 7:30-9 p.m.
Registration for Saturday's Balloonsday Run & Walk begins at 8 a.m.
A pancake breakfast will be available Saturday and Sunday following the launches until 10 a.m. Other festival highlights will include more live entertainment, the world's tallest balloon tethered at Garrison, a classic car show Saturday, an arts and crafts fair and a food court runway. Featured this year in the Kids Zone will be race cars, a mechanical bull and carnival games.
Horses will line up at the starting gate for races Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.
Also, the Children's Museum of Walla Walla will present a Children's Center Interactive Learn and Play in the Flower Building on Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Altrusa Spelling Bee is slated from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Students from the third grade through the fifth grade who have preregistered will compete at the rotunda in the fairgrounds pavilion.
A crowd-pleaser every year is "Nite Glow," where tethered balloons light the Saturday night sky at the fairgrounds. The event will kick off with entertainment by Money for Nothing at 7 p.m.
Starting at 11 a.m. Sunday, a Gospel finale is on tap with entertainment by Valley Christian Church, Faith Street & Grace, and Solid Rock.
Parking is available in lots surrounding the fairgrounds.
Those who want to attend in official style can buy clothing and souvenirs at the Chamber office. Shirts of various designs are on sale, in addition to baseball caps and commemorative pins, posters and magnets. The items also will be available at a booth at the fairgrounds during the stampede.
Chamber officials remind festival-goers that no pets except service animals are allowed.
Terry McConn can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8319.