It's a common sensation around here. You're walking along when you sense some kind of looming presence behind you - a big, sun-blocking presence. Flocks of birds? Ghosts? Swarms of bees? No.
If you're in Boise, chances are it's a hot air balloon. Despite their size, they're eerily quiet - sometimes you can hear pilots chatting in their baskets - until their burners exhale a hot dragon breath.
The geography and stable wind patterns in the Boise Valley explain the number of balloons in Boise skies, said Scott Spencer, director of the annual Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic.
The wind comes down the canyon at Lucky Peak and over the dam into the Valley.
"But if you go up to 1,000 feet, you have a natural west to east flow that will return you to where you took off," said Spencer.
Balloon pilots call this phenomenon the "Boise Box."
This fall will mark the 39th annual balloon rally in Boise, Spencer said.
Local ballooning began modestly in the mid-1970s. It grew steadily, reaching a high point during the years of the Boise River Festival when balloons became synonymous with the capital city and festivity. Ballooning in Boise survived the end of the River Festival.
Spencer expects 45 balloons to be part of the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic this year. Pilots are coming from as far away as Florida, even Malaysia, to fly the skies of Boise.
Why do Boiseans love their balloons so much?
"Balloons are happy," said Spencer, noting the numbers who show up early in the morning to see balloons launch from Ann Morrison Park.
"Balloons are not an action sport. They're pretty slow. But where else do you see people come to the park in their pajamas, drinking milk or sipping coffee to watch? It's a wholesome throwback to the '60s. It's no more complex than that - other than the fact that balloons are magic."
Mark your calendars: The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic is Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 in Ann Morrison Park. Organizers need volunteers: contact Wendy at 323-4263 or Cheryl at 631-1550 for more.
Anna Webb: 377-6431