Bevy of balloons will beautify the skies over Baton Rouge this summer

Approximately 60 balloons will take part in the festival. Leo Honeycutt photos
Sixty hot air balloons, each seven stories tall, will float over Louisiana’s capital city during three days this summer, Aug. 10–12, creating an aerial kaleidoscope of color.

During the festival in Baton Rouge, 30 pilots from 15 states will scramble to become the best hot air balloon pilot in the Southeastern U.S. Regional Hot Air Balloon Championship©. In addition, 30 more pilots will compete simultaneously in the 2007 Louisiana State Hot Air Balloon Championship. In the past, more than 100,000 spectators have attended the event, which Sports Illustrated has called one of “America’s Top 25 Summer Essentials.”

The show also features skydivers, fireworks, bands and Louisiana cuisine. Early birds arrive at dawn to watch pilots race into the sunrise. Literally at the mercy of the winds, they guide their 70,000-cubic-foot balloons by heat from burners as they ride the crosswinds.

Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 6 p.m., pilots take off in a mass ascension as skydivers twirl down from the sky.

At 8 p.m., they’re back for a spectacular “balloon glow,” firing off burners to create a wondrous scene of seven-story light bulbs. Fireworks cap off the two nights.

“We started hosting the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships in the late 1980s,” says George Richard, executive director of the Louisiana Balloon Foundation. “So many people showed up, now we host some balloon event every year. It’s a bigger show and bigger crowds and everyone has the best seat in the house.”

The event, which is held on a field at the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center at 6400 Perkins Road, is free with food and gift booths on site, as well as a free children’s village. Parking is free. Bring a blanket and a camera.

To reach the field, exit Interstate 10 at Essen Lane, travel south to Perkins Road, turn right and go one-half mile. The field is on the left. Click on www.laballooning.com online for more details.

Wagons will rumble and roar during Clinton, Ark., festival

Dozens of racers take part in the event. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo
The words “fast food” take on new meaning each summer in Clinton, Ark., during the annual National Championship Chuckwagon Race.

Now in its 22nd year, the race features dozens of chuck wagons careening around a field at the Bar of Ranch in north-central Arkansas. The wagons may not be filled with cowboy vittles as they were designed to do in the mid-1800s, but they still resemble pioneer-era wagons and are pulled by teams of snorting horses galloping for glory.

The championship weekend will be held Aug. 30–Sept. 2. In all, 150 teams will converge on the ranch to compete in five race divisions. There will also be bronc fanning, which is a bucking horse contest where the rider must stay on for at least seven seconds, and a Snowy River Race, a thrilling cross-country horse race that includes two downhill runs and a plunge into a river.

In addition to the races, visitors can enjoy Ozark Mountain trail rides, plenty of barbecue food, a roping clinic, horseshoeing contests, barrel races, music, a barn dance, church services and more. Vendors of Western collectibles, crafts, art, saddles and tack will be set up throughout the weekend.

The ranch is at 2848 Shake Rag Road in Clinton, which is located about 60 miles north of Little Rock off U.S. Route 65. Admission to the races is $25 each day for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and $15 for other days. Some events will be held earlier in the week; for details, contact the ranch.

For a complete schedule of events or details about camping at the site, call (501) 745-8407, or click on www.chuck wagonraces.com.

Jackson’s Manship House offers a feast for the eyes

The lovely home was built in 1857. Mississippi Department of Archives and History photo
Unrealized by many outside of Jackson, Miss., a jewel of the 19th century sits near the state Capitol: The Manship House Museum, the beautiful Victorian home of Jackson’s Civil War mayor, Charles Henry Manship.

The picturesque house, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, is one of the few examples of Gothic Revival residential architecture in the state. The house, which is filled with period-correct furniture, showcases Manship’s vocation as an ornamental painter and grainer and features a stunning faux-red oak dining room and grained mahogany mantels.

In addition to offering tours, the house also stages seasonal exhibits, such as “summer dress,” for which the home is prepared to weather the heat of summer. An adjacent visitors center has interpretive exhibits.

The museum is located at 420 Fortification. Hours are 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday–Friday and 10 a.m.–4 p.m. on Saturday. For details, call (601) 961-4724, or visit www.mdah.state.ms.us.

History will echo at patriotic events in Baton Rouge, La.

For a unique Independence Day party, visit the Baton Rouge, La., riverfront and the USS KIDD for the Star-Spangled Celebration, a day-long festival offering a dazzling array of fireworks, battle re-enactments, food and music.

The fun gets underway with tours of the USS KIDD, a restored World War II destroyer, from 9 a.m.–3 p.m. on July 4. On shore near the USS KIDD Veterans Memorial, festivities swing into gear at noon with food and drink booths and a children’s play area. Live music cranks up at 3 p.m. and continues throughout the day.

Then at 6 p.m. (weather permitting), an air show will be followed by an ear-shattering “attack” of the USS KIDD. The veteran destroyer will take on “Japanese” warbirds in a dramatic re-enactment with dive-bombing planes, explosions and anti-aircraft gunfire.

Things calm down at 8 p.m. with patriotic classics by the Baton Rouge Concert Band, leading the way into the fireworks, which begin at 9 p.m.

The USS KIDD continues its salute to veterans beyond July 4 with Living History weekends that also include scale modeling demonstrations. Re-enactors will portray soldiers of the American Revolution on July 14 and a World War II infantry unit on Aug. 11.

For more details, click on www.usskidd.com.

With few grapes on the vine in Arkansas, the Altus Grape Festival still flourishes

The stomp will be held even without grapes. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo
The folks in Altus, Ark., wouldn’t let a little thing like a severe spring freeze that nearly destroyed the grape harvest get in the way of their annual grape festival.

So they decided that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or more accurately, when life takes away your grapes, have a grapeless grape celebration. In what would have been the 25th year of the Altus Grape Festival, organizers instead are holding the first and hopefully the last Grapeless Grape Festival.

To be held July 27–28 in City Park in this northwest Arkansas town, the festival will feature most of the activities normally held during the festival but without the grapes. Even the festive grape stomp will be held with some fruit or substance other than grapes.

As always there will be a Bacchus look-alike contest, a street dance each night, waiter and waitress tray races, a juried craft show, children’s play area, food booths, tours at area wineries and more. Using some of the region’s limited grape harvest and with grapes from other areas, there will be a grape pie-eating contest and wine-tasting booths.

Altus has a strong wine tradition that dates to the 1800s when German-Swiss immigrants who settled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains founded wineries. Today, five wineries operate in Altus and nearby Paris, including Chateau Aux Arc Vineyards and Winery, Cowie Wine Cellars, Mount Bethel Winery, Post Familie Vineyards and Wiederkehr Wine Cellars.

Altus is located off Inter-state 40 on Highway 64 midway between Russellville and Fort Smith. For more details, call the Altus Chamber of Commerce at (479) 468-4684.

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