Surviving Denver's First Lantern Fest Was a Real High

What a night! The Lantern Fest flew by Denver this weekend.
What a night! The Lantern Fest flew by Denver this weekend.
Lindsey Bartlett

Smoke and screaming children created an atmosphere that at times seemed like a war zone — and also utter bliss.  The Lantern Fest in Dacono was the first in the state this year (an earlier two-night event in Colorado Springs was canceled because of snow, and rescheduled for May 20 and 21).

A windy evening with ominous clouds welcomed attendees to the Colorado National Speedway on Saturday, April 23. But a pocket of blue sky was waiting, and hopes were high.

Kids ran up and down the mounds of dirt in the center of the speedway as though they were playing in a post-apocalyptic amusement park. Families circled their chairs around fire pits for marshmallow roasting, and people huddled under blankets as if they might stay the night. 

For most people, it was their first time at a lantern festival, and volunteers did their best to explain the process. Those with the lanterns handed out at entry were invited to write their fears, hopes, dreams and any thoughts about what they wanted to let go onto their lanterns. Red lanterns were sprinkled in the mix, which would make for a colorful view later.

After three hours of waiting, eating carnival-type food like funnel cake fries, getting their faces painted and making s'mores, participants were finally able to light the lanterns and set them aloft. Lighting the suckers was tricky, and a two-man job.  Staffers told us that you needed to hold the lantern upside down, let the center core cardboard or “ignition packet” catch on fire, then allow it to fill with as much heat and energy as possible (think of a hot-air balloon). Then you just let it go.

The wind dragged the lanterns quickly aloft — or right into a fence around the racetrack. The scene was stunning and surreal, and I kept checking my back: Because of that wind, it seemed like a fireball might swoop by at any second.

The most amazing part was that nobody seemed to mind the hazards. Even those who were hit by flying lanterns brushed them off, then turned to take in the view of the lanterns rising higher into the sky. 

Thankfully, no one was injured that evening, and judging from footage of the second night, the wind was down and lanterns had less trouble going up.

Although wind made the event a challenge, it also made the inaugural Denver area Lantern Fest one of the most beautiful and adrenaline-packed evenings imaginable. Watch the video by Tony White and view our full slideshow from the Lantern Fest. 

Surviving Denver's First Lantern Fest Was a Real High (16)
Lindsey Bartlett
Surviving Denver's First Lantern Fest Was a Real High (36)
Lindsey Bartlett
Surviving Denver's First Lantern Fest Was a Real High (31)
Lindsey Bartlett

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