And why does Orange County have a giant orange balloon ride? The answer is in the picture below that was taken from the balloon. See that long stretch of asphalt that looks like a runway? It is a runway, formerly part of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. When the Navy announced in 1993 that MCAS would be decommissioned, local residents rushed into action to fight the powers-that-be who wanted to turn it into a commercial airport. Their chosen alternative was to turn the land into a "Great Park," and eventually that's what happened. After a decade of initiatives, court fights, and grassroots campaigning, the airport idea was finally struck a death blow. In the end, a development company bought the land and handed over 1,347 acres for development of a huge park. The balloon is there as a sort of placeholder until the Great Park is open for business.
So there you have it. More about the Great Park here. Balloon info here. Note to OC residents: the balloon is free through the rest of 2007, and the place was practically empty when we went on Friday afternoon. Just drive up, get a boarding pass, and walk on.