You know your unhealthy interest in fireworks is excessive if it has caused you to make a 1,500-mile trip to attend the Western Winter Blast, an assemblage of like-minded individuals who have a slightly outsized and unnatural attraction to exploding cylinder shells.
Combine Woodstock (add 40 years to the average attendee’s age), the tailgating of an SEC college football day, desert, dust, ATV’s, bad judgment, mix it with a lot of Sulphur, charcoal and potassium, beer, BBQ, rodeo grounds, live bands playing, and professional grade fireworks, and you have a pretty good idea what this event is about.
This is the “trade show” of fireworks displays. Located in Lake Havasu City in northwest Arizona, this is where fireworks manufacturers and distributors come to highlight this year’s fireworks selection.
We arrived at the rodeo “campground”, the Havasu Lake Rodeo Grounds which were basically marked out campsites in the dirt. Organized by a fellow Airstreamer (thank you Mike Rita!!), we joined up with a few existing friends and made a number of new ones. Our little enclave of aluminum was really cool. And we didn’t have to move from our campsite to see the fireworks shot off from the adjacent Havasu Speedway. And did I mention Thor, Cauldron of Death made an appearance as well??
But you could have camped for free on surrounding BLM lands, which many people did, with every conceivable flavor of RV.
Now I told you bad judgment was a part of this whole endeavor. Our slice was to drive to a desert bar called Nellie E’s. We headed about 30 miles, the last 3 miles being four-wheel drive over rock/gravel terrain. The bar can only be accessed via four-wheel drive or an ATV.
There is no electricity except what they produce with their solar panels; they have to haul in food and beer and everything else over this same road; and the bar is only open from noon to 6 pm on Saturdays and Sundays – for only a few months of the year. Other than that, this is a piece of cake. But fun? Hell yeah! And the food is great too!
Did I mention there was a live band – and they were great? The many-award winning band Hard Rain played, and amongst many other gigs, have been the house band here for a number of years.
OK, back to the fireworks.
The fireworks were set off from the Havasu 95 Speedway. The center of the speedway was the torch point for all the fireworks, and what with the surrounding terrain and absence of trees afforded great views for literally miles around, depending on how close you wanted to get. People started arriving at the speedway by around noon to get the coveted seats in the stands – and be right at the heart of the activities.
We all know what fireworks are. They are the things that make our pets shake and cower. But beyond that, if you are in the know, there are four primary ingredients: the launch, the fuse, the burst charge, and the individual stars.
The launch is the explosive that launches the firework into the sky. The result we all hope for is the launch is aimed into the sky – not your next-door neighbor’s house. Unless of course, well, let’s not get into that.
The fuse is that string that you light that ignites the explosive that launches the firework into the sky. The key here is you want a fuse long enough that you don’t get sent into orbit alongside the firework. These guys are smarter than that – they use remote control. Bloody cheaters.
The burst charge is what causes the firework to further explode up in the air, and of course the individual stars, when they ignite, are what makes us go ooh and aah.
Not that you would, but don’t go licking your fireworks after you have purchased them. They are made up of Sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate – possibly made from bird poop or bat guano. Just sayin’.
What are the keys to measuring a fireworks’ success in making you go ooh and aah? That comes down to height, size, shape and color. It’s not that complicated – kind of like the analysis you went through to choose your mate. Your mate, not my mate. My selection was different; she was the only one who would have me.
Then there are styles of bursts: break color and report shells, American cylinder shells, and Oriental style shell.
The key, regardless, is the burst charge and stars – which is what we see. Now these are made of common household products: barium, sodium, strontium, and copper. Clearly you can make your own fireworks at home, and I highly recommend that if you have already lived your best years.
But let’s see some of what the experts created…