Leave the laundry for Monday — it’s fall in Arizona, and that means a ton of weekend fun opportunities. This weekend, for example, you could spend your free time at NASCAR races or American history re-enactments, or enjoying hot air balloons or chocolate and chili peppers.
Even Jay Leno’s crew will be at the American Heritage Festival in Queen Creek, filming for "The Tonight Show."
It’s time to emerge from our air-conditioned hibernation and enjoy the environment. The weather is crystal. Holiday shopping madness is still weeks away. Trust me, your dirty clothes will still be there Monday.
ARIZONA BALLOON FESTIVAL
When: 5:30 to 10 p.m. today; 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Tumbleweed Park, Germann and McQueen roads, Chandler
Features: 40 to 50 hot air balloons, including a giant American eagle to honor Veterans Day, live music, food and fireworks.
Cost: $7 adults, $5 children
"This is truly, truly a family-oriented event," says event promoter Judy Taylor; children of all ages can help balloonists inflate the massive air-filled structures. "To inflate something from nothing" is reason enough to come out.
CHILES AND CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday Where: Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix Features: Vendors, artists and demonstrations, like how to make chocolate ristras, molé or chili pasta. Live mariachi music and flamenco dancers — and a chocolate fountain! Cost: $10, with discounts for senior citizens, students and children. Information: (480) 941-1225
"Our festival is geared mainly toward adults who are food enthusiasts," says Paty Wilson, spokeswoman for the garden. Plus: "The garden is perfect, and the weather is beautiful for being outside."
TEMPE ORIGINAL LOBSTER FESTIVAL
When: 5 p.m. to midnight today; noon to midnight Saturday; 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday
Where: Tempe Beach Park, 80 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Features: Lobsters, live music, carnival rides and a selection of food choices that don’t come with a shell. Maine lobster meals with corn on the cob, new potatoes, coleslaw and a dinner roll are $18-$40.
Cost: $15 adults, $5 kids ages 6 to 12.
"The lobster festival is the campiest festival in town. I mean, it’s grown men dressed up as lobsters, it’s Neil Diamond impersonators," says manager Amanda Blum. "It’s camp and kitsch, all in one."
AMERICAN HERITAGE FESTIVAL
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday Where: Schnepf Farms, 22601 E. Cloud Road, Queen Creek Features: Historical re-enactments such as Civil War battles, parades, artillery displays and historic vehicles Cost: $10. Children 4 and under are free. Information: www.americanheritagefestival.com
"It’s an educational living history event," says Scott Hinkle, coordinator and co-founder of what he calls the largest living history event in the Southwest. "It’s three-dimensional hands-on learning."