Up Up and a Must!

Some of the things you need to experience once in your lifetime when you live or visit Arizona: wine tasting in Jerome, the breweries in Flagstaff on a gorgeous summer day, lobster roll and butter cake at Ocean Club, the views at the Grand Canyon, sugar cookies at Tammie Coe, Pizza at Pizzeria Bianco,  skydiving in Eloy, donuts at Welcome Chicken & Donuts,  hiking at Camelback mountain, the experience at Taco Festival, the ambience during a Spring Training game,  English muffins at LGO, and a morning hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders.

Speaking of hot air balloon rides, we were fortunate enough to see the sunrise a few weeks back over 8,000 feet in the air, which was absolutely an experience of a lifetime.  We met at the Rainbow Ryders facility before sun up at 5am to see the team launching a small helium balloon with a light inside that would gauge the wind direction for the morning.  Could this be the origins of the Phoenix lights? We all checked in, signed our waivers, and got into the van where we began our journey with our pilot for the morning.

We flew with their most senior Pilot that morning, who seemed to know the landscape and airways better than anyone. He also provided us with a bunch of early morning cheesy hot air ballooning jokes, which we loved.  As we made our first stop to measure the situation in the field and sky, we could see all the other balloon crews on the road headed in the same vicinity, like storm chasers in the movie Twister.  Our pilot then made the call to head in the opposite direction, further out west where the landscape was one of his favorite spots. And boy oh boy was he right!

We pulled in to begin the process of inflating the balloons. We seemed to be in a forest of cacti with beautiful rolling hills to our west, which we were told was the direction we would be headed.  The balloons began to grow bigger. The excitement did too and once the balloon was completely above us, everyone stepped into their assigned compartments in the basket. 

The other team was up just a few minutes before us with the wind pushing them in our direction.  You would think we began to panic, but nope!  Something cool was about to happen that only happens once every 20 flights or so.  We were about to “kiss” the other balloon in mid-air. A “kiss” is when two balloons are in flight and they touch each other in air.  Our initial reaction was “this shouldn’t happen,” but it quickly became an extremely cool thing to experience.  Up just about 100 feet in the air, we were practically connected with the other team for a few moments in time (check out the “kiss” in the picture gallery).

We began our full ascent and started to see Lake Pleasant to the north of us along with the rest of the valley all around us.  The only sound we could hear was the roar of the burner heating up the air that would give us our lift.  It was one of the most serene experiences you could ever imagine.  As the airflow began to take us over the hills that were pointed out to us at the beginning, our pilot began to look for wild donkeys that peppered the area below.  It wasn’t 5 minutes in, and our pilot spotted a pack.  I couldn’t find it for the life of me.  Maybe we were too high up for my single contact to work properly.  He then found another lone jackass (not in our basket, on the ground) and he started to descend towards it.  I could see it this time as we got closer and closer.  He became spooked by the sound of our burner and ran off.

From there we began to ascend again, this time carrying us higher and higher.  One of us asked what the height limit was for a hot air balloon and we were told it was 9,000 feet, and that’s exactly what we did.   Let me tell you, the air was much cooler at that altitude, where we were reminded that we were at the height of Flagstaff at that very moment!  It was so crazy to be that high and have it so quiet and soooo chilly!  We could see our chase vehicles in the distance looking like little Matchbox toys.

Once we started the descent, and knew where those little matchbox cars were, we started to understand where our pilot was shooting for the landing.  The remarkable thing about this was that there was several structures and homes in the area, and yet this pilot would place us down right on the edge of all of it, right next to the chase vehicles.  After getting our landing instructions, he gently brushed the basket over some bushes and small trees giving us a graceful landing where the crew secured us.  Then we were all assisted in exiting the basket, where the pilot already had a table setup with champagne and OJ (for our tie-in to AZ Food & Wine), morning mimosas.  At that point we proceeded with the hot air balloon toast:

Hot Air Balloon Toast

“The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
We have flown so high and so well that God
has joined you in laughter and set you gently
back into the loving arms of mother Earth.”


If you’re not afraid of heights, and love to experience new things at least once, this is a must, especially with Rainbow Ryders by the Deer Valley Airport. www.rainbowryders.comThe journey these guys will take you on is guaranteed to be a ride of a lifetime!

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