Hot air ballooning is a big attraction in the Southwest. Probably the best known balloon event is the Albuquerque (New Mexico) International Balloon Fiesta, held in October each year. Among the zillions of scheduled events is a ‘mass ascension’ of hundreds of balloons, which must be quite something to see.
There’s ballooning activity here in Arizona as well, though it appears from the web sites I could find to be centered more around Phoenix proper , Scottsdale and Sedona rather than out to the east where we are.
I suspect the balloon we saw the other day belongs to an individual rather than one of the several tour companies that run balloon flights in the area. We don’t often see balloons here, though part of the reason might be that flights generally take off at dawn and at dusk when the air is at its stillest. We’re not usually looking out the window at dawn (ahem).
Our first glimpse, off to the east:
Getting closer and losing altitude:
The Captain and I went on a hot air balloon ride a number of years ago with the dashing Captain Bollard who dressed the part and served champagne. I was terrified; the wicker basket you ride in comes up only to about your waist. I spent the entire flight kneeling on the floor of the basket and peeking over the edge. If I’d had a rosary you would’ve heard clicking beads a mile away.
Most of a balloon flight is calm, slow, gentle, graceful and still. Until the captain decides it is time to gain some altitude. Then he ignites a flame under the bottom hole of the balloon that makes a huge whooshing sound (the hot air fills the balloon above which is what makes it rise). What a shock it was to hear that for the first time, and to be so close to a rather large open flame. In a wicker basket. Still, you see things from a completely new perspective when you look down from a balloon. And since you’re not as high or moving as fast as you are in an airplane, you have time to look carefully at the scene slowly passing beneath you. Sometimes you see a lot of faces staring up with their mouths open, which is quite satisfying.
One day about 15 years ago The Captain (not of balloons, by the way) and I were sitting on our terrace at our New England home having sundown drinks with friends. We lived far out in the woods, and there were not many clear areas nearby other than the space in front of our house. We watched a balloon in the distance grow larger and larger; in fact pretty soon it seemed immense – to the point that our 130-pound guard dog started quivering and soiled himself. Yes, the same dog that kept delivery men rooted to their van seats in our driveway. The balloon filled our sky and suddenly we realized that the pilot was looking for a place to land. We also realized that he really had few options. We knew who it was because there was only one balloonist for miles around (not Captain Bollard). Sure enough, before long the balloon bounced along the field in front of our house, knocked over two sections of garden fence, took out a row of tomatoes and came to rest in our lettuce. The sprightly 70+ year old pilot was all apologies, his comely companion, ever so much younger, was charming. Drinks were offered, toasts drunk, the chase car appeared, and before we knew it balloon and balloonists were gone, as if it had all been something we imagined.
And that’s the thing about balloons, I think – they get the imagination going. They’re romantic and slightly exotic; surely if you’re in a balloon, adventure cannot be far away! So if you ever have a chance to have a balloon ride, I hope you’ll do it. Even if you’re afraid – you can always kneel on the floor of the basket.