This morning was the second surprise of the trip for Chris. When we went to Albuquerque for my 20th high school reunion two years ago - we saw hot air balloons out over the West Mesa. Chris was totally impressed and asked me if I had ever been ballooning. I told him I had, numerous time (hey I grew up in Albuquerque... balloon capital of the world) and he said that “some day I want to do that” - I figured someday would involve a trip to see my parents in Albuquerque... but they fly hot air balloons in Arizona too!! So - I searched on the Internet and found Red Rock Balloon Adventures
. I booked with them and we were all set for a 620am pick up at the hotel in the morning.
Luckily - we had some breakfast goodies in the room - so we packed up all our of stuff and took it to the Rav4 while nibbling on poptarts! Our balloon ride also included a breakfast after the flight - so we needed something minimal to get us started. After getting all the bags in the car, and checked out of our room (we didn’t know if we’d be back from ballooning by check out time) - we met up with Mark - our van driver and balloon pilot, he already had one couple in the van and we drove to another location to meet more passengers. After loading everyone up in the van - we headed to the launch site outside of town and met up with the second van of passengers. We would have a total of 11 passengers in a 295,000 cubic foot balloon that would normally hold 16 passengers. The pilot and ground crew set up the balloon, we loaded up and were off. This was Chris’ first balloon flight, any my first not working as crew (every other time I flew I was crew).
Setting up the basket
Hooking the envelope to the basket
Unpacking the envelope
Bundled up against the very cold pre-dawn air
Getting ready to turn on the fan
Beginning to inflate the envelope
Making progress on inflation
Inserting the crown (the top) of the envelope
Making good progress on filling the balloon with cold air
Beginning the "burn" to heat the air inside the balloon
Getting ready to stand the basket up
Burning before launch
Checking the radio and GPS
All onboard - getting ready to launch!
We were very close to the pilot and the burners. It was pretty warm there.
Looking up to the top of the envelope
We launched and quickly climbed out of the box canyon we had been in and could see 360 degrees around Sedona and the National Forest
I bounced between video and photos the whole flight
The sun finally starting to rise above the red rocks
I posted an update and photo to Facebook from the balloon - 3,000 feet above the desert!
Mt Humprey in the distance near Flagstaff, the tallest point in Arizona - we would drive past there later in the day
This formation is called "cock's comb"
Chris and I onboard the balloon
Zooming in on Mt. Humprey w/Chris' camera
We flew out of the canyons, and over a wide valley plain where they graze cattle. Our pilot flew lower, hoping to scare some wildlife (deer, anatalope, elk) out of the brush - but instead we saw a few "desert bovines" - cows.
During the whole flight - the pilot would rotate the basket using a vent in the side of the balloon so that everyone got to see everything around them. Our chase crew followed us the whole time, and after about an hour, the pilot began looking for a good landing spot with easy access for the crew.
There is our chase crew - and we landed right next to that old beat up toyota truck.
Coming down for our landing was very nice and smooth -
Our landing was so soft and easy - balloonists refer to it as a "catch and carry " landing - since the crew can physically catch the balloon and walk it to where they want to deflate it.
Popping the vent in the envelope to let the hot air out
Back in the loving arms of mother earth (part of the balloonists prayer)
The crew making sure the balloon didn't land on the truck
Chris was enamored with the truck it reminded him of his first toyota...
After we landed, the crew packed up the balloon and we drove to a picnic area for breakfast -
We were told the story of how ballooning got started in France and why balloonists always carry a bottle (or a few) of champagne.
We had a mimosa toast, and Chris caught the cork to the champagne bottle - and the pilot turned it into a little balloon.
After breakfast - we loaded up into the van, I paid for our flights (as well as a sweatshirt and baseball cap) and we were taken back to the Hilton. We had a WONDERFUL time and I hope that we can go ballooning again in the near future - maybe with friends in Albuquerque!! Next - Chapel of the Rocks - and the Scenic Route