If we’re being honest, we were pretty nervous about this excursion with Hot Air Expeditions. When one person is afraid of heights and the other is afraid of flying, it doesn’t make for a great pair of hot air ballooners. But apparently it’s a very popular thing to do in Phoenix so…when in Rome.
We were picked up around 5am and driven about 45 minutes into the desert. Pulling off-road, we snaked through cacti, heaps of sand, and other groups preparing for a morning float. The sun was just peaking over the mountains and a gorgeous golden glow drenched everything in sight.
We watched as our morning ride came to life, inflated first with cold air from fans, while the lines were checked and secured.
Once she had some air in her, they started to add heat, which rises and creates the lift needed to get the balloon up-right.
In what seemed like a matter of seconds, the balloon and basket flipped up-right and we were all told to hop in. The 12-person basket had compartments for the group to stand while our pilot, Chad, and the propane tanks were in the center of the balloon. For the next 90-minutes, the heat from the flame warmed our heads and shoulders, while we drifted over the Sonoran Desert.
As the sun rose, so did dozens of other balloons, dotting the stark desert landscape with bright pops of color. With every foot higher we soared, the desert below us became more and more microscopic and we seemed to float effortlessly up there.
Aside from the oohs and aahs of our fellow passengers, the only sound we heard was the gush of flames every time Chad lifted us higher.
We learned not only of Pilot Chad’s passion for flying but also a brief history behind ballooning. The first hot air balloonist to fly was named Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier, which is where the word ‘pilot’ was derived. Chad told us a story about the first hot air balloon landing near a village — the people thought it was a fire-breathing dragon and sliced the balloon to bits. To avoid the destruction in the future, champagne was always brought has an offering to villagers, along with an explanation of what the balloon really was. That’s why, today, all rides end with a champagne toast!
By the end of the flight, champagne was just what we needed. We landed in a dried up river bed, so it took about 30 minutes of tugging, pulling, and being towed out by a truck to finally unload. All part of the adventure, though!
Our sunrise float with Hot Air Expeditions helped us check another box on the bucket list and while we can’t say we’ll be ballooning again any time soon, it certainly was an awesome experience!
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