BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! The hotel alarm started blaring at 4:30AM and Jessica, sleeping next to me, closest to the noise source, started to flail her arm wildly in an attempt to hit the snooze button. I opened my eyes, blindly grabbed my glasses, and looked around – a stretch here, a snore coming from the sofa-bed and some mumbling from the other bed. The brutally early wake-up call was as a result of our hot air balloon ride reservation and we needed to be at our meeting point, Deer Valley Airport, by 5:30AM. With five people of different morning habits and a very late bed time the night prior, it’s quite the miracle to be able to get ready in less than an hour, but somehow we managed to do it. We made the 10-minute drive from our hotel, stumbled sleepily out of the car, and sat around waiting for the others to come. When everyone had assembled, we piled into a minivan and were driven to the launch site, in the middle of the Sonoran desert, about 30 minutes away.
The thought of being in a wicker basket and carried away by a giant balloon has always seemed laughable and silly to me. But, considering we planned to spend 3 days in Phoenix with not much to do, I couldn’t refuse the offer when Oscar, the adventurous one of the group, suggested we check out Hot Air Expeditions. On top of that, I think it’s just really cool to be able to say “I’ve been on a hot air balloon!” – No joke, this is 50% of my motivation to accomplish most of the things on my Life List. What, don’t tell me you don’t do the same thing? Anyways, after consulting with the rest of the group, we decided to go ahead with it and made our reservations with them.
After signing some waivers and safety documents, we climbed into the basket and was ready for the lift off. A basket can hold up to 11 people, 5 on both side, and a pilot in the middle. Patrick, our pilot for the morning, explained the mechanisms behind the hot air balloons – something along the lines of pumping hot air to inflate the balloons and they rise because hot air rises – Meh. I didn’t really understand; I was never good at Physics in school. We climbed into the basket and before we knew it we were floating above the ground, over the valleys and sands of the Sonoran desert.
It was a really smooth ride over the desert. The feeling of the cool morning breeze alternated with the hot air coming from above our heads. Patrick lowered the balloon until it was low enough for us to see the one of the inhabitants of the desert – a couple of jack rabbits running through the bush. I kept my eyes peeled for the famous road runner and coyote, but to my disappointment, they were nowhere to be seen.
We went by the suburbs, flying over houses with pools in their backyards and passing over patches of residential areas.
We rose higher to a sweeping panorama of the desert, with other balloons decorating the morning sky.
After somewhat of a rough landing – and I think most of us were ecstatic that it actually happened that way; it adds a thrill of adventure to the day – we were welcomed to a spread of breakfast over the desert and and were awarded with the Certificate d’Ascension En Machine Aerostatique.
It was definitely worth the rough morning call!
We booked with Hot Air Expeditions. If you are interested, shoot them an email and enquire about the price. They were prompt in replying to my emails and it was a really easy process to book with them. The entire experience takes a total of 3 hours or so and they’ll drive you back to the meeting point at the end of the excursion.