5 Things You Didn't Know About Flying in a Hot Air Balloon in Sedona, Arizona

Rene Cizio

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The first passengers in a hot air balloon in the world's history were some small farm animals. The creators were afraid to test it themselves, but they also didn't want to allow anyone else to say they had the first ride. They were French so ...

The farm animals, however, loved it. Just kidding, nobody knows, but people loved it so much that we're still riding around in hot air balloons more than 300 years later just for fun. And man, is it fun.

My first hot air balloon ride was probably not as exciting as the farm animals, but way better because I could actually see over the basket, so #winning.

The hot air balloon team picked us up at our hotel in Sedona at 6 a.m. Yawn, so early. I once tried to take a hot air balloon ride in Barcelona, Spain, and they picked us up at 5:30 a.m. By the time we arrived at the launch site, the pilot had deemed it too windy to fly. Boo.

Hot air balloons have to fly so early due to the low possibility of thermal activity, largely due to the heating and cooling of the Earth's surface. The more you know. Afternoon flying gets crazy apparently and these ballooners are not into it. (We call them ballooners, right?)

Power of the Vortex

They drove us out to a remote area in Sedona near the Seven Canyons area, between Boynton and Long Canyon. It is situated between vortex hot spots, so our flight's energy was guaranteed to be good. However, I think their reason for choosing it had more to do with the flat ground to spread out the long balloon.

Regardless, while they used a powered fan to fill the balloon enough to get it to stand up straight, we huddled amongst the red rocks in our coats against the cold desert air and absorbed the good vortex vibes.

By 6:30 am, the big yellow, red and blue balloon was floating above the 16-person wicker basket and we were climbing over the sides into it. There were holes in the side of the four-foot basket to place your feet for easy climbing.

Once we were inside the balloon, Mark, our pilot, lit the huge burners and the heat seared my back like being set on a grill. Instead of being hot, though, it was a comfort in the early morning chill. This is a bonus to flying in the morning. That heat, in an Arizona afternoon, would be unbearable.

Time For Me to Fly

The basket began to move slowly, at first just a soft rocking and then suddenly, we left the Earth by inches, the bushes and rocks below us slowly growing smaller.

1 Our ascent was so graceful and smooth; it was hard to notice it happening except for the distance increasing between us and the rock below.

Though the sun had already risen in Sedona, we couldn’t see it yet from the valley floor. As we rose into the cool morning sky, above the towering cliffs, the sky began to glow bright yellow. Once we were even with the top of the red rocks the sun met us in full force – a glowing yellowing orb turning the red to orange underneath its rays.

As Mark pulled the ropes to keep us turning 360 degrees so we could see all around us, our balloon sailed on. We drifted over the cliffs and through the valley undeterred by the wind and without any turbulence. Our flight was as smooth as silk. The only sound was the occasional lighting of the burners that kept us afloat.

2 Hot Air Balloons Don't Crash

Except when they catch fire and everybody dies. But that's not likely.

When the air in the balloon cooled, we’d descend until Mark would light the burner again and we’d rise. He explained that we'd slowly descend if we ran out of fuel until we landed while he’d work to ensure us the flattest possible spot.

He said balloons didn’t crash but merely landed in places that were difficult to retrieve them from. Weighing in at 2,000 pounds, they can’t be carried, so must land where a vehicle can reach them. We, however, would be able to walk away from any landing, he assured us. (barring firey death and all).

3 The French launched the first hot air balloon in the 1700s. The passengers were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster who flew for 15 minutes before landing. Shortly thereafter, humans took flight in them as well. Now, here I am with my camera and gaping mouth all these years later.

Flying at Different Altitudes

We sailed over a forested area and he let the balloon cool, so we nearly brushed the tops of the trees below. There, in our silent creeping, we saw an eight-point deer running and jackrabbit bounding by. Once we ignited the burners, the animals fled and we once again rose high into the sky.

There were other balloons in the distance, though none came close enough to communicate with. I wanted them to shout, “Hello, fellow ballooner!” as we enjoyed this shared experience.

There is a certain majesty in a balloon that floats in the sky, lofty and free. To be unmotorized and flying is a marvelous feeling.

4 Ballooning is a Lifestyle

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Like planes and helicopters, balloons must be registered, have an airworthiness certificate, and pass regular inspections. In the U.S., balloon pilots require a license, often are members of balloon clubs, and spend their weekends participating in competitions.

Competitions take place at national, regional, international, and world levels. They typically require pilots to maneuver their balloons over a set course. There might be goals, targets, scoring areas, time and distance limits. They have to drop a marked bean bag on a target to score points. Pretty cool, huh? Not as easy as it looks, I gathered from watching Mark pull those ropes.

After about an hour, once Mark had spotted all of the animals and named each of the rock formations, we drifted back in the direction from which we started. There on the ground, we saw the white van that had dropped us off.

5 Like a "Pit Crew" but Different

The men – known as our "Chase Crew" – followed us as we looked for a large flat area to land. Eventually, we descended lower and lower until, as soft as the touch of butterfly wings, we met the ground again.

The men came over, grabbed the ropes to secure us to the Earth, and let us climb out of the basket. They deflated the balloon while we watched in awe. The massive thing folded up to fit in the back of a small trailer.

Within 15 minutes, the balloon was gone. We were left standing in the desert feeling as if we'd been dropped off by an alien spacecraft and were still unsure what planet we were on.

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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