What’s the best way to see the Sonoran Desert? By a hot air balloon of course! A ride in a hot air balloon must be on everyone’s bucket list and the American Southwest is a great place to do it!
It is an extremely early start to your day, but the sunrises in the Sonoran are every bit worth it. The excitement begins as you board a chaser vehicle and head out into the very still desert almost in the dark in efforts of finding the best launching point. After several test launches of helium balloons, the crew settle on a good location and start the inflation process. It’s just after the sun begins to rise over the hills of the desert and cast a new light over the countless cacti you all pile into a basket and within moments start to feel the basket rising off the ground. As soon as the crew let the ropes lose you’re off, which must be the most graceful takeoff I’ve ever experienced. But it doesn’t end there, flying high above the Sonoran feels isolated and so very peaceful. It must be the absence of an engine running that allows you to be captivated in the tranquility of the desert. Who would have thought a desert could be so colorful, the sands and the hills in their many hues of red, lush greens from the cacti, and the most beautiful are all the other balloons brightly dotting the sky! During our ride the pilot allowed us to soar high taking in the vastness of the desert and falling low in efforts of spotting wildlife. There was even one point when a large gust of wind had us flying backwards! The experience was like no other, and I will be doing it again.
The best part was the post- flight Champagne breakfast! Champagne, always a favorite of mine, and paired with prickly pear cactus I found makes the finest mimosas. Upon landing, the crew had a small picnic breakfast awaiting to top off the morning. I learned it is apparently customary to carry a bottle of the finest champagne with you when ballooning. Tradition states that the pilot should present the landowner of whose property you make your decent on with a ceremonial bottle of champagne. This began with the first balloonists in France in the late 18th century. The French used a fire, and believed that it was the black smoke rising and filling the balloon was what kept them afloat. (rather than the heat which we now know to be true) But can you imagine what the farmers of this time must have thought when they saw these fire breathing UFO’s billowing black smoke through the air and then landing on their field? Well often enough they would attack the balloons and its passengers, so these clever balloonists found a way to appease the farmers. They would present them with a bottle of the King’s finest champagne to grant them omission. And so today this remains the proper rite of passage and provided us a memorable finish to our first Hot Air balloon flight!
I booked a sunrise journey with Rainbow Ryders while in Phoenix. I was staying downtown and the area the balloons launch from is about an hour north of the city: so, one of the reasons I choose Rainbow Ryders was that they offered a hotel pickup. So, for the one-hour balloon ride, followed by a champagne breakfast in the desert it cost $159/per person for a group ride (12 people max). This was similar pricing to other companies in Phoenix, however those did not include the hotel pickup and drop off. Rides also depend heavily on the wind and weather. There were some storms that rolled through the night before our scheduled day that concerned me as it was our last day and I didn’t want a cancelation, but we were able to fly while other companies cancelled. I know this since two couples that were in our group were canceled on by another company but had been lucky enough to rebook with Rainbow Ryders in time to make our flight. So, it goes to show when hot air ballooning in the Sonoran, Rainbow Ryders are the best in the Southwest!