Hot Air Ballooning in Arizona

Text by: Jason Nugent

Arc’teryx. Hot Air Ballooning in Arizona

I often search for new and interesting perspectives for landscape photography.  One of the best ways I’ve found to take landscape photos is to get to a much higher vantage point.  Usually this means hiking up a mountain, but I recently had an opportunity to do it in a manner that was new to me.  When I visited Phoenix, Arizona at the beginning of October I was able to do it by going up in a hot air balloon.

Phoenix sits in a valley surrounded by the Sonoran desert and several mountain ranges. Because of this, it is easy to leave the city and quickly find yourself in the desert, and early one morning this is exactly what we did.  We left the city before the sun rose, and soon we found ourselves outside of Scottsdale in the desert.  Early in the morning, it can be quite cold in the desert and I was very glad that I had an Arcteryx down jacket with me!

The crews worked quickly, getting the balloons unloaded and connected to the large baskets that would carry us to heights of several thousand feet high. Once the burners began warming the air in the balloons, they quickly started to straighten and we knew that it was time to jump in!

Lift off was a leap of faith moment for me. Please understand that a hot air balloon pilot cannot steer a hot air balloon easily.  They can adjust the height of the balloon by either igniting the burner or letting hot air out through a vent in the top, and through this manner they can control direction to a limited degree, if they know which way the wind currents are blowing at different altitudes. You are, quite literally, carried away by the breeze.

It is so incredibly peaceful, floating around in the sky.  When the burner is off, the only sound is the wind and the gentle creaking of the basket.  It is a beautiful way to see the land below, and certainly offered me a unique perspective on both life and landscape.

As we lazily drifted back down to the earth, the wind shifted direction and we found ourselves heading towards the side of a large hill.  Our very skilled pilot realized that he had two choices.  He can choose to land on the hill, which will be bumpy, or he can gain altitude again and then potentially land somewhere in downtown Scottsdale! He elected the first option and told us to brace, bend our knees, and hang on tight.  Soon we bumped and scraped along the ground and eventually came to rest between tall Saguaros, cacti that are hundreds of years old.  

There was even a celebration waiting for us after we landed. The ground crews found us and quickly set up long tables for a celebration breakfast in the desert.  After laughing and talking about our ride, we took a moment and recited the hot air balloonist prayer.  “May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. And sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”  It was the perfect way to end the day. If you’ve never been up in a hot air balloon ride, I would seriously recommend it to anyone. It’s a great way to look around with your head in the clouds.

A special thank you to Visit Phoenix for going up in a hot air balloon!

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