Our media relations intern Lauren got the opportunity to experience a hot air balloon adventure with Hot Air Expeditions. She offered to provide her insider’s perspective of this unique and thrilling adventure in Phoenix. 

Waking up before sunrise can only be justified for a special occasion, but when I had the chance to take my first hot air balloon ride, I decided it was definitely worth it! Bright and early on a Monday morning, I met with three other willing explorers to join me and Hot Air Expeditions in viewing the Sonoran Desert from a different angle- the sky. Now, I have never had a crippling fear of heights and I was a little unsure of how a hot air balloon works – but, this was one adventure I was ready to experience. I always wondered how the pilot controls the balloon, but I left the flying up to him.

A driver from Hot Air Expeditions arrived at our hotel that morning and drove us to the launch site. For added convenience, they are happy to provide transportation for hotel and resort guests. We met the Hot Air Expeditions crew in the desert near Deer Valley Airport in North Phoenix. Phoenix has over 320 days of sunshine annually and today was no exception. Keep in mind that balloon adventures are weather permitted, so check the weather before confirming your expedition. Upon our arrival, we watched the balloon grow in size as the crew inflated the balloon with motorized fans.

About 30 minutes later, the balloon was filled with air and we were ready for our flight. We met our pilot, Patrick Stevens, who is actually the Chief Pilot of Hot Air Expeditions and has over 20 years of ballooning experience. His casual demeanor convinced us that this flight would be fun. One person in our group was a little nervous about the balloon ride, but we were reassured by Patrick the ride would be relaxing. He mentioned that many people who have a fear of heights typically do not have issues while riding in a hot air balloon. Our group paired up with a few other small groups to fill up the largest wicker balloon basket, which holds 12-14 people.

Soon we were all secured in the basket and Patrick was ready to take off — we drifted up, up and away! He used the propane burners to ignite and heat the air inside. We let the pilot worry about flying and we took in the amazing, unobstructed view of the Sonoran Desert below us.

We flew over houses and farms, reaching about 1,000 feet in the air. Off in one direction, a bright blue body of water stood out amongst the desert landscape, “Lake Pleasant,” Patrick said. He also mentioned that more people own boats in Arizona than you might think, especially because there are six lakes with 45 minutes of the Valley.

With the ease of a bird, we soared over mountain tops covered in Saguaro cacti and peered into a basin where wildlife is known to live. Although Patrick said the balloon reached a top speed of 9 m.p.h., we felt almost no sensation of movement because we were flying with the wind. It feels like you are floating in a bubble above the beautiful mountain scenery. Luckily, one difference from floating in a bubble is that Patrick could control our direction, height and speed leaving nothing for the passengers to worry about.

Time flew by and soon it was time to find a landing spot, so Patrick radioed to the ground crew to follow us as he navigated the balloon closer to the ground. We slowly eased back to earth and were given instructions to lean forward and grab onto the handles inside the basket. The landing was fairly smooth as the basket’s bottom skimmed along the desert surface. Our group slightly embraced each other, knowing we were safely back on the ground. One by one, we jumped out of the basket remarking, “We made it! That wasn’t scary.” Then the Hot Air Expeditions crew deflated the balloon and folded it carefully for storage. Our ballooning adventure was concluding, but we still had something to look forward to; Patrick served us a nice “welcome back to Earth” gourmet breakfast of chocolate-filled croissants, Quiche Lorraine, apple slices and cheese. We also toasted flutes of champagne, which is a legendary ceremony that balloonists all over the world have shared for over a century. Now that we had our fill of adventure, the day was officially complete. Not a bad Monday, if you ask me!

Is a hot air balloon ride on your bucket list?