5:00 AM: "We are going to be late if you don’t hurry”. I get woken up by the wife with the usual alarm. On any other morning I'd have shrugged off the panic and tried to sneak in a few more minutes of sleep – but not today. Its one of the, no, the only non-gastronomic activity we have planned in Albuquerque. If you've guessed it- you are right. It’s the day for the Hot Air Balloon ride. Our first. And so we are going to put to test the notion that a first trip to Albuquerque is incomplete without a hot air balloon ride. We check the weather forecast, all is clear.
5:30 AM: We are there pronto on time at our designated meeting spot, a 15 minute ride north of town. The friendly staff and the captain of the ride hand us some paperwork after which we are driven along with a few other folks in a van that is also hauling the wrapped up balloon and the basket. At this point we are wide awake, and excited about what lies in store. Our captain is still monitoring the weather and gives us the thumbs up! It’s a go.
6:30 AM: As the sun is slowly coming up, we drive to the launch site- an empty patch of land out of town. Excited! And cold, it’s almost November. We volunteer to help the crew put the balloon up, and it takes a few minutes to stretch it out and start filling it with hot air. We are also warmed up now. The compressed balloon is increasing in size like a monster until it is over 150 feet high and you can see the majestic state colors of New Mexico.
7:00 AM: Voila! The balloon is up and we take off. No motors, no run way, no propellers- just 2 switches. A blue switch for cold air and a red one for hot. With those, our pilot, Mike, takes us on this amazing hour long flight across the vast New Mexico landscape clothed in a fine palette of gold in the morning sun.
Up, up and away we go to 2000 feet, experiencing the kiss of the cool dawn breeze on our face. Everyone is quiet, taking it all in. Just as we were thinking this was the smoothest, ‘non-adrenaline rush’ flying experience, our pilot gets ready to showcase his skills to thrill us unassuming riders.
We are taken above beautiful cotton forest tree tops by the Rio Grande River and descend so low that the basket literally touches the water. Then in a matter of a few minutes, we are back to altitude and witness the city waking up. Amazing control by our pilot!
As we prepare to land, we chase a few wild rabbits in the brush and wave back at local families sipping coffee on their porches – they are not startled, apparently, strangers waving from balloons is a common sight in Albuquerque.
8.:30 AM: After helping the crew put the balloon back in the truck - we had to do what is tradition among balloonists. Have a champagne toast upon landing. Works for us! Legend has it that early French balloon aeronauts carried champagne with them to appease frightened spectators at the landing site.
Over an old balloonist song, a light breakfast of Danish and muffins, we reminisce the wonderful trip with some newly made friends and drive back to our car a bit tipsy from the ride of our lives (and the champagne;))!
One's childhood does not go without wondering what a wonderful feeling it is for a bird to fly- that effortless glide when the wings have stopped fluttering and all the bird seems to be doing is taking in the beauty of the landscape. Well, I concur that no trip to ABQ is complete without a hot air balloon ride- the closest you are going to get to flying, and a once in a lifetime experience.
We flew with Rainbow Ryders, and were extremely happy with our service and experience. We chose to do the sunrise ride, but they have a number of other options - morning and evening. Safety was a top priority, and they make the ride an even more enjoyable one with stories about ballooning. The entire crew is knowledgeable and fun! Do check them out if you are in Albuquerque!
Is a hot air balloon ride on your bucket list?
(This post was written by my husband, Kris)