Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 11 Summer Vacation 2008

Today is Day 11 Thursday July 17 2008

Have you ever had to wake up at 4am when you were on vacation? This is a first for us having to get up at this hour, but also another first for us is the reason we are awake so early. We are waiting in the lobby of our hotel for the excursion van to pick us up and take us out to the launch site for our sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride. We booked this flight through Sky High Balloon Adventures. The air is only calm enough for balloons to fly at dawn as the sun rises, any other time of the day and the winds and directions are just too unstable for ballooning.

This flight is billed as a "Splash & Dash" where the pilot will maneauver the balloon in such a way that the basket is to touch down on the surface of the Verde River and then lift off again. However conditions have to be 100% perfect for this to occur. As good as our conditions were, we could not get lined up just right to make this happen. Oh well, did we really want to get our running shoes soaking wet? We learnt afterwards that only about 10 flights a year ever get to do the spash and dash.

The balloon is rolled out onto the ground and then a very large industrial fan starts to blow air into the opening to start the inflation process. Once enough air is inside, the pilot then lights the propane burners and starts heating the air. This causes the balloon to lift.

We then climbed into the basket, which holds 12 people, and we slowly lifted off into the sky, just as the sun was rising over the horizon.

As we looked down we could see bunny rabbits scurrying about, they had been startled by the noise of the propane burning to heat up the air of our balloon, and were dashing here, there and everywhere. As we gained height, we could start getting a sense of the surrounding terrain.

There was another hot air balloon following us a couple of miles back, my zoom lens brought it in to appear that it was very close to us.

We followed the riverbed of the Verde River, and saw plenty of wild life, including birds, otters, beaver and elk. The pilot said it was rare to see elk, but we had several opportunites to see them as they moved down the river at about the same pace as we were floating above them.

The flight was so quiet and peaceful, just floating along and enjoying every moment. I would highly recommend you to take a hot air balloon ride if you ever have the opportunity. One thing though, bring a hat. When the pilot turns on the propane burners to heat up the air in the balloon, the downdraft of heat that hits you on the top of the head is scorching. I didn't wear a hat, and so I was constantly ducking low everytime he hit the burners.

Here is a few more pictures of our flight.

After our flight, we were taken to a picnic area for breakfast and champagne. We were given certificates of accomplishment and the pilot and the chase crew were very hospitable.

To learn more about Sky High Balloon Adventures, you can click on the link.

After our hot air balloon ride, we are now ready to head north to Las Vegas. That is one advantage of getting up so early. We are on the road to Las Vegas at 9:30 am

The drive was very enjoyable, especially the section from Kingman AZ to The Hoover Dam. We got the first sense of being out in the middle of the desert, especially when looking at the thermometer on the dash of the car, it reached a high of 44 degrees celsius. That is hot. Driving across the Hoover Dam was really neat, in a few more years when the new bridge is built, it will not be possible to drive on top of the dam. We will be back in a few days on a guided excursion.
Now I have to suck up all my driving skills and courage and get us into Las Vegas. I am gaining driving confidence on this trip with all of the Interstate driving we have been doing, but considering that the last 30 years of my life have been spent on rural roads at home, this is a somewhat nerve wracking experience out here on this 16 lane interstate leading into Las Vegas. Nothing but concrete and cars travelling at 80 mph or faster for miles around me.

To see all of our photos from today, you can go to my Flickr site.

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