Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hot Air Ballooning!

Dawn Steam and Swallows on the Yampa River
We were up and out the door at 6:45 this morning to meet the crew for our hot air balloon ride! We have seen the balloon in the air almost every morning, and decided there was no reason not to go ahead and ride one!
The take off field was still in shadows as the ground crew started inflating the 75 foot tall balloon. They have to be careful not to rip it on sticks, fence posts or barb wire.
When it had enough hot air to rise up, they turned on the propane burners. We were toasty warm when we got in the gondola.
Ten people were signed up for the first trip, and they had two more trips to take this morning. The wicker gondola is divided into three sections - one for the pilot, one for passengers who climb over the side to enter, and one with a gate for the passengers to enter. Thank goodness I got that one!
There isn't much room to move around, and if anyone got unbalanced, they couldn't go far. The side of the gondola came up higher than my waist, and I felt no acrophobia at all.  In fact, when we lifted off the ground, you could hardly feel any motion. When we landed, the next group was ready, and as one of us left, one of them entered, to keep the weight balanced and so the balloon didn't take off right away.

It was great fun to watch our shadow on the ground. At first, it was sharp and crisp, but as we gained altitude it became more fuzzy along the edges.

You get such a different perspective from 1,700 feet in the air. They have to cancel a trip if the wind blows too hard, but today it didn't blow at all. We rose up, turned around a few times, then came down again no more than 1/4 mile from our starting point. I loved seeing the oxbows left by the river and it changed course over the years. The farmers are all cutting hay this week, and the fields reminded me of van Gough's paintings of hay fields in Provence, only green!

We heard about a Great Blue Heron rookery, and found it right by our take off field. As we rose in the air, we could see all the nests. Only one had herons still in it. I don't often get to take photos of the top of a heron flying across the marsh! Sometimes they get to see eagles in flight, but not this trip.  We did see one later when walking along the Core Trail.

For the landing we all had to hold onto straps, and bend our knees, just like they do for parachute jumping. And don't straighten up right away, the pilot warned, we may land several times before we stop moving! Well, our landing was cushioned by tall grasses, so we didn't bounce again, but we couldn't get out either. Ground crew to the rescue! The pilot gunned the burners a little so the guys could pull us to a spot where we could debark, while the next trip loaded on. The van took us back to base for champagne toasts and a short history of hot air ballooning. In  France, they always took a bottle of champagne along to thank the farmer whose field they had landed in, and the tradition remains! Of course, the pilot knows who will take kindly to a balloon landing in their field, and who will not! 

What a wonderful way to start the day. This is truly a Bucket List event!

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