As the sun begins to appear behind the jagged peaks of the McDowell Mountains outside Phoenix, balloon pilot Michael England and his crew connect a 10-foot wicker basket to a 250,000-cubic-foot balloon. Captain Mike leads group tours for Hot Air Expeditions high over the serene Sonoran Desert.
In seconds, the group is lifted above the sandy desert floor and into the calm, clear sky while our hearts start to beat faster in anticipation of our journey. For about an hour, we gasp at the beauty of the mountain peaks and desert floor intersected with the Soguaro/Cholla cacti and old canal ravines.
During the ride, Captain Mike teaches us about Arizona wildlife and the French history of hot air balloons. The overall experience is magical as we drift into an easy peaceful feeling over the sun-baked earth. After a gentle landing, Mike provides each of us with the Certificate d’Ascension En Machine Aerostatique and recites the Balloonist’s Prayer.
As Mike pours bubbly mimosas for us and the crew, Jeremy and Ellisson prepare a table for breakfast. The menu by James Beard Award winner Chef Vincent Guerithault consists of fresh handmade quiche, a cheese plate, fruit and a buttery chocolate croissant served on pretty crockery. It’s an altogether surreal experience sitting down with miles of endless desert surrounding you. Talk about a private location!
The desert meal is a relaxing end to our spirited morning flight and I try to draw it out as long as possible.