In Photos: Seeing Sunrise Over Arizona From The Skies – In A Hot Air Balloon
Written by Jaillan Yehia
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Hot air ballooning has the unique ability to turn even the most seasoned traveller into an excited little child.
I am that grinning kid the day I climb inside a wicker basket to take to the skies of Yuma, Arizona, where the USA meets Mexico, surrounded by a fleet of multi-coloured inflatable flying machines as part of the Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival.
Like most people I’d always dreamed of going hot air ballooning one day, but despite being an avid bucket-list-checker that one day never rolled around. That is until I visited Yuma, Arizona, and lucked out when my trip coincided with their annual hot air balloon bash.
Named the Colorado River Crossing Festival in reference to Yuma’s history as the safest place to traverse this mighty 7-state river, it’s been attracting pilots from even further afield than the southwest for the last 22 years.
On arrival at the launch field I’m clutching a coffee to inspire both warmth and wakefulness, and I’m teamed up with experienced pilot Jim Ahern, who we deduce has been at the helm of these contraptions since before I was even born – with his wife working as his ground crew since I was still throwing balloon-bursting toddler tantrums; together they are the perfect guides to keep a novice passenger like me feeling safe and relaxed.
As the wee hours of the nippy night turn to a warm and glowing dawn in Yuma, I watch my partner chip in with the rest of the crew to assemble and inflate the balloon which starts it’s day in a surprisingly small box that’s compact enough to fit comfortably on the back of a pick-up truck.
We feel like part of the action rather than purely passengers as other balloons inflate and levitate all around us, strings and ropes are pulled this way and that, and from all directions we hear the sound of the whooshing gas feeding the burner flames. This conspires to transform an experience that was always going to be memorable into one we won’t forget in a lifetime.
My sense of relaxation is only briefly interrupted by the pre-launch speech by Jerry Paulin, AKA the ‘Balloon Meister’ (a great title for the guy in charge) who reminds pilots that ‘you don’t want to go to Mexico today’ – it’s just 8 miles west of here – before giving out the number to call if you accidentally land on the nearby military base, leading to laughter from the crowd, most of it not nervous at all.
There is some genuine nervousness about choosing the right landing spot – something which even the most expert balloon pilot cannot predict ahead of time.
Here in Yuma, the self-proclaimed World’s Sunniest Destination, leading to the rather more obscure but tastier title of the Winter Vegetable Capital of the World, the prized crops must be protected; an acre of lettuce is worth $14,000, a price which won’t be improved upon by a giant balloon being dragged through it.
After a seamless take-off – the basket is firmly planted on the ground on minute, and the next we are floating over the city’s school buses as they discharge waving kids with necks craning – we part ways with most of the other balloons and take a more urban path, flying over the houses and yards, each howling dog confused by the usurpers in their air space and straining to investigate our presence.
After a magical 25 minute ride we realise we needn’t have worried about our own landing site, as Jim expertly brings the vessel down in a farmer’s market car park, and we all pitch in and pack up the balloon, folding it endlessly magician’s assistant style, back into its box, proving that the best things really do come in small packages.
SavoirThere was a guest of Visit Yuma
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