By Trish Wesevich
When friends asked my husband and I to join them in an adventure of a lifetime on a hot air balloon ride frin Albuquerque to Taos, I couldn’t find a reason to say no! Knowing that Fall would be the perfect time to visit New Mexico, and with such great cities to visit like Taos and Santa Fe along the way, it seemed like the perfect escape.
At the time, we didn’t know that we would have to wake at up 5 am to get to the launch site, nor did we know it could be 28 degrees. Ken of Eske’s Paradise Balloons advised us to dress in layers but he did not mention it would be “below 30”. It’s difficult to talk yourself into packing winter clothes as you drive to the airport in Austin when the temperature is 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Needless to say, we were not quite prepared enough. Fortunately, the balloon crew had extra coats for just this purpose and they wanted us to be comfortable during our flight.
We all piled into a van and were driven over to the gorge to choose the perfect spot to launch the balloon. There is much to take into consideration when launching a balloon—wind speed, thermal pockets and wind direction. In fact, conditions have to be pretty ideal. The truth is, we could have flown all the way to New Mexico and not been able to enjoy the flight at all had the conditions not been ideal. Fortunately, after launching a test balloon (a regular helium-filled balloon) into the sky and observing its behavior, the crew determined we could indeed take off.
First, we had to assist the crew in laying out the balloon, holding it a certain way while they filled it with air until it stood upright, and coordinating the landing site with the driver of the pickup van. Once the balloon was upright, we literally had to hop in the basket quickly so it wouldn’t take off without us.
The views were breathtaking. Flying over the gorge and then into the gorge was spectacular. To see nature at its finest as the Rio Grande river cut a deep path into a flat landscape, from so high in the sky, yet so close seeming, was worth all the effort travelling so far from home. Another balloon launched at the same time we did and so we took turns diving down into the gorge. It is so quiet up in the sky you can hear a pin drop. That is until the lever is pulled to release the flame that helps raise and lower the balloon, which made a moderately-loud sound. We didn’t mind because by now the temperature had risen to about 35 degrees and the flames were nice and warming.
The landing couldn’t have been calculated better. Ken Eske, the balloon pilot and owner of the company, had been coordinating with the pick-up crew via walkie talkie all along on landing options. The van has to be able to drive up a road close to where the balloon will land so that the basket and the heavy balloon can be folded back up and put away neatly in the vehicle close by. We all helped with this task and got rather dusty doing so from the dirt the balloon had collected. We didn’t mind because we were rewarded with a nice surprise of champagne served with fruit and cheese, along with homemade bread and muffins, to celebrate our successful flight—just as the first manned balloon flight celebrated its successful flight in the Jardin de la Folie Titon in Paris, France on October 19, 1783.