Hot air ballooning in the California desert cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells and La Quinta is one of the most serene and scenic ways to spend an early morning or late afternoon.
The hot air balloon is the oldest known human-carrying flight technology. On Nov 21, 1783, in Paris, France, the first untethered manned flight was made by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes in a hot air balloon created on Dec 14, 1782 by the Montgolfier brothers.
Today, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation and there are some 7,500 hot air balloons operating in the United States for this purpose. Most hot air balloon launches are made during the cooler hours of the day, at dawn or two to three hours before sunset. At these times of day, the winds are typically light making for easier launch and landing of the balloon.
In the Palm Springs area there are a number of hot air balloon companies, Fantasy Balloons, Balloons Above and Sunrise Balloons. On our last trip to the desert my family and we chose Balloons Above. We got there in the late afternoon prepared for a sunset flight.
After filing the balloon with hot air, we climbed aboard ready for one of the most peaceful experiences of a lifetime. While floating effortlessly above the desert floor we took in breathtaking vistas of some of the most picturesque landscapes in California. Vineyards, polo fields, world famous golf courses, and exotic orchards are just a few of the unbelievable sights we experienced.
Our pilot gave us a guided tour of some of the landmarks below, as well as serving champagne and cookies which I was told is a common tradition among balloonists. Legend has it that early French aeronauts carried champagne to appease angry or frightened spectators at the landing site.
During flight our pilot’s only ability to steer the balloon was to climb or descend into wind currents going different directions. So it is important for the pilot to determine what direction the wind is blowing at altitudes other than the balloon’s altitude. The altitude of our balloon and our direction was controlled by changing the temperature of the air inside the balloon. Our pilot did this by turning on what could only be described as a large blow torch. Blowing flame into the balloon so that the air would heat and the balloon would rise. As the air cooled, the balloon would descend.
Most pilots try to perform as smooth a landing as possible. This can be difficult if the air at ground level is moving at more than five miles per hour or so. Fortunately, the day of our flight there was not much in the way of ground level wind so our landing was smooth.
My kids enjoyed the flight thoroughly and it was the perfect way to watch the sun set over the California desert.