The First Passengers
The first hot air balloon ride took place on Sept. 19, 1783, when a French scientist named Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier launched a sheep, a duck and a rooster into the air on a vessel named Aerostat Reveillon. While its flight lasted only 15 minutes, it was enough to inspire de Rozier to keep experimenting, and several weeks later, he orchestrated the first hot air balloon voyages for human passengers.
We booked our flight with Rainbow Ryders for $169 each. When we reached our balloon, Capt. John Bagwell greeted us. Bagwell has been flying hot air balloons for more than 40 years and has nearly 8,000 flights under his belt, so we knew we were in good hands.
The basket of our balloon left the ground so gently that I didn’t even notice we were in the air until we were high enough to see our ever-shrinking shadow on the sand below. We were bundled up for the morning chill, but even as the sun rose, the altitude kept the brisk wind on our faces.
I had expected to feel a bit of vertigo as we ascended, but the platform was remarkably stable. I didn’t feel like I was moving at all, merely floating weightlessly as the colors of the desert changed before my eyes. The sand shifted from a purple-tinged gray to golden to white, and the massive, imposing saguaro cacti cast long-armed shadows across the landscape. All around us, other balloons bobbed and sailed on invisible currents of air.
Our flight, which lasted about an hour, ended with sparkling wine and a gourmet breakfast in the bright desert light. Capt. Bagwell told us to raise our glasses and then recited a toast that’s traditionally given at the end of a successful flight, the perfect ending to our hot air ballooning experience:
“The winds have welcomed you with softness,” he said. “The sun has blessed you with his warm hands. You have flown so well and so high, that God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back again into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”