As the Wind Blows

Pagosa Springs, a small town in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, lies 7,100′ above sea level. It is locally known for its therapeutic hot springs. Pagosa also boasts a 35-year business called Rocky Mountain Balloon Adventures, which takes you an additional 3,000′ above sea level for “360° views of the beautiful valley [of Pagosa] below”. Maybe you’ll climb aboard their basket and go for a float someday.  If you do, my apologies for not joining you.  I’d rather spend my time in the terra firma of Pagosa’s hot springs than the “terror for-sure-a” of a balloon ride above.

Getting high, above Pagosa Springs

Logic says my fear of heights denies me the thrill of soaring up, up, and away.  Not true.  It’s more about the “gone with the wind” part (sorry for that, Scarlett).  Once the balloon reaches cruising altitude, the pilot extinguishes the fire and Mother Nature silently takes over.  Then your high-rise ride gets a little dicey unpredictable.  It’s the whole not-knowing-where-you’re-gonna-end-up moment that gets me.

Possible outcomes as follows.  You descend gracefully into a farmer’s field with the “chase vehicle” just minutes away.  You zip hundreds of feet up and then hundreds more down, depending on which fickle air stream you encounter.  Or, you float all the way to nearby New Mexico on the strong winds we have here in Colorado.  All while literally hanging by threads.

Albuquerque’s big balloon bash

Speaking of New Mexico, it wouldn’t be the worst destination for one of Pagosa’s rogue hot air balloons.  After all, the International Balloon Fiesta – the largest gathering of balloonists in the country – takes place every October in Albuquerque.  At least you’d have professionals on the ground eager to reel you in.  Also in Pagosa’s favor: small town = few power lines.  Hot air ballooning and power lines do not mix.  See here for what happens when they do (coincidentally, just weeks ago in Albuquerque).

Despite the occasional crash landing, ballooning fatalities are rare.  In fact, hot air ballooning has been designated “safest air sport in aviation” according to years of statistics, and a Swiss aeronautics organization whose name I can’t pronounce.  So maybe it’s not so bad if you never have a neatly paved runway to greet your touchdown.  Heck, Pagosa locals love it when a hot air balloon ends up in their backyard.  They come running out of their houses to greet you with coffee and cinnamon rolls.  Breakfast?  Hmmm.  Maybe I can do this ballooning thing after all.

I may not be a balloon flyboy but that doesn’t mean I’d rain on a parade of those big colorful inflatables.  After all, hot air balloons first appeared to me in favorite childhood stories, like L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, William Pène du Bois’s The Twenty-One Balloons, or Albert Lamorisse’s priceless (and wordless) The Red Balloon.  They show up as flying animals every Thanksgiving Day at the Macy’s parade in New York City.  As well, right here in my hometown we have an impressive showing of hot-air balloons every Labor Day weekend, including a “balloon glow” in the evenings.  Now that I think about it, there’s probably more ballooning going on in this part of the country than anywhere else.

Colorado Springs’ beautiful balloon glow

It’s not as if hot air ballooning is some new-fangled sport (hoverboarding, anyone?)  The first untethered hot-air balloon flight took place back in the eighteenth century.  Hundreds of commercial operators offer hot-air balloon rides in the United States, and hundreds more are private owners.  Add a little perspective and 3000′ above Pagosa Springs is nothing.  The world record for the flight height of a hot-air balloon is 64,980′ (like a Mt. Everest on top of a Mt. Everest).

Up, up, and seriously away

Strict definitions aside, the altitude record for hot air ballooning is about to topple, in a big way.  A company called Space Perspective is now taking reservations for its giant hot air balloon, launching in early 2024.  You, seven other passengers, and your pilot astronaut will take a six-hour ride in a pressurized capsule under a giant balloon… to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.  A seat on “Spaceship Neptune” costs $125,000.  Operators are standing by to take your payment…. for 2025, that is.  The 300 seats offered in 2024 are long gone.

Maybe 3000′ above Pagosa Springs doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “On sale: $125,000 balloon trips to the edge of space”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

15 thoughts on “As the Wind Blows

  1. We went to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival a few years ago. It was a great way to spend a day. Didn’t go up in a balloon, but really enjoyed being able to walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots.
    We used to live on the edge of a park where Balloons often departed or arrived. It was always a thrill when one of them landed a few hundred feet from our back yard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a story! I guess some people REALLY want to go up there in the air, with or without the help of professionals. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I don’t understand people who want to spend all that money to do something so risky? I’m even worried about the space flight tomorrow with that Branson billionaire guy on it? I have a bad feeling about it……but then I can’t even handle a Ferris Wheel….

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  4. I never put the two together before Joni, but you’re right. I have the same issue with Ferris Wheels as hot air balloons. Things are just a little too wide open up there for my comfort.

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  5. I’m pretty much challenged by heights that seem precarious these days, but took a hot air balloon ride in the foothills west of Denver in my 20s. I bought it as a present for my husband. I was amazed that there was no sensation of movement, just floating, very pleasant, although I avoided standing at the edge. The “pilot” pointed to a road in Deer Creek Canyon and said he would put it down there. Perfect landing! Neighbors came out to say hello and the truck following our flight found us. There is a skill to learn.

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    1. Nice to read about a ballooning experience less adventurous than the ones that make the headlines, Ruth. Kudos to you for going up there despite a fear of heights. I think I’d be sitting on the floor of the basket asking the others to describe the view – ha.

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  6. Dave – Well, I guess I’m boring as I’m not much of a risk taker and though I’d love to go to Kellogg’s big hot air balloon festival here in Battle Creek, Michigan someday, I assure you it would be to watch the gondolas and colorful balloons and I’d never step inside a gondola and go airborne. There is a guy who has a paraglider with a motor and he lifts off at Council Point Park and glides like a big bird overhead. Every time I see him I think to myself “don’t you worry about power lines and trees?”

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    1. Gliders do put ballooning in perspective, Linda. If forced to make the choice it would be ballooning every time. I can’t get the disaster scenarios out of my head with anything where your life depends on a big wing above you. Ditto parachutes. I find enough thrills down on Earth!

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  7. I have flown airplanes but will pass on the balloon. In a plane you have at least some control if you lose power. With a balloon, it is just straight down, fast and hard.

    Airplanes don’t mix with power lines either.

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